From Beijing to Shanghai and all the places in between, this is the ultimate China holiday. Tick the Terracotta Warriors and Great Wall off the bucket list and then go beyond to experience the intoxicating mix of culture, history and nature that make China so incredibly unique.
Try a traditional massage, learn the intricacies of feng shui, experience teahouse culture and discover aspects of daily life.
Visit modern cities of Beijing and Shanghai and explore villages and sites with thousands of years of history.
Be amazed at China’s beauty exploring everything from limestone karsts to bamboo forests, stunning lakes to incredible caves.
Highlights of Classical China - 19 Days / 18 Nights
Kick off this China highlights tour with a visit to Beijing. A guide will be waiting upon arrival, providing transport into the city to the hotel. En route to the hotel, there will be a brief stop made at the “Bird’s Nest” stadium- a contemporary architectural masterpiece (partially designed by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei) made famous during the 2008 Olympic Games. Check in, drop the luggage off, and begin the Beijing city tour.
Continue by foot into Beijing’s hutongs (famous alleyways found only in Beijing). The hutongs are less road and more an extension of people’s homes, where everyday life takes place right in the streets.
As many locals still use bicycles as their main mode of transport, we’ve arranged a unique experience of chatting with a local bicycle repair man, offering some insights into this fading business.
From here, head towards the iconic Drum Tower, where the passing of the hours was once signaled by a drum roll (during the Ming era). The tower is opposite the Clock Tower, and provides a pleasant insight into old Beijing (we offer an optional tour of the Clock Tower). Continue with a visit to the Wangfujing area of the city, the main shopping street of the capital, where the atmosphere of modernity and consumerism is ever present.
After the day’s explorations, head back to the hotel for a relaxing evening.
Overnight in Beijing
Wake up early for a unique visit to Beijing’s Temple of Heaven’s park, an authentic means of witnessing China’s morning rituals. Inside the park, public exercise reigns, where Beijingers practice everything from Tai chi, kung-fu and sword-dancing to meditation, tango, and gymnastics. Others spend the morning practicing calligraphy, using large specialist brushes to write beautiful Chinese characters in water on the flagstones of the park (evaporating quickly in the Beijing heat.)
After exploring the park, pay a visit to the Temple, which is notable for its architectural simplicity and Buddhist/Taoist symbolism. It was here where emperors once forged the link between the round sky and the square earth through sacrificial rituals.
Continue the temple encounters with a visit to the White Cloud Temple, where Taoist monks still wear their hair in a traditional style. Visitors come here to rub sculptures representing the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac. If time allows, there will also be a chance to visit the Beijing Mosque, a symbol of the expansion of Muslim merchants from Central Asia throughout China.
Move along in the afternoon to the Yonghegong Lama Temple, offering some key insights into Tibetan and Inner-Mongolian Buddhism. The temple is known for its 18-metre high Buddha statue carved out of a single block of wood.
Conclude the day with a visit to the Temple of Confucius. Confucius, his teachings, and moral codes are a cornerstone of Chinese culture, dictating nearly all social interactions in Imperial China.
Option: Spend the evening attending a Kung Fu show in the Red theater. The Red Theater was originally known as Chongwen Worker's Cultural Palace Theater. After the renovation, the stage facilities have been dramatically improved and now the theater specializes in traditional Chinese performances, such as "The Legend of Kung Fu".
Overnight in Beijing
Day 3 visits one of the most iconic China highlights: The Great Wall. Traces of the Wall run back to the Qin Dynasty over 2000 years ago; the Wall seen today was slowly unified and linked under the greater restoration project of the Ming Dynasty. At its peak time, the Wall stretched unbroken for over 6,000km from ancient Manchuria to the fort at Jiayuguan at the edge of the Gobi desert in the west.
Day 3 will constitute a visit the Mutianyu section of the wall, beginning with an early morning departure from the hotel. Early morning is the best time to visit the Wall, as photographs are stunning in the morning light. For those who aren’t interested in the long walk back down, there is an alternate option to take a cable car or toboggan ride to the base.
Depending on time, there may also be an opportunity for a picnic on the Great Wall whilst admiring the stunning, rugged scenery all around.
Heading back to Beijing, pay a visit next to the Summer Palace. At one time a simple imperial garden, the site was totally redesigned by Emperor Qianlong in the 18th Century becoming one of the capital’s major sites. A mix of temples pavilions, lakes, pagodas and gardens make up this harmonious representation of Chinese culture and architecture. After the visit to the Summer Palace, transport will be provided back to the hotel.
