What to do in Chengdu – LTL’s Travel Guide

Are you looking for things to do in Chengdu? You’ve landed on the right page!

Chengdu is famous worldwide as the home of the Giant Panda.

A first-time visitor to the city will notice cartoon pandas everywhere – on the side of subway carriages, in shop windows, and even on the doors of local taxis. They’re certainly Chengdu’s best ambassadors. 

We get it, they are super cute.

But we’re here to tell you now – there’s so much more to Chengdu than pandas!

Firstly though… A Brief History of Chengdu

Civilisation has thrived here for at least 4,000 years. Some people believe this makes Chengdu the longest continually-inhabited city in the world

Whoever you choose to believe, the city first enters historical records as a cultural hub for the ancient Shu people who farmed the fertile Sichuan basin.

Some of their bronze treasures can be admired today at the impressive Jinsha Site museum.

During the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25 – 220), Chengdu’s silk industry began to thrive.

The city became famous across Asia and Europe for its elaborate hand-woven brocades. (In fact, the river that flows through the city centre is called the JinJiang river, or “Brocade River” to this day.)

Things to do in Chengdu - it ain't all about the Panda's!

Things to do in Chengdu – It ain’t all about the Panda’s!

Its handy geographical location made Chengdu the starting point for the south-western branch of the Silk Road, and therefore a powerful player in the booming trade between China and the Western world.

Chengdu Today

Much more recently, in 2014, the Asian Development Bank chose Chengdu as China’s most livable city – based in part on excellent air quality records.

That accolade will come as no surprise when you walk around the city centre – it sure is green. Trees line almost every street, making this one of the leafiest major cities in Asia.

And the locals certainly know how to enjoy themselves! 

Many newcomers notice that the pace of life in Chengdu is much slower than in the big cities of the industrial North or business-centric East. Older locals will take the time out of their day to play a game of mahjong, or sip green tea in a shady corner of a traditional tea house.

Young university students like to make the most of warm summer evenings by sitting out along the banks of the river, playing guitar and drinking beer.

It’s green. It’s chill. It’s cosmopolitan.

… and therefore a brilliant place to stop by for a while, and soak in China’s ancient language and culture.

Interesting facts about Chengdu:

Chengdu - Picture Perfect

Chengdu – Picture Perfect

  • Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, in Western China. Sichuan province is also known by its nickname “Country of Heaven” 天府之过 (Tiānfǔ zhi Guó) due to the area’s fertile soil and breath-taking natural beauty.
  • As well as being the province’s political capital, it’s also the capital of Sichuanese cuisine. In fact, UNESCO recognized Chengdu as its second official City of Gastronomy in 2010.
  • Pandas are not actually native to Chengdu itself. In the wild, they live high up in the bamboo forests of the Minshan mountains, in the northeastern corner of Sichuan province. Don’t worry though, you can still see them in central Chengdu at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
  • The first paper money in the world was produced and used here – government officials in the Song dynasty realized that ‘promissory notes’ were more efficient for trade than piles of heavy coins, and produced them as legal currency.
  • The world’s largest building (by floor area) is found in Chengdu. The New Century Global Centre boasts 1.7 million square metres of shopping, entertainment and office space.

However, bigger isn’t always better, in our opinion. It feels rather soulless and outdated in there – especially since we now have newer, funkier shopping malls like TaiKooLi in the city centre.

  • The official logo of Chengdu is the Golden Sun bird – a 3,000-year-old archaeological find which you can see in real life at the Jinsha Site museum in downtown Chengdu.

 Top things to do in Chengdu – LTL’s guide

Things to do in Chengdu #1 – See the Giant Pandas

Things to do in Chengdu #2 – Visit a tea house

Things to do in Chengdu #3 – Eat Sichuan hot pot

Things to do in Chengdu #4 – Watch a Sichuan opera

Things to do in Chengdu #5 – Climb Qingcheng Mountain

Things to do in Chengdu #6 – Visit Jinsha Site Museum

Things to do in Chengdu #7 – Explore independent shops & cafés

Things to do in Chengdu #8 – See the Giant Buddha

Things to do in Chengdu #9 – Visit the Wenshu monastery

Things to do in Chengdu #10 – See the world’s first irrigation system

Things to do in Chengdu #11 – Tour a Baijiu factory

See the Giant Pandas

Panda's in Chengdu

True to their name, Chengdu’s most beloved inhabitants are indeed rather large. And fluffy. And clumsy.

