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 ago 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 things to do in Chengdu there really are.
Find the Best Sichuan Restaurants in Chengdu
So What is There To Do in Chengdu?
Of course I will say some of the Chengdu attractions include pandas and spicy food, but there is more to do in Chengdu than that! Some of these experiences are in Chengdu city, but some require some travel away from town.
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 that 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, 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.
In order to volunteer, it is necessary to contact the center via email well ahead of time. There is an application and a medical form as well, to show the volunteer is healthy enough to interact with the pandas.
Book the Panda Volunteer Experience & hang with pandas for a day!
Check out our YouTube Video of what to do in Chengdu:
Day Trip to the Leshan Giant Buddha
Our friend who works with Marco Polo Hotels, 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. It’s over 70 meters high, or 233 feet tall, and is carved out of the mountainside.
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 Chengdu things to do, 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 4 people), which is not too bad considering the trip takes 2 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 over looking the city. It gave an inside peek into Chengdu nightlife.
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 Travel Tip: The Lost Plate Chengdu Food Tour runs daily at 7pm, 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, from the Opportunistic Travelers 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 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.
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 eacf of us. She poured our tea, would disappear, and quietly reappear again just as we were in need of more tea.
Chengdu 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 alley way 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
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.
Cocktails at The Bar
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.
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!
|Tour||Duration||Description||Price From||Book It!|
|Half Day Sichuan Cooking Class||4 Hours||Includes a local market tour and cooking class, ending in lunch or dinner||$244|
|Hot Pot Evening Out||2 Hours||Hot pot dinner for 2 with a new Chengdu friend||$111|
|Full Day Sichuan Gourmet Food Tour||10 Hours||Includws Museum of Sichuan Cuisine, chili paste factory, lunch, and dinner||$80|
|Evening Food Tour by Tuk Tuk||4 Hours||Small group tour via tuk tuk with 4-5 stops||$59|| |
|Back Alley Foodie Tour||5-6 Hours||Market trip on foot through a local market with 7-8 stops.||$55|
Have you traveled to Chengdu? What did we miss? Tell us what to do in Chengdu in the comments below.
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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.