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Datong Travel Guide | 4 Amazing Things to Do

by Steven
Published: Last Updated on

Datong (大同市) is located in northern China in Shanxi Province. Its main industry is coal mining, and as a result, the city was among the dirtiest in China. But Datong has been considerably refurbished in recent years and it can be seen in the historic center. The city wall has been completely restored and the temples and neighborhoods have been rebuilt, but because of this little of a historic city center is left. But still, the city center is special. In addition, you go to Datong to visit the caves of Yungang or the Hanging Monastery at Hunyuan. So let’s go to Datong …!

What would you like to know about Datong in China?

The amazing Hanging Monastery of Hunyuan, China
The hanging monastery at Hunyuan

History of Datong – This is what you need to know

Datong is a city of about 3 million people. This does not make it one of the largest cities in China, but it does make it one of the most interesting when it comes to history. Because of its location near Inner Mongolia, this city, founded around 200 BC as Pingcheng, was an important stopover for camel caravans.

But by far the most important period in the city’s history is between 400 and 500 AD. This period saw the creation of the important Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Monastery at Hunyuan, the city’s two main attractions. Datong was then the capital of the Kingdom of Wei.

A number of landmarks in the Old Town date from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), including the Huayan and Shanhua Temples. Incidentally, the city was looted in 1649 and rebuilt in the following years.

Part of the old inner city of Datong, China
The old town of Datong, a part that was yet to be restored. The photo was taken in 2018.

Over the past 10 years, Datong has undergone a massive transformation. But this was not uncontroversial. Mayor Geng Yanbo urged the Beijing government to undertake a major renovation costing more than 50 billion Yuan. The downtown area then had 100,000 residents; by 2020, only 30,000 would be living there. Despite the fact that many residents had to move to other places in the city, the result is certainly worth it. This greatly improved the image of the city, which had the status of the most polluted city in China because of the coal mines in the area.

Childeren playing in Datong, China
A small square in the city center is a good place to be. Children are having a great time with the best gadgets…

Sightseeing – What to see and do in and around Datong?

Are you planning a visit to Datong? Then definitely count on 2 full days. There are some interesting sights here that will take you at least half a day to see. And if you also want to see the city center then 2 full days are enough. Below is a list of the main attractions of Datong and the surrounding area.

Yungang Grottoes

To the west of Datong are the Buddhist temple caves of Yungang. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, they are the city’s main attraction. The complex has 254 caves and the oldest part dates from around 500 AD. In total, you can admire more than 50,000 statues of Buddhas in all shapes and sizes. Highly recommended during a visit to Datong. Read more about it in the article Discover the beautiful Yungang Grottoes of Datong.

The famous Caves of Yungang in China
The Yungang Grottoes are a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Hanging Monastery

About 60 kilometers southeast of Datong you’ll find the hanging monastery. This structure located against Mount Heng was built more than 1,500 years ago by a monk looking for peace and relaxation. He found that in this valley and the Hanging Monastery is built in such an impressive way that it can truly be called an architectural masterpiece. Want to know more? Read the article Hanging Monastery Datong | Architectural Masterpiece of China.

Hunyuan Hanging Monastery near Datong in China

The ‘new’ old city wall

The Chinese government has invested so much money in the city that the old city wall has become mainly a new city wall. Still, it is worthwhile to see a bit of Datong and the downtown area from this 7-kilometer long wall. Climbing the structure is free upon the presentation of an ID.

Walk around the city center

All attractions within the city walls have been renovated in recent years. Here you will find a number of special temples that you can view, but also nice streets with cozy stores and eateries. Do not forget to take a look at the Huayan and Shanhua Temple.

Old tower in de city center of Datong, China
A tower in downtown Datong

Accommodation – Where to stay in Datong?

I stayed a total of 4 nights at the Datong Green Island Youth Hostel. This hostel is close to the city’s main train station. The rooms are spacious, although the common area is quite small. Nevertheless, you meet plenty of other people here because of the coziness. Per night I paid about 6 euros for a bunk bed.

The only disadvantage is that the hostel is 2.5 kilometers away from the “old” city center. It takes about 30 minutes to walk there.

Looking for nice accommodation in Datong? Take a look here for the options.

The old city wall of Datong, China
The ‘new’ old city wall

Transportation – How to get there?

Datong is located about 300 kilometers west of the capital Beijing. It is therefore an ideal stopover for the route towards Pingyao and Xi’an. Recently, Datong can also be reached by high-speed train. Previously, the train journey between the two cities took 6 hours, but since the completion of the new railroad line, you can reach Datong from Beijing within 2.5 hours. For more information on departure times, check out the China Travel Guide website.

The northern train station of Datong, in China
Atmospheric square in front of the city’s northern train station (left background).

Next destination in China?

Probably you just came from the capital Beijing and are planning to head south. A good stopover is Pingyao, one of the nicest historical cities in China. From there you can take the high-speed train to Xi’an. Heading north you go to Inner Mongolia and to Mongolia. I myself took a route that went from Ulaanbaatar to Datong. However, if you want to go to Mongolia, don’t forget to buy a visa in Beijing first. If you are coming from the south and going to China’s capital, read all about it in the Beijing travel guide.

Do you have more tips, ideas, or comments about Datong in China? Then feel free to leave a message below.

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