Introduction to Visiting Chengdu
Chengdu is a very spread-out city. Many guidebooks and hotel attraction lists will name the tops must-sees but give you very little guidance about how long it will take to see these things, and more importantly, advise you about how long it will take to do it. You might think you can see half the city in one go, but with traffic, you might be lucky to see one or two sights.
In the following pages, we've laid out some simple itineraries that group the attractions that are closest together or make the most sense to try to see together. This should help you make the most out of your trip to Chengdu.
- Fun Evening Activities (to add to a daily itinerary)
- Half-Day Itinerary 1: Downtown Walking Tour – Dufu's Cottage – Meal at Long Chao Shou
- Half-Day Itinerary 2: Wuhouci and Jinli Street
- Full Day Itinerary 1: Wenshu Temple – Panda Breeding Base – Sanxingdui Museum
- Full Day Itinerary 2: Qingcheng Mountain & Dujiangyan
- Sichuan Province Beyond Chengdu
Fun Evening Activities to Add to Chengdu Daily Itineraries
If you're making Chengdu your base of operations, then you'll be returning to the city every day at the end of your sightseeing. But you may not want necessarily to end the day at 7 pm with dinner. Or you want to incorporate more sightseeing into dinner. Here are some options for doing just that:
Kuanzhai Alley – here you can wander down the alleys enjoying the ancient (but modernly renovated) architecture and houses. Shops and restaurants alike are open late and there are plenty of places to buy souvenirs (if you've been too busy to do so during the day), stop for a quick bite, have a beer or even enjoy a meal.
Renmin Park – this famous central park is a magnet for tea-drinkers and people watchers. There is often a light show at night, so it's a fun place to end your day.
Shunxing Ancient Tea House – while a little out of the way, this is a great spot to have a really nice Sichuan meal and then some evening entertainment. You eat in the dining room and then book a table next door for the Changing Faces Dance and show. Styled as an ancient tea house, you (and kids) can enjoy the evening show.
Jinli Street – While it's listed within a half-day itinerary, Jinli is also fun by night so consider that when you're making your plans.
Half-Day Itinerary 1: Downtown Walking Tour & Dufu's Cottage
If you're planning to do this one at the beginning of the day then get up early.
Walking Tour – this will take you from the Shangri-La (complete with coffee pit-stop) to Wang Jiang Lou Park. Allow 2 hours at a fast pace without much dawdling.
Dufu's Cottage – after leaving the park, you can drive to Dufu's Thatched Cottage. "China's Shakespeare" was a famous poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty and had a humble residence in Chengdu. The house itself is modestly interesting but the grounds surrounding are beautiful and serene. If you want to stretch out your time, you can visit the adjacent Huan Hua Xi Park.
Meal at Long Chao Shou – Not far from Dufu's Cottage is a branch of Long Chao Shou, a famous Chengdu snack restaurant servicing Sichuan and Chengdu specialties. Head there for a quick but delicious bite.
Half-Day Itinerary 2: Wuhouci and Jinli Street
Wuhouci – looks like a temple but it is actually a shrine to Zhuge Liang, a prime minister of the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms Period in Chinese history. Along with Zhuge Liang, you'll see statues of Liu Bei – the Shu emperor, Guan Yu – a Shu general and Zhang Fei – another Shu general. The three were sworn together in the Brotherhood of the Peach Garden and were very powerful during the height of the Shu Kingdom. Under Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang was prime minister and symbolizes ancient wisdom to Chinese today.
The extensive grounds are beautiful, especially in the spring when the trees are flowering. You can spend hours wandering the gardens and trying to figure out who all the famous men are who are enshrined in the Wuhouci.
Jinli Street – is adjacent to Wuhouci and you can enter it either by the main entrance or by various exit/entry points within the Wuhouci grounds. The area is connected by a set of refurbished ancient alleyways. Paths are framed by ancient buildings housing teashops, snack restaurants, and shops. It's a great place to wander around picking up souvenirs and people watching.
Full Day Itinerary 1: Wenshu Temple – Panda Breeding Base – Sanxingdui Museum
This itinerary takes a full day to accomplish. To get to Sanxingdui, you head north out of Chengdu. Wenshu Temple is within Chengdu city, the Breeding Base is in the northern suburbs and Sanxingdui is outside the city.
You should note that the best time to see the pandas in action (they sleep most of their days away), is to go in the morning to be there at feeding time. If this is the case, tack Wenshu Temple to the end of your tour. If you're not fussed, put Wenshu Temple at the beginning of your day.
Wenshu Temple – Wenshu Buddhist Temple is Chengdu's liveliest and largest Buddhist complex. Founded in the Tang Dynasty, the temple buildings date from 1691. There are a number of interesting bronze Buddhist statues, most from the Qing period but also some from the Song. The large complex also hosts a lovely teahouse where visitors can relax with tea and snacks. The alleys outside the complex are a maze of souvenir and local curiosity shops.
The Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base – The Panda Base is part educational center, part zoo, and part garden. The only animals here are giant pandas and their cousins, the red pandas. The walking is extensive as the grounds are very big but you won't be disappointed as you'll be able to see lots of pandas up close.
Sanxingdui Museum – the museum is at the site of an extensive archeological dig that has unearthed a rich collection of Neolithic, ancient Zhou, and Shang period artifacts. It is most famous for its bronzes but there are many wonderful pieces in the museum.
Full Day Itinerary 2: Qingcheng Mountain & Dujiangyan
This itinerary takes you northwest outside Chengdu. There are plenty of hotels at the foot of Mt. Qingcheng (you can also stay at a monastery on Mt. Qingcheng) so you could make this itinerary a two-day one.
Qingcheng Shan – This mountain (shan or 山 in Mandarin)is the legendary birthplace of Daoism. Visiting the mountain includes light to moderate trekking and lots of stairs. You'll enjoy seeing a multitude of Daoist shrines, monks and interesting folk who make the pilgrimage here.
Lunch (or Dinner) Stop at Shou Zhang Ji Near Dujiangyan – If you are on your way to Dujiangyan around mealtime, then do make sure to stop in at Shou Zhang Ji for a delicious Sichuan meal.
Dujiangyan - is called an "irrigation project" in brochures and guidebooks but what it is in actuality is as incredible as the Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors if you consider the sheer feat of human ingenuity that it took to accomplish it thousands of years ago.
Sichuan Province Beyond Chengdu
There's so much in Sichuan Province to do that you don't have to stay in Chengdu the whole time. (Indeed, you should not.)
A good 2-3 day activity is an overnight visit to Mt. Emei and a visit to UNESCO sight Leshan where a giant Buddha sits on the way to or from Emei-shan back to Chengdu.
Another must-see is Jiuzhaigou. This nature park is one of China's most famous. You can fly from Chengdu just under an hour south to the park. The area is populated by Tibetan people and you can make a home-stay with them or stay at any number of hotels near the park. Plan for at least three days in Jiuzhaigou. The altitude can be a problem for some, so make this a consideration.