Overnight in Beijing
The morning is free to spend either enjoying the hotel facilities or doing a bit of shopping in the surrounding areas.
After a leisurely start, continue the China highlights tour with a visit to the Forbidden City. Learn a bit on the history of the landmark, its role throughout the dynasties, and also why most Chinese buildings face south.
In order to simplify this huge site, it is often divided into three parts:
- The official palaces which were used for lavish ceremonies, Imperial exams, and governmental meetings.
- The Imperial lodgings and gardens where the Emperor, Empress and visiting ambassadors resided.
- The surrounding areas which house temples, libraries and further gardens.
Please Note: Access to the Forbidden City is limited to 80,000pax/day. Passport copies must be provided at least 11 days advance for personal registration (preferably 2 weeks in order to assure a successful booking); it will not be possible to modify the date at a later point. Visitors are required to bring their passport for security check upon their visit to the monument.
Restored for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Forbidden City has regained much of its youthful, vivid colours. With much to explore in the site, visitors are advised to take their time wandering through the City. After the visit, there will be a short climb to the artificial coal hill just behind the Forbidden City, providing spectacular views of the entire site and of the layout of the whole of Beijing.
In the evening, there will be a transfer to the Beijing train station for the night train to Datong. Trains in China are incredibly lively places, so the trip to Datong will be a unique cultural experience all in itself.
Overnight on the train
Train Station: Beijing -Datong
Train number: 1133
Estimated departure time: 23:02
Estimated arrival time: 05:21(+1)
Second class tickets are included; second class features soft berths, four berths per cabin. For those interested in reserving the entire cabin or switching to a different class, please contact us directly. (Tickets and class depend on availability and are subject to change)
A guide will be waiting upon arrival in Datong, and transport will be provided to the hotel. Despite being known for the deadly coal mines which surround the city, Datong is an important starting point for anyone wishing to visit the incredible Yungang Grottoes.
From Datong we will head to the Yungang Grottoes.
The conversion of the Northern Wei people to Buddhism and their subsequent assimilation into greater Chinese society gave birth to the Yungang Grottoes in the 5th century AD (considered to be the symbol of the golden age of Buddhist cave art in China.) Around 51,000 rock statues made by monks and other devout followers of Buddhism were discovered in 252 different grottoes. Of particular note is the number 5 grotto, which holds a 17m high statue of Buddha; one of the most impressive in all of China.
After visiting the grottoes, head back to Datong where we will visit the completely renovated city centre and discover the superb Huayan Temple. Take note of the Nine Dragon Wall (the longest screen wall in the country) measuring 45m in length. Chinese “screen walls” are found in most traditional buildings and the degree of intricacy of the screen was used to reflect the social standing of its owner. The screens also had a more practical purpose, which was to give some privacy to visitors who wished to change their clothes before entering the building.
After the visit, head back towards the hotel.
Overnight in Datong
This portion of the China highlights tour heads out to Pingyao, stopping along the way to the Suspended Temple, followed by the Yingxian Pagoda.
The Suspended Temple is a fine example of Northern Wei architecture, which still retains much of its original layout. Suspended from a cliff face 50m above a Jinlong River gorge, ingenious wooden construction keeps this temple planted firmly into the rock face. The two main parts of the temple are linked together by a rickety, narrow walkway, which, despite its shoddy appearance, has managed to survive years of storms and heavy winds. All 3 of China’s main religions (Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism) were worshipped in the temple; it was not only a place of worship, but also a resting point for travelers.
Continue on for the final destination of Pingyao.
A guide will be waiting at the train station, ready to provide transport into the city centre.
Pingyao is the best preserved medieval city in the whole of China; a perfect example of the traditional China that many visitors have in mind. Pingyao prospered under the Ming Dynasty when it was established as a market town, however it was during the Qing dynasty that Pingyao developed into the incredible walled city that we know today.
Note: All the transfers inside Pingyao old town are done by electric car or on foot, all the visits outside will be done by private car.
Explore the city walls on foot to get a real sense of the layout of the streets below. Measuring 6km long, 10 metres high and numbering 72 watchtowers (each of which houses a piece of Sunzi War artwork) the town walls ensure that Pingyao is almost impenetrable to any invading force.
Pingyao is attracting a growing number of tourists. As a result, some of the 4,000 Ming and Qing era homes have been transformed into little restaurants, boutiques, and quaint hotels. Accommodation will be set in one of these traditional homes, providing the option of sleeping on a traditional kang (a bed made of bricks and heated by a small fire beneath.)
Overnight in Pingyao
After breakfast, head off to explore some of the other main interests of the region: the merchants’ houses and cave dwellings.
