Pingyao Ancient City is a historic district located in Shanxi, China that is known for its well-preserved traditional Chinese architecture and temples.
Located just 4 hours away from Beijing via the speed train, Pingyao Ancient City provides an excellent weekend trip opportunity for those who want to experience something a bit different while visiting or living in China.
Colorful Ming and Qing style buildings, narrow alleyways, towering city walls, and lively merchant shops are just a few of the things that visitors can expect to see in this ancient city.
As the birthplace of trade and the first banking system in China, over the centuries Pingyao experienced quite the cultural and economic growth. However, unlike other booming cities in China, Pingyao has always kept its original buildings and characteristics making it one of the most unique attractions for visitors and tourists nowadays.
Here is all you need to know for visiting Pingyao Ancient City in China:
- Visit The First Bank Of China
- Stop By The Ancient Government Office
- See The City God Temple
- Explore The Confucian Temple
- Visit The Pingyao City Wall
- Shop On The Ming-Qing Street
- Roam Through The Narrow Alleys
- Get A Cheap Massage
- Try Local Vinegar & Noodles
- Spend A Day At The Mianshan Mountain
Things To See & Do In Pingyao
Pingyao Ancient City is quite small and it’s entire Old Town area can be walked within a few hours but there are a ton of amazing attractions to see and do within Pingyao and nearby to keep you occupied for at least 2-3 days.
Upon arrival, I highly recommend stopping by the Ticket Office and getting a Pingyao Visitor Ticket that will give you access to 20 local Pingyao attractions for 125 Chinese Yuan ($18 USD) per person. The Pingyao Visitor Ticket also comes with a map of this ancient city highlighting where all the major attractions are located.
Note that temples and museums in Pingyao close at 5 pm so plan accordingly and try to visit the historical attractions in the afternoon before they close. Shops, stores, and restaurants are open much later so there is still plenty to do around the Pingyao Ancient City in the evening.
Visit The First Bank Of China
We were visiting Pingyao over a weekend and there was a lot that we wanted to see and do so we started sightseeing right after we got there and checked into our hotel Jing’s Residence.
The first stop that we visited in Pingyao Ancient City was the Rishengchang Bank, also known as the first bank of China.
Dating back to 1823, the Rishengchang Bank was an important institution that led to the economic and financial growth of China. This was the first bank in China that started to give out loans and deposit savings for local business owners based on honesty and promise.
Over the years the Rishengchang Bank became quite powerful and eventually opened branches all over the country. In return, Pingyao became the financial capital of China and in some ways, Pingyao became more influential than Beijing – the capital of China.
This all ended in 1912 when China became a republic state and the Rishengchang Bank went out of business. Now it has been turned into a museum showcasing old money used in China, rooms that were used for business meetings, eloquent courtyards and living quarters of the bankers.
Stop By The Ancient Government Office
The next historical landmark that we visited in Pingyao was the Ancient Pingyao Government Office located in the center of the city. To enter the government building complex you will need to pass through an elaborate gate that was believed in ancient China to get rid of evil spirits.
The Pingyao Government Office was constructed in 1346 and is the only building in the city that was built during the Yuan Dynasty. This compound consists of buildings representing each major government department, a prison, garden and residential buildings for the government officials.
The Pingyao Government Office used to be the main hub of the city where most of the important affairs and decisions took place like crime hearings and punishments. Nowadays the main courtyard of the Ancient Government Office is used for daily performances that reenact ancient sentencing procedures for visitor entertainment.
See The City God Temple
In ancient China, it was believed that Gods watched over people and examined the affairs of the human world. In order to visit the Gods and ask for favors like peace and rich life, locals build very elaborate temples and praying rooms.
The City God Temple consists of multiple intricate courtyards devoted to various different Gods but the three main Gods that were worshiped at this temple were the Town God, Health God, and Kitchen God.
I have seen quite a few different temples in China and it seems like every new temple I visit is more gorgeous than the last one. Colorful roofs, decorative gates, lush trees and incense scents drifting through the courtyards are just a few of the details that make these temples so special.
Explore The Confucian Temple
Next to the City God Temple is the Confucian Temple, another elaborate and beautiful temple inside the Ancient Pingyao City walls.
The Pingyao Confucian Temple is one of the oldest and best-preserved Confucian Temples in China but unfortunately, parts of it were burned down during the Japanese invasion in 1943. This complex consists of different buildings and halls used for religious sacrifices, ceremonies, and studies.
The Confucian Complex also provides visitors with access to climb stairs onto a balcony overlooking Pingyao City from the second floor of the temple. From here you can awe at the narrow streets, temples and never-ending tile roofs as far as your eyes can see.
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Visit The Pingyao City Wall
The entire Pingyao Ancient City is surrounded by giant defense walls that were built around 2700 years ago. Over time and ruling of different Chinese Dynasties, these defense walls were expanded to include 4 miles of residential housing, merchant shops, temples, and government buildings.
