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Top 10 Ancient Cities in China

Benefiting from the 5,000 years’ history, many ancient cities exist in the vast land of China. Some of them used to be regional economic centers, some witnessed historic upheaval, some were important military strongholds, and some are known for marvelous cultural relics or handicrafts. Here are the top 10 ancient cities in China, and each has their unique features.

10 ancient cities

 Location: 70km (43mi) southwest of downtown Jinzhong, Shanxi Province; 4 hours’ high speed train ride from Beijing and 3 hours’ from Xi’an
 History: 2,700 years
 Top Attractions: Ancient City Wall, Ancient Ming-Qing Street, Rishengchang Former Bank, Ancient Government Office, Temple of the City God
 Opening Hours: 08:00-17:30
 Ticket Price: Free entry, CNY125 per combo ticket for attractions inside

The Ancient City of Pingyao is one of the foremost well-preserved ancient cities in China, and its history dates back to 828 BC-783 BC of the Western Zhou Dynasty. Nevertheless, it is now most famous for retaining the architectural motifs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911). Four main streets, eight minor streets and seventy-two alleys are horizontally and vertically straight as they were originally. Besides, at this ancient China city, over 300 historical sites and 4,000 folk dwellings bring tourists a clear panorama of people’s life at that time.

Speaking of which, Pingyao used to be the financial center of China in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and local merchants did business all over China and in central and southeast Asia and Europe. Accordingly, China’s earliest modern bank took shape here. If you’re interested, why not ask a shopkeeper for an archaistic bank draft as a souvenir? In addition, during the tour, one can experience many folk activities such as stilt walking and Yangko dancing.

 Recommended Tour:  3 Days' Pingyao Ancient Town Tour from $439
 Location: Lijiang City, Yunnan Province, southwest China
 History: 750 years
 Top Attractions: Sifang Street, Mu Fu Mansion, Big Waterwheels, Guanmenkou, Qiyi Street
 Opening Hours: all day
 Ticket Price: maintenance fee CNY50 per adult, CNY28 for Lion Mountain, CNY28 for Wangu Tower

This ancient city in China took shape at the turn of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Situated among hills and waters, this place was naturally designed with lots of water channels and bridges. Ancient craftsmen also drew upon the building techniques of the local Naxi, Bai and Yi ethnic minorities, and the use of wooden structure, screen wall and skylight was really impressive. 

Apart from architecture, Lijiang Old Town also stands out for ethnic minorities’ diversified culture. Here, one can appreciate Naxi people’s traditional music, watch their worshipping and wedding ceremony, and get to know their unique methods of divination. If you come to this old city in China in July or August, you may have chance to attend the lively Torch Festival. Besides, many stores selling tea, silver ware or accessories are worth visiting.

 Recommended Tour:  3-Day Lijiang Private Tour from $349
 Location: Dali, Yunnan Province, southwest China, about 130km (80mi) south of the Lijiang Old Town
 History: 630 years
 Top Attractions: Renmin Street, Wuhua Tower, Cangshan Gate, Catholic Church, Ancestral Hall of General Jiang
 Opening Hours: all day
 Ticket Price: maintenance fee CNY30 per adult, extra charge for some attractions inside

During the Tang (618-907) and Song Dynasties, Dali was a politically, economically and culturally important city in ancient China. Owing to warfare, it was not until 1382 that the formal construction of this ancient city took place. However, most of the temples, academies and dwellings we see now were built from the Ming Dynasty to the Republic of China (1912-1949).

The culture of the Bai ethnic minority is a more striking feature of this ancient China city. Versatile Bai people boast their own music, play and dance, thus the performance can bring tourists a visually and acoustically refreshing experience. Also, it is a great pastime to learn tie-dying or wax printing from them and make your own T-shirt or handbag with cute patterns on. If you want to choose a gift, a handicraft carved from wood or marble will never go wrong. By the way, remember to taste papaya chicken, sour and spicy fish, and grilled pork. These are Bai’s specialties and cannot be found anywhere else.