Many local merchants amassed immense fortunes during the Ming and Qing dynasties and built themselves palatial homes. A perfect example of one of these homes is the Wang Family Residence, which is made up of an imposing labyrinth of courtyards, small gardens, temples and narrow stairways.
On the way back to Pingyao we will stop in Zhangbi Cun, a small village famous for its underground tunnels. The tunnels are built 30m underground and extend for around 1500m.
This day also provides the opportunity to explore the Cave Dwellings that the region is famous for. Though exact figures are uncertain, it’s thought that around 30 million people in China still live in cave dwellings built into the loess sedimentary rock. Despite lacking running water and main electricity supplies, these cave homes offer constant year round temperatures, protecting the inhabitants from the bitter cold winds in winter, and keeping them cool and fresh in the hot summer months.
Conclude the day with a visit to the Shuanglin Buddhist Temple, just outside Pingyao. Founded during the Northern Wei Dynasty, the temple is well known for its finely sculptured statues which have been very well preserved and still retain their original colours.
Upon returning to Pingyao, enjoy a leisurely evening discovering the narrow, red lantern lit streets of the old town.
Overnight in Pingyao
Take an early stroll to soak up the traditional atmosphere of Pingyao in the morning. A plethora of sights, sounds, and smells fill the air as people on bikes whiz by and vendors sell unique, local versions of breakfast.
After the morning stroll, head off to explore Rishengchang; what started off as a small dye store in the 17th century grew into China’s first bank, opening branches throughout China. A true success story, Rishengchang helped to contribute to Pingyao’s success as China’s first financial centre. Afterwards, visit the local yamen, which during Imperial times was home to the administrative centre, courthouse, and sometimes even a prison.
After this historic visit, continue on to Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province. Located here is the Jinci, a remarkable building constructed in honour of Prince Shuyu who founded the Jin state (772-403 B.C). This visit will provide insights into ancestor-worship, a fundamental practice of Chinese culture that has endured to this day. Another such visit is the Hall of the Holy Mother, an ancestral worship site dedicated to Shuyu’s mother. Take time to examine the superb wooden dragon sculptures that surround the temple, often only found in imperial places of worship.
Afterwards, transport will be provided to the airport for the flight to Xi’an, where a guide and driver will be waiting.
Overnight in Xi'an
Welcome to Shaanxi Province, another of the most iconic China highlights, considered to be the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Xi’an has played a definitive role in the nation’s history, having thrice served as the capital of the Middle Empire, as well as an administrative centre and the end (or start) point on the Silk Road.
Upon arrival we will head to the Terracotta Warriors.
The site was discovered in 1974 by unsuspecting farmers in the region. Little did they know, this accidental uncovering would grow to be one of the largest archaeological discoveries in world history.
The mausoleum itself was built due to Emperor Qin Shi’s fear of the spirits of the underworld. An army of terracotta-built warriors, archers and cavaliers, each statue has a different face and were exact copies of real life soldiers who served the emperor at the time of construction.
The statues are separated into 3 pits. Start off with a visit to pit number 2 (which is still being excavated) followed by pit number 3 (which has been mostly uncovered), finally finishing with pit 1, which is the most impressive of the 3, housing around 2000 soldiers. In 1980 just to the West of the mausoleum 2 splendid bronze chariots were discovered and are on display in the small museum also on site.
Heading back to Xi’an, take note of the impressive city walls that were constructed during the Ming Dynasty. Mostly destroyed and then restored, they are some of the only town walls still left in China. Enjoy a revealing one-hour bike ride to explore the walls in full (alternatively, an electric car can be taken at a charge). Following the city wall visits, spend some time exploring the pervasive Muslim culture that can be found in the city. Take a stroll to Xi’an’s main Mosque, built in a Chinese style, which acts as the heart of the very lively surrounding Muslim quarter.
In the evening, dine at the night market, choosing from a selection of local delicacies including spiced lamb kebabs, flatbreads, and mutton soup noodles.
Overnight in Xi'an
In the morning, begin the journey to the airport for the next flight out. En route to the airport, visit the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, a ruler known for his humanism and diplomatic relations. Opened to the public in 2006, the tomb houses a number of figurines, unearthed statues, and some very well preserved pieces. The excellent layout and quality of the site makes this trip unmissable.
Upon reaching the airport, board the flight to Guilin where a guide and transport will be provided to the city centre.
Welcome to Guangxi Autonomous Region, famous for its numerous ethnic minorities, its stunning scenery, endless number of caves, rice terraces, and the waterfalls of Detian.
