Did you know that China is the world's biggest honeymoon destination? Okay, okay, that's based on Chinese domestic travel—a nation of 1.3 billion has a lot of love to celebrate, after all. But now couples from around the world are discovering China's best romantic getaways, whether Vegas-grade glitz, cozy Himalayan resort stays, roaring '20s-flavored mutual self-indulgence, romantic Yangtze River cruises, or classic beach holidays... the list goes on, and we've picked out the best of the sexy best.
The Bund, Shanghai: Jazz Age Romance
There's no better way to view the space opera-esque Lujiazui skyline than across the Huangpu River from the Bund's promenade or from the terrace of a classic colonial-era Bund edifice, drink in hand. Even as the gleaming city grows upwards and outwards at a tremendous rate, the Bund's Art Deco and Neoclassical facades recall Shanghai's 1920s and '30s heyday. Catch some jazz at the House of Blues and Jazz or hit a 21st century Shanghai hotspot like Bar Rouge or Glamour Bar for world-class DJs and drinks before returning to the hotel.
Where to Stay in Shanghai
Having hosted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Noel Coward, The Peace Hotel is the most iconic Bund establishment. The Hyatt on the Bund is also a great choice for its views of the Bund and space-age Lujiazui across the river. Vue Bar, on the Hyatt's 31st floor, features shimmering glass walls, polished wood floors and an excellent wine list. Relax the day away after a big night out with a bottle of champagne while lounging on a terrace day bed or soaking in the Jacuzzi and enjoying the view.
Where to Dine in Shanghai
Three on the Bund challenges Bund 18 for the claim to the swankiest tenants and clientele (Jean Georges, Armani, Shanghai Gallery of Art ). The jewel in its crown is the hidden, domed private dining room right at the top—a stunning space so exclusive that it can only accommodate one table for two and a butler in its upper salon. The Cupola, once a bell tower, enjoys a spectacular 360-degree view. The day before your meal, you choose which of the building's three world-class restaurants—Jean Georges, Laris or Whampoa Club—will prepare your tasting menu.
Harbin: Winter Wonderland
Harbin may be China's best place to snuggle. The city's onion domes and European facades are more Petersburg or Paris than Peking, and its winding cobblestone streets are surprisingly warm and welcoming, considering its proximity to Siberia. Best known for its annual month-long International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (starting January 5), this city knows how to heat things up when temperatures plunge. Wander with your lover through a winter fantasy land of brightly lit sculpted ice, then run for the covers. You're almost in Russia, so order caviar, vodka and enjoy! The next day, be ready to hit the slopes before retiring to the hot tub—Harbin is within easy reach of some of China's best skiing. (We should add that Harbin's leafy summer streets are a welcome getaway from the hotter climes—it's truly a year-round destination.)
Where to Stay in Harbin
With its French hospitality, Scandinavian sauna and Chinese massage, the Sofitel Wanda Harbin embodies this romantic city's international character with comfort and style. A perfect place to warm up after a winter adventure or, in the summer, a great spot to relax poolside after strolling along charming Harbin boulevards.
Where to Dine in Harbin
Harbin's cuisine is an intriguing blend of hearty Russian and Manchurian cuisines—perfect for those long winter nights. Japanese and Korean influence on the city adds variety—sensuous sushi and sake are always an option, as are fiery Korean dishes. For lunch, the Russia Café charms, decorated with heirlooms dating back to the days when White Russians took refuge in the treaty port of Harbin. Softly lit lacework elegance creates an aura of Old World romance while the menu balances Russian classics and contemporary Western cuisine. Try the borscht or "pot beef," a steaming stew of beef, carrot, and tomato. Dinner at Portman's means satisfying servings of steaks, pork pies, borscht and the goose liver pate. Nightly piano performances lend a note of charm.
Yangshuo: Peak Romance
Featuring scenic landscapes straight out of period films like The Painted Veil, Yangshuo is perfect for couples seeking outdoor fun and natural beauty—it's easy to lose yourself for days in the rhythms of the Li River, surrounded by towering karst pinnacles, rice paddies and villages nestled in the terraced countryside, all accessible by hiking or biking (rentals are widely available). To reach Yangshuo, start in Guilin (quite a romantic town in its own right) and float 80 km by boat (five hours) downriver through one of the Middle Kingdom's most gorgeous landscapes.
Where to Stay in Yangshuo
The lakeside Paradesa Yangshuo Resort offers romantic views, friendly but unobtrusive service and a relaxing outdoor pool.
Where to Dine in Yangshuo
Yangshuo's West Street offers a wealth of outdoor cafés. Try the Café China for cheesecake, thick banana pancakes and the best rooftop mountain views in town. Sit on the eponymous terrace for breakfast at The Balcony (you may well find the French owner, Nico, joining you for drinks). For more elegant dining, Le Vôtre occupies half of the former Ming dynasty Jiangxi Guild Hall and serves up everything from T-bone steaks, escargot, steamed mussels, grilled duck filet and crème brûlee. Their wine selection is the best in town. Finally, for the ultimate in romanitic river dining, the Café China can arrange for a boat to take you an hour downstream to Liu Gong village. Located in a converted watchtower, the Liu Gong Pavilion Restaurant commands spectacular river and mountain views. Try the stir-fried sweet-potato shoots and the Yao-style braised pork wrapped in rice stalks.
