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Top 4 China Itinerary Options in 12 Days (for First Timers) 2024/2025

Written by Mike HoUpdated Sep. 19, 2023

China is a fantastic destination for travelers who are interested in history, culture, food, adventure, and/or natural wonders. With 12 days in China, you could arrange to visit 4–5 cities. Below are some of the tour options that we highly recommend.

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1. A Classic 12-Day China Tour Itinerary for Families and Couples

  • Days 1‒4: Beijing
  • Days 5‒6: Xi'an
  • Days 7‒9: Guilin
  • Days 10‒12: Shanghai
Classic 12-Day China Tour Itinerary for Families and Couples

If you are visiting China for the first time, we recommend covering Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and Shanghai, which are rich in historical sights and natural highlights. Some of the top attractions in this itinerary are the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Warriors, the Bund, the Li River, and Yangshuo's countryside.

Days 1–4: Beijing

Beijing Forbidden City

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Spend 2 days exploring the top attractions, including the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. For a better experience, we recommend you visit a less-crowded Great Wall section — Mutianyu, as this section is fully-restored and easy-walking. But, if Great Wall hiking is what you want to do, you could walk our most-asked-for hiking route — from Jinshanling to Simatai — with your own private guide.

For a special experience, you could take our Great Wall night tour at the Simatai section, which is the only section open at night. Get there in the late afternoon and enjoy a sunset view from the Wall, and we could even arrange a romantic picnic dinner on the Great Wall! Families with teenagers, we recommend you spend some time on a Chinese cultural experience to learn more about Chinese culture, such as tai chi exercises in the morning with a master or joining a Chinese calligraphy course.

Days 5–6: Xi'an

Xian terracotta warriors

Xi'an is famed for its Terracotta Warriors and Horses. To help you gain a better understanding of this unique attraction, we recommend our hand-made clay-warrior program. Create your own unique warrior with local artisans and then take it home as a souvenir. You'll learn a lot about how the Terracotta Warriors were made over 2,000 years ago.

You can also join our Han-era (206 BC – 220 AD) clothing cultural activity. Put on traditional Hanfu clothing and take photos to give you an unforgettable memory and historical insight.

For families with teenagers, we recommend you take a biking tour on the Xi'an City Wall and a food tour in the Muslim Quarter to experience local culture and life.

Days 7–9: Guilin

Guilin landscape

Known for its beautiful karst landscape, Guilin is the best place to see a "living Chinese landscape painting". A top highlight of Guilin touring is the Li River cruise from Guilin city to Yangshuo, when you would enjoy breathtaking river-and-mountain views.

In Yangshuo, we have arranged many outdoor activities suitable for families: cycling around the villages, visiting local farmers, bamboo rafting, rock climbing, and more.

If you are visiting Guilin in autumn, then spend a day in Longji Terraced Fields Scenic Area to view the golden tiers of paddy fields and experience the interesting minority life and culture in local villages around harvest time.

Days 10–12: Shanghai

Shanghai the Bund

In Shanghai, most travelers visit The Bund, where you can see many skyscrapers and buildings of different styles dating back a century.

On our in-depth culture discovery tour, our private guide would take you walking around the old buildings of the Bund to help you get a better understanding of Shanghai's impressive modernity and flourishing history.

For the rest of time in Shanghai, you are free to do a vast choice of entertaining activities, such as shopping, visiting museums, drinking coffee on top of the skyscrapers, or just having a rest in a top Chinese spa treatment hall.

If you are interested in this itinerary, check out our 12 Days Classic China Tours

2. A 12-Day China Tour Itinerary with Pandas

Pandas are among the favorite animals of many people. If seeing pandas in their hometown is one of your bucket list experiences, this itinerary would be good for you. You can always see a number of pandas in Chengdu, whereas there would only be one or two at most in zoos in your own country. In this itinerary, we include Chengdu, alongside the other top destinations — Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, and Guilin.

