If you’re looking to explore Imperial Chinese Sites, Imperial China era historical places and want to find the best places to view Imperial China history our interactive map and sites list will set you on your way.
There’s a great selection of Imperial Chinese Sites and you can plan some fantastic things to see on your trips. Once you’ve explored the list of Imperial China era sites and selected those you wish to visit you can use our itinerary planner tool to plan your trip and then print off a free pocket guidebook. This indispensible holiday guide will help you make the most of your time exploring Imperial China sites.
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Beihai Park is vast, well preserved imperial chinese palace and garden dating back to the 1st century AD.
Beihai Park is an imperial garden and palace in Beijing, China established during the Liao Dynasty in the first century AD. Since then, Beihai Park has undergone significant changes and renovations, with each imperial dynasty making its mark on the gardens. In fact, Beihai Park has served as a haven for every Chinese royal family since its founding, including the Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties through to 1911.
Spanning more than 69 hectares, Beihai Park contains numerous historical structures and was considered at one time to be the “nucleus” of Beijing. The most famous aspects of Beihai Park are Qionghua Island with its iconic white 17th century dagoba, Tuancheng Island, and the north bank containing the Five-Dragon Pavilions.
Behai Park is rich with references to Chinese mythology, particularly as relates to the fairyland mountains of Penlai, Yingzhou and Fangzhang on which its structure is based. Many Chinese emperors have built their palaces in accordance with these fairytales as they are supposed to guarantee immortality.
Visitors to Beihai Park can enjoy not only its expansive grounds, but its many Buddhist temples, exhibitions, royal residences and halls.
Emei Shan was the site of China’s first ever Buddhist temple and remains one of its most holy sites.
Emei Shan (Mount Emei) is amongst the holiest of Buddhist sites with a history stretching 2,000 years. It was here that China’s first ever Buddhist temple was built and it is on the mountain of Emei Shan that one can still find thirty temples as well as the famous Giant Buddha of Leshan, the largest in the world.
Today, hikers tend to spend three days exploring the historical and natural wonders of Emei Shan. Amongst the highlights of the tour is the oldest surviving temple building on the mountain, Wannian Si. Built in 1611, it contains a famed golden statue of the Buddhist enlightener Puxian. Visitors also clamour to see the beautiful Qingyin Ge, the vast Ming dynasty bell of the temple of Baonguo Si - said to the audible for 10 miles – and, of course, the stunning views from the Golden Summit which rises to over 10,000 feet.
Emei Shan has been a World Heritage site since 1996, with UNESCO describing it as “one of the four holy lands of Chinese Buddhism”.
It’s worth mentioning the monkeys found at Emei Shan which are known for their aggressive behaviour.
One of the most imposing Imperial China era sites, the Giant Buddha of Leshan, China, is the largest Buddha in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Giant Buddha of Leshan, also known as Dafo or the Great Buddha statue in Leshan, China, is a massive sculpture of a sitting Buddha which was carved into Mount Lingyun from 713 AD.
At an incredible height of 230 feet, the Giant Buddha of Leshan was originally created by a monk called Haitong to oversee passing ships travelling along the Qingyi, Min and Dadu rivers beneath it. the Giant Buddha of Leshan was completed in around 803 AD, although Haitong did not live to see his masterpiece completed.
Since then, many Buddhist temples and structures were built around the Giant Buddha of Leshan, transforming the area into one of China’s most important centres of Buddhism.
Visitors can take the steep stairs down to the Giant Buddha of Leshan's enormous feet, sail by in a boat or cross the Haoshang Bridge to catch a good view of this magnificent site.
In 1996, the Giant Buddha of Leshan became a UNESCO World Heritage site together with the Mount Emei Scenic Area. It is also featured as one of our top ten Tourist Attractions of China.
Probably the most famous of all Imperial Chinese sites, the Great Wall of China is a world renowned ancient defensive structure dating back to the Qin Dynasty.