 Recommended Tour:  3-Day Private Tour to Kunming - Dali from $729
 Location: Tujia and Miao Autonomous Region, Hunan Province, south China; 150km (93 mi) south of Zhangjiajie
 History: 470 years
 Top Attractions: Tuojiang River, Rainbow Bridge, Wanming Tower, Tuojiang Hanging House, Former Residence of Shen Congwen, 
 Opening Hours: all day; 08:00-17:30 for Tuo River day cruise; 18:00-22:30 for night cruise
 Ticket Price: Free entry, CNY148 per combo ticket for attractions inside

Constructed in 1556, Fenghuang Ancient Town is another historical city in China known for ethnic diversity. Generations of Miao, Tujia and Han people live here, and it now accommodates 28 ethnic groups in total. Other than that, quaint temples, ancestral shrines and riverside stilt houses all contribute to this place’s unique charm.

Taking a Tuo River cruise is a good way to enjoy Fenghuang’s beauty, and a night cruise is even better when everything is lit up by lanterns. Then, why not try on Miao people’s traditional clothes and take a photo? This activity is especially popular among ladies because they can wear silver earrings, necklace, bracelet and headwear like Miao women do. Also, gourmets should grasp this chance and taste authentic Miao dishes, such as bean jelly, sour soup and fried duck blood with sticky rice (Xue Ba Ya).

 Recommended Tour:  5 Days' Private Zhangjiajie & Fenghuang Tour from $749
 Location: 85km (53mi) north of downtown Nanchong, Sichuan Province; 210km (130mi) northeast of Chengdu
 History: 2,300 years
 Top Attractions: Yong’an Temple, Ancient Examination Hall (Gongyuan), Zhongtian Tower, Huaguang Tower, Confucius Temple (Wenmiao)
 Opening Hours: 08:00-18:30 from Apr. 1st to Oct. 31st, 08:00-18:00 from Nov. 1st to Mar. 31st
 Ticket Price: Free entry, CNY110 per combo ticket for Zhangfei Temple, Ancient Examination Hall, Confucius Temple and other charging sites.

Langzhong area was of great military importance in ancient times, because the Daba Mountain and the Jialing River made it less easy to be conquered. The buildings inside were arrayed in grid pattern to bring positive impact, according to Chinese Feng Shui.

When talking about the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), this ancient China civilization city should not be forgotten, because Zhang Fei, the most famous general at that time, had been stationed here for seven years. During the Tang Dynasty, Langzhong experienced religious prosperity, when Taoism, Buddhism, Islamism, Christianity and Catholicism were spread here one after another. That explains why monastery, temple and church coexist with each other.

Now, many interesting activities are designed to familiarize tourists with ancient culture. For example, one can take imperial examinations, judge cases as an ancient official, or attend a traditional Chinese wedding.
 Location: 20km (12mi) northeast of downtown Huangshan, Anhui Province; about 40km (25mi) southeast of the Yellow Mountain
 History: 2,240 years
 Top Attractions: Xu Guo Stone Arch, Huizhou State Office, Doushan Street, Yuliang Block, Hui Garden
 Opening Hours: 08:00-17:00
 Ticket Price: CNY95 for one adult; CNY140 for one adult and one child; CNY230 for two adults and one child

Huizhou Ancient City was built in 221 BC, Qin Dynasty. In history, this place was mostly known for commercial prosperity, as Hui Businessmen were very competent and resilient. Also, as an advanced city in ancient China in terms of fine arts, Huizhou people created their unique genres of Confucianism, painting, opera, woodcut, seal carving and architecture. Tourists may feel them when wandering through well-preserved streets, residences and memorial archways.

After a weary day of sightseeing, why not treat yourself with local food? As one of the Eight Famous Cuisines of China, Hui Cuisine features light taste and braising techniques. Stewed soft shell turtle with ham, pickled mandarin fish, and stewed pigeon are strongly recommended.
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Jingzhou Ancient City

 Location: Jingzhou District, Jingzhou, Hubei Province; 190km (120mi) west of Wuhan
 History: 2,200 years
 Top Attractions: Ancient City Wall, Binyang Building, Temple of Lord Guan, Former Residence of Zhang Juzheng
 Opening Hours: 08:00-17:30
 Ticket Price: Free, reservation requested.

Constructed in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC-256 BC), Jingzhou Ancient City used to be a quay originally. After hundreds of years’ expansion, Jingzhou ushered in its crucial period during the Three Kingdoms Period. Given its favorable geographical location, the Kingdom of Wei (220-265), Shu (221-263), and Wu (222-280) contended for this place for a long time, and many historical sites built at that time are preserved till now. 

