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Planning Your Trip

Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, has a history dating back to fourth century B.C. In recent years, it has also grown to become the region’s economic and financial capital, thereby turning into a multicultural metropolis with rich history, amazing regional food, high-tech innovation and, of course, the pandas that the city is known for.

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Exploring the City

From the Giant Panda Reserve Center to attractions like the Shrine of Marquis Wu, built to honor the prime minister of the Shu Kingdom, there is much to see and do. Be prepared for everything the city has to offer by packing versatile basics.

 

  • Always carry an umbrella. In this subtropical climate, rain is often sudden and unpredictable.
  • Opt for comfort over style when choosing your shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so pack flat sandals or sneakers.
  • Keep in mind that winters in Chengdu can get cold. It also sees little sunshine this time of year. Bring extra layers, boots and a waterproof down jacket if traveling during this season.
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Business Travel

With its substantial population of entrepreneurs who come here to found creative and high-tech startups, Chengdu is a hotbed of innovation. But it’s still a traditional place, and therefore decidedly more formal.

 

  • Men should pack suits in dark colors, with neutral ties and leather shoes.
  • Women should also wear tailored pantsuits or dress suits. In the case of the latter, keep skirts knee-length. Skip the high heels for demure low-heeled, closed-toe shoes.
  • Make sure you have a plentiful supply of business cards — you’ll want to network with the many young moguls and financiers who do business here.
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Cultural Considerations

From relics of the Shu Dynasty to Buddhist and Taoist landmarks, Chengdu’s 4,000-year history makes for a colorful, educational trip. The picturesque landscapes you’ll see in what is known as the “Country of Heaven” are an added bonus.
 

  • A historical travel guide on Chengdu will help you better understand the city and give you the basic knowledge of its folklore and customs.
  • Be aware that Sichuan food is hot and spicy. Consider bringing a water bottle with you on culinary excursions.
  • For temple visits in summer, pack an extra shawl or sweater to cover up and show respect.
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Don’t Forget

Compared to other major cities in China, Chengdu sits at a slightly higher elevation. The mountainous regions surrounding the city — like Mount Emei, which you might want to hike — are obviously much higher. Bring along some medication for altitude sickness, just in case.


While pandas are Chengdu’s main draw, the southwestern Chinese city has plenty more reasons for a visit, with its delicious, hot food, beautiful scenery and cultural offerings you can’t find anywhere else. Here’s what to book.

Dining Reservations

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Chengdu is officially designated by UNESCO as a City of Gastronomy. It’s native Sichuan cuisine, one of the Eight Great Traditional Cuisines in China, is especially known for its spices, with specialties like hot pot, kung pao chicken and mapo tofu. Go to Ming Ting Fan Dian and Lao Ma Tou Hotpot for the best iterations of these local classics. For an upscale evening, book a table at The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu’s Li Xuan and enjoy delicacies like duck egg with Osetra caviar and suckling pig. Other notable fine-dining institutions include the tiny Yu Zhi Lan and Yu’s Family Kitchen, which both offer extremely imaginative and distinct tasting menus for a truly one-of-a-kind culinary experience.  

Afternoon Tea/Tea Ceremonies

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Teahouses can be spotted in almost every corner of the city — Chengdu has more of them than Shanghai, despite having less than half the people. They’re central to its culture and its residents’ way of life. For a real immersion course, mingle with locals sipping jasmine or biluochun tea in a traditional teahouse, which is customarily decorated with bamboo chairs and wooden tables, and will often have a few mahjong sets. At Yuelai Teahouse, you’ll also be treated to an opera performance by artists from the local theater.

Tours

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The adorable, fluffy — and quite lazy — giant pandas are the real celebrities of this town. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was created to replicate the natural habitat of these endangered animals and spearhead conservation initiatives. If you go early enough, you might see these bears munching on bamboo sticks, which are harvested specifically for their diets. Venture out into Mount Qingcheng, one of the most important centers of Taoism in China. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the Dujiangyan irrigation system, which was built in 256 B.C., making it the world’s oldest, still-functioning irrigation system.  

Museum Tickets & Cultural Sights

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In 2001, the archaeological site of Jinsha was accidentally discovered and, along with it, thousands of artifacts from the Shang Dynasty. They’re now on view at the Jinsha Site Museum. For Buddhist relics, along with artwork and calligraphy from the Tang and Qing dynasties, visit the Wenshu Monastery and its pretty gardens. Pay homage to Zhuge Liang, the prime minister of the Shu Kingdom, at the Shrine of Marquis Wu, and visit the Thatched Cottage of Du Fu, built in honor of the famous poet. Finally, get a taste of Tibetan culture without having to cross the border or venture into the remote countryside by exploring the vibrant Tibetan quarter.

DESTINATION

The capital of China’s Sichuan Province is a bucket-list destination for adventurous foodies, famed for its palate-numbing peppers and bold, fiery cuisine. In 2010, UNESCO named Chengdu a City of Gastronomy (Paris and Rome aren’t even on that list). In ancient times, Chengdu was known as the Land of Heaven, and today it’s a booming metropolis and tech hub. While the city may be lined with skyscrapers, if you get beneath the surface, you can find charming teahouses, buzzing markets and elderly locals playing mahjong in the park. Any trip to Chengdu should include a visit to the panda research center. The beloved bears are an even bigger draw than the city’s food.


24 Hours

Chengdu has been a center for commerce and culture since the Bronze Age, and that vibrant energy lives on today in what is now the capital of the Sichuan Province. Home to high-end shopping, panda sanctuaries, traditional tea houses, vibrant markets and world-class dining, there’s so much to see and do in this historic city. If you only have one day, here’s how to make the most of your time in Chengdu.

 

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Cultural Treasures

Chengdu is a melting pot of past and present. Animal lovers make the pilgrimage here just to see China’s iconic bear at the panda research center, and foodies come to test their heat tolerance while dining on the region’s fiery Sichuan peppercorn-studded cuisine. Local life is on full display in Chengdu’s many teahouses and parks filled with locals playing mahjong. In the evenings, you can take in traditional face-changing opera one night and an indie rock show the next.
 

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