21 Photos of China’s Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Explore the natural wonders and cultural treasures in the vast nation of China.

China boasts more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country, except Italy. Honoured for their “cultural and natural heritage of outstanding value to humanity,” these 50 diverse sites include palaces perched on mountaintops, giant panda sanctuaries, and traditional villages that transport back in time.

The most celebrated places like the Great Wall of China or Emperor Qin's terra-cotta warriors need no introduction. Yet the immense nation of China offers an incredible wealth of World Heritage Sites, just begging to be explored.

WULINGYUAN This dramatic area in China's Hunan Province is dominated by more than 3,000 narrow sandstone pillars and peaks towering over streams, and waterfalls, plus around 40 caves and two large natural bridges.
PHOTOGRAPH BY EFIRED, GETTY IMAGES

CHINA DANXIA Spectacular red cliffs and towering natural pillars in this region were formed by layers of different coloured sandstone and minerals, pressed together over millions of years.
PHOTOGRAPH BY FU CHUNRONG, XINHUA/REDUX

THE TULOU HOUSES OF FUJIAN Southeastern China hosts more than 40 tulous—circular housing complexes, also called "earthen houses"—that sit among rice, tea, and tobacco fields.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TUUL AND BRUNO MORANDI, GETTY IMAGES

HONGHE HANI RICE TERRACES Along the Ailao Mountains on the Hong River, visitors discover elaborate, reflective rice terraces, designed by the Hani people with support from buffalos, ducks, and eel.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LIN YIGUANG, XINHUA/GETTY IMAGES

ANCIENT BUILDING COMPLEX IN THE WUDANG MOUNTAINS The temples, palaces, and monasteries on the scenic slopes of the Wudang Mountains hold 1,000 years of Chinese art and architecture.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KARL JOHAENTGES, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

MOUNT QINGCHENG AND THE DUJIANGYAN IRRIGATION SYSTEM The birthplace of Taoism, Mount Qingcheng hosts a series of temples and an irrigation system—an epic engineering feat originally constructed around 256 BC that's still active today.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SUPERSTOCK/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

MOUNT WUTAI Home to 41 monasteries, this sacred Buddhist mountain boasts the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, the highest surviving timber building of the Tang dynasty with incredible life-size clay sculptures.

PHOTOGRAPH BY FREDERIC J. BROWN, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

HONGCUN VILLAGE The ancient village of Hongcun brings visitors back in time, with well-preserved buildings dating back hundreds of years.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHIMMI GUI, GETTY IMAGES

MONUMENTS OF DENGFENG Considered sacred, Mount Songshang is home to prominent structures, including three Han Que gates—remains of the oldest religious edifices in China—plus temples, the Zhougong Sundial Platform, and the Dengfeng Observatory.
PHOTOGRAPH BY FRTIZ HOFFMANN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

HISTORIC CENTER OF MACAO After centuries under Portuguese administration, this port town uniquely blends Chinese and Portuguese architecture.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GETTY IMAGES

IMPERIAL PALACES OF THE MING AND QING DYNASTIES Located in central Beijing, the imposing Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace for centuries, from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE CLERK, GETTY IMAGES

POTALA PALACE Perched on Red Mountain in Lhasa Valley, the Potala Palace was the winter retreat of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century, symbolises Tibetan Buddhism, and plays a central role in the traditional administration of Tibet.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IMAGEBROKER/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

MOUNTAIN RESORT IN CHENGDE, CHINA Temples of distinct architectural styles and imperial gardens blend perfectly into a landscape of lakes, pastureland, and forests in Hebei Province.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LIU MANCANG, XINHUA/REDUX

LIJIANG The old town of Lijiang in Yunnan Province sits high in the mountains with a complex ancient water system feeding canals and channels still in use today.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MAISANT LUDOVIC, GETTY IMAGES

SICHUAN GIANT PANDA SANCTUARIES Home to more than 30% of the world's pandas, these sanctuaries include seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES

MAUSOLEUM OF THE FIRST QIN EMPEROR Although thousands of life-sized terra-cotta soldiers, horses, and bronze chariots famously were discovered in 1974, there's no doubt that many more treasures are still to be unearthed in the archaeological site of Emperor Qinshihuang's tomb.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KRZYSZTOF DYDYNSKI, GETTY IMAGES

GARDENS OF SUZHOU Classical Chinese garden design, which aims to recreate natural landscapes in miniature, is seen nowhere better than in the nine gardens of the historic city of Suzhou.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ARTHERNG, GETTY IMAGES

KAIPING DIAOLOU AND VILLAGES These village houses integrate Chinese and Western influences in their unique forms, including communal towers, residential towers, and watchtowers.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL LANGROCK, LAIF/REDUX

PING YAO The well-preserved city of Ping Yao lets visitors explore a traditional Han Chinese city, with nearly 4,000 shops and traditional houses on meandering lanes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHELE WESTMORLAND, GETTY IMAGES

LONGMEN GROTTOES The Longmen Grottoes, located on the Yi River, encompass more than 2,300 caves and niches carved into the steep limestone cliffs—holding almost 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, more than 60 stupas, and 2,800 inscriptions carved on stele.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WANG SONG, XINHUA/REDUX

Header Image: THE GREAT WALL Stretching more than 5,000 miles, the Great Wall of China was built by first emperor, Qin, who began construction in the 3rd century B.C. PHOTOGRAPH BY YIMEI SUN, GETTY IMAGES

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