The Great Wall of China is an iconic structure and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Great Wall was originally made up of several different defensive walls constructed throughout China between of 476 and 221 BC.
It was during the reign of the first Emperor Qin Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC that the Great Wall of China was amalgamated into the single structure we know today. This process took around ten years, 180 million cubic metres of earth and over one million workers to complete.
Amongst the many legends surrounding The Great Wall of China is the belief that some of the structure is made of the bones of workers who died during its construction.
At its peak, the Great Wall of China stretched for approximately 5,500 miles from Shanhaiguan in east China to Lop Nur in the west.
The Great Wall of China was built in order to protect China’s borders; however it never really fulfilled this goal, even when it was reconstructed during the Ming era after the Battle of Tumu in 1449. This project took a staggering hundred years to complete, not to mention an untold amount of hard labour.
Nevertheless, whilst this stronger, brick renovation did provide some defensive qualities, even this didn’t stop the invasion of China by the Manchu armies in 1644. After this, the Great Wall of China was then left untouched for centuries.
Today, The Great Wall of China is the country’s most famous tourist attraction and one can find sections of the wall in various places. The most popular, and therefore most touristy, of these are in Bādálǐng and the neighbouring Juyongguan, around 70km from Beijing. This part of the wall was built during the Ming Dynasty and, whilst much of it has been has been overhauled by modern restoration, it remains the most frequently visited section of the Great Wall.
It’s best to visit this section during the week to avoid the weekend crush. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in China.
The Huánghuā section of the Great Wall of China is a less often visited part of the ruins of this world famous Imperial Chinese site.
The Huánghuā section of the Great Wall of China is far less visited than its counterparts in Mùtiányù and Bādálǐng. This is due to a number of factors, including the fact that it is further from Beijing and that it is not promoted as part of the traditional tourist trail.
The Huánghuā section was built under the remit of Lord Cai during the Ming Dynasty. He went to extraordinary lengths to build each bit of this section, including investing an entire day’s labour by each worker on every inch of the wall. Unfortunately for Cai, rather than seeing this as an act of diligence, the Ministry of War of the time decried it as an extravagance and he was duly beheaded.
Note that this is not an officially open part of the Great Wall and that the Chinese government have on ocassion prevented people from going there and even issue fines for visiting it. For more historical information about the Great Wall, see the Bādálǐng entry.
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China is a slightly less well-known section of this a famous ancient defensive structure.
The Mùtiányù section of the Great Wall of China dates back to the Qin Dynasty, although it was renovated during the Ming era.
The added distance to Mùtiányù from Beijing, as opposed to Bādálǐng, makes it a less touristy and less crowded experience. There’s a cable car taking visitors onto the wall or you can take the stairs. For more information on the Great Wall of China, see the main Bādálǐng entry.
Jingshan Park in Beijing, China is an ancient Imperial Chinese garden turned public park.
Jingshan Park in Beijing, China started life as an imperial garden in Ming Dynasty era during the reign of Emperor Yongle. Jingshan Park has often been called “Coal Hill” due to the fact that it is an artificial mound made up of soil extracted during construction of the Forbidden Palace moat.
The intention in building the hill in Jingshan Park, a feat undertaken with a combination of manual labour and animals alone, was to protect Beijing from evil spirits.
Visitors to Jingshan Park can see numerous historic structures including the holy Hope Tower or "xiwanglou", the coffins of the members of the Qing Dynasty at the Visiting Virtue Hall or “Guandedian” and the site where the final emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, hung himself from a Chinese scholar tree (although the tree is no longer there).
The Longhua Temple in Shanghai is a tenth century Buddhist monastery.
The Longhua Temple in Shanghai is a Buddhist monastery dating back to 977AD, although a temple has existed on the site since 687 AD. As the largest of Shanghai’s temples, it is a popular site together with its pagoda and nineteenth century bell.
The UNESCO listed Longmen Caves contain a vast collection of Buddhist statues dating back to the Northern Wei Dynasty.