The Pingyao defense walls currently separate the Ancient Pingyao City from the new city just outside of it. Step outside of the Pingyao walls and you’ll find a present-day city just like any other full of fast-food restaurants, cars, and modern housing. But step inside the Pingyao city walls and you’ll be instantly taken back in time to a place like no other.
The Pingyao defense walls are like a solid separation between the old and the new, the ancient and the modern. The ancient city inside the Pingyao defense walls still looks like it did when it was built during the Ming Dynasty, thanks to these strong walls that kept the city protected for centuries.
If you have the time, I highly recommend visiting the Pingyao wall and its watchtowers during the sunset when the wall gets illuminated by beautiful sunset lighting. Although visitors can’t climb the wall itself, the public plazas by the main gates are quite the popular hangout spots for locals and visitors in the evening.
Shop On The Ming-Qing Street
Pingyao Ancient City has a few major streets for visitors to explore but by far the most popular one is Ming-Qing Street. If you’re in a mood to do some shopping, merchant stores are lined up on both sides of the Ming-Qing street. This is where you’ll find the most souvenir stores, restaurants, food stands and other shops.
Along this street, we found some really cool local handicraft stores selling traditional Pingyao goods like handmade shoes. One of the local ladies showed us how she aligns multiple soles and sows it all together by hand. For 140 Chinese Yuan ($20 USD) you can get a simple pair of Pingyao style shoes in a solid color for everyday wear or a more elaborate pair with intricate Chinese designs.
Roam Through The Narrow Alleys
One of my favorite things to do in Pingyao was to roam around the city, especially through its narrow alleyways and residential areas. While the main streets are full of tourists and action, the alleys and side streets are where the real-life in Pingyao takes place.
You’ll see old folks sitting on their doorsteps, people going about their days, peek inside a historical residence and really sense how people then (and still now) live in this very unique setting.
Get A Cheap Massage
As a visitor to any new city, you can expect to do quite a bit of walking. After spending a few days exploring Beijing and Pingyao, I felt like I had run a few marathons and my feet were about to fall off.
Thankfully, Pingyao has a lot of super-cheap massage spots. We saw these massage salons all over the city so at the end of the day we popped into one and got a really awesome cheap foot massage.
They soaked our feet in traditional Chinese herbs and then massaged our feet for almost an hour. It was exactly what we needed after a full day of walking.
For 30 Chinese Yuan ($4 USD) for a foot massage, you can’t really beat this kind of price.
Try Local Vinegar & Noodles
One of the food specialties of the Pingyao region is vinegar – yep that delicious brown liquid that we usually mix into salads or use for cooking. But in Pingyao, the locals use vinegar to make a different type of dish – made of vinegar and noodles.
I never imagined that vinegar would be a good base to serve with noodles but somehow it works. You can try this plate at one of the local Pingyao restaurants or if you want to bring some vinegar home with you, there are a ton of vinegar shops throughout the city.
Spend A Day At The Mianshan Mountain
If you have extra time, I highly recommend arranging a tour to Mianshan, a scenic area with one of the oldest and most important Taoist temples in China built into the side of the Mian Mountain.
We got a recommendation to spend a day at the Mianshan Mountain from some of the locals and it was seriously one of my favorite places that we visited in China.
The Mianshan Scenic Area is located about an hour outside of the Pingyao Ancient City. To get to Mianshan we arranged a car from our hotel for around 800 Yuan ($112 USD). This car service was quite pricey but we were at the Mianshan Mountain all day and the driver patiently waited for us by the entrance until we were done.
The entrance tickets for visiting Mianshan cost 175 Yuan ($25 USD) plus 5 Yuan for a map ($1 USD). This includes access to a tourist bus that will take you into this scenic mountain area and between the different temples.
There are about 10 stops that visitors can see along the Mianshan scenic route but we only stopped at the 3 main ones.
The first stop that we explored was the Daluo Temple. It was believed in ancient China that many different deities lived on the Mianshan Mountain and therefore the Daluo Temple was built into the mountainside so people could come and pray to them.
The Daluo Temple has around 13 different levels so it’s quite tall and grand. Over the years this temple was expanded to include all of the Taoist deities making it one of the largest and most complete Taoist Temples in China. Now the Daluo Temple holds over 300 statues and artifacts including a library housing ancient Taoist books.
The second place that we explored in Mianshan was the Yidou Springs, a quaint temple tucked away in between lush trees. The Mianshian area used to be super dry but at one point miraculously turned very lush and green. The Yidou Temple was built to honor the gods that blessed this land with water and revived it.
The last stop that we visited in Mianshan was the Yunfeng Temple that is basically built inside a giant cave. This cave in the Taoist religion represents a woman’s womb so this is a temple where people can go to pray for fertility and children.
Visitors can climb up into this cave to explore the different Taoist Temples. This is also a teaching temple where young monks come to practice religion so you’re likely to see monks dressed in traditional clothing.
