Backpacking in China on a Gap Year

Countries  »  China

A gap year in China is an awesome idea; the country is packed full of backpacker must-see landmarks like Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and The Great Wall of China.

The Great Wall of China

China is home to the world's largest population, and its mind-boggling landscapes range from the wide open, empty tundra of Tibet to the hustle and bustle of Shanghai's futuristic streets; from' beer by the bag' in seaside Quingdao to the volcanic craters of Sichuan.

There are huge variations in culture, language, economic levels and customs in China. Even though most major cities are very wealthy and modern, over half the population continue to live in rural areas and still farm with draft animals and use manual labour. This means there's huge variety on offer when you're backpacking in China.

A skyscraper in Shanghai

The cities

Well heck, where to start? Chances are your gap year in China will kick off in Beijing, a city that feels quintessentially Chinese while also welcoming to visitors who might be feeling overwhelmed by the shift in culture. In Beijing you'll find Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, as well as easy access to various sections of the Great Wall. It's packed with easy transport links, amazing restaurants, and vibrant nightlife - just be careful when you're negotiating traffic!

Elsewhere there's Shanghai, which feels like a futuristic interpretation of western culture and full of shops, bars, and clubs; Hong Kong, almost a country unto itself with an incredible skyline and atmosphere; Hangzhou, known for it's beauty; Nanjing and its sad history; Chengdu and its pandas. Your list of must-see Chinese cities is going to be pretty lengthy.

Daxue Mountain, China

The scenery

Yeah, so China is pretty big, and home to a ludicrous range of landscapes. The south is characterised by mountains and hills, such as Daxue Mountain, Tianmen Mountain, and Mount Emei, all of which host walking trails with jaw-dropping vistas. If you're really into your hiking, try and climb China's Five Great Mountains: Tai Shan, Hua Shan, Heng Shan, Beiyue Heng Shan, and Song Shan.

The Himalayas are to the west, while to the north you'll find the arid expanse of the Gobi desert. Head south and you'll find the island of Hainan, which is crammed with beach resorts. Think Hawaii, but in China.

You could easily spend an entire gap year in China. So get going!