Chengdu is the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. The city of Chengdu has played an important role in China’s history for thousands of years. Chengdu’s history dates back to at least the 4th century B.C., when it served as capital for the Shu Kingdom. Chengdu is a safe place for travelers, it’s fun to explore at night, taking in cultural activities such as a Sichuan opera, and other fun things to do such as dining and shopping. This dynamic city also serves as a great jumping-off point for day trips and explorations of the surrounding countryside.
Best Time to Visit
The best periods to visit Chengdu are from March to June, and September to November. There is substantial rainfall during the rainy season (July and August).
Top Places to Visit in Chengdu
1. Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding not only offers a chance to see these amazing creatures up close in their natural environment, it also provides an in-depth look at these laid-back animals. Established in 1987, the facility began with just six rescued giant pandas, a number that has since grown to exceed 80 animals and seen well over 120 panda births. Tours also include a chance to visit the on-site museum featuring exhibits dealing with the reproductive problems of these fickle bears. Often found sleeping, pandas are their liveliest during morning feeding times, so plan your trip accordingly. For a chance to see pandas in the wild, book a trip to the vast Wolong Nature Reserve 130 kilometers west of Chengdu. Covering an area of 2,000 square kilometers, this superb conservation area is surrounded by mountains and is home to 60 different types of mammals, as well as 300 species of birds and 4,000 kinds of plants, including giant redwood trees.
2. Leshan Giant Buddha
The Leshan Giant Buddha, a colossal stone statue of Maitreya, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Standing 71 meters high and carved directly from the surrounding rock, this amazing feat was started by a Buddhist monk by the name of Haitong in AD 713. Today, the figure is the largest sculpture of Buddha to be found anywhere in the world and attracts pilgrims and tourists from far and wide (it’s also responsible for the saying, “The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain”).
3. The Chengdu Wuhou Shrine
One of Chengdu’s oldest temples, the splendid Chengdu Wuhou Shrine dates back to AD 302 when it was built in honor of Zhuge Liang, a famous strategist and statesman who later served as Chancellor of the Shu Han empire from AD 221 to 263 (for his services, Liang was made a prince). Rebuilt in 1672, this vast temple complex boasts many interesting features, including its large central hall with a gilded clay figure of Zhuge Liang (the two small figures on either side of the Prince are his son and grandson). Also worth seeing is the temple dedicated to Liu Bei, ruler of the Shu Han Empire who’s buried in the adjacent 12-meter-tall burial mound. Other notable features are the 28 terra-cotta statues of ministers, generals, and high officials of the state of Shu Han displayed in the east and west covered walks, as well as a number of ancient inscribed stone tablets featuring poems and writings from this important period in China’s history.
4. Wenshu Monastery (Manjushri Monastery)
Covering an area of more than 12 acres, the Wenshu (Manjushri) Monastery consists of five separate temples built from wood and stone. The complex was constructed in 1691 above the ruins of an earlier monastery dating from the time of the Southern Dynasties between AD 420 and 589. Highlights include the Hall of Shuofa Tang with its 10 iron statues of Buddhist guardian gods from the Song period of AD 960-1279, as well as the more than 100 bronze sculptures of Buddhas and Buddhist saints from the Qing era between 1644 and 1911, and many more made from materials such as jade and wood. The site also contains numerous other important cultural relics, including paintings and calligraphy by leading Chinese artists and writers. (Be sure to spend some time enjoying a traditional beverage at the on-site tea house.)
5. Mount Emei and its Temples
Mount Emei (Emeishan), dedicated to the Bodhisattva Puxian, stands 160 kilometers southwest of Chengdu and is well worth a visit. The mountain’s highest peak, the Peak of the Ten Thousand Buddhas (Wanfo Ding), reaches a height of 3,099 meters and is revered by Chinese Buddhists as one of the four Holy Mountains, the others being Mount Wutaishan in Shanxi province, Mount Jiuhuashan in Anhui province, and Mount Putuoshan in Zhejiang province. As shrouded in legends and myths as they are in clouds and mists, the first Taoist temples on Mount Emei were built during the Eastern Han dynasty from 25-220, and from the Tang period of AD 618-907 onwards, it became one of the major destinations of Buddhist pilgrims due to its more than 200 shrines (20 temples and monasteries still survive).
