This is one of our most comprehensive trips in China, taking in key destinations from north to south with plenty of variety in experiences and sights along the way . Travel by overnight train to get a sense of the vastness of this country, as well as zip between cities on this high-speed rail network. Take through the iconic scenery of the Yangzi River as you meander through the dramatic Three Gorges on a three-day cruise. No matter how many guide books you have read, nothing truly prepares you for the grandeur and immensity of historic sights like the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Leshan Big Buddha and the Terracotta Army. However, the country’s modern man-made sights refuse to be outdone, and you can see the modern equivalence of those ancient feats in the skyline of Hong Kong and the Yangzi River’s Three Gorges Hydroelectric dam
Experience the breadth of cultures, flavours and landscapes that make up the vast Middle Kingdom on one our most popular tours through China. Marvel at iconic attractions like the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, then find a quieter side of the country with a cruise along the Yangzi River and a stay in a Buddhist monastery tucked into the mountains of Emei Shan. Discover a land of epic history, vibrant cultures and dramatic vistas on this 19-day China Experience.
Ni Hao! Welcome to Beijing, capital of the most populous country on earth. With plenty of places that give an insight into the China's ancient history, as well as newer sights that showcase contemporary culture. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your tour leader and fellow travellers. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We will collect/check your passport, insurance and next of kin information at the group meeting, please have these on hand. After the meeting maybe head out to explore the Beijing streets – with your hotel located centrally, a walk in any direction will unveil all sorts of wonderful surprises. Perhaps kick off your China adventure with a taste of an iconic dish – Peking duck.
Today you’ll explore two of the most popular sights in Beijing on foot amd using public transport. While this can be crowded, it's the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture. Make your way to the centre of the city – Tiananmen Square, the symbolic centre of Chinese power. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum, and with elaborate flag raising and lowering ceremonies at dawn and dusk, it's a place of pilgrimage for the Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation. From here you will enter the enormous Forbidden City. Built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all that time, the Forbidden City looks much like it always has. As you explore the great halls and courtyards you’ll be able appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties. This evening is free to explore the Beijing street food scene; the quiet hutongs (historic narrow streets and alleys) come to life with lights and noise in the evening full of eateries to try the local treats.
Great Wall - Beijing
This morning you’ll take a private bus to visit Mutianyu Great Wall (around 2 hours) and spend some time exploring, taking photos and learning the history of this mighty site. An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6000 km west from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from nomadic northern tribes, and even though it failed in this purpose it's still one of the country's most remarkable achievements and an iconic destination. The walk is generally on the restored section of the wall, but this still means walking on steep, uneven terrain with multiple steps, so reasonable fitness and comfortable shoes are needed. The walk is approximately 5 kilometres and will take 2 to 3 hours depending on your level of fitness. You can choose how you access the wall, with options including cable car, chairlift or even toboggan to come down (at your own expense). It's a good idea to pack a picnic lunch with you to enjoy atop the wall during a rest break. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. Return to Beijing by private bus, and then enjoy a free evening to either relax or explore further.
Today you'll travel to Xi'an by high-speed train (around 5.5 hours). The capital of Shaanxi Province, Xi’an is the largest city in northwest China. Once the imperial centre of China for nearly 2000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites and is a great place to explore. Join your leader on a short walking tour to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. The city has a wonderful Muslim Quarter, and you’ll wander the narrow streets past shops, lively markets, and groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes. In your free time, maybe visit the ancient City Wall, the most complete in China, running over 13 kilometres (8 miles) around the city (and cycling on top of it is a great option). Or visit the Bell and Drum Towers, the former built (according to legend) to restrain the dragons that were causing earthquakes, the latter is (unsurprisingly) full of drums, once used to mark time and warn in emergencies. Xi’an’s Silk Road history means it has an exciting mixture of cultures, exemplified by its food options. So in the evening, perhaps visit the night markets and try many of the tantalising local specialties such as pao mo (lamb broth that you break flat bread into), hand pulled noodles, hot pot and barbecue.
Today we will travel by public transport (around 2 hours) to visit what is undoubtedly one of the man-made wonders of the world – the Terracotta Warriors. You’ll learn all about this incredible archaeological find, rediscovered in 1976 by farmers digging a well after being buried for 2000 years. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (originally all painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for you to view, where just under 2000 of the warriors – each individually sculpted from clay and with a different costume, height, and even facial expressions – stand in battle formation. The scale is incredibly impressive. Return to Xi’an for you final evening in the city.
