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15+ Best Cultural Experiences & Activities in China to Show Off to Your Family & Friends When They Visit
So, you're living in China and have got some friends, family, or a boyfriend/girlfriend coming to visit. You know all the hot tourist hotspots, restaurants, bars, and clubs to hit, but what about actually showing off something, you know, cultural? After all, 'this is China'—a country brimming with more than 5,000 years of history and traditions. Here's my list of 15+ best cultural experiences and activities in China to show off to your family and friends when they come visit.
There are tons of exciting cultural shows and performances taking place throughout most cities in China at any given time. You have small shows like the circus, musicals, stage plays, acrobatics, and operas. Then there are huge, tourist heavy events like the “Impressions Shows” of Guilin, Yunnan, and Hangzhou. You want to give your guests a truly remarkable experience in China, then take em’ to catch at least one show.
Square dancing is one of the coolest cultural things to see—and experience if you're bold—in China. And I'm not just talking about some 5-10 old ladies getting it in on the corner of the road. Instead, take your visitors to the most popular parks or public squares in town where they can catch up to a hundred locals synchronized in action. This one's not to be missed!
It goes without saying that a trip to an ancient Chinese temple is a must-do when showing off vintage China. Buddhist statues, shrines, monks, and plenty of places to take some of your best Instagram pics. Yeah, enough said.
I visited the Grand Buddha at Lingshan in Wuxi during my 1st month in China and it blew my mind away. Here was this tall, beautifully crafted bronze religious statue perched in front of some lush green mountain. The whole scene was exceedingly pictorial, incredibly serene, immensely majestic, and I have absolutely no doubt that your guests will admire the hell of you for living in China once they’ve laid eyes on one of the country’s many awe-inspiring statues.
It was my 1st month in China and one of the absolute coolest cultural experiences I had—and stumbled upon actually—was walking into a park and catching about 15 Tai-chi practitioners carrying out moves in unison. I'd rarely seen it done live in the States, and though I often caught it in a couple of martial arts movies, there was nothing like being in China and seeing it practiced up-close. The best times to watch are around 6am and 6pm at parks or public squares.
China's ancient water towns—have you been? They're some of China’s best cultural landmarks to share with friends. Not only do they provide a great look at China's pastime, but they're also astoundingly serene, overflowing with 'fengshui', and usually have some winding alleyway riddle with street snacks, restaurants, souvenirs, and a bar or two. Did you know you can even spend the night at them? Cool, right!?
Please tell me you’ve partied in at least one KTV since you’ve moved to China. You have? Great, then you not only know just how fun they can be, but also how wildly extravagant they are and just how much of a spectacle it’d be for anybody that’s never visited a karaoke bar. This is one of the best entertaining cultural experiences they have in China, and that means it’s also a must do.
I know, a supermarket? You've got to be kidding! Actually, Chinese supermarkets are a great deal of fun as they provide the best look at normal everyday food culture across China. Check out local brands, find out what Western products made it out East, bag up live fish, frogs, or turtles, spot some fruit you've probably never seen before, and get a good look at food items that are widely consumed around the country.
China is one of THEE best places to get a proper massage at a cheap price. You've got everything from small foot massage shops on side roads (25-100RMB)—I personally love those by the way—to larger professional massage joints that offer full body work and other cool services like hot cupping therapy, ear cleaning, and even acupuncture. And the best part? You won't even need to tip! Tell me your friends won't think that's awesome!?
My mom loved that I kept on CTGN—China's English language news network—when she came to visit. She could see what events were happening across China, and best of all, gain insight on China's perspective and take on world affairs. Plus they've got some decent documentaries and entertaining coverage of local life. Hey, this one's the easiest thing you can do.
Do it. Go somewhere—anywhere, even if it’s less than an hour away. Let your guest experience all the joys of standing in long lines for train tickets and waiting in jam-packed halls while grieving over riding one of the fastest trains in the world. Or is it the other way around?
Got an E-bike? Then what are you waiting for!? Let your friends have a go at it on some quiet, open road. After all, 9 times out of 10 they're probably from a place that doesn't allow electric scooters on the street, so they'd probably get a kick out of the chance to hitch a ride on one. What's more, if you're in a major city like Shanghai that's over flooded with public sharing bikes, try skipping out on the taxi or Didi for a change and get around town on an Ofo or Mobike.
Each day swarms of people across China take to the streets, parks, public squares, boardwalks, and track and fields for brisk walks, jogs, and cycling. It's healthy, it's social, it's fun, and it'll be a HUGE inspiration for any of your guests looking to leave China with some tips on how to live well into old age.
Of course you'll want your friends to taste every bit of the best foods that China has to offer, but what exact homegrown treats should you let them try? Hotpot—eh, that's a given. How about street barbecue, local street snacks, milk tea/fruit drinks, and if they're brave enough, try out some popular Chinese appetizers like chicken feet and moon cake? C’mon, give KFC and McDonald’s a break!
Fake goods. Souvenirs. Fabrics. Electronics. There's just plenty to experience and take home—minus the attitude from the clerk that's just agreed to give you a huge price cut. Either way your guests will love it!
You should already know that China is LOADED with parks in every direction. They’ve got everything from gardens, ponds, large grass fields, and small amusement rides, to cool looking bridges, statues, and cultural/historical artwork. And sure, everyone’s seen a park or two, but remember that 'fengshui' I mentioned earlier? Well, China's parks have it to the maximum, and it’s a trip your guests will likely enjoy.
WARNING: This one ain't for everybody. Depending on which city you live in, chances are you've probably never seen one of China's raw foods markets. They’re usually held in some small/large warehouse, and they've got tables upon tables of the freshest fruits, vegetables, and herbs out there. What's more, they'll usually have a few sections for fresh fish/sea creatures and birds, ie chicken, pigeon, duck, and swan. Locals usually bag those up on the spot, meaning that things can get quite messy and ... stomach turning to say the least. If you think your crew can handle it, it'd be an interesting place to visit.
And lastly, if you’ve arranged for your guests to visit China during a holiday like Dragonboat Festival, Tombsweeping Festival, or Golden Week, it's a big chance that there'll be some type of awesome festival going on to celebrate the festivities. There may be a lantern festival, food festival, boat race, or even a parade. So, make sure to check ahead of time for scheduling!
Well, that’s my list of 15+ best cultural experiences & activities in China to show off to your family and friends when they come visit. What do you think? Did I leave anything out? If so, let the world know down below. Safe & happy travels!