Essential Apps for China Tourists

Dec 4, 2023


  • 1. Dianping (大众点评)
    • How to use it?
    • Tips
  • 2. Ctrip (携程)
    • How to use it?
    • Tips:
    • Why Use Local Platforms?
  • Navigating the Language Barrier: Beyond Google Translate
    • How to use it?
    • Tips:
    • Why Use Local Translation Apps?
  • The Value of Hiring a Local Tour Guide
  • Conclusion
  • Show More


For many international tourists, Google Maps and Google Listings are the go-to platforms for discovering and booking attractions. However, when traveling to China, these platforms are not accessible due to the Great Firewall. But fear not! China offers its own set of platforms that are equally efficient and user-friendly. Here's a guide to help you navigate and book attractions in China like a local.

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Dianping is the amalgamation of two prominent Chinese apps: Dazhong Dianping (which mainly caters to reviews of food, services, and points of interest) and Meituan (China's largest food delivery platform). This combined entity, officially called Meituan-Dianping, serves as China's foremost local lifestyle information and trading hub.

Dianping offers a range of information services including user insights, consumer reviews, and commercial deals and discounts. Moreover, it operates as an Online To Offline (O2O) platform, seamlessly integrating aspects of Groupon, Deliveroo, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. With extensive coverage of travel and lifestyle services, Dianping empowers users to conduct all their online purchases within a single app, streamlining the user experience.

  • Access Dianping either via the app or through a WeChat mini-program
  • Choose a city
  • Choose a category you’re interested in (e.g. food, entertainment, beauty, fitness etc.)
  • Sort search results by distance, price or ratings
  • Check opening hours, address and contact information
  • Read reviews and ratings from locals and other tourists
  • Explore the "优惠" (offers) section to identify potential discount deals
  • Make bookings directly through the platform (only applicable to some listings)
  • The platform is primarily in Chinese, so using a translation app can be helpful.
  • Look for listings with a high number of reviews and a rating above 4.0 for the best experiences.

While English-language alternatives like Bonapp or restaurant listings on Smart Shanghai exist, neither offer the extensive coverage and real-time updates that Dianping provides.

Ctrip (known as internationally), often referred to as "China's one stop travel shop", is a leading provider of hotel reservations, transportation ticketing, packaged tours and other travel-related services in China. Their comprehensive offerings encompass both online and offline reservations across a wide spectrum of over 5,000 highly acclaimed hotels, an extensive array of domestic airlines spanning more than 45 cities, and a multitude of domestic itinerary packages that span across China.

In addition to these remarkable features, Ctrip users are also privileged to relish discounted services and products from an extensive network of over 3,000 stores and service providers strewn throughout China.

  • Choose a service (e.g. flights, hotel, attractions, car rental etc.)
  • Choose a city and enter your travel dates
  • Filter search results by price or ratings
  • Read reviews and ratings from locals and other tourists
  • Find exclusive promotions or bundle deals
  • Check out recommendations related to your search category
  • Make bookings directly through the platform
  • Conveniently retrieve booking details via the app or website
  • Contact their 24/7 customer service for urgent support
  • Ctrip often offers exclusive discounts and deals, especially if you book in advance.

While it might be tempting to stick to international platforms you're familiar with, using local platforms in China offers several advantages:

  • Up-to-date Information: Local platforms have the most recent and accurate information about attractions, including any changes in opening hours, ticket prices, or special events.
  • Local Insights: Reading reviews from locals can give you a unique perspective and help you discover hidden gems.
  • Better Deals: Local platforms often have partnerships with attractions and can offer discounts not available on international platforms.

For many international tourists, Google Translate is a handy tool for breaking down language barriers. However, just like Google Maps and Google Listings, Google Translate is not accessible in China. But don't let that deter you! China has its alternatives that can help you communicate with ease.


WAYGO is a visual translation app employing a blend of Optical Character Recognition and machine translation to convert Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters into English text through visual analysis, locating pertinent text, and ultimately formulating coherent sentences. It functions without the necessity of an internet connection and is particularly useful for reading menus, signage, and other printed text.

  • Simply point your smartphone's camera at the text you want to translate, and WAYGO will provide an instant translation.
  • WAYGO offers a limited number of free translations per day, but you can upgrade to the paid version for unlimited translations.
  • Offline Capabilities: Many local translation apps, like WAYGO, work offline, ensuring you're never left stranded without a translation.
  • Cultural Nuances: These apps are designed with Chinese characters and cultural nuances in mind, ensuring more accurate translations.
  • Ease of Use: With intuitive interfaces and features tailored for tourists, these apps make communication in China a breeze.

For those who might feel overwhelmed by the language barrier or simply want a deeper understanding of the local culture and history, hiring a local tour guide can be invaluable. Platforms like offer options to hire experienced local guides who not only speak English but also have a wealth of knowledge about the region's attractions. By having a guide by your side, you can navigate the intricacies of Chinese culture, ask questions, and get personalized recommendations. Moreover, a local guide can provide context to the sights you're seeing, ensuring you have a richer and more immersive experience. Especially for those who don't speak or understand Chinese at all, this can be the key to unlocking the best of what China has to offer, making your trip truly unforgettable.

Traveling in China without Google might seem daunting at first, but with platforms like Dianping and Ctrip, you'll have all the tools you need to explore the country with ease. Embrace the local digital landscape, and you'll be navigating and booking attractions in China like a pro in no time