- Visit China’s Iconic Bears.
The best time to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, 6 miles northeast of the city, is early morning, when the bears are most active. Try to arrive when the park opens at 7:30 a.m., so you can watch the cubs being nursed by their moms. The adolescent “kids” can be observed eating breakfast — stalks of bamboo — in their open-air enclosure. Have your cameras ready to snap photos of the adult giants in the Swan Lake area.
- Dine with Locals.
Chengdu has no shortage of renowned restaurants, but for a truly authentic meal, make a reservation at one of the city’s “private kitchens,” which are run out of local homes. Xiaojing Sifangcai, or Little Chengdu, is run by Laura Liu. Don’t expect a menu; do expect a multi-course tasting menu of dishes like rice-stuffed lotus roots.
- Hotpot Cooking.
The hotpot — a boiling cauldron of chili oil and assorted meats and vegetables — is one of Chengdu’s best-known dishes. Experience the authentic meal at Laoma Tou Hotpot Restaurant, a longtime favorite of both locals and visitors. There’s no shame in ordering the nonspicy hotpot, or ask for a combination of the two.
- Rock Show.
A visit to Chengdu shouldn’t only look back to the past. The city has one of China’s most rocking live music scenes. Little Bar, which opened more than 20 years ago, pioneered the rock scene. The venue became so popular a second, larger location, New Little Bar, has opened in the Yulin neighborhood. To really feel like a local, catch a local indie band here and sip Belgian beers alongside Chengdu’s hipster set.
- Visit a Working Monastery.
One of China’s most significant Buddhist centers, Wenshu Monastery dates back nearly 1,400 years and remains one of the region’s most active monasteries. You can observe monks, hands clasped in prayer, and on weekends locals pay homage by lighting incense from cauldrons.
- Slurp Spicy Noodles.
Monks, locals and visitors line up at Zhang Liang Fen, a tiny, always-packed noodle shop across the street from Wenshu Monastery. The signature tian shui mian (sweet water noodles), a heaping bowl of thick, hand-pulled noodles topped with fiery ground Sichuan peppercorns, sesame paste, chili oil and a spoonful of sugar, is well worth the wait.
- Local Architecture.
While much of Chengdu has been developed with modern, towering skyscrapers, glimpses of traditional architecture can be found along Wide and Narrow Alley, an intersection of historic alleyways lined with traditional courtyard homes known as hutongs. Originally built in the Qing Dynasty, most of the alley’s remaining hutongs have been renovated and now house shops and restaurants.
- Splurge Meal.
One of the prettiest dining rooms in the city is within The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu. Li Xuan, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, puts a contemporary spin on classic Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine. You can’t go wrong with any of the signature dishes, including the bird’s nest with fish maw and lobster broth (a Cantonese delicacy) and the Sichuan staple dan dan noodles with minced pork and Sichuan chili. For dessert, adventurous foodies should try the durian crème brûlée.
- Temple Tour.
The Wuhou Temple, a shrine to China’s third-century Three Kingdoms period, is now a museum that houses cultural relics, including statues of historical figures and stone tablets. Adjacent to the temple, on Brocade Street you’ll find food vendors selling traditional street snacks like guo jui, a crispy baked bread stuffed with a spicy mix of pork, bean sprouts and shredded carrots.
- Taste of Tibet.
Chengdu’s Tibetan quarter, also known as Little Lhasa, is about as close as most people will come to visiting actual Tibet. You’ll feel transported as you observe monks wrapped in maroon robes and vendors selling yak butter. This is a great place to pick up souvenirs — woolen rugs, artwork, handcrafted jewelry — but be prepared to bargain.
- People Watch.
Walk off your marathon lunch in the gardens of Chengdu’s Zen-style People’s Park. Here, you can observe locals playing rousing games of mahjong or performing meditative, dancelike tai chi movements.
- Tea Time.
Enjoy traditional afternoon tea service in the stylish, contemporary setting of the Lobby Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu. Served daily from 2 to 5 p.m., it’s the perfect way to take in stunning city views while enjoying the British classic that has become beloved around the world.
- Face-Changing Opera.
Catch a performance of the region’s unique Sichuan Opera. Performers dance to melodic tunes, and as they shake their heads they magically change the thin-painted masks over their face.