The first stop of the day will be to the Reed Flute Cave, which takes its name from the number of reeds growing at the entrance which are used to make of flutes. Flashlights will be provided to admire the stalactites and stalagmites inside. The day will finish with a pleasant stroll round Shan Lake, known for its two marvelous pagodas, one dedicated to the sun and the other the moon.
Overnight in Guilin
Start the morning with a transfer to the pier to begin the journey across the Li River.
The destination, Yangshuo, is a small town which has become ever more popular over the last 15 years. Boats slowly snake down the famous Li River between the unusual shapes of the sugarloaf mountains. These superb Karst formations have inspired poets, painters and photographers, and are today one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire country.
While many travelers stop their journey in the somewhat commercial West Road in Yangshuo, our journey will continue on bike into the surrounding countryside. Here a beautiful scene of rivers, water buffalo, and dozens of tiny villages loom across the karst hills. There will be an option to either stay in Yangshuo itself, or in one of the surrounding villages just outside the town (closer to nature.)
Optional: Enjoy an evening show of the Impressions Liu Sanjie, created by the famous director Zhang Yimou. Here in the heart of the Karst formation countryside, hundreds of actors (including local fisherman) imitate scenes from rural life by dressing up in traditional costumes of the minorities of the region.
Overnight in Yangshuo
Day 12 will depart from Guilin airport for the flight to Hangzhou, the ancient capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and the current capital of Zhejiang province.
A guide will be waiting on arrival for a transfer and check in to the hotel.
Experience what Marco Polo described as “heaven on earth” in Hangzhou, largely thanks to the beautiful ‘West Lake’ area- a recent addition to UNESCO’s world heritage sites. What once stood as marshland is today a harmonious area of gardens, shops, and pagodas; the perfect place to take a stroll. Each season offers something different: in winter the snow rests upon the water and transforms the lake into a piece of art with frozen plants, in spring the peach and plum trees are in full bloom bringing colour back to the park, and in summer innumerable water-lilies create a perfumed blanket on the lake’s surface. The locals like to say that the moon is bigger and more beautiful in autumn, and this can best be seen from the ‘three pools mirroring the moon’ on Xiaoling Island.
A peaceful bike ride around the area will prove to be the best means of exploration. There will also be a visit set aside for the adjacent tea plantations, home to Longjing tea – one of the most prized and expensive teas in the world. The bright green tea fields are often planted at high altitude and in perfectly designed plots straddling the mountain edges creating a true visual spectacle.
If time permits, there may also be an opportunity to meet a local tea producer who will be able to explain the different types of tea: green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, fragrant tea, white tea or even ancient ‘tea bricks’.
Overnight in Hangzhou
The first stop of the day will be to the Hu Qingyu Tang Museum of Chinese Medicine, which is located in the 19th century Hu Qingyu Pharmacy. Chinese medicine is a fundamental and fascinating part of Chinese culture, and learning about it shouldn’t be avoided without good reason! This museum provides excellent insights into the ancient art, boasting drawers full of unlikely ingredients, typical pharmacy architecture, and a small attached garden.
Depart the West Lake area for the long drive to the town of Xidi in Anhui Province. Arrival will be in late afternoon/early evening. Spend the night in a village in Yixian district.
Prosperous merchants in the region built large houses in the area, forming a notable form of architecture. Its main characteristics still remain: exterior walls chalked white, black tile roofs with superbly sculpted gables, the tianjing – indoor courtyards lit by skylights, and the paifang, commemorative arches dedicated to the most successful candidates from the Imperial exams.
Overnight in Xidi
First pay a visit to the village of Hongcun, one of the most celebrated, original examples of applied fengshui. Continue on to visit the Chengshitang residence, built by a wealthy salt merchant.
There will also be an opportunity to meet a fengshui master, who will explain the secrets of this centuries-old practice. Furthermore, movie fans will recognize the entrance to the village, shot in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Have a chat with local villagers about the stories of the making of the movie.
Begin the afternoon with a bike ride through two neighbouring villages: Lucun, famous for its high class wood carving, and Tachuan, a seemingly timeless village. In Tachuan, explore the labyrinth of grey-marble alleyways or cycle out into the surrounding countryside to fully appreciate the history and symbolism of this extraordinary region.
After returning the bikes, travel to the Mukeng Bamboo Forest, another film-famous destination from the movie Li Mu Bai, known for its tranquil, emerald atmosphere.
Continue the journey to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), ascending by cable-car and spending the night at the summit. The nights here are fresh and the weather unpredictable, as such, waterproof walking shoes and warm clothes are a necessity.