And therefore adorable.

Their cuteness needs to be seen up-close for it to be appreciated. So take our advice, and skip the crowds at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

Instead, take a train out of town to the lesser-known Dujiangyan Panda Base. The thirty or so panda enclosures there are situated in a more natural, mountainous setting. And since it requires a bit of travel, there are fewer tourists too! 

Top Tip: Try to get there as early as possible, because pandas are most active in the cooler hours before midday.

How to get there: Take the high city train from Xipu railway station in Chengdu to the Mount Qincheng stop (around 30 minutes). Then take the 102 bus from the station car park to Xiongmao Jikong Zhongxin.

Enjoy some laidback tea-house culture

 Drinking tea really is a way of life here in Chengdu.

In parks and shopping districts across the city you will come across old-fashioned tea houses. These are places where people have been coming together to gossip, play games and drink tea for hundreds of years.

Many are very traditional in style, with elegant bamboo furniture and a limited menu of small snacks and locally-grown teas.

You can easily spend a whole afternoon here, watching the world go by. Many locals do, in fact! 

Top Tip: Professional ear cleaners(掏耳师) often stroll around the tea houses advertising their services by “pinging” their long metal instruments together. This is an ancient tradition which is unique to Chengdu – so keep an ear out for the distinctive noise and give it a go!

Where to go: Head to Heming Teahouse in the centre of People’s Park – one of the oldest and liveliest teahouses in town. 

Eat spicy Sichuan Hot Pot

Mild or Spicy? Which are you?

Mild or Spicy? Which are you?

No trip to Sichuan would be complete without this baptism of fire!

Sichuan hot pot is rightly known as one of the most mind-blowing culinary experiences on this planet. And where better to try it than in the capital of Sichuan province?

Demand for the hot pot experience is high in Chengdu, and the number and variety of hot pot restaurants reflect that fact.

You’re always within walking distance of some sort of hot pot restaurant – some even offer extra services such as free manicures, traditional artistic performances, or noodle dancing.

Yes, you read that right. Noodle dancing.

Top Tip: Order a cold herbal tea drink with your hot pot to help you cope with the spice. The locals’ favourite is called 王老吉 (Wáng Lǎo Jí) and is sold in all reputable hot pot restaurants!

Where to go: Check out Shujiuxiang Hot Pot restaurant (蜀九香火锅) in downtown Chengdu. They offer split pots for your table, so you can order the authentic, red-hot chilli broth alongside a milder, clear soup. 

Watch Traditional Sichuan Opera

You may have heard of Peking opera, but did you know that Sichuan has its own unique take on this ancient art form?

Sichuan opera is a blend of acting, singing and folk music, plus various stunts like face-changing (which has to be seen to be believed!).

Some shows even feature fire-breathing and shadow theatre.

We guarantee that it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever seen before…

An absolute must see experience whilst you are in Chengdu.

Where to go: There are daily Sichuan Opera performances at the Shufeng Yayun teahouse (蜀风雅韵), a stone’s throw from Chengdu Cultural Park.

Climb a Holy Taoist Mountain

Things to do in Chengdu - Mount Qingcheng

Mount Qingcheng is just a 45-minute train ride from central Chengdu, and a beautiful place to enjoy some fresh air and mountain views.

It also happens to be one of the most important sites for the Taoist religion.

The paths that thread up and down the mountainside are dotted with small Taoist and Buddhist temples, and other historical sites. Paths are easy to follow and well-maintained, as this was once a place of pilgrimage.

Top Tip: We strongly recommend that you take the hiking route up the back of the mountain (青城后山), as you will see fewer tourists and more natural beauty. Refreshments can be bought from one of the many food and drink stalls that line the hiking trails.

 

But be warned: the higher you go up, the higher the prices!

How to get there: Take the high-speed train to Qingchengshan railway station from Xipu station in Chengdu. Then hop into one of the many buses that depart to the back mountain from the station car park (look out for the characters 青城后山).

