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How to Plan a 3-Week Itinerary in China: Best 3 Options (2024)

Written by Chris QuanUpdated Feb. 22, 2024

With a 3-week trip to China, you could enjoy a wide range of China's star attractions, including profound history, varied awesome landscapes, great architecture, and rich cultural experiences.

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Where to Spend 3 Weeks in China

With a 3-week trip in China, Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and Shanghai are must-visit cities, especially for first-timers.

Beijing enjoys the most famous attractions like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Xi'an is famous for its Terracotta Warriors and being the best place to learn about China's ancient civilization.

Guilin is best for appreciating China's natural scenery and experiencing its countryside lifestyle. Shanghai is where you can see the collision of Republic-era rapid-rise and mega-city modernity.

Besides these top destinations, you can choose other destinations based on your interests:

  • Chengdu is a must if seeing pandas is on your bucket list, especially for a family trip. Yunnan is recommended for those who like fascinating minority villages and natural views.
  • If Tibet is on your bucket list, you can fit it in a 3-week itinerary. Tibet's holy Buddhist culture and vibe with its stunning plateau scenery are many a traveler's dream.
  • If you would prefer a relaxing experience and pace or seeking out classical Chinese beauty, we recommend a Yangtze Cruise or visiting Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Huangshan — Shanghai's surrounding area.
  • Or you can tell us your preferred destinations. Our service is personalized.

See more on How Long to Spend in China: Itineraries from 1 Week to 1 Month

If you don't have any clear ideas yet, have a look at our three sample itineraries below for a starting point that you might like.

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1. A Classic 3-Week China Itinerary for First-Timers

It is a classic itinerary blend of culture and nature, with some hands-on local-culture experiences.

This itinerary includes China's top tourist cities and top Chinese elements like the pandas, the Great Wall, and classical Chinese gardens and water towns:

  • Days 1–2: Shanghai
  • Day 3: Suzhou
  • Day 4–5: Huangshan
  • Days 6–7: Hangzhou
  • Days 8–10: Guilin
  • Days 11–12: Zhangjiajie
  • Days 13–15: Xi'an
  • Days 16–17: Datong
  • Days 18–21: Beijing

Days 1–2: Shanghai

Shanghai is a city where you can feel a strong sense of urban vitality and also see its remarkable past by visiting many old buildings.

The Bund is a must, where you can experience in a turn of the head the contrast between Shanghai's past and present, seeing the old buildings and skyscrapers from the riverside.

Day 3: Suzhou

Suzhou is famous for its classical Chinese gardens. Humble Administrator's Garden is a masterpiece among Chinese gardens. It is a must.

A night tour of the Nets Master Garden is also recommended. You would see a different panorama from a daytime visit and find amazing live traditional Chinese cultural performances staged in the pavilions.

If you want to see authentic Suzhou local life, we can arrange a rickshaw ride through its small alleys to see food markets, ancient wells, and stone pagodas along the way.

Tongli Water Town near Suzhou is also a recommendation if you want to see ancient architecture and the traditional culture of South China.

Days 4–5: The Yellow Mountains (Huangshan)

The Yellow Mountains is one of the most famous mountain areas in China. Spring is best for rape flower vistas. Pine trees and seas of clouds are best seen in summer, and red leaves feature in autumn. Winter can display magical scenes of frost flowers and rime.

Bishan Village is the best choice if you want to enjoy some quiet moments in the Huangshan countryside with your partner. Stay in a typical Hui-style inn, feel the freshness of the air on an early morning walk, and drink a coffee while enjoying nature in its unspoiled beauty.

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Days 6–7: Hangzhou

West Lake and a famous tea experience are the highlights of Hangzhou. A boat ride on West Lake is one of the best ways to enjoy its views. We can also arrange a bike ride around the lake if you prefer.

Meijiawu Tea Plantation is the place of origin of the best 'Dragon Well' tea in China. There you can see how farmers pick tea leaves, learn the process for making tea, and taste a cup of China's most-adored tea.

If you want to learn still more about Chinese culture, we can arrange many more experiences for you, such as taking you to visit a century-old Chinese medicine shop to learn about Chinese herbs, painting your own oiled-paper umbrella, or enjoying a Southern Song Dynasty Snacks Banquet in a pavilion.

Days 8–10: Guilin

Guilin is a city where you can see pastoral landscapes and enjoy the relaxing pace of countryside life.

You would spend one day on a leisurely Li River Cruise to take in some of the best of Guilin's celebrated karst landscape.

The other two days are given to Yangshuo, a much-loved town near Guilin. It's a place where you can cycle around the paddy fields and pointy hills with your children, walk the field paths with your partner, and talk with friendly local people.

If your kids like adventure, we can arrange to explore a less-traveled cave and many more exciting activities.

Days 11–12: Zhangjiajie

Spend two days to explore the highlight of Zhangjiajie, the National Forest Park. The iconic sandstone pillar is the inspiration for the floating mountains in the movie Avatar. Ride the Bailong Elevator to the top for panoramic views.