  • Days 1–3: Beijing
  • Days 4–5: Xi'an
  • Days 6–7: Chengdu
  • Days 8–10: Guilin
  • Days 11–12: Shanghai
12-Day China Tour Itinerary with Pandas

As activities in other destinations could be the same as in the above trip itinerary 1, we just include Chengdu trip details below.

Join our Panda Keeper Program tour to get a close quarters experience with these adorable animals in Chengdu Panda Reserve. Our guide would help you join in the program activities, such as cleaning the glass of their enclosures, seeing them being fed, and making their favorite cakes.

During the rest of your time in Chengdu, visit Jinli Ancient Street, where you can try delicious Sichuan hot pot, or have a rest at a teahouse...

If you are interested in this itinerary, check out our 12-Day Beijing–Xi'an–Chengdu–Guilin/Yangshuo–Shanghai Tour.

3. A 12-Day China Family Tour Itinerary with Hong Kong

Besides visiting the iconic attractions and enjoying the outdoors in some of the most popular destinations with families, we include Hong Kong in this itinerary, as there are so many kid-friendly attractions and entertainment activities there. Here are some brief itinerary details for this 12-day China tour with Hong Kong.

  • Days 1–4: Shanghai
  • Days 5–6: Huangshan
  • Day 7: Hangzhou
  • Days 8–10: Guilin
  • Days 11–12: Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, you could visit Ocean Park, where you can take a raft ride through a jungle landscape among many other rides. The park also has a plethora of animal exhibits, including a giant panda habitat, a shark aquarium, and a sea lion show.

For most children, it would be a happy ending to finish with Hong Kong Disneyland, where you can view spectacular fireworks shows, parades, and live performances featuring beloved Disney characters. See How Long to Spend in Hong Kong

If you are interested in this itinerary, please contact us for a Tailor-made Tour.

4. A 12-Day China Tour Itinerary with Tibet

As "the holiest place in China", Tibet is one of many travelers' bucket-list trip destinations. In this itinerary, we include Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai to help you visit the top tourist places of China as well as your dreamed-of destination — Tibet.

  • Days 1–4: Beijing
  • Days 5–6: Xi'an
  • Days 7–9: Lhasa, Tibet
  • Days 10–12: Shanghai
A 12-Day China Tour Itinerary with Tibet

In this itinerary, we include the capital of the roof of the world, Lhasa, to help you fulfill your Tibetan dream, a land renowned for its awe-inspiring mountainous landscape, rich cultural heritage, and unique architecture.

Pay a visit to the most iconic attraction in Lhasa — the Potala Place, which is also the holiest place for Tibetan Buddhists. Wander around one of the oldest streets in Lhasa — Barkhor Street, and watch pilgrims doing their prostrating obeisances, see locals performing a kora with their prayer wheel rituals, and try delicious local food at the street market.

You could get more itinerary ideas on our 12 Days in China: Top 10 Tours and Itineraries

Costs for 12-Day Tour in China

The cost for China tour depends on your type of accommodation, transportation choices, time of travel, service level, and activities selected. For example, the flight ticket price from the U.S. or Europe to China varies a lot depending on the travel time and the airline you use. It is usually from around US$1,200 to US$3,000 for an economy round trip.

The peak travel times in China are the first weeks of May and October (China's two golden weeks), summer holidays, and Christmas and New Year holidays. Prices can go up by 50 to 100% in peak season periods.

For most visitors who book a private China tour with us, the average cost per day is about US$220–350 per person, including flights/trains within China, 4- or 5- star hotels, lunches, attractions, guides, and private transport.

Thus, a 12-day tour for two people would cost about US$5,300–8,400. A tour for a family of four may cost US$9,000–14,300 (kids under 10 get 30–50% off). Your international flights are not included in this price.

Our refund policy minimizes the monetary risk to you when booking: you'll receive a 100% refund of any payments made to China Highlights if you cancel up to three weeks before departure. (See more details.)

How to Travel Around in China

It is convenient travel throughout the whole country by flights or high-speed trains. Most of China's tourist cities are connected by high-speed rail and airports. If you book a tour with us, we will arrange the best travel route according to your personal interests and budget, seamlessly booking the flight/train tickets you need.

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