Chengdu City Guide

The gateway to China's beautiful western provinces.

Chengdu is something of a frontier city – a place where local life is influenced more by the natural world than the non-stop commerce of the country’s major cities.
On Chengdu’s doorstep, you’ll find some of China’s most precious pockets of wilderness, from the Tibetan Plateau to the bamboo forests of the world’s last remaining giant pandas, making it a truly exceptional place to explore.

Furthermore, the city is revered as one of China’s foremost culinary destinations, with Sichuan cuisine providing a colourful array of exotic flavours for the curious traveller. There are heritage highlights to enjoy here too, from Taoist temples and shrines to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, which, as one of the world’s oldest engineering works, was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2000.

Many of our luxury escorted tours in China feature a stopover in Chengdu, giving you the opportunity to discover the wonders of this beautiful city – and get up close to some of its wild neighbours. To further introduce the highlights of the city, we’ve put together an in-depth guide to Chengdu, covering its history, must-sees and cuisine.

Architectural highlights

Provincial and charming it may feel compared to some of China’s larger cities, but Chengdu is still growing and developing at a rate of knots – giving it a dynamic and vibrant cityscape. Here are some of the architectural highlights you can enjoy:

Jinli Street

Jinli Street
One of the oldest commercial streets in China, Jinli Street feels a world away from the ultra-modern skyscrapers that grace Chengdu’s financial district. Dating from the Qin Dynasty period (221-206 BC), this ancient thoroughfare has long been associated with trade and commerce, and became known as the place to find baldachin (a form of expensive cloth) during the Shu Kingdom (221-263). Recently, the street has been lovingly restored thanks to donations from local businesses, and is now regarded as one of the best places to experience traditional architecture in China.

Jiezi Ancient Town

Ginko tree, China
With its stone pagodas, gingko trees and wild orchids, the ancient town of Jiezi captures the beauty and heritage of the Chengdu region in all its splendour. Jiezi, which is located around 35 miles from Chengdu city, boasts a 1,000-year history, and is revered for its Qing dynasty-era houses and peaceful gardens, which have come to epitomise the pastoral beauty of the Sichuan province. Trace the legacy of the ‘Ladle Poet’ Tang Qiu, discover the town’s tranquil orchid gardens and explore one of its 32 temples and shrines, all as part of a special visit on your Scenic tour.

Wuhou Temple

Wuhou Temple

Dedicated to the politician, diplomat and astronomer, Zhuge Liang; the Wuhou Temple is one of the great architectural wonders of Chengdu – boasting all the trademark architectural features synonymous with Western Sichuan. Established during the Kingdom of Shu, a temple has existed on the site since the 3rd century, though the current structure dates from 1672. The complex comprises of a main temple building, surrounded by several ornate gates and orchid-strewn water gardens, and a collection of stone monuments dedicated to ministers, artists and dignitaries who left a significant mark on the culture and heritage of Sichuan and Chengdu.

Cultural features

From Taoist temples to peaceful tea gardens, here is our pick of Chengdu’s finest cultural highlights.

Chengdu Teahouses

Chengdu Teahouses
Even the shortest stay in Chengdu will reveal the town’s deep love for all things tea. Being on the doorstep of the Tibetan Plateau and within a stone’s throw from the tea-growing terraces of the Himalayas, Chengdu is home to several traditional Sichuan teahouses where locals and visitors alike gather to enjoy fresh regional brews. If you have a moment to spare during your stay in Chengdu, we’d recommend a visit to Heming Teahouse, which is voted as one of the finest teahouses in China.

Chengdu Panda Base

Panda resting
One of the main draws of Sichuan Province is the opportunity to see endangered giant pandas, which are native to the region. Launched in 1987, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a non-profit organisation that is working to breed and reintroduce giant pandas back into their native habitat. A visit to the research base promises close encounters with these gentle giants, and the opportunity to learn more about the ongoing work to safeguard their numbers. A once-in-a-lifetime encounter, a visit to Chengdu’s Panda Base makes for an extraordinary, unforgettable excursion during your stopover in Sichuan.

Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Ancient Irrigation System

One of the great heritage treasures of Sichuan Province, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System is an ancient waterworks that’s proved the lifeblood of the Chengdu region for over 2,000 years. Established in 256 BC by the Qin Dynasty, the system was devised to prevent flooding on the Chengdu Plain, whilst directing water to irrigate local fields. Thanks to Dujiangyan, Chengdu has become known as Tian Fu Zhi Guo or ‘Nature’s Storehouse’, on account of the fertility of its agricultural land. Today, the irrigation system continues to operate just as it did 2,000 years ago, and is now protected by UNESCO on account of its indelible impact on local life.

Culinary delights

Chengdu boasts a rich culinary larder befitting a city at the heart of Sichuan – a region world-renowned for its colourful and fragrant cuisine. Here’s our pick of the must-try food and drink that offer an authentic taste of local life in Chengdu.

Sichuan Cuisine

Spicy mapo tofu
Vibrant colours and liberal use of spice typifies the unique cuisine of Sichuan province. One of the three most popular styles of food in China, Sichuan (or Szechuan as it’s called in the Western World) caters to those who prefer their food moderately spicy, with an emphasis on chilli and garlic flavours. The cuisine differs from traditional Cantonese food in that it’s a little hotter, and, given Sichuan’s landlocked location, it rarely ever features seafood. One of the most popular Sichuan dishes available is mapo tofu – a bowl of silken tofu and ground pork, served in a spicy chilli and garlic sauce.

Chengdu Tea

Tea ceremony in Chengdu
With its traditional teahouses and close proximity to the tea terraces of the Himalayas, Chengdu is the undisputed tea capital of China. Visit any of the city’s public parks or historic tea parlours, and you’ll find hundreds of locals enjoying their favourite blend while they while away an hour or two with friends. Tea drinking is a prominent part of local life in Chengdu, but which variety should you go for? Green tea with jasmine flowers is by far the most popular variation in Chengdu, so that’s a good place to start.

Chengdu Pancakes

Chinese stack

Like many Chinese cities, some of Chengdu’s best culinary gems are found not in established restaurants, but from street food vendors. One such treat that’s well worth tracking down is the Chengdu pancake – a variation on the classic recipe that adds a filling of spiced pork and cabbage. Originating from Sichuan cuisine, this delicious stuffed pancake has taken on a life of its own, and is one of the most popular street eats in western China.

Where to find it

You should have no trouble finding Chengdu pancakes as you negotiate the city, and there should be a stall or two along Jinli Street. If you don’t have time to sample it during your time in Chengdu, here’s a faithful recipe that will allow you to recreate this Sichuan staple at home.

Jinli Street

Blending the old and the new and offering a unique experience of local life, Chengdu is a Chinese city like no other, and the perfect remedy to the hustle and bustle of the country’s bustling mega-cities. If you want to experience another side of modern China, our luxury escorted tours in China and the Far East offer immersive encounters in Chengdu and Sichuan Province – and all in exceptional 5-star luxury.

Download our Southeast Asia escorted touring brochure today or call us now on 0808 231 7024.