Dali: A Historic Chillout Session
Narrow winding cobblestone streets, mysterious temples and pagodas, relaxed cafés, local Bai minority culture and stunning mountain and lake vistas combine to make Dali one of China's most romantic escapes, especially for travelers of the backpacking persuasion (expect to hear, time and again, the soothing strains of Bob Marley's Legend in Dali's smokier cafés). Most of the area's attractions can easily be reached by bike, and good food and drink await at the end of each day's adventures.
Where to Stay in Dali
With its stunning mountain and lake views from each of its guest rooms, the Dali Asian Star Hotel is a luxurious 4.5 star hotel offering everything from a beauty salon to karaoke.
Where to Dine in Dali
In Dali you can find everything from Western, Yunnan, Bai and Chinese dishes. We recommend the vegetarian food at Buddha's Abode, the burritos at Cafe De Jack, the banana pancakes at the Old Wooden House, as well as the Sunshine Café, Salvador's Coffee House and Claire's Café. Try the local Bai cuisine at the Bailixiang Restaurant or Jingjing Snack House. You should be sure to try a few of the following specialties: Dali Earthenware Pot Fish (shaguo yu) a popular Bai dish made with magnolia petals, mushrooms, and slices of ham, pork, and chicken. For hearty Chinese cuisine, Apricot Flower Restaurant is a good choice.
Sanya: Sun, Sand and Surf
What says romance better than "long walks on the beach" and "ocean sunsets"? Sanya, on the southern tip of Hainan Island, has the best beaches in the People's Republic. Check out the white sands of Yalong Bay, visit Buddhist temples, linger in tropical gardens and see rare Macaque monkeys on Monkey Island. If you're after a little privacy and a more pristine beach experience, hire a driver or ride a bicycle to one of the island's more remote spots.
Where to Stay in Sanya
Where to Dine in Sanya
Sanya is known for seafood, and for our RMB the pick of the catch is the Suan Long Seafood Restaurant, though you're likely to do well almost anywhere with a live fish-tank "menu" out front. If seafood's not your thing, try the local version of Wenchang Chicken (wenchang ji); a stir-fry of chicken liver, ham, vegetables, sugar and white wine (seriously...try it). Nanshan Hotpot City and Dongbeiwang Restaurant also provide excellent alternatives to Sanya's seafood mainstays.
The Venetian Macau: China's Vegas
Caviar? Champagne? Throwing money at roulette tables? If gambling and the lifestyle that comes with it are a turn-on, Macau is it, fast overtaking Las Vegas as the world's richest casino city (though it lacks drive-in weddings presided over by Elvis-impersonating priests). And when the glitz of the world's largest casino, the new Venetian Macao, wears thin, Macau has a huge advantage over Vegas: Authenticity. Yep, authentic Portuguese-Chinese culture, cuisine and architecture, which makes gives this tiny territory an Old World romantic atmosphere unlike any other: Hot Latin blood mixed with spicy Guangdong passion...yum (yes, the Mecanese food is fantastic, too).
Where to Stay in Macau
The 40-story, $1.8 billion dollar Venetian Macao Resort Hotel is the largest single-structure hotel in Asia and the second-largest building in the world (they say it could hold 90 747 jumbo jets). With 3,000 glitzy suites, the world's largest casino, 34,000 slot machines, 800 tables and a 15,000 seat concert hall, the Venetian is made to overwhelm the senses. One area of the hotel grounds is a precise replica of a charming slice of Venice, complete with boats, gondoliers and canals. In another area, the ceiling is painted just like the sky (just remember: the ceiling's the limit—game responsibly, lest you suffer an empty wallet and broken heart).
Where to Dine in Macau
If you care to escape the Venetian's plethora of glitzy restaurants, you can explore Macau's centuries-old cobblestone streets fronted by Portuguese colonial architecture and enjoy a strong coffee in a European café and, perhaps best of all, eat like no place else: dim sum for breakfast, Portuguese caldo verde or bacalhau for lunch and, for dinner, something Macanese—a unique blend of Cantonese, Portuguese, Goan and African flavors—perhaps Galinha à Africana (African chicken) or Macanese chili shrimp.
