China now sends more tourists abroad than any other Asian country.

According to the China Daily, this is a recent development, with 70% of all outbound trips from China taking place within the past six years. In particular, Chinese travellers are gaining recognition for their off-the-beaten-path exploration of Europe.

Since Chinese tourists spend more than 63.5 billion yuan abroad each year, they constitute a highly coveted demographic for European tourism agencies. In 2009 alone, Chinese tourists to France spent more than 1,000 euros per person per trip. This year, the industry-leading tourism fair ITB Berlin even held a conference called “The New Chinese Tourist: How to cater, reach and connect to a new breed of sophisticated Chinese consumers”.

So where exactly are Chinese travellers going when they visit Europe? Their version of the Grand Tour includes some history, some culture and a whole lot of shopping.

History detectives
In Germany, the less traversed city of Trier is seeing a bump thanks to the Chinese tourism boom. The city is home to the Karl Marx Haus Museum, which pulls in 13,000 visitors from China annually.

In France, historical tourism takes Chinese visitors to Montargis, a small town that helped lay the foundation for the Chinese Communist Party. Li Shizeng, the son of a counsellor to the Chinese emperor, studied in Montargis in the early 1900s. There, he founded the Work-Studies Movement, through which other students and intellectuals, including friends of Mao Zedong, ended up in Montargis as well. In 1920, one man living there, Tsai Hesen, wrote a letter to Mao discussing the formation of the Chinese Communist Party. This piece of history has made Montargis a frequented stop on some organized Chinese tours of France.

A more romantic tourist attraction can be found at King’s College in Cambridge, England. There, Chinese visitors flock to a willow tree made famous by the Chinese poet Xu Zhimo. The poet studied at King’s College and wrote about the tree in his 1928 poem On leaving Cambridge.

Culture vultures
“In Chinese surveys, ‘culture’ often leads the list of terms that people associate with Europe,” wrote The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos. When Chinese tour groups come to Europe, they seek out sights related to Western classical music, literature and art.

Bonn, Germany attracts classical music fans for being the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven. Bonn is home to the Beethoven Haus, a museum with the world’s most exhibits dedicated to the composer.

Lovers of William Shakespeare head to Verona, the Italian city that was the backdrop for the play Romeo and Juliet. There, tourists can see Juliet’s balcony, part of the 13th-century mansion of the Capello family – upon whom Shakespeare’s Capulet family may have been based. According to The Economist, Romeo and Juliet is especially beloved in China because its story bears resemblance to a Chinese folk tale called Butterfly Lovers.

In France, cultural stops include far more expected attractions, including the Louvre, Versailles and the Eiffel Tower.

Material girls and boys
According to the European Travel Commission, one-third of Chinese travellers’ budgets are allotted for shopping. In 2010, tourists from China spent 193.9 billion pounds on London's Bond Street alone.

More high-end shopping can be found in Germany and France. In Metzingen, Germany, the Hugo Boss factory outlets are extremely popular, while in Paris, Louis Vuitton draws tourists in droves. True, many of the luxury goods found in Europe are in fact made in China, but, as The Economist points out, European brand bags, watches and wallets are 40% more expensive in China – and sometimes even those are knock-offs.

In France, Bordeaux is another city frequented by Chinese tourists – especially rich Chinese businessmen interested in shopping for expensive bottles of red wine. The superrich are occasionally invited to visit the Château Lafite Rothschild (which is not open to the general public).

Interestingly, the Chinese’s interest in wine does not translate to an interest in European cuisine, as they opt to take nearly all meals at Chinese restaurants. A 2006 survey, for instance, found that 46% of Chinese coach travellers had only tried European food once during their trip.

This may be because many Chinese tourists use travel as a way to learn about their own culture, as much as the culture of the place they are visiting. For more insight into how Chinese travellers are experiencing Europe, this New Yorker story guides readers from start to finish of the new Grand Tour.