With just one day in Chengdu, you won’t get to see everything. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t experience a lot!
Lively nightlife, spicy food, a laid-back atmosphere, and a diverse selection of cultural sites highlight the reasons to visit Chengdu. It’s quickly becoming one of the top travel destinations in China, thanks to its panda research base, temples, and hip clubs.
Despite the rapid urban development, it’s also got fresher air compared to some of the cities out east. The capital of Sichuan Province is also incredibly big so you’ll need to plan carefully.
Not sure where to begin? Start planning your trip with this complete 1-day Chengdu itinerary…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Chengdu in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
- Visit the pandas in their natural habitat at the Panda Research Base
- Gaze at the skyline from the top floors of West Pearl Tower
- Immerse yourself in ancient culture at Wenshu Monastery
- Watch the busy pedestrian traffic around Tianfu Square
- Stroll through People’s Park
- Finish off your trip of the city at Kuan Alley and Zhai Alley
- Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Chengdu
What to do in Chengdu in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
Chengdu is a sprawling metropolis covering over 4,500 kilometres with 11 urban districts and millions of residents. Instead of being clustered around an old city centre, you’ll find the top attractions spread throughout the area.
As with our other one-day city itineraries, this Chengdu itinerary includes stops that help paint a picture of local life and the history of the region.
During this trip, you’ll get to see the pandas and taste the spicy Sichuan cuisine. Spend time shopping at local markets and visiting various heritage sites.
Visit the pandas in their natural habitat at the Panda Research Base
The research base tops the list of things to do & see in Chengdu but you’ll want to arrive as soon as the gates open at 7:30 am. Pandas are most active in the morning and the facility becomes more crowded in the afternoon.
Pandas are a Chinese national treasure and this research base deserves credit for helping to increase the native population. Over 70% of pandas live within the Sichuan Province and the Panda Research base leads conservation efforts. It’s one of the only places where you can see baby pandas rolling around and playing.
As with a trip to the zoo, you’ll get to see various animals in their natural habitat. While pandas are the focus of the facility, you can also see white storks, black-necked cranes, and over 20 different species of rare animals. Bright native flowers, bamboo, and rolling hills add to the natural setting.
Even if you arrive early, you’ll likely need to deal with crowds as the morning wears on. Prepare yourself for long lines if you want to check out some of the special exhibits, such as the baby pandas being fed.
Try to leave around 11 am or so if you don’t want to stand shoulder to shoulder with other visitors.
Gaze at the skyline from the top floors of West Pearl Tower
After touring the panda facility, you’ll need to hail a taxi to reach the West Pearl Tower. It’s about 25 minutes away travelling by car and several hours on foot. With just 24 hours in Chengdu, taking taxis whenever possible gives you a little more time to explore the attractions.
The tower covers its own city block and stands 339 metres high. It’s one of the tallest structures in the city. It even has a revolving restaurant with a 360-degree view of the downtown area.
If you’re not too scared of heights, try standing on the outdoor viewing platform. It’s got a glass floor so you can stare down at the ground several hundred metres below.
Of course, your viewing experience depends on the weather. On hazy days, you may not see as much.
Besides a restaurant and several viewpoints, the tower also has a small souvenir shop. Oddly, it sells small models of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Eiffel Tower but doesn’t have a model of the tower itself.
By now, you’ll also likely need something to eat and you’ve got a couple of options. You can either order a high-priced meal at the tower restaurant or wait until you reach your next destination.
Immerse yourself in ancient culture at Wenshu Monastery
When you get back to ground level, you can either walk or take a taxi to Wenshu Monastery. It’s about a 40-minute walk or a 10-minute car ride and is located at the northern border of the city centre.
A trip to a temple is necessary for any China itinerary and the Wenshu Monastery is the most visited one in the city. It gives you a chance to learn more about the culture and history of the area.
The Buddhist temple faces south and features several halls and a towering pagoda. When you arrive, you’ll first walk through the Wenshu Pavilion.
It’s also an active Buddhist temple. Depending on when you visit, you may get to hear monks chanting. You should also keep an eye out for the monastery cats as they prowl the grounds.
Make sure that you explore the area around the temple, including the well-manicured gardens and vegetarian restaurant. The temple also has its own tea house with traditional Chinese tea ceremonies.
If you plan to eat at the restaurant or take part in a tea ceremony, prepare yourself for a long wait as it tends to become more crowded in the middle of the day.
