The architectural richness of the city dates back to the importance of the banking sector in the city in the nineteenth century and symbolizes the wealth of great families of the past., including the imperious Wang residence or the noble dwellings built side-by-side over time. As such, you will gain an insight into daily life of the era, interspersed with costumes and rituals, and in your imagination, you can compare them with those of today.
Here, the streets are very lively and trades and crafts are thriving. Those who seek authenticity will still find mobile egg vendors and mah-jong players in the streets.
If you only spend a few hours in Pingyao, I have only one trip to recommend you: taking a walk around the fortifications to see the city pass by below without a care in the world. These are China's most ancient and thickest fortifications. Built in 1370, they are between six and ten meters high and contain six portals and four turrets. This makes it a major monument in Chinese history. I will leave you to imagine the labor necessary to build an undertaking of this nature in its time.
When you move on, go and discover the city's architectural wonders. My favorites were the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, in the Zhen Guo, and the Confucian Temple. But the best way to enjoy the city means losing yourself, without paying attention to where you're going (though still watch out for the locals on their bikes and motorbikes) in the streets and alleyways.
Personally, I'm not a fan of remaining in one place for more than two days at a time. After seeing Pingyao and its monuments, use the next day to explore the Wang Residence, which is a truly unmissable sight. Located 35 kilometers from Pingyao (and accessible by bus), it's the largest in Shanxi! Imagine 123 courtyards and 1,113 dwellings! Built in the mid-eighteenth century, it is equivalent to a third of Beijing's Forbidden City, which is saying something!
The fortifications are also the ideal location to observe the city's structure. As you might expect, given the rigor of the Chinese approach, Pingyao has been organized in a very conscious manner. The city is square. All the streets cross at right angles to form a grid. It's both simple, and unsettling.
Over the city's 225 hectares, visitors can feel the effects of the wealth and prosperity that endured for over a century, from 1800 to 1900, when Pingyao was the city's leading financial center. At the time, the social position of merchants in the city exceed that of even the Emperor's courtiers! As an aside, China's first bank was created here.
Today, tourism is of great importance to the city, but it has retained both its charm and its prestige. I also recommend that you take a look at the numerous craft stores. It's an ideal opportunity if you're looking for fine objects to take home as souvenir.