Guide to Visiting Northern China: Where to Go, What to Pack, What to See

Summer Palace Northern China

Discover Northern China: Where to Go and What to Pack


Summer Palace Northern China
Source: Pixabay

The southern coast of China gets the lion’s share of attention from tourists who flock to its ancient cities, warm tropical coastlines and major metropolises. But if you cast your gaze north a little – towards the northeastern reaches of the country – you will find a region rich with natural beauty and cosmopolitan energy.

In this article, let’s explore Northern China. What is it? Why should you go? Where should you go? And how should you pack for your adventure?

What Is Northern China, Exactly?

It’s definition time. Northern China isn’t simply the northern parallels of the country; instead, it is a (largely) culturally and linguistically distinct region in the northeast, separated by a soft border known as the “Qinling-Huaihe line.”

Specifically, Northern China comprises the provinces of Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. Other definitions lump western provinces into the mix, but most agree that the country’s western end is culturally unique enough to warrant its own designation.

Why Travel to Northern China?

Why travel to this region? That’s a pretty easy question to ask. These provinces form some of the oldest cultural sites in the country – widely regarded as where Chinese culture “began.”The area is home to beachy coastlines, vast agricultural swaths and – yes – sprawling stretches of built-up urban space.

In other words: travel to the region can be as fast-paced or as slow as you like. You can hit the big city restaurants and clubs or take meditative strolls through natural and cultural sites.

Looking down at an outpost on the Great Wall of China surrounded by mist
Credit: Manuel Joseph Via Pexels

Where to Go

There are a thousand and one places to see in this corner of the world, but, for the sake of brevity, let’s narrow an itinerary to four places:

  • Beijing: The country’s capital and by far the largest city in the area. It remains an unparalleled seat of Han Chinese culture with something for every traveller. It’s also a great starting point for exploring the Great Wall.
  • Qingdao: A famed beer town, once owned by the Germans, that features beautiful beaches and striking German architecture.
  • Longman National Park: An ancient collection of 2,100 cave temples and over 100,000 Buddhist statues. It’s a jaw-dropping, serene experience.
  • Hohhot: The capital of Inner Mongolia and a center of Mongolian culture. It’s unlike anywhere else in China.

Don’t limit yourself to these four destinations – but use them as a launchpad for the region.

What to Pack

The climate in Northern China is all over the place. It can be hot and muggy one month, and bitingly cold the next. The best way to deal with these climatic fluctuations is to pack trans-seasonal clothing.

The Unbound Merino travel hoodie is a wise choice; it’s both breathable and insulating, and does a great job warding off sweat and odour. Jeans or merino sweatpants will suffice for legwear, though you may want to pack shorts in the summer months. And a mask is always a handy accessory to have on hand – not just to stay COVID-safe, but also to protect yourself in case of smog.

If you’re planning a trip to China in the near future, give the north a shot. While it’s easy to get pulled toward southern destinations like Shanghai, Tianmen Mountain, Guilin and Macau, it will be worthwhile to carve out some time for the historically rich, culturally abundant northern provinces.

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