Before you head back to Pingyao you can stop by the modern-looking skyscraper hotel next to the Yunfeng Temple. Here you can grab a traditional Chinese lunch at the restaurant inside but note that the menu is in Chinese so make sure to download a translating app ahead of time.
How To Get To Pingyao
If you’re ready to book your trip to Pingyao, you may be wondering what the best way is to get there.
Pingyao Ancient City is located in the Shanxi province southwest of Beijing. The most popular way to get to Pingyao from Beijing is on a speed train that takes about 4 hours.
We wanted to visit Pingyao over a weekend so we booked the Friday train at 8 am departing from the Beijing West Railway Station.
The easiest way to book the speed train tickets is online through an app called Trip.com. You can also buy the tickets at the train station itself but I would advise against that since the ticket tellers at the Beijing West Railway Station didn’t speak any English and you are not guaranteed a seat on the train if it gets sold out.
When buying tickets for the speed train to Pingyao you have the option to get the cheaper Economy tickets for around $30 USD or upgrade to the Business Class for around $100. We tried both options (there and back) and traveling in the Business Class made a huge difference.
The Business Class cabin comes with individual sitting pods that have a ton of legroom and can be adjusted to a horizontal position for sleeping. During our trip in the Business Class, they also served a lot of refreshments like tea, coffee, juice, snacks, and even a full complimentary meal.
The Economy Class ticket was cheaper by around $70 but seating in the Economy section was super crowded with people sitting all over the cabin, even on the floors. Our seats in the Economy cabin didn’t have much legroom and it super stuffy and loud. Thankfully the train ride from Beijing to Pingyao is only 4 hours so it’s not very long.
On the day of your trip make sure to get to Beijing West Railway Station about 2 hours in advance. The Beijing train station is really big, crowded and confusing so give yourself plenty of time to check-in.
Once you arrive at the Beijing train station, you will need to go to the ticket counter to print out your train tickets. The ticket counter is located to the left from the main entrance. If you can’t find it, try asking one of the security guards to point you in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the Beijing West Railway Station has very little information in English and barely any of the staff spoke English. That’s why we recommend getting there early because it can feel pretty confusing and frantic at first.
Once you have the tickets printed out you will need to go through the main gate and pass through security. They will check your luggage through a scanner, your passport, and your ticket. Make sure to hold on to your train ticket because you will need to scan it upon entering AND leaving the train station – so don’t throw it away.
Once you enter the train station look for the departing gate on the giant screen based on your train number, kind of like at the airport. Your ticket will also list which cabin and seat have been assigned to you.
Before the train arrives, you’ll see everyone starting to line up, about 15 minutes before the train arrives. The crowd control at the Beijing train station is pretty bad so people will try to cut you off and squeeze in front of you.
Once you get on the train, the ride is pretty smooth and straight forward. Just make sure to pay attention to your exit so you don’t miss it.
Once you arrive at Pingyao, the Pingyao Ancient City Train Station is very small and easy to navigate. You’ll need to swipe your ticket upon exiting the station and from there you can grab a taxi to Pingyao Ancient City just outside of the train station.
The cab ride from the train station to Pingyao Ancient City only took about 15 minutes. Pingyao city streets are super narrow so not all cars are allowed to enter the city. Our cab driver dropped us off outside the Pingyao Ancient City entrance but thankfully our hotel had arranged a golf cart pickup for us.
The return trip from Pingyao to Beijing is a lot easier. You should already have the train tickets printed in Beijing so all you need to do is show up an hour early to the Pingyao Train Station. The Pingyao Station is very small, not very crowded and it only took us a few minutes to pass through security and find the departing gate.
Where To Stay In Pingyao
During our time in Pingyao Ancient City, we stayed at a boutique hotel called Jing’s Residence. This hotel was recommended to us by some of our friends and staying there was such a unique experience.
Jing’s Residence Hotel is located inside a 260-year-old traditional Pingyao style house with intricate courtyards and a chic interior. Our room was super spacious and furnished beautifully with elegant pieces, a cute tea area and a luxurious bath filled with rose petals. Needless to say, it was such a special treat staying there.
The hotel staff was super friendly and spoke perfect English. They were very accommodating and even upgraded us to their master suite. The front desk helped us arrange a car for our arrival and departure, a special tour to the Mianshan Mountain, constantly checked in on us and left cute little presents for us in our room throughout our stay.
Jing’s Residence also has a dining area serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with a lounge area where you can grab a glass of wine in the evening and relax after a busy day of sightseeing.
For the latest Jing’s Residence pricing and availability see here.
Looking for other awesome things to do in China? Make sure to check out our other Beijing posts below:
- Guide To Visiting The Forbidden City In Beijing
- Hiking & Camping On The Great Wall Of China
- Guide To Visiting Summer Palace In Beijing
- Tips For Visiting Temple Of Heaven In Beijing
- The Complete Guide To Visiting 798 Art District
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for landscape shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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