6. Du Fu Thatched Cottage
The sprawling Du Fu Thatched Cottage complex (Dù Fu Cao Táng) in Chengdu covers 24 acres and is dedicated to one of China’s best-known poets. The site replicates the home in which Du Fu lived between AD 759 and 763 and in which he wrote more than 250 of his best-known poems. Located on a picturesque bend of the Huanhuaxi River, the complex features lush gardens, numerous pavilions, and lovely bridges and pathways. While not original, most of the buildings date from between 1500 and 1800 and were carefully restored in 1949. Other highlights include the Gong Bu Memorial Hall, with its exhibits portraying the life and work of Du Fu, complete with a foreign language section; the reconstructed cottage itself, a simple structure with a study, bedroom, and kitchen; and the Hall of Great Poets showing scenes from his most famous poems.
7. Wangjiang Pavilion Park and River Watching Tower
Famous as the location where poetess Xue Tao lived from AD 769-834, Wangjiang Pavilion Park is notable for its splendid 30-meter-tall River Watching Tower. Built in 1889, the attraction features the famous old fountain from the Tang period of AD 618-907 from which the poetess is said to have drawn the water used to produce the unique red paper on which she wrote, and which to this day still bears her name. Also of note are several other buildings dedicated to her memory, including the Tower of Poetic Recitation (Yinshi Lou), the Pavilion of the Washing of Paper (Wanjian Ting), and the Tower of the Washing of Brocade (Zhou Lou). Another lovely feature is a large bamboo grove laid out in her memory. All told, the site boasts 140 different species of bamboo, a favorite tree of the poetess.
8. Dujiangyan Irrigation System
Constructed in 250 BC, the fascinating Dujiangyan Irrigation System, near the town of Guanxian on the upper reaches of the Minjiang River, some 55 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, is well worth a visit. Constructed to prevent catastrophic flooding, this amazing system included a network of earth dams with sections branching out into tributaries and canals to irrigate fields. The system comprises interestingly named components such as the Fish’s Jaws, which functions as a watershed and dike; the weir known as Flying Sands (Feisha Yan); and the canal, the Neck of the Precious Bottle (Baoping Kou). As a result of this ingenious system, the Minjiang hasn’t flooded for more than 2,200 years, and the Chengdu Plain of central Sichuan has become one of China’s most fertile regions.
9. Jianmen Pass Scenic Route
Accessible from Chengdu along the ancient Sichuan Road (Shudao), the Jianmen Scenic Route, although a round trip of more than 300 kilometers, is often included in the itinerary for formalized tour groups, and is well worth a visit for those traveling solo or in smaller groups via professional tours departing regularly from the city. This scenic route takes in the spectacular Jianmen Pass (Jianmen Guan) — or Sword Gate Pass in English — noted for its steep slopes surrounded by some 72 peaks, as well as many important historical and cultural sites including the Old Plank Road, the Thousand-Buddha Cliff, Mount Douchui, and Huangze Temple. But the main highlight is the reconstructed gate itself, a superb replica of the original, which protected the road during the Ming Dynasty and for centuries after.
10. Mengding Shan Tea Plantation
Given the popularity of the beverage in China – not to mention across the rest of the world – no trip to Chengdu is complete without paying a visit to an authentic tea plantation. One of the country’s oldest tea-growing regions is Mengdingshan, just a two-hour journey (and an easy day trip) from the city. In addition to enjoying beautiful scenery, a plantation visit provides a chance to learn about the different types of tea, as well as its importance in Chinese traditions and culture. A great way to experience the region’s deep connection to tea firsthand is via an organized group tour such as a private Tea-Making Tour of Mengdingshan Tea Plantation. This day-long adventure includes pickup (and drop-off) from your Chengdu hotel and the chance to meet a local farmer who will share details of the tea-growing process, along with the history of the country’s ancient tea-making rituals (an English-speaking guide is provided).
11. Qingyang Monastery
Also often referred to as Qingyang Palace, the Qingyang Monastery (Qing Yang Gong) is well worth taking the time to explore (it certainly helps that it’s an easy walk from the already mentioned Wenshu Monastery). Considered one of the most important Chinese Taoist temples, parts of this historic site can be traced back as far as the 7th century and the Tang Dynasty, with newer sections built or restored in later centuries. Be sure to make a bee-line for the impressive Eight Trigrams Pavilion, the site’s most remarkable structure and notable for its octagonal shape, large glazed dome, and dragon-emblazoned pillars. Also notable here are the temple’s famous bronze goats, brought here from Beijing, as well as a large collection of important Taoist artifacts. If time allows, be sure to partake in a soothing beverage at the on-site tea house.