Watch the busy pedestrian traffic around Tianfu Square
Now that you’ve visited a temple, it’s time to visit the modern city centre. Renmin Middle Road starts just outside the monastery and leads you directly to the core of downtown Chengdu and Tianfu Square.
It’s about a 30-minute trek on foot but it’s worth it to immerse yourself in the local atmosphere. As you stroll south, check out the mix of modern developments with a scattering of historic sites.
When you get closer to the square, the downtown area becomes an urban jungle with towering buildings, shopping malls, and department stores.
The square itself is one of the most visited spots in the city. At any time of the day, you’ll find hundreds or thousands of people wandering about, and checking out the spiral sculpture or the massive statue of Mao.
It’s a great place to watch people, shop, or eat. Below the square is a large underground mall with dozens of stores.
Trying to see all of Chengdu in one day is a challenge so try not to lose track of time as you travel around the square.
If you come back for a longer trip, you could check out the Sichuan Science and Technology Museum across the street. For now, you’ll need to move on to the next stop.
Stroll through People’s Park
From the urban square, travel to the nearby public park. People’s Park is just a couple of blocks directly west of the square.
The urban park opened in 1911 as the first public park in the city. It’s the largest green space in the downtown area, giving you a chance to breathe in some fresh air.
Walking around the park, you’ll come across a few different attractions and landmarks including the Heming Teahouse and the large Monument to the Martyrs of the Railway Protection Movement.
It’s also got its own artificial lake and several gardens to explore. You could easily spend an entire afternoon in this popular tourist destination.
Besides the attractions, you can find street performers dancing or playing music. It’s a relaxing spot and even has a few carnival rides for children.
If you start to get hungry, there is never a shortage of vendors near the entrances to the park. You can try some of the local cuisine or street food such as Dou Hua.
Made from soft tofu, Dou Hua has the taste and texture of bland tofu pudding but the bicycle or pole-carrying vendors selling the snack often have a selection of condiments to spice it up, such as chili oil or Sichuan pepper.
Finish off your trip of the city at Kuan Alley and Zhai Alley
By the time that you leave the park, it should be getting late. As evening approaches, exit the park on the west side and walk north to Kuan Alley and Zhai Alley (Wide and Narrow Alley).
You can’t explore Chengdu in 24 hours without shopping and this ancient street provides the perfect chance to find a few souvenirs.
The buildings all feature old Chinese architecture. It’s what you would expect travelling through a traditional Chinese city. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped through a time portal.
When you arrive, the storefronts should have traditional lanterns helping to light the street. You’ll see open restaurants, cafes, markets, and stalls. While the main street includes dozens of shops, you can also check out the adjacent side alleys.
Overall, this area is a maze of shops and restaurants, the perfect place to end your tour of Chengdu.
Just pay attention to the signs as you walk around. Some of the buildings still have residential units with locals who don’t want to move out of the area.
It’s a very busy part of town no matter the time of day or night but still very interesting to explore. You can find almost anything, including authentic local foods or souvenirs to take home.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Chengdu
As in any sprawling Chinese metropolis, it can sometimes be challenging figuring out where to stay in Chengdu. If you’ve only got a short layover in Chengdu, the city centre areas of Qingyang and Jinjiang offer the best selection of accommodations and are the easiest places to start your hotel search.
- Buddha Zen Hotel: Built in classic Chinese courtyard-style, this atmospheric hotel puts you into one of the city’s most interesting traditional neighbourhood with plenty to see & do without breaking the bank.
- Fraser Suites Chengdu: If self-catering is your thing, you can’t go wrong with the budget-friendly suites at this lovely aparthotel.
- Grand Hyatt Chengdu: For travellers seeking a little luxury on their Chengdu layover, it doesn’t get much better than this incredible 5-star hotel. After spending a day sightseeing in Chengdu, relax in the sprawling French garden or in the indoor pool to get the full Hyatt experience. Foodies will love the classy on-site restaurants and the yummy local selections nearby.
- The Ritz-Carlton Chengdu: If you’ve ever wanted to splurge on a Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu might be one of the best bets on the continent. The rooms here are surprisingly affordable for the world-class luxury you get, especially when compared to the chain’s sky-high prices in Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore. Snag one of the upper-floor rooms for incredible views over the city through floor-to-ceiling windows.