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If you’ve always wanted to see a panda, then you have to visit Chengdu.

But the Sichuan capital has much more to offer than these cute, cuddly animals. Daniel and I had a fantastic time here, visiting temples, indulging at the night market and dressing up at the Chinese Opera.

You could easily spend a few days here, but if you’re short on time, follow our one-day itinerary to make sure you see the best Chengdu attractions.


Are you short on time and still need to book your trip? Then check out these resources:

Book your hotel in Chengdu:

This railway map of China will help you find the best train connections.

These are the highlights to visit in Chengdu in one day:

  • Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
  • Qingyang Taoist Temple
  • Sichuan Opera
  • Chengdu Night Market
  • Also, don’t forget to try some spicy hot pot!

One day in Chengdu itinerary

#1 Visit the Pandas

Panda eating bamboo in Chengdu

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is your best chance to see pandas in China. Humans have brought pandas almost to extinction, but did you know that on top of that, they’re very tricky to breed?

Pandas only mate once a year. If they get more than one baby, they reject the second one, and the newborns are so tiny and premature that they barely stand a chance of survival. It almost seems as if they don’t want to survive!

‘Jelly worms’, a friend called the babies, and she was right. After seeing the tiny panda babies, we were surprised by how they could survive at all.

We did not only see baby pandas here in Chengdu, although those were, without doubt, the highlight. Walking past the enclosures, we saw pandas eating bamboo, pandas climbing trees, pandas sleeping and pandas rolling around – one more fluffy than the other.

Be prepared for many moments of cuteness that make you want to adopt one of these animals.

Plan your visit to come here early in the morning. Pandas have an aversion to high temperatures (and high for them means above 24°C), so if you get here too late, they will have withdrawn into their air-conditioned houses.

Plus, there are lots more things to do in Chengdu, so that leaves you enough time to see the rest of the city.


#2 Eat Hot Pot

Eating hot pot was one of our favourite restaurant experiences in China. The dish originated in Sichuan, so where else would you try it if not in Chengdu?

After leaving the Panda Research Base, it is time for lunch, so head to a hot pot restaurant.

The restaurant will provide you with a giant pot filled with hot broth. It has an outside ring filled with spicy broth and a non-spicy broth in the middle.

Are you good with spicy food? If not, do what we did. We asked for the broths to be switched around because the spicy part is mouth-burning spicy.

After getting the broth, you order meat, vegetables, tofu and noodles to cook in the hot pot. Leave them in there for a while, and then start fishing for them with your chopsticks.

One of my favourite parts about hot pot is the dipping sauce. You can prepare it from different ingredients, so you can add a lot of additional flavour to any of the foods you have cooked.


#3 Qingyang Taoist Temple

View of a pagoda at the Chengdu Qingyang Taoist Temple

In the afternoon, it’s time to head to the Qingyang Taoist Temple.

Before visiting China, we knew little about Taoism. If you want to learn more about this religion/philosophy, we recommend you check out the Taoism Wikipedia page. It’s a complicated concept, so don’t expect to understand it all at once.

Even if you’re not sure you fully understand Taoism, the Qingyang Taoist Temple is fantastic to visit.

It doesn’t seem large from the outside, but when you go inside, you’ll see how far the grounds expand. Ideally, you have at least an hour here to take it all in. Personally, we spent a significant amount of time on the grounds, exploring the buildings and watching people pray.


#4 Dress up at the Sichuan Opera

Daniel and Ilona dressed up as Chinese Opera characters

The Chinese Opera was, without doubt, our second highlight in Chengdu.

At the Shu Feng Ya Yun Opera House, you can see a whole range of shows. Expect singing and dancing to puppet play, shadow play (my personal favourite) and the famous face-changing, in which the actors change their masks or outfits within a fraction of a second.

Afterwards, stick around because you can dress up as a Chinese Opera character yourself! For me, that was the part I loved the most.

The staff put on a lot of make-up, pulled back my hair and the skin of my face and then dressed me in a giant costume that came with a set of flags attached to my back. You can choose different outfits, so you are guaranteed to see one that you enjoy.

At the back of the dressing room,you can find a stage and two more backgrounds for posing. We had so much fun that night, messing around with different poses.

Afterwards, you have to return the costume, but you can keep your make-up for walking around the market.

In high season, the Opera performances can be booked out, therefore, it pays off to book your tickets online.


#5 Explore Chengdu’s night market

Buildings lit up at the Chengdu night market

The Old Town of Chengdu is especially beautiful at night.

After the Opera, head to the night market for a drink or dinner. Many of the old buildings are beautifully lit up, and you can find lots of fantastic photo opportunities.

Don’t worry if you still have your Chinese Opera make-up on, that makes it even more fun!

You can try various local dishes at the food stalls, or you can sit down in one of the bars for a drink. It’s the perfect place to end your day in Chengdu.


Practical information

Best time to visit Chengdu

The best time of the year to visit Chengdu is spring and autumn. From March to May and from September to November, you can expect less rain than in summer, and the temperatures are pleasant.

In the summer months of July and August, the weather gets rainy. Expect sticky heat and grey skies.

That doesn’t mean that summer is a terrible season to visit Chengdu. We were there at the end of July and loved it. Just remember to visit the Giant Panda Research Base early in the morning to see the animals before they withdraw into the air-conditioned houses.

How to get to Chengdu

People walking and biking on Chengdu

Getting to Chengdu is easy. You have the choice between planes, trains and buses.

The fastest way, especially if you’re coming from abroad, is by plane. Chengdu has two major airports and you can find lots of national but also international connections.

Another option is to take a train. I love this railway map which gives you an overview of the most important train connections at a glance. The bullet train from Beijing to Chengdu only takes around 7,5-11 hours. That’s insane considering that the distance between the cities is more than 2000 kilometres!

And finally, you can also take local buses. Those are the slowest option, but they help you reach Chengdu even from remote areas that are not as well connected by rail or air.

Getting around Chengdu

The Chengdu metro system is easy to use and convenient. Plus, the rides are relatively cheap and you can get around the city quickly.

For areas that you can’t reach by metro, you can take buses or taxis. Buses are a little bit more difficult than taxis, but also much cheaper. The easiest way is to ask at your hotel in advance so they can help you figure out which bus to take.

Also, always take your hotel’s business card when you go out. If you get lost, you can show it to a taxi driver and they can take you back.

There you have it, the perfect way to spend one day in Chengdu. If you have more time, you can find plenty of great things to do in the area. A popular day trip, for example, goes to the Leshan Giant Buddha. Or you could go to Mount Emei, one of the four Sacred Buddhist Mountains.

Have you been to Chengdu, or are planning on going? Then leave us a comment below as we would love to hear from you!

Also, while you’re here, check out the following posts, which you’re going to find useful:

Until your next adventure!

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Ilona is a world traveller passionate about sharing her experiences and giving advice to fellow travellers. Having visited over 70 countries, she is always excited about her next trip.

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