The Longmen Caves or Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang, China are a series of approximately 2,000 caves containing in excess of 100,000 stone carved Buddhist statues, some dating back as far as the fifth century.
The Longmen Caves were created during the rule of the Northern Wei Dynasty in around 494 AD. It was at around this time that they moved their capital from Datong to Luoyang.
One of the most well preserved of the Longmen Caves is the Lotus Flower Cave, whilst one of the most impressive sites is the 56 foot statue of the Vairocana Buddha, with her mysterious smile. The incredible collection of statues at the Longmen Caves has been added to over the centuries, notably by the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty.
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Cave is also a famed member of the Longmen Caves, probably constructed in around 680AD during the Tang Dynasty and housing, as the name suggests, many statues of Buddha.
Unfortunately, many of the statues at the Longmen Caves have been destroyed or vandalised, mostly during the twentieth century. Some parts have even been removed from the caves and can be seen at various museums such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Longmen Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in China.
One of the most interesting Imperial Chinese sites, the Ming Tombs house the mausoleums of 13 of the Ming Emperors, dating back to the fifteenth century.
The Ming Tombs were established by the third Ming emperor, Yongle, in the fifteenth century and house the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty.
Three of the Ming Tombs are open to the public. Emperor Yongle’s tomb, known as Chang Ling, is perhaps the most remarkable of the three, with its ornate interiors and impressive architecture.
However, it is the Ding Ling tomb which is the only one to have been excavated and the only Ming Tomb in which visitors can enter the underground vault.
The Ding Ling tomb is the final resting place of emperor Wanli, the longest serving Ming emperor, often blamed for the fall of the dynasty. Unfortunately, most of the artefacts and original pieces in the Ding Ling tomb have been destroyed, but visiting the tomb is an interesting experience in itself.
The final tomb, known as Zhao Ling, is the mausoleum of the emperor Longqing, the 13th Ming emperor. This site features as one of our Top Visitor Attractions of China.
The Pingyao Ming City Walls are some of the best preserved Ming dynasty era walls in China.
The Pingyao Ming City Walls in China are some of the sole surviving fortifications of their kind. Built in around 1370 by the Ming Hongwu Emperor, these 39 foot walls span 6km in length and are one of the major factors in the decision to make the Ancient City of Pingyao a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At the time when the Pingyao Ming City Walls were constructed, the city was an important banking centre. In fact Pingyao was the site of China’s first bank, the Rishengchang. However, this success also led to Pingyao’s downfall in the Qing era when the ruling dynasty was forced to relinquish power when they failed to pay back loans. The banking industries then moved to places such as Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Extremely well preserved and still surrounding the city, the Pingyao Ming City Walls have over 3,000 battlements as well as 72 watchtowers. They also feature on our list of the Top 10 Tourist Attractions in China.
Puning Si in Chengde is an eighteenth century Quing Dynasty temple and part of a UNESCO site.
Puning Si in Chengde, China, also known as the Temple of Universal Peace, is an eighteenth century temple built by the Qing emperor Qianlong.
A blend of Chinese and Tibetan architecture, Puning Si was intended to be a symbol of harmony between the ruling dynasty and the ethnic minorities in the area. In particular, it was meant as a monument to the Dzungar Mongols, whom the Qianlong emperor had defeated. Puning Si is part of a larger complex of temples and palaces in Chenge known as the Imperial Summer Retreat originally established in 1703.
Dominated by the 122-foot high red-coloured Mayahana Hall and surrounded by a series of buildings on a terrace, Puning Si is resplendent with Buddhist symbols and shrines. The most impressive of these is the statue of Guanyin, which rises a spectacular 73 feet and can be seen from viewing galleries.
Puning Si is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Chengde Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples. It is also featured as one of our Top Tourist Attractions of China.
The Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an, China explores the history of the Shaanxi people.
The Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an, China explores the history of the Shaanxi region and contains over 350,000 pieces dating back as far as the Neolithic period.
