When planning a trip to China, Chengdu is easily overlooked. It doesn’t have the nightlife appeal of Shanghai, Guilin’s scenic beauty or Beijing’s epic wall. The weather can be hazy, the traffic slow and the 14 million-strong population crowded. Most people only pass through as it is the transport hub for China’s southwest region. However, the sprawling city has much to offer and is home to Sichuan peppers, pandas and noodles, and it was the first city to have its rich heritage cuisine recognised by Unesco.
Chengdu is worth a look for either a leisurely weekend or an in-depth, week-long adventure.
Jinli Ancient Street
Jinli Ancient Street is a quaint street dating back to the Qin Dynasty of 221 BC. Adjacent to Wǔhóu Temple and Nánjiāo Park, the avenue blends the old with the new through ancient architecture, craftsmen and food vendors. The stalls along the strip showcase all the snacks Chengdu is famed for, including spicy Mapo Tofu.
Mi Xun Teahouse
Located in the trendy downtown shopping district, Mi Xun Teahouse is one of four restaurants at The Temple House, a hotel by Swire Properties. The hotel is a restored traditional building that preserves the tranquil feel of the original in a contemporary setting. Sichuan is considered the birthplace of tea, and the tea house features some of the rarest pours alongside an entirely vegetarian menu.
No. 81 Bitieshi Street, Jinjiang District
Pandas are one of the region’s biggest draws, and Sichuan is known as the home of the Giant Panda. There are a few research and breeding centres where you observe the majestic bears from afar, arrange a hands-on cuddle session or catch a glimpse of the tiny newborns in the autumn or winter. It’s best to go in the morning around feeding time when they are most active.
1375 Xiongmao Dadao
There are dozens of fresh noodle vendors on every street in Chengdu, most of them small family-run shops.
There are three types noodles you must try before leaving Chengdu: Dan Dan Mian, noodles with minced pork, chilli, garlic and vinegar, Jiao Xiang Mian plain noodles seasoned with three different types of chilli and Tian Shui Mian, thicker noodles that are slightly sweet with a hit of spice.
Xiao Min Tang Dan Dan Tian Shui Mian (Shuang Lin Lu Branch), No. 232-58, Shuang Lin Lu Rd
Chengdu is known as the gateway to Tibet because of its large Tibetan population and dedicated cultural neighbourhood. It has a reputation for being a more precarious part of town, but be aware of your surroundings and you should be safe to explore the antique shops and cafes. Try the yak dumplings and buttered yak milk.
A’re Tibetan Restaurant: No. 234 Wuhouci Street
Located in the centre of the city, People’s Park is a sprawling urban oasis with 112,639 square metres. Centuries-old Heming Teahouse, one of the city’s most celebrated and atmospheric, is located in the park and has tea pouring ceremonies and ear cleaning services.
The U37 district at the city’s east end is a quaint cobblestone neighbourhood with refurbished warehouses, vintage shops and an abundance of artist studios.
Chengdu has so much to offer for food and culture. If you don’t speak the language it can be a bit of struggle to get around, but locals are typically patient and eager to help out. There are also two companies offering food tours: The Lost Plate and Chengdu Food Tours .