3 days in Chengdu, China – so much more than the giant pandas

Planning a trip to China and looking to explore the country beyond the usual Shanghai or Beijing basics? You can consider Chengdu, the capital city of China’s Sichuan province. Known as the home of the adorable giant pandas, Chengdu also boats several UNESCO World Heritage sites, traditional tea-houses and hot pot restaurants, old towns and diverse mountains of Sichuan. It’s a long way to come for just 3 days, but if you add Chengdu as an extension of a trip to China or the region, then this suggested itinerary will be very useful. There are of course numerous other destinations in this city so you might want to mix and match the suggestions below to create your own itinerary.

Things to know before traveling to Chengdu:

Language – Standard Chinese and Mandarin Chinese are the official languages of China. Learning the language is not necessary, especially in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but speaking at least some Chinese phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by locals.

Currency exchange – Chinese Yuan (CNY) is the official currency of China. Exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. You can exchange currency at the airport, hotels, malls, local banks, and money changers throughout Chengdu. ATMs are plentiful, all accepting international credit cards and debit cards, so it’s easy to withdraw your money in CNY. Credits cards are commonly accepted in most mid-range to high-end restaurants and hotels.

Chinese Yuan currency bills
Chinese Yuan currency bills (Club4traveler/Shutterstock.com)

Tourist visa – Visitors who have a layover in Chengdu, China are eligible to get a free 72-Hour Transit Visa.  Nationalities from Schengen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland), the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Australia and New Zealand are qualified to take advantage of 72-Hour Visa Free Transit Policy.

Getting to Chengdu – Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport is located 20km (12 mi) from the city center of Chengdu and is one of the main air hubs in China, ranked 4th in passenger volume. The airport serves flights to and from most major cities in China, some smaller cities within Sichuan province, and some international destinations including Amsterdam, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Kathmandu, London, Paris, Melbourne, Moscow, Mumbai, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo.

Getting around – Chengdu is the fifth largest city in China. Getting around is very easy thanks to its comprehensive road system and metro system. Taking the train is the most convenient and reliable way to get to your destinations. The fares to get to any destinations within the city is pretty cheap, just like in other cities in China. Before your trip, make sure to download a map of Chengdu Metro on your smart phone or secure a paper copy at the airport. Bicycle rentals are also available at the railway station for a minimal fee. You may also take a taxi to any part of the city, which are extraordinarily cheap.

Where to stay – There are many types of holiday accommodation in China, whether you’re looking for luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation like youth hostels and bed and breakfast. In Chengdu, hotels/hostels nearby train stations are recommended for travelers. For first time visitors, accommodation options around the People’s Park and Jinjiang District.

Hotels to consider in Chengdu:

The Temple House

The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu

Niccolo Chengdu

Hilton Chengdu

Shangri-La Hotel Chengdu

Detailed itinerary:  Chengdu, China – so much more then the giant pandas

Day 1

Panda in Chengdu Panda Base
Panda in Chengdu Panda Base (Foreverhappy / Shutterstock.com)

After your arrival at Shuangliu International Airport, check into your preferred accommodation. The airport is about 43 minutes away from the city center depending on traffic situation. There are two ways to get to downtown Chengdu – by airport bus or by taxi. Wear a comfortable walking shoes as you will do a lot of walking for today. If you arrive in the city early enough, then make your way to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. A morning tour is recommended so you can catch a glimpse of the giant pandas eating and playing.

A visit to Chengdu will not be complete without experiencing a hot pot meal. For lunch, you may try some of the best restaurants in the city offering hot pot like Long Sen Yuan Hotpot, Shu JiuXiang Hotpot Restaurant  and Qin Shan Zhai Health Estates Restaurant. In the evening, you may watch a ballet opera or cultural show at the in Shufeng Sichuan Opera House. For performance schedule and ticket prices, visit their official website. Their website currently do not have an English version, so if it’s impossible to navigate then you can arrange your visit at one of the online travel websites like TripAdvisor.

Szechuan Hot Pot
Spicy Chinese hot pot with beef, tofu, prawns, mushrooms, green leaves and noodles. Dipping beef (Paul_Brighton / Shutterstock.com)

Day 2

On the morning of Day 2, join a Sichuan Cuisine Cooking Class. On this tour, you will learn how to cook the most popular Sichuan cuisines and know its history and origin. You will also be introduced to traditional Sichuan flavors and learn the simplest way to cook them. There are plenty of tours offered online, so make sure to read reviews first before you make your reservation. Chengdu Cooking is currently the number one cooking class in Chengdu based on TripAdvisor reviews.

If you fancy food tours instead, then you may check out Lost Plate Food Tours. You will be picked up at a central location near the Chunxi Road Pedestrian Street by private tuk-tuk and wind your way through the streets and communities of Chengdu to find the best food in the city.

Day 3

Giant Buddha, Chengdu, China
The Leshan Giant Buddha is a 71-meter tall stone statue that was built between 713 and 803 AD (Beer Pintusan / Shutterstock.com)

Your final day in the city can be spent on last-minute shopping and seeing those Chengdu attractions that you haven’t yet had time for. You may also start early and go on one of the most interesting day trips out of Chengdu by heading to Leshan Giant Buddha, the largest Buddha in the world. Declared as one the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Giant Buddha was carved out of a cliff during the Tang Dynasty. Mount Emei and the Giant Buddha play a significant role in Buddhism in China.

Have you been to Chengdu or anywhere else in China? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.

Featured image: Starbucks Coffee emporium in a finely renovated home on Zhai Alley in Old Town, Chengdu, China (LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com)

China, City exploring

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