Divided chronologically, the museum has dedicated rooms for, amongst others, the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, the Qin Dynasty, the Han Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty. Most of the collection at the Shaanxi History Museum is made up of gold and silver artefacts as well as ceramics and ancient coins.
Translation within the Shaanxi History Museum is quite good and it does have quite a few English panels.
Shuanglin Si in Pingyao is a 1,500 year old Buddhist temple, famous for its two thousand lifelike statues.
Shuanglin Si (Shuanglin Temple) is a holy Buddhist site in the UNESCO listed walled city of Pingyao.
The first Shuanglin Si was built in the sixth century during the Wei Dynasty, however the current incarnation dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In the time of these two dynasties, a period spanning from 1368 to 1911, Pingyao was an important banking centre.
Shuanglin Si is now famous for its approximately 2,000 Buddhist statues, each individually created and dating from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries. Each clay statue is unique and has a character of its own. These are spread over the ten halls of Shuanglin Si.
The Temple of Heaven is a holy site in Beijing, China constructed during the Ming Dynasty era and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Temple of Heaven in Tiantan Park in Beijing was originally built by Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle in 1420 as a place of worship for Chinese emperors. However, it was only during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor that the site was named The Temple of Heaven as well as being extended and renovated.
Constructed in accordance with Chinese religious principles, The Temple of Heaven is characterised by square buildings with round roofs, the square aspects representing the earth and the circular ones representing heaven. Amongst these buildings are The Imperial Vault of Heaven, The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, where emperors would perform sacrifices to ensure a good harvest year, and The Circular Mound Altar, which was enlarged in 1749 by Emperor Quanlong.
The Temple of Heaven represents is the oldest holy temple in Beijing and the only surviving Ming Tang building as well as being a truly authentic Ming and Qing architectural structure. Make sure to go to the museum in the northern building. Audio guides are available for a rental fee.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of over 7,000 life sized clay soldiers dating back to the third century BC.
The Terracotta Army, part of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, is one of the world’s most famous, intriguing and visually arresting ancient sites, dating back to the third century BC.
A chance find by a group of peasants in Xian in 1974, the Terracotta Army is a collection of around 7,000 life sized clay sculptures of soldiers, infantry, carts and horses in battle formation, each created with its own individual features.
The Terracotta Army was created during the reign of Ying Zheng (246-210 BC) who, after several military victories became known as the First Emperor of Qin, Shi Huang Di. The Terracotta Army formed part of the elaborate mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, built from 221 BC to his death in 210 BC.
Today, the Terracotta Army is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has become a popular museum spanning an area of 190,000 square meters. Overall, a visit to the Terracotta Army Museum should take around 3 hours.
The Terracotta Army also features as one of our Top Visitor Attractions in China.
The Forbidden City in Beijing was a Chinese imperial residence for nearly five centuries and now houses the Palace Museum.
The Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace or the Palace Museum, is a fifteenth century palace complex in Beijing.
Sprawled over a staggering 720,000 square meters and very well-preserved, The Forbidden City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China and is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.
Home of the Emperors
The Forbidden City was originally constructed under the remit of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Yongle Emperor, between 1406 and 1420, although it was the Ming Emperor Zhudi who was the first to live there. It continued to serve as the imperial residence for almost five centuries, including during the Qing Dynasty era.
In all, the Forbidden City had housed 24 emperors, the final one being the last Chinese emperor, Emperor Puyi, who was evicted in 1924.
The name “Forbidden City” derives from the fact that access to it was extremely restricted despite its central location, demonstrated by its 10 metre high walls and a 52 metre wide moat. Furthermore, with 9,900 rooms and halls and almost a thousand surviving buildings it is very much a city within a city.
Inside the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is characterised by its clear street plans lined with buildings made up of vermillion walls rising up to meet yellow roofs.