Shangri-La: Himalayan Heaven
Ah, Shangri-La...the very name conjures up romantic visions of a remote mountain kingdom populated by a noble people of exotic beauty, isolated from the world for centuries until a pair of intrepid explorers discovered a utopian valley long thought lost to time.... Of course, reality is somewhat different, though Yunnan's Shangri-La has one distinct advantage over the mythical land described in James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon: it actually exists. And, as long as nobody's cracking down on restive Tibetans, it's a wonderful place to visit for a taste of Himalayan splendor and high-altitude romance. A popular gateway for travelers into Tibet, Shangri-La (known prior to its rebranding as Dechen by Tibetans and Zhongdian by Chinese), is as close as you can get to the Tibetan Autonomous Region without actually being there. Six hours drive from Lijiang, Shangri-La is an ideal base for trips to the nearby Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Pudacuo National Park, Napa Lake, Xiagei Hot Springs and Haba Village.
Where to Stay in Shangri-La
Unobtrusive luxury is what the Banyan Tree does best, smoothly integrating five-star facilities and services into stunning natural surroundings and local culture, giving guests room to unwind and discover for themselves the charms of some of the world's most unique and beautiful corners. The Banyan Tree Ringha is no exception. The original Ringha Lodge was the private compound of a wealthy Tibetan villager, with room for extended family and livestock. The Banyan Tree people rebuilt it to five-star specs while preserving its rustic charm. After a day's trekking in the mountains, return to your farmhouse villa to relax with a soak in the hot tub. Visit the spa for a deeper level of pampered relaxation and rejuvenation. The retreat features 15 Tibetan farmhouses, 11 apartments, and six spa suites, all done in a Tibetan style.
Where to Dine in Shangri-La
In addition to the Banyan Tree's three excellent restuarants, Shangri-La boasts a numer of cozy spots to grab a bite: the Potala Café, Stupa Book Café and Tibet Café are all good bets for a hearty pre-trek breakfast. For a special treat, go on a Banyan Tree-organized Highland Romance horseback excursion into the countryside to dine on the banks of the Shudugang River. And it's no mere picnic: We're talking a custom four-course dinner accompanied by traditional Tibetan song and dance.
The Forbidden City: The Romance of Empire
It's a proven fact: Power and intrigue are sexy. And there are few places on earth that say "power and intrigue" with more force and style than Beijing's Forbidden City. Home to half a millenium's worth of court intrigue and dynastic history, the Forbidden City's courtyards, towers, walls, halls and gardens create the perfect backdrop for a romantic stay in Beijing.
Where to Stay in Beijing
The five-star Beijing Crowne Plaza is just a ten-minute stroll from the Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square and other major attractions. If you're looking for the romance of Old Beijing, the Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel occupies a historical hutong, featuring Qing Dynasty period furnishings, renovated brick and timber facades facing charming cobbled courtyards and lanes, and an authentic atmosphere increasingly rare in the rapidly modernizing Chinese capital.
Where to Dine in Beijing
No visit to Beijing is complete without Beijing duck (vegetarians may be interested to know that the mock duck version can be quite delicious, too). Once reserved for the refined palates of the imperial court, today we can all enjoy this classic Beijing delicacy. The Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, a seven-story roasting palace in business since 1864, and Da Dong, a popular white-tablecloth spot, are both celebrated local kaoya institutions, but in our books, the best bird in town is served at Duck de Chine.
Yangtze River Cruise: If This Boat's A-Rockin'...
The romance of a Yangtze River cruise cannot be understated, even as the Three Gorges lose some of their drama to the waters rising behind China's most notorious dam. It's still enchanting to drift downstream past soaring cliffs, mist-shrouded peaks and thundering waterfalls—scenes that have inspired Chinese poets and painters for millennia. A number of tour operators organize luxury live-aboard cruises from Chongqing.
Where to Stay in Chongqing
Whether you opt for a five-star cruise or a grittier and more atmospheric budget boat (a great way to go for local color, though privacy is certainly compromised), the InterContinental Chongqing is a great place to relax before your cruise.
Where to Dine in Chongqing
Chongqing is hot pot city—natives will tell you it was invented on the Yangtze docks, but folks around Sichuan will disagree. Regardless, it's delicious in Chongqing, and if you like it spicy, you'll be in culinary heaven. The Little Swan is is a good bet for hot pot.
Huang Shan: Hiker's Haven
You know the scene, even if you don't know it yet: Romantic mist-shrouded crags, twisted lonely pines, dramatic vistas, temple pagodas and elegant stands of bamboo—yes, it's the classic Chinese landscape scene as rendered on porcelain, silk and rice paper by generations of artists. Huang Shan (the Yellow Mountains) is quintessential China.
Where to Stay in Huangshan
Amazing views of rugged mist-filled valleys at sunset and sunrise are musts for your Huang Shan escape. Perched 1,630 meters above sea level and surrounded by peaks and pines, the Beihai Hotel is the perfect place to catch the yunhai—literally the "cloud sea"— at its most dramatic. It's also handy to the trails and cable car network connecting Huang Shan's many scenic spots. Just be sure to book in advance, as the hotel fills fast.
Where to Dine in Huangshan
Have dinner at the Xihai Hotel and enjoy delicious food (Western and Chinse dishes are available), sample the region's famous Maofeng tea and enjoy fantastic panoramic views of the western "cloud sea."