But China is a vast country, and as more North Americans turn their sights eastward, we jumped at the chance to shine the spotlight on some less-known (at least to Americans) but exceptional experiences.
To find these great destinations, we enlisted the help of James Tan of Jetbay, a California-based online travel agency focused solely on China.
Here are our favorite "secret" places to visit in China based on his recommendations.
Suzhou, China: China's City of Canals
Is Suzhou the Venice of China, or is Venice the Suzhou of Italy? Enchanting canals, arched foot bridges, and the mesmerizing effects of threading waterways through cityscapes make both canal cities unforgettable.
Water isn't the only draw though; the historic city is also known for its more than 50 classical gardens, including nine recognized by UNESCO.
Shangli, China: A Step Back in Time
Ancient travelers may have found their way to Shangli along the Silk Road, but it remains an off-the-beaten-path gem for modern tourists from foreign lands.
Fall into a slower pace of life and explore the town's famed eight stone bridges and historic architecture. Still true to its trading-route roots, Shangli remains dotted with small shops selling local artisanal wares.
Foshan, China: Folk Art and Storytelling
Art can tell a thousand stories, and in Foshan, it does. For more than 600 years, Foshan has been a hub for folk art, bringing the stories of its people to life through painting, ceramics, paper arts, and calligraphy.
Art appreciation gets hands-on at the Nan Feng Ancient Kiln, where visitors can make their own pottery in the traditional style. Jetbay offers a private one-day tour that includes the pottery experience.
Xi'an, China: The Birthplace of Chinese Civilization
With its more than 7,000 years of history, Xi'an is recognized as the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Home to the famous Terracotta Warriors, the ancient imperial capital is also the eastern departure point of the historic Silk Road trade route.
On Jetbay's three-day Xi'an Traditional Culture Experience tour you can trace the threads of 13 different dynasties, explore local cuisines, and visit the famed warriors.
Panyu, China: Wild and Cultivated Nature
Wild and cultivated nature blend seamlessly in the streets and parks of Panyu. Known as the "City of Flowers," elaborate gardens define this ancient city in the Pearl River Delta.
Explore history and beauty at the Yu Yin Shan Fang Qing dynasty garden and the Canton and Lingnan style Bao Mo Garden. Time your visit right and you can also see the kitschy Guangzhou Panya Sunflower Garden, touted as the largest sunflower park in the world.
Kaiping, China: China's Historic Melting Pot
If you're at all familiar with China, you're probably already aware that it's an ethnically diverse place. But did you know that it has history as an international melting pot as well?
In the early twentieth century, the city of Kaiping—less than three hours by car from Guangzhou—was a popular destination for European and Southeast Asian immigrants. The international influence is visible today in the architecture and food.
Meijiawu, China: Tea Culture
In China, tea matters. And in Meijiawu, life revolves around tea. The surrounding countryside is lush with Longjing tea plantations, and the village itself steeped in the traditions of tea production and consumption. Learn about the history and production of the famed Dragon Well Tea, and then explore some of the more than 160 tea houses to experience tea ceremonies and sample some of the local tea food.
Hangzhou, China: Heaven on Earth
Hangzhou delivers the blueprint for paradise. The city is best known for the West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to garden designs that, according to Jetbay, "achieve a fusion between heaven and earth."
In the vast surrounding capital city, find famous temples and pagodas as well as the National Tea Museum and the National Silk Museum.