Inside the Forbidden City Museum, visitors can see the vast collection of artwork together with religious and imperial artefacts dating back as far as the seventh century. Tours range from two hour tours to a full day and audio guides are available for a fee. You can see the tour routes through a very fun little application on the Palace Museum’s official site.
This site also features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in China.
The Hongwu Emperor Mausoleum is the burial place of the first Ming Emperor.
The Hongwu Emperor Mausoleum (Ming Xiao Ling) is the burial site of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang. The Hongwu Emperor Mausoleum was built in the course of the emperor’s life and completed in 1405, seven years after his death.
Located in the Purple Mountains or “Zĭjīn Shān” it is the only Ming Dynasty tomb in the area. The Hongwu Emperor Mausoleum is an impressive site, yet it would have been all the more imposing in its heyday, most of it having been destroyed in the Taiping Revolution.
Today, visitors can tour the tomb complex, seeing statues and monuments such as the Shengong Shengde Stele together with memorial tablets.
The ruins of the Old Ming Palace in Nanjing were once part of a magnificent fourteenth century palace complex.
The Old Ming Palace (Ming Gugong) in Nanjing is a ruin of the remains of what was once a magnificent palatial complex built by the first Ming Emperor Hongwu in the fourteenth century. At that time, Nanjing was the capital.
Much of the Old Ming Palace has been destroyed, first by a series of fires and then by the attacks of Manchu and Taiping forces. The ruins of the Old Ming Palace in Nanjing are still worth seeing however. They include numerous pillars which allow one to comprehend the original layout of the palace together with ten bridges and the Meridian Gate.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Old Ming Palace is the range of ornate detailing in its remaining ruins, which offer a glimpse into the splendour of the original palace.
The Shanghai Museum is a museum of art and history in Shanghai in China.
The Shanghai Museum is a museum of ancient Chinese art in Shanghai in China.
From calligraphy and seals known as ‘chops’ to ancient coins and its celebrated bronze exhibition, the Shanghai Museum has pieces dating back to prehistoric times and through to the Qing Dynasty.
The Shanghai Museum also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in China.
The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Museum is dedicated to one of the greatest civil conflicts in China’s history.
The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Museum (Taiping Tianguo Lishi Bowuguan) in Nanjing chronicles the thirteen year civil conflict in which a vast militia raised by Hong Xiuquan rebelled against the Qing Dynasty. This was sparked by high taxation imposed by the dynasty to raise funds to pay an indemnity to Britain following the Opium Wars.
The rebellious military force Hong raised was known as the Taiping Tianguo, literally translated as the “Kingdom of Heavenly Peace”. The rebellion started in January 1851 and, in March 1853, the Taiping Tianguo captured Nanjing and allocated it as its capital. Following a siege which claimed Hong’s life, the Taiping Tianguo was finally defeated in 1864.
Part of the building in which the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Museum is housed – it’s gardens to be precise - originally belonged to the Ming Emperor Hongwu and the building itself served as the base of one of the leaders of the Taiping Tianguo.
Today, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Museum offers an insight into the rebellion through artifacts from the period, displaying everything from coins to weaponry.
Zhonghua Gate is one of the remains of Nanjing’s fourteenth century city walls.
Zhonghua Gate, also known as “Men Chengbao” and the “Gate of China” is the vast city gate of Nanjing in China which dates back to the reign of Hongwu, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1398). At that time, it formed part of Nanjing’s 33km long city walls.
With its thick walls, large arched entrance tunnels and inner courtyards designed to trap any enemy who dared to try to the breach this fortification, the Zhonghua Gate was an essential defensive structure. In fact, nobody ever tried to attack this gate, perhaps a testament to its imposing nature.
Some of the most interesting aspects of the Zhonghua Gate are its incredible ramparts, which allowed soldiers easy access to its peak, and the bricks themselves which were signed by their creators, offering a glimpse into the past. Today, the Zhonghua Gate is a popular tourist attraction with a small museum inside and the ability to walk around its walls and battlements.