I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Before going to Chengdu, China, I had no idea what there would be to do in Chengdu. I associated Chengdu with pandas, spicy Sichuan food, and nothing more. I was about spending all my time in Chengdu eating Sichuan noodles but figured it was worth it to research what to do in Chengdu. I was stunned to learn just how many unusual things to do in Chengdu there really are.
In this Chengdu Travel Blog, we will not only share the top things to do in Chengdu China but also share some travel tips about Chengdu and how to plan your Chengdu itinerary. This includes recommendations for a few day trips from Chengdu as well.
What To Do In Chengdu China
Where To Stay in Chengdu China
We stayed at Niccolo Chengdu, and loved it! We also have some other recommended Chengdu hotels in the center of the city when you visit Chengdu. I would recommend staying in the city center, in the Jin Jiang district, near the IFS shopping area. There is a train station to get you around the city. Plus, it’s really easy to find great food, shopping, Chengdu nightlife in this part of town. All of our Chengdu hotel recommendations are in this area.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
Chengdu Tourist Attractions
Before diving into the top attractions in Chengdu, many travelers are not familiar with the city and what it offers. The city was not on our to-do list during our first trip to China, which included the top cities for travelers including Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian. All well before this travel blog even existed. Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan Province and is one of the largest cities in Western China. Despite its size, Chengdu has only recently been considered as an up-and-coming Chinese destination for travelers. This is because although it is a big city, it has a more relaxed vibe, and is much more approachable for tourists who often feel overwhelmed traveling in China (us included). It’s also home to some amazing activities and even more amazing food. We will share tips on how to enjoy both.
Top Things To Do In Chengdu Blog
Of course, I will say some of the Chengdu attractions include pandas and spicy food, but there is more to Chengdu travel than that! Some of these experiences are in Chengdu city, but some require some travel away from town. If you are interested in cycling, check out this post on cycling China.
Experience Chengdu Panda Conservation
There are several ways to see the pandas in Chengdu. It’s possible to book a Chengdu panda tour. And some of the panda parks are only thirty minutes outside of Chengdu. We figured that this could be our only trip to hang with the pandas in Chengdu, and we wanted to make the most of it. We wanted to get up close and personal, and we did.
We arranged a day as volunteers with the Dujiangyan panda base, about 90 minutes outside of Chengdu, towards the Chengdu mountains. It was a full day program, cost $100 a person plus transportation, and was well worth it. We got right up close to the pandas and had a much more interactive experience than some of the other panda centers. Let’s just say the pandas should be on any China itinerary!Book the Panda Volunteer Experience & hang with pandas for a day!
Check out our YouTube Video, a Chengdu Guide – What to do and eat:
Day Trip to the Leshan Giant Buddha
Our friend who recently traveled to Chengdu told us about the Leshan Giant Buddha. He warned it was a full day trip from Chengdu, but well worth it. He was right. Once we arrived we realized we had seen this giant Buddha on a travel TV show and it is one of the top Chengdu attractions, even though it is outside of the city. It’s over 70 meters high, or 233 feet tall, and is carved out of the mountainside.
The Leshan Buddha Experience
We entered from the top of the mountain, walked all the way down to the feet of the Buddha, and, yes, walked all the way back up. All well worth it, even in the summer heat. We’ve never seen a Buddha like this before. Definitely, a top attraction in Chengdu, even if technically outside of Chengdu. The entrance to the Leshan Giant Buddha costs about $10. The hotel arranged for a car to drive the four of us out and back, offered an English speaking guide, and prepared a packaged lunch for us to eat in Leshan.