Admire ancient treasures at the Jinsha Site 

The Jinsha Site Museum is built on the exact site where a real estate company accidentally found the ruins of the 3,000-year-old Shu civilization back in 2001.

It now attracts tourists from all corners of the globe.

Ancient history buffs listen up, you’re entering paradise.

This huge state-of-the-art museum houses six thousand uncovered relics dating between 1200 and 600 BC!

How to get there: Take the 901 bus from Xinnanmen bus station, or metro line 2 to Yinpintianxia.

Explore Chengdu’s quirky shops and bars

The shopping streets known as Wide & Narrow Alleys (宽窄巷子, Kuānzhǎi Xiàngzi) are often the first port of call for tourists who want to find a souvenir of Chengdu.

These ancient, cobbled streets run parallel to one another, and attract crowds of people looking for traditional snacks, hand-crafted gifts, or maybe just a novelty panda hat.

In recent years, the area around Wide & Narrow Alleys has begun to cater to a wider variety of tourists – artisan cafés, art centres and boutique shops can also be found in the neighbouring Kuixinglou Street, for example.

How to get there: Simply take a subway to the Kuanzhai Xiangzi stop on Line 4.

See the World’s Biggest Buddha

Things to do in Chengdu - Visit the Big Buddha

Things to do in Chengdu – Visit the Big Buddha

This statue of a Buddha is officially known as the Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛), because it really is HUGE, and it’s carved out of the side of a mountain called Leshan (乐山).

Your mind will boggle as you stand like a little ant beneath his toes and look upwards.

What makes this statue even more impressive is that it was carved in the Tang dynasty, some time between 713 and 803AD. 

The scenic spot surrounding the Leshan Giant Buddha is located at the confluence of three rivers, so tourists can also view the statue in its full glory from a river cruiser or speed boat.

Top Tip: Be sure to also check out Lingyun Temple and Wuyou Temple, which are located within the Scenic Area.

How to get there: The nearest city is named after the mountain – so take a high-speed train from Chengdu East Railway Station to Leshan City (approx. one hour). Then hop into public bus number 3 to get to the scenic area (approx. 40 minutes).

Learn about Buddhism at the Wenshu Monastery

The Wenshu monastery was built during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD).

As it is still an active Buddhist temple you can expect to see both locals and monks there worshipping and burning incense.

The temple complex has its own vegetarian and vegan restaurant (文殊院素餐厅), which we would 100% recommend you visit.

The menu has a wide variety of tasty and inexpensive meat-substitute dishes – many of which of course feature that signature Sichuan spice!

How to get there: Take Metro Line 1 and get off at Wenshuyuan Subway Station.

Visit the World’s first Irrigation System

Things to do in Chengdu - Dujiangyan

Before you yawn and skip this one – hear us out.

Just thirty minutes’ train ride from Chengdu is the small but charming city of Dujiangyan.

It was here that the State of Qin designed and engineered the world’s first ever irrigation and flood control project.

They achieved their aim: to tame the mighty Min river as it cascaded down from the surrounding mountains, and as an added bonus, irrigate the local farmers’ land.

That was back in 256BC, so we’re not talking yesterday!

What’s incredible about this place is that this ancient hydraulic system is still in use today. It’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.

How to get there: Take the high-speed train to Dujiangyan from Chengdu North railway station. Then transfer to public bus 4 or 7 in the station car park, getting off at Lidui Park.

Take a tour of a Baijiu Distillery

Things to do in Chengdu - Drink!

Things to do in Chengdu – Drink!

Baijiu (白酒) is China’s most popular and oldest liquor.

10.8 billion litres of the stuff was sold in 2018.

For context, that’s more than vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and tequila combined!

At the Shuijingfang Museum in central Chengdu, visitors can take a guided tour (in Mandarin Chinese or English) to see for themselves exactly how this much-loved white spirit is made.

The museum is built on the site of an ancient 600-year old baijiu distillery, the processes are still much the same today.

You’ll even get the chance to taste some of the baijiu made by the Shuijingfang distillery at the end of your tour – winning.

There you have it – a comprehensive list of things to do in Chengdu! Hopefully we’ve sold you the city, now it’s to come and join us, learn Chinese and share some memories to last a lifetime!