China's heritage spans thousands of years, and its temples are perhaps the best testimony to its rich and varied past. These holy and tranquil havens are a perfect example of China's complex religious influences—Buddhist, Confucianism, Taoist, and even all three! —as well as its distinct architectural design.
China's temples are completely special and unlike anything you'll find anywhere else, from typical Tibetan retreats to ancient imperial sites. With a temple or several in almost every city, ranking them seems nearly impossible.
Temples are an integral part of China's Buddhist heritage and history, alongside Buddhist grottoes, mountains, and religious sites such as the Leshan Giant Buddha. In China, there are numerous well-known temples with splendid layouts and typical Chinese architecture. Many of them are hundreds of years old. The top temples in China are listed below.
The Temple of Heaven, Beijing
The Temple of Heaven, one of the capital's most well-known landmarks, is an architectural masterpiece with a vivid, centuries-long past. The Yongle Emperor (who supervised the building of another famous site, the Forbidden City) first constructed this temple in the early 15th century, and it was once the site of an annual pilgrimage by the emperor, who would pray and give sacrifices to the gods to help ensure a good harvest.
The Temple of Heaven, which is actually a complex of temple buildings strewn around a park covering nearly 300 hectares, suffered substantial damage during the Opium Wars in the late 19th century, but it has since been restored to its former glory. The main temple's distinctive round form distinguishes it from its predecessors in China, rendering this culturally significant landmark a must-see for tourists to Beijing.
The public has access to the enormous park where they can practise Tai Chi, a martial art form that focuses on cultivating and manipulating energy within the body, in addition to admiring the temple's magnificent architecture.
You may also just sit and relax while watching others perform exercises. It is the holiest of all imperial temples in imperial China, where the idea of worshipping "heaven" predates Buddhism. The building, which dates from 1420, has been designated as a World Cultural Heritage site.
Its nature exposes the mysterious cosmological rules assumed to govern the functioning of the cosmos and the equilibrium between "heaven" and earth.
Nanshan Temple, Sanya
Nanshan Buddhist Tourism Area is located in Sanya, Hainan Island, China.
Nanshan Temple is a majestic temple set against the backdrop of the sea and mountains, and it is considered a Buddhist sacred site.
Nanshan Temple, which was built in 1988 to commemorate Buddhism's 2,000-year presence in China, beautifully captures China's long religious history. The heavenly sub-tropical setting of Hainan adds to the temple's beauty, and it has become a popular tourist destination since its completion. The seaside Nanshan Temple and its incredible, one-of-a-kind Buddha statue make for an amazing sight, despite the fact that it is not the oldest of Chinese temples.
The Golden Jade Guanyin Statue and the Sea Watch Terrace are among the temple's other attractions. The tallest Guanyin Bodhisattva in the world can be found at Nanshan Temple.
With grand halls, red roofs, and white walls, the temple's buildings nicely reflect Chinese ancient architecture.
South Putuo Temple, Xiamen
Location: Siming District, Xiamen, 515 Siming South Road
Popular Bodhisattva statues can be found in the Hall of Celestial Kings, Great Buddha's Hall, Hall of Great Mercy, and the Depository of Buddhist Texts.
The temple hosts thousand-hand Buddha, golden carvings of the Chinese character 佛 (meaning Buddha), Wulao Peak, and the grand and massive buildings.
Famen Temple, Xi'an
Famen Temple is located in Famen Town, Fufeng County, Baoji Prefecture, 120 kilometres west of Xi'an. It is known for its valuable Buddhist relics. During the Tang Dynasty (618–907), Emperor Xizong buried several Buddhist objects in an underground palace. The temple's museum houses the excavated relics, which include four Bodhisattva idols, as well as ceramics and silks.
At the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220), Famen Temple was constructed. After the Terracotta Army, it is one of the must-see attractions in Xi'an. For Buddhists, the temple is regarded as a sacred site.
Jokhang Temple, Lhasa
The Jokhang is the holiest site for Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims, and it draws a large number of visitors at all hours of the day and night.
The Tang Princess Wen Cheng, King Songtsan Gampo's wife, is said to have chosen it as a preferred location. It is said she had the temple constructed at the location to combat evil forces she believed came from the nearby Wutang lake.
Between January and early March, it hosts the Great Prayer Festival, which features a life-size Buddha statue.
Wannian Temple, Mount Emei
Location: On Mount Emei in Sichuan Province, 120 km south of Chengdu
It was originally constructed during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420), but was later destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1953.
The Beamless Hall, the Puxian Buddha, and the Tooth of Buddha are the temple's three treasures.
According to tradition, a special kind of frog lives in the rectangular pond to the right of the temple, and in the evenings, visitors can hear melodious sounds from the pond.
Yonghe Lama Temple, Beijing
Three bronze Bodhisattva statues can be found in the Hall of Harmony and Peace, the main room of Yonghe Lama Temple.
A temple fair is held in the temple during the Spring Festival. Read more on Yonghe Temple. Yonghe Temple was initially founded as the residence of Emperor Yongzheng (1693) during the Qing Dynasty.
White Horse Temple, Luoyang
It has several different halls: Hall of Heavenly Kings, Hall of Great Buddha, Hall of Guidance, Hall of Mahavira, and Cool and Clear Terrace.
White Horse Temple, also known as the cradle of Chinese Buddhism, was established as a summer retreat for Emperor Liu Zhuang during the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD).
Daxiangguo Temple, Kaifeng
Location: 54 Ziyou Road
First constructed in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550–577), Daxiangguo Temple was once used as a worship place for the royal family, and hosted national Buddhist activities.
In the Octagonal Glazed Hall, it houses one of China's most outstanding examples of wooden carved art - a sophisticated wooden carving statue of the Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) Bodhisattva.
Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou
The temple's halls and pavilions, as well as the numerous famous Buddhist statues, show a grand blend of Chinese ancient architecture and cultural artefacts. On the nearby Peak that Flew Hither, there are numerous grottoes and religious rock carvings.
Hangzhou, the former capital of the Southern Song Dynasty from 1127 to 1279, is home to a variety of historically significant structures set in a stunning natural setting. Hangzhou's popular West Lake is surrounded by hills dotted with temples, the most famous of which is Lingyin Temple, literally Temple of the Soul's Retreat.
First founded in the 4th century, Lingyin Temple boasts a varied history, and after being reconstructed more than a dozen times, it is now one of the largest and most prosperous Buddhist temples in all of China.
The nearby Feilai Feng grottoes, a network of verdant caves with breathtaking and beautifully preserved Buddhist rock carvings dating back over a thousand years, are the main draw of Lingyin Temple, in addition to its impressive architecture.