Take a 3.5-hour high speed train ride to Chengdu. The capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu is most famous for two things – the pandas living in the mountains, and the food. Chengdu's signature spicy cuisine is largely regarded as the best within China. In such a food-focused country, this is no mean feat. Maybe sample a Sichuan hotpot this evening. Go on a walking tour with your leader and check out Tianfu Square and People's Park, arguably the most lively park in China, full of locals singing, dancing, doing tai chi or even modelling! It might be one of China's biggest cities, but Chengdu has preserved plenty of its traditional flavour, and you'll get a taste of it during this tour and your free time. Don't miss out on the teahouses – pull up a stool and sample the local's favourite green and jasmine tea. Don't be surprised if someone offers to give you a head massage or clean your ears while you sip!
Visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base today, where you're able to witness the conservation efforts being made to save this endearing species. There are only around 1000 pandas left in the world and 80% of them are found in the mountains in Sichuan. The facility was set up 30 years ago to help protect this animal, and there are more than 80 giant and red pandas living at the base. The pandas have over 600 acres of parkland to live in, and today you'll have the honour of getting up close to these gorgeous creatures. Watch them play, eat bamboo and climb the trees. If you’re lucky enough (and travelling between July and September) you might get to see newborns taking their first steps in the nursery. Afterwards, return to downtown Chengdu for some free time. Perhaps take in a performance of traditional Sichuan Opera, visit the Wenshu Temple, or take a cooking class. Ask your leader for details.
Leshan - Emei Shan
Travel by private bus to the sacred mountains of Emei Shan. Along the way, stop in the town of Leshan to visit the World Heritage-listed Leshan Giant Buddha. Facing the river, the 71-metre-tall Buddha was carved out of a cliff face and took almost a 100 years to finish about 1300 years ago, in order to subdue the violent flood that the Leshan town had to suffer in ancient times. Depending on the volume of visitors, you may either choose either to climb up and down Leshan Mountain or take the river boat to experience the Giant Buddha, although the river boat is the best option if you want see the statue's entirety and wow at its magnificence. Then continue to Emei Shan (approx. 40 min) where you'll spend the next three nights.
Today will be spent exploring the landscape surrounding Emei Shan, one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains. In the morning, travel by the park bus and then cable car (about 3 hours total), to the Golden Summit. The views from the 3099-metre/10,170-feet peak at Emei Shan are truly spectacular, especially on clear days. Take a public bus down the mountain, where you’ll start your 3-hour trek with a local guide to your accommodation at a monastery. Expect plenty of steps and steep paths, and dress accordingly. Sturdy footwear will help you to enjoy this challenging but rewarding day on the mountain.
Today continue to explore the beautiful countryside at the base of the mountain, which provides ample opportunity for leisurely walks. It may be possible to visit some local hot springs to relax and revive from your hike, or take a tour of some nearby villages. You can also visit the Crouching Tiger Monastery, hidden deep in the forest, and see its seven-metre copper pagoda inscribed with Buddhist images and texts.
Chongqing - Yangzi River
Travel by public bus to Chongqing, gateway to the Yangzi River. Chongqing is the biggest city in China with a population of over 20 million in the city centre and suburbs that spraw along the river and up the steep hills behind it. Board your river boat, your home for the next few nights, and begin the cruise down one of the world’s greatest rivers. The gorges are spectacular and most travellers enjoy their time on the Yangzi boats but some words of warning are necessary. The Yangzi River region is one of the most industrialised and rapidly developing areas in China. We travel on Chinese tourist boats rather than luxury tourist vessels. We like to call it a river trip, rather than a traditional cruise. Cabins are twin-share with private bathroom facilities. While all meals are included during your time on the boat, the buffet-style Chinese cuisine can be quite plain, but there's a chance to visit the supermarket in Chongqing before boarding in order to stock up on some favourite snacks, drinks or fruit for your journey.
Continue your cruise along the Yangzi River. The Yangzi has inspired numerous poets, writers and travellers over the centuries. You will travel along one of the most picturesque sections, through the renowned Three Gorges. The dramatic 'Sanxia', as they are known in Chinese, stretch for 200 kilometres and vary from 100 metres to 300 metres in width. As well as relaxing and taking in the sights (now much changed since the implementation of the Three Gorges dam), you may have opportunities to visit some riverside attractions and towns on optional group excursions, including leaving the river boat to take a side trip down a tributary of the Yangzi River. If you prefer to stay on-board, perhaps take the chance to learn some Mandarin words or how to write characters from your leader, how to play mahjong, sing some Chinese songs, catch up on your travel diary or just relax and chat with your group members and local travellers.