Live performances, adapted from real stories in history, are another way for tourists to learn about the Three Kingdoms culture. Skillful actors and vivid settings can bring every one back to the riverine warfare and Lord Guan’s triumphant return at that time. In addition, every January and May 13th of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the bustling temple fair in memory of Lord Guan revivifies this old Chinese city. Tourists can have fun riding horse, shooting arrow and watching dragon dance.
 Location: Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province; 140km (87mi) south of Kunming
 History: about 1,200 years
 Top Attractions: Swallow Cave, Chaoyang Tower, Confucius Temple, National Examination Site of Xuezheng, Zhu’s Family Garden
 Opening Hours: all day
 Ticket Price: Free entry, CNY18 for Zhu’s Family Garden, CNY28 for Swallow Cave, CNY20 for Confucius Temple, CNY13 for Chaoyang Tower, CNY10 for National Examination Site

Jianshui Ancient Town was built in 810, Tang Dynasty. Now, historical sites and traditional residences are the highlights of this ancient city in China. Tourists may roam around various buildings, from Hani people’s thatch- or bamboo-roofed house to Yi and Dai people’s bungalow, from quaint temples to classical gardens.

As a major city in ancient China which upheld Confucianism, Jianshui has two characteristic attractions, Confucius Temple and the National Examination Site. Here, tourists can dress in traditional Han clothes, appreciate ancient music, and try archery or seal carving. Besides, there are three Confucian ceremonies for children, including the First Writing Ceremony, Goodbye to Childhood Ceremony and the Coming of Adult Age Ceremony.

Having delicious food is also an important part of your tour to Jianshui. No.1 food you must try is the Jianshui Grilled Tofu, which is cheap and can be seen everywhere. Steam Pot Chicken and Crossing Bridge Rice Noodles are bound to arouse your appetite.
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Shangqiu Ancient City

 Location: Suiyang District, Shangqiu City, Henan Province; 120km (75mi) east of Kaifeng; 180km (110mi) east of Zhengzhou
 History: 4,000 years
 Top Attractions: Academy of Yingtian Prefecture, Zhang Xun Ancestral Hall, Former Residence of Hou Fangyu, Confucius Temple
 Opening Hours: 08:00-17:30 in winter; 08:00-18:00 in summer
 Ticket Price: CNY70 per combo ticket

Situated in the Yellow River Valley, Shangqiu area is considered the birthplace of Chinese civilization. From the Xia Dynasty (21st -17th century BC) to the Tang Dynasty, this Chinese old city was a distributing center of grain, salt, tea and silk, and experienced a long period of commercial prosperity. Unfortunately, a flood severely hit here subsequently, and six towns of previous generations were engulfed. From 1503 to 1540, ancient people reconstructed the Shangqiu Ancient City right on the original site. No wonder people also call it a multi-layered city.

The best time to visit it is around the Chinese New Year, when the grandest temple fair at Shangqiu is held to worship the God of Fire. Various folk performances and the festival atmosphere will bring you an unforgettable experience. Apart from temple fair or festival parade, stores at the Shangqiu Ancient City can also feast your eyes on beautiful embroidery, paper cut, wickerwork and clay sculptures.
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Xiangyang Ancient City

 Location: Xiangyang City, Hubei Province; 250km (155mi) northwest of Wuhan
 History: 2,200 years
 Top Attractions: Ancient City Wall, Gulongzhong, Zhongxuan Tower, Zhaoming Building, Migong Temple, Green Screen Wall, Migong Temple
 Opening Hours: 08:00-17:30
 Ticket Price: Free entry, CNY10 for City Wall, CNY28 for Migong Temple

Xiangyang Ancient City was said to be built in 201 BC, Western Han Dynasty. Surrounded by water on three sides, this area was blessed with conditions of being a military port, and it was in the Tang Dynasty when it began to expand from a fortress to a city. Since militarists of different regimes all attached great importance to Xiangyang, this ancient Chinese city experienced many fierce battles, particularly during the Three Kingdoms and the late Song Dynasty. 

Though thousands of years went by, tourists can still feel the vicissitudes of history through the well-preserved city wall and moat at the Xiangyang Ancient City. After that, you may visit some historical sites of ancient celebrities. The top two are Gulongzhong and Migong Temple, where Zhuge Liang, a famous politician of the Three Kingdoms, and Mi Fu, a talented painter of the Northern Song, once lived.

- Last modified on Apr. 14, 2021 -
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