It was nice getting back into an air-conditioned vehicle to drive us back after the Buddha trek. Chengdu sightseeing in the summer can be tiring. We all promptly passed out, after snacking on our luxury lunch box, which included fresh tomato and basil salads and sandwiches. The total for everything was approximately $300 (transport, English guide, tickets, and lunch for four people), which is not too bad considering the trip takes two hours each way.Book a private day trip to see the Leshan Giant Buddha
Chengdu Food Tour
We’ve been on food tours all over Asia and Europe. They can be a great way to see a city while eating loads of typical local dishes. The folks over at Lost Plate food tours took the experience to a whole new level. Not only did we zoom around the city on tuk-tuks, but we climbed through the window to get to one of the restaurants, and finished the night at a bar on the 21st floor of a high rise building overlooking the city. It gave an inside peek into Chengdu nightlife and Chengdu street food.
Our tour guide, Ella, was fabulous, energetic, and knowledgable, making sure we had a great experience. I cannot recommend the Lost Plate food tour enough. It has to be one of the best Chengdu tours.
Chengdu Pro Travel Tip:
The Lost Plate Chengdu Food Tour runs daily at 7 pm, and can be booked for $50 on their website. Pricing is based on two people and includes the private tuk-tuk ride, a pick up from centrally located hotels, and four to five stops. They also include unlimited cans of beer!
People’s Park for Tea and Ear Cleaning
This is why we watch travel shows to do our research. First, we saw the Leshan Giant Buddha on a travel show. It is also where we learned about Chinese ear cleaning. An ear cleaning expert (hopefully) comes to the table with long metal sticks and pokes around in your ear for a bit. What could be more fun than that? Or more dangerous?
I passed on the experience, but Eric, and our friend, Evo, sat down at People’s Park to see who had the dirtiest ears. Although the verdict is still out on that, it was a once in a lifetime experience, and a reason to visit Chengdu. And, we enjoyed a lovely pot of local tea while enjoying the festivities.
Chengdu Travel Tip: People’s Park in Chengdu is easily accessible by the Metro at the People’s Park Stop on Line 2. There are two tea gardens within the park. We stopped at Chirping Crane tea garden. Menus for both tea and the ear cleaning were provided in English and included pricing. This was great because we didn’t need to haggle on pricing. Tea was about $10 a pot, per person, but you can sit there forever and they continue to refill your water. The ear cleaning and a shoulder massage costs just a little over $10.
The Wenshu Monastery is a well-preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu just north of the Jen Jiang area of the city. The monastery was built in the 7th Century. It’s free to enter. There’s also a tea house on site. Or, wander some of the surrounding streets to see more traditional life than you see in the heart of the city center. You can take the metro there too.
Du Fu Thatched Cottage
Located a little farther west (about twenty minutes drive) is Du Fu Cottage, once home to a famous Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty. Although the cottage, which dates to the 8th Century, fell into disrepair, it was renovated over time. It is now a museum to the poet and hosts a beautiful commemorative garden. Tickets cost about $8.
There is just something about dressing up a bit, walking through the lobby of a fancy hotel, and sitting back for a luxurious afternoon tea. And, when most of the day is spent eating spicy food, an afternoon tea is also a perfect respite for the palate. The Tea Lounge at Niccolo Chengdu also serves as the hotel lobby. With huge windows on three sides and stunning artwork adorning the ceiling, it is the perfect place for afternoon tea in the middle of the Chengdu shopping district.
A tower of sandwiches and sweet treats arrived, along with someone to prepare each of our teas. She walked us through the tea menu to determine which tea would be right for each of us. She poured our tea, would disappear, and quietly reappear again just as we were in need of more tea.
Chengdu Pro Travel Tip:
Afternoon tea at the Tea Lounge at Niccolo Chengdu costs about $28 per couple. Tea is extra though, as they have an amazing tea selection, which starts around $10 per pot. The Tea Lounge is located just outside of the IFS shopping mall.
Eating on Jin Li Street
Jin Li ancient street is one of the top Chengdu tourist attractions. What was once a small alleyway has now been transformed into a shopping and dining destination. Coming in through the main entrance, tourists are greeted by loads of shops. When the road splits in two, take the left road in order to find all of the Sichuan street food. Although there is some food to the right, the left is where all the goodies are. It was one of the most fun places to eat in Chengdu.
