How to see China at 217 mph.
In September 2018, the long-anticipated high-speed railway station opened in West Kowloon, connecting Hong Kong to Mainland China’s extensive 25,000 kilometers (15,534 miles) of high-speed rail network.
Traveling at speeds of up to 350 kilometers per hour (217 mph), the train network has made short work of China’s vast landscape, turning more than 200 cities that might never have interacted into next-door neighbors. Punctual, comfortable, and affordable, it’s made weekend breaks into the Mainland even easier. Check out these 10 cities in China you can visit from West Kowloon on Hong Kong’s new high-speed rail.
Shenzhen (19 minutes)
The first stop on Hong Kong’s high-speed rail, Shenzhen, takes a measly 19 minutes, or, less than a sitcom episode. An industrial hub of factories, Shenzhen was comprised of little more than farm and fishing villages 30 years ago—now, it’s a city of 14 million people that’s renowned for its shopping and 24-hour super spas. Go beyond the commercial facade though, and discover the city’s artistic side at one or more of the following: Dafen artist village; the OCT Loft and the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), which are both housed in renovated former factory buildings and host exhibitions, local designer stores, and quirky coffee shops; and Artron, an art book library with over 50,000 titles that provide an insight into Shenzhen’s burgeoning art scene.
Guangzhou (47-60 minutes)
Less than an hour from Hong Kong, Guangdong province’s capital city just became even more accessible for a Hong Kong day trip. Take some time to explore Shamian Island; the quaint colonial quarter was once used for foreign trade during the 1800s and early 1900s, but is now full of coffee shops, restaurants, and keen photographers. If you’re a fan of the outdoors then Yuexiu Park is an excellent place to spend an afternoon. The area is ripe with great hilltop views and is home to statues and cultural sites that share some of Guangzhou’s heritage, like the city’s symbol, the Statue of The Five Goats, and Zhenhai Tower, which has been rebuilt five times in 600 years.
Changsha (3 hours, 12 minutes)
Hunan is famed in China for its delicious and spicy cuisine (said to be hotter even than Sichuan) and there’s nowhere better to test that out than Changsha, the province capital. The best place to sample this is Fiery Palace (or, Huo Gong Dian), a complex with a 500-year history that fuses history, folk culture, and food in one building. The current iteration of Fiery Palace was renovated in 1993 and offers its guests a chance to sample the region’s classic dishes, including chili black tofu. Changsha is also the birthplace of Chairman Mao. The huge 32-metre statue of a young Mao Zedong is one of many cultural attractions on Orange Isle, a deceptively large park in the middle of the Xiang River.
Guilin (3 hours, 19 minutes)
Renowned for its stunning limestone karst mountains, Guilin was made famous on the 20 yuan note; only three hours and 20 minutes from Hong Kong, it’s easier than ever to the see the real thing in person. From Guilin, take a boat tour down the Li River through the rugged, misty landscape to Xingpingzhen and then on to Yangshuo. Here, you can hire bikes from one of the local shops and explore some of the incredible scenery surrounding the town, including Moon Hill which has views over the entire mountainous landscape.
Xiamen (4 hours, 38 minutes)
A little over four hours up the east coast on the high-speed rail, Xiamen is China’s tropical beachside city with holiday town vibes and beautiful architecture. This southern city is home to one of China’s newest UNESCO sites, the perfectly-preserved international settlement of Gulangyu (also Kulangsu). The island was home to 13 different international communities, including Dutch, French, and British delegates. Now known as “The Piano Island” because it’s home to 200 pianos and a dedicated Piano Museum, the island isn’t short of attractions with quirky museums, temples, beaches, and monuments. The narrow streets of the town come alive at night—snack your way around the town, and don’t forget to try the signature oyster pancake dish or the fresh selection of seafood. In Xiamen city itself, it’s worth visiting the Hulishan Fort and Nan Putuo Temple (the hike behind it offers a beautiful view at sunset.
Wuhan (4 hours, 33 minutes)
Sitting astride the Yangtze River, Wuhan is home to 35 tertiary educational institutes, which makes it China’s top education center. The Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge was the first built in 1957 by Soviet engineers and is a short walk from the city’s other main cultural landmark, the Yellow Crane Tower. The East Lake Park has nearly 30 kilometers (18 miles) of cycle paths, and bikes can be acquired at the entrance using WePay; alternatively, take a boat across the middle and skip the workout. The park is full of temples and gardens, like Moshan and its pagoda, and there’s more than one picture opportunity with cherry blossoms in the spring. If you’re there for a weekend, enjoy a night at the theatre. The Han Show is one of the most technically incredible performances you’ll ever see and it fuses ancient Chinese folktales with modern culture—better yet, it doesn’t require any knowledge of Mandarin so it’s accessible for tourists travelling from anywhere.
Hangzhou (7 hours, 25 minutes)
One of China’s ancient cities, Hangzhou, which is downstream of Wuhan on the Yangtze River Delta, is home to some of the country’s most beautiful heritage sites, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites West Lake and the Grand Canal, a 2,000-kilometer canal that runs from Beijing to Hangzhou. Famed as the ancient capital of silk and the home of Longjing tea, there are plenty of day trips available to surrounding areas, including the nearby water towns of Wuzhen and the less commercial Nanxun District.
Kunming (7 hours, 38 minutes)
Yunan is China’s most ethnically diverse province, and Kunming unites over 25 different cultures and backgrounds which can be explored at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. Within the city, you can explore the expansive Dianchi Lake, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by parks, temples and museums And just a short drive from the center is the legendary Stone Forest, a 150-square-kilometer area complete with karst columns and caves. One of the longer journeys on the high-speed rail, Kunming is the ideal place to stop over for a few days on a lengthier trip; connect on the high speed network to Dali, the home of Kung Fu and a base to explore the Tiger Leaping Gorge, or head to Chengdu to see China’s renowned Giant Panda nursery.
Shanghai (8 hours, 17 minutes)
Taking a little over eight hours, Shanghai isn’t exactly close, but it’s worth making the journey. Blending modern Chinese infrastructure with ancient monuments, the city is a popular weekend stopover that could easily entertain you for weeks on end. Attractions like Yu Gardens and the Shanghai Museum are great for exploring the city, but like Hong Kong, Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city best enjoyed when relaxed, and preferably with a view; explore the rooftop bars and fine-dining restaurants along The Bund for a world-class experience.
Related: 29 Ultimate Things to Do in Shanghai
Beijing (8 hours, 56 minutes)
China’s capital hardly needs an introduction. With a history dating back 3,000 years, Beijing is both one of the oldest cities in China, and one of the oldest cities on the planet. The track between Hong Kong and Beijing is the world’s longest high-speed railway line, and at just under nine hours, this trip is a long one. But when you consider you’re traveling over 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles), a trip that would take over three hours in the air, it’s something of a marvel. Of course, the train track isn’t the reason you’re heading to Beijing. Attractions like The Forbidden City are infamous—and totally packed—for a reason. You can avoid crowds by heading to attractions early in the day and by visiting things further from the city center—the Summer Palace has expansive gardens and by choosing to go to the Jinshanling and Simatai sections of the Great Wall instead of Badaling or Mutianyu, you can enjoy Beijing at a more relaxed pace.
Related: 29 Ultimate Things to Do in Beijing