The beginning portion of Day 15 will be spent exploring Huangshan- a beautiful mountainous region named after the Yellow Emperor. Curved pine trees miraculously manage to grow on the granite ledges here, making the scene appear to be a living painting. Walk to the top of the mountain, which seems like a pilgrimage with its endless steep stairs winding their way up the mountain face.
Option: After descending, there is an option to soak tired feet in a nearby hot spring. The springs offer a variety of treatments using coffee, different types of alcohol and even fish baths where small fish will nibble away at dead skin.
After the climb and slight rejuvenation, transport will be provided to Huangshan airport for a flight to Shanghai.
Overnight in Shanghai
Welcome to Shanghai!
The morning will begin with a visit to the historic French Concession area, a symbol from when Western powers were allotted many privileges. Start by exploring Fuxing Park, another iconic Chinese park where locals practice their morning rituals.
Afterwards, wander the surrounding roads, admiring former colonial homes that have now been transformed into restaurants, bars and different boutiques. Continue on to Xintiandi, an entirely renovated area that is considered one of the liveliest parts of the city. End the walk at Tianzifang, a maze of animated alleyways full of restaurants, boutiques and small art galleries similar to those found in Xintiandi (but much more authentic.)
Return back to contemporary Shanghai with a visit to the Pudong district! Not long ago, Pudong district was just a marsh where only farmers and water buffalo frequented. Now, the area has become one of the most important business centers in Asia with skyscrapers popping up like mushrooms next to old Shanghainese banks each year.
Converge on the nearby neighborhood of Lujiazui, the epicenter of some of the most famous buildings: the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Jin Mao Tower, and the never ending Shanghai World Financial Center (the tallest building in Shanghai), to enjoy the highest panoramic terrace in the world.
Option: Take a break at the 100 Century Avenue café and enjoy some refreshments… with a view!
Shortly after, take the famous Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, a mini subway line, to cross the Huangpu River to reach Puxi in a couple of minutes.
Discover next Shanghai’s Bund, the city’s famous walkway along some of Puxi’s historical buildings. The area dates back to the 1930s, Shanghai’s rich culture and European influence. Wander along to famous Nanjing Road with its colorful signs and crowds of locals and tourists; the perfect image of a modern Asian capital.
After completing the Nanjing Road visits, arrive at People’s Square, the former site of the Shanghai Racetrack. Transport will be waiting back to the hotel.
Overnight in Shanghai
Picking up where Day 16 left off, take a morning stroll through People’s Square. Continue on with visiting three different styles of museums in the day. Start off with the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre. A model city perfectly describes the layout of Shanghai, and a stunning panoramic cinema displays a short video explaining how the city developed into the metropolis it is today.
Continue to one of the most famous and prestigious museums in the country, and in Asia: The Shanghai Museum. Offering an unrivaled collection of bronze statues, jade artwork, Qing Dynasty furniture, Buddhist sculptures and much more. Audio guides are recommended!
For those interested in art, the day will end with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
Follow the museum explorations with a relaxing visit to People’s Park at the heart of the People’s Square. The park has a small lake, a number of food stands, and countless places to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. Alternatively, stroll back up Nanjing Road to the Bund, to take in the Shanghai skyline at night.
Head back to the hotel and retire for the evening.
Option: Enjoy an evening “ERA” show, one of the most popular evening entertainments in the city. Staged for 6 years, ERA is a multimedia odyssey whose inspiration is a direct result of the combination of traditional Chinese acrobatic arts and modern technology.
Overnight in Shanghai
Day 18 starts by travelling to Suzhou. Suzhou is the most famous of the ‘Venices of China’ – a collection of small towns with an intricate network of canals and stone bridges. The world-famous Suzhou Gardens are considered some of the most beautiful in the entire country.
Begin the visit in town with a morning bike ride around the narrow streets of the old town, a good way to avoid the early tourist crowds that flood the gardens. Cycling along the cobbled streets, take note of the white sculpted wooden facades and black tile roofs of the local houses.
Continue with a visit to the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden, traditional Chinese gardens that appear as miniature representations of much larger natural scenes. With Chinese gardens, the quest for harmony takes precedence over the rigorous geometrical planning seen in most Western gardens. Their shape is therefore never rectangular, encouraging visitors to wander around with only their thoughts and no definite aim.
The finale of the day will be a traditional Chinese massage, or “compression” massage that concentrates on acupuncture points to stimulate the body’s natural healing. It is a perfect conclusion for this trip full of contrasts and lessons.
Overnight in Shanghai
Wrap up this China highlights tour with a morning transfer to the airport for the departing flight.
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