Chengdu, China

Pandas may be Chengdu’s most cuddly asset, but the city is growing in stature, both as a holiday destination and in real time: gleaming skyscrapers tower over restored Qing Dynasty siheyuans (courtyard houses) and pagodas. Vivacious street markets showcase delicate paper crafts and sculpting with spun sugar, and restaurants host Sichuan opera shows where performers don bold costumes and masks and perform Biàn Liǎn (face-changing) dances and fire-spitting, or wield elaborate marionettes. Gastronomes come here to feast on the spicy hot pots and Dan Dan noodle dishes that have earnt Chengdu one of its two Unesco titles; the first as a city of gastronomy, the second for the world-heritage site Dujiangyan irrigation system, which dates back to 256 BC.

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When to go

Arrive from May to June for clement weather and the best chance for panda-cub cuddling. The rainy season runs from July to August.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Fly in to Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, where direct flights arrive from major cities within China and throughout Asia and Europe. Flights from the US stopover in Hong Kong.
  • Trains

    Chengdu North Station is the liveliest rail hub. High-speed trains arrive direct from Beijing West (a 14-hour journey), Guangzhou (13 hours), Shanghai Hongqiao (14 hours) and Xi’an South (13 hours). The city is easily navigable by using the Metro, which has three lines.
  • Automobiles

    International Driving Permits can’t be used in mainland China, so the only option for hiring your own car is to take a driving test to acquire a local licence; so, riding the Metro and walking are the easiest options for getting around. If you wish to explore further afield, ask your hotel to arrange an excursion, or hire a local driver.