Click here for our list of what to eat in Chengdu.Book this Half Day Chengdu Back Alley Food Tour to learn more about spicy Sichuan food
Eating Hot Pot in Chengdu
Hotpot is probably one of the most quintessential Sichuan eating experiences. It’s not hard to find hot pot in Chengdu. In fact, it might be more difficult to find a restaurant that DOESN’T serve Sichuan hot pot. It seems almost every Chengdu restaurant will offer hot pot. There are several ways to eat hot pot in Chengdu. The very traditional way is to have a giant vat of boiling hot broth in the middle of the table. People place different proteins and vegetables inside to cook. Hotpot is, essentially, Chinese fondue. It can get messy.
Shopping at Taikoo Li
Taikoo Li is an enormous shopping, dining, and entertainment complex in the heart of Chengdu. Located just across the street from the IFS shopping mall, Taikoo Li is anchored by Channel and Hermes, just to name a few big brands, as well as some Chengdu bars and restaurants.
What makes Taikoo Li unique is that the entire complex is built around an ancient Chinese temple, Daci Temple. The Buddhist temple still stands, complete with a big, smiling Buddha. And, the shops and restaurants were built in a similar architectural style as well. It is unlike the big modern malls that are sprouting up across China.
Shopping at IFS
Speaking of big malls, in Chengdu is doesn’t get bigger than IFS. Although for the most part, IFS is similar to other Asian mega malls, they do have an ice skating rink and a sculpture garden on the roof. What makes IFS Chengdu unique is that part of the sculpture garden includes an enormous giant panda, crawling his way up the side of the building. From the street below it’s possible to look right up to giant panda butt. So, yeah, that’s definitely unique. The area surrounding IFS Chengdu also includes more shopping and a ton of Chengdu street food as well. It’s probably one of the most popular places to visit in Chengdu.
The one thing I found a little odd about the area surrounding IFS Chengdu was the lack of places to grab a drink. Drinking is not as much in the Chinese culture as it is in places like Vietnam, where beer is sold almost everywhere. As we circled the pedestrian-friendly blocks around IFS Chengdu it became clear that proper drinking had to be done at one of the nearby, elegant Chengdu hotel bars. The Bar at Niccolo Chengdu was the perfect place. Not only do they have an outdoor patio, which is lovely in the evening, but their bartenders make some mean cocktails too. They made us bellinis with fresh, local peaches, and a proper Old Fashioned as well.
For more nightlife options, check out Lan Kwai Fong Chengdu, a strip of bars in the southeast end of the city. Try the Hakka Bar or Jah Bar. This is definitely an area for the young or the young at heart. Closer to the center of the city there are some other cocktails bars to try, like the one at the Temple House hotel.
FAQs – Chengdu Tourism
When arriving during the day, you can take the Chengdu metro into the city center. If arriving at night, particularly after 11:30 pm, it’s best to take an airport shuttle bus from the airport arrivals gate or a taxi. If you think you might take a taxi, try printing out the name and address of your hotel in English and Chinese (or have it saved to your mobile phone). They might not use the meter, so try, if you can, to arrange the price ahead of time. It should be between 50-100 Yuan ($8-15).
The Chengdu metro is pretty easy to take. Signs are in English and prices are cheap. The metro closes before midnight. Also, if you arrive in Chengdu by train, you should be able to take the metro to your hotel. Buses are even cheaper but is not as accessible to travelers because everything is in Chinese. Taxis are pretty efficient, but most drivers don’t speak English, so have your hotel help you out. Carry a card from your hotel that includes the name and address in Chinese and English.
The temperature varies throughout the year. The best time to visit is in the spring or fall. The summers can be hot and the winters chilly. Try to plan your Chengdu itinerary in the shoulder seasons for a better trip.
The Perfect Chengdu Tours for Foodies
Looking to learn more about Sichuan cuisine during a visit to Chengdu? Here are our Chengdu province tour recommendations, including a Chengdu food tour, Sichuan cooking class, and more![table id=8 /]
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
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Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.