According to a 2017 VisitBritain report, more than 260,000 Chinese tourists visit the UK each year. And where do they go? It claimed that “they are mostly interested in symbolic elements: the Royal Family, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey”. So expect crowds at Windsor Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, Baker Street, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Highclere Castle.
Then there’s the shopping. Spending figures for Chinese tourists are truly staggering. According to the UNWTO, Chinese tourists overseas spent $261.1 billion in 2016, up from around $10 billion in the year 2000. Collectively, America’s globetrotters parted with a relatively paltry $123.6 billion.
"Cynical young Chinese will scornfully tell you that the travelling middle classes pay lip service to appreciating culture, but they are mainly after the goods: specifically, European brands they can buy in situ, and bring home to lord over their non-travelling neighbours,” says Telegraph Travel’s Sally Peck, a former Beijing resident. “This may go some way to explaining the extraordinary spending figures.”
All of which reveals why Bicester Village, a vast retail estate on the outskirts of the Oxfordshire town, is the second most visited UK attraction for Chinese tourists – after Buckingham Palace. Three in four Chinese visitors head to Bicester aided by Mandarin signs and announcements at London Marylebone; others travel by tour bus.
King’s College, Cambridge
A famous tree - for Chinese people at least - can be found in King’s College, Cambridge. The willow, ignored by most, is mentioned in a much-loved poem by Xu Zhimo, ‘Taking Leave of Cambridge Again’:
The golden willows by the riverside
Are young brides in the setting sun;
Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river
Keep undulating in my heart.
Xu spent a year studying at King’s College, where he was entranced by the work of Keats and Shelley, before returning to China to lead its modern poetry movement. Renowned for his love affairs, Xu died at the age of just 34 in a plane crash and the willow is now considered by his fans to be a shrine to lost youth. A memorial stone can be found beside the tree – an essential spot for Chinese tourists to grab a snap.
Germany’s answer to Bicester Village is Outletcity in Metzingen, the town in Baden-Württemberg, close to Frankfurt, where Hugo Boss was founded. It has little to lure anyone beyond scores of factory outlets. Hugo Boss was the first, but Prada, Nike, Burberry, Armani and Gucci, to name a few, have since followed suit. As the Economist points out, there’s an irony to the fact that many items bear “Made in China” labels, but high taxes and duties mean prices are around 40 percent lower than those found in Beijing.
The former West German capital is another popular port of call. Chinese love classical music - particularly Beethoven - making his birthplace an obvious highlight of any trip to Europe. The city’s tourist board offers maps in three foreign languages: English, Chinese and Japanese.
Both British and Chinese travellers flock to Venice, Rome and Florence – but Verona typically appears higher on the wishlists of China’s tourists. That’s because of the country’s collective adoration of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The play is popular on UK shores, of course, but the love is doubled in China as it was among the first of the Bard’s works to be translated into Mandarin, while its plot bears a striking resemblance to a famous Chinese folk tale, The Butterfly Lovers. Expect to see queues at the popular, though not necessarily authentic, House of Juliet on Via Cappello (a statue of the character stands beneath her balcony).