Take a cable car ride up to Tianmen Mountain, known as the "Heaven's Gate Mountain." Walk along the glass skywalk and experience breathtaking views.

You could also enjoy a leisurely walk along a crystal-clear stream, surrounded by lush vegetation and towering sandstone cliffs.

Days 13–15: Xi'an

Xi'an's main attraction is the Terracotta Warriors. Besides a regular visit, we would arrange a hand-made clay-warrior experience with local artisans. You would better understand the process of making the Terracotta Warriors and could take your creation home as a souvenir. It's recommended for both couples and families.

Days 16–17: Datong

The highlights of Datong are the Yungang Grottoes and Hanging Monastery. By visiting these attractions, you could learn about elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism and see many superb craftsmanship.

Days 18–21: Beijing

With 4 days in Beijing, you can spend one day on the Great Wall. We recommend the Mutianyu Great Wall section, which is the most family-friendly one and a less-crowded section. If you like hiking, we can also arrange some Great Wall hiking for you.

A sunset visit to the Great Wall would allow you to see and snap postcard-perfect dusky Wall views. There would also be fewer people around at this time. This is especially recommended if you want to have a romantic moment with your partner.

Two days would be for Beijing's city-sightseeing highlights, including the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, etc.

If you want to experience the bustling (or leisurely retired) life of Beijingers, you could spend a day exploring local culture, perhaps visiting a Beijinger family in the hutongs or walking around a local community with markets and parks.

2. 3 Weeks in China including Tibet

  • Days 1–3: Beijing (The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven)
  • Days 4–5: Xi'an (the Terracotta Warriors with a related hands-on experience, a food tour, the city wall)
  • Days 6–9: Tibet (the Potala Palace, monasteries, and local-life experience)
  • Days 10–12: Chengdu with a panda volunteer program
  • Days 13–15: Zhangjiajie (the national forest park, mountains, and canyons)
  • Days 16–18: Guilin with nearby towns (a cruise, biking, bamboo rafting)
  • Days 19–21: Shanghai city sightseeing (or you can also choose to go to Hong Kong)

If you are dreaming of a Tibet tour as part of your China trip, you could consider this itinerary.

A classic Tibet tour (Lhasa + Lake Yamdrok) takes about 4 to 5 days. If you want to go to Everest Base Camp, you would need another 4 days.

In Tibet, the Potala Palace is a must. Our guide would take you to the four best angles to see the palace.

Barkhor Street is the best place to see devout Buddhists praying and catch a glimpse of the buzz of local Tibetan life.

For a deeper understanding of local rural life, you could be a Tibetan Nomad for a day. We would take you to a village in the hills to experience horse riding, milking yaks, printing prayer flags, and other things that the nomads do.

All our tours are customizable and can be adjusted based on your needs. Just contact us.

3. A 3-Week China Itinerary including Yunnan

  • Days 1–3: Shanghai sightseeing
  • Days 4–12: Yunnan (Erhai Lake, mountains, old towns, ethic culture experiences, lamaseries, a local Tibetan family visit)
  • Days 13–14: Chengdu with a panda encounter
  • Days 15–16: Xi'an sightseeing
  • Days 17–21: Beijing sightseeing
Shaxi Ancient Town, Dali, YunnanShaxi Ancient Town, Dali

Besides the classic golden-triangle-panda-city combination of Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, and Shanghai, in this itinerary Yunnan is added in.

Yunnan is a southwestern province with picturesque scenery and diverse local ethnic culture. Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La are its top cities to visit, each taking about 2 to 3 days.

Kunming is known for its stone forest. Dali and Lijiang are famous for a romantic atmosphere and natural views like Erhai Lake, Cangshan Mountain, and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

These places are also best for having a leisurely outdoor family time, whether biking, hiking, or making delicious local cakes at a flower farm.

Shangri-La is best for experiencing Tibetan culture and plateau scenery. There, you could a visit a Tibetan family on a pasture, try on traditional Tibetan dress, and enjoy a starry night with a bonfire on the grassland.

Just contact us if you are interested in the itinerary.

Costs for a 3-Week Tour in China

For a private tour in China, 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 3-week tour for two people would cost about US$9,500–15,000. A tour for a family of four may cost US$16,000–20,000 (kids under 10 get 30–50% off). These prices do not include international flights.

The peak season times in China are the first week of May (Labor Day holiday), the summer vacation (July to August), and the first week of October (National Day holiday). During these holidays, airfares and hotel prices can double or triple.

If you are planning a trip to China, please book it at least 3 to 6 months in advance for the best deals and availability. We offer a free cancellation policy: 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 China

Air travel and high-speed rail are the main convenient ways to travel long distances in China.

For most travel between cities, air travel is the most recommended option, such as Beijing to Shanghai, Chengdu to Lhasa, etc.

But for some relatively close cities, such as Beijing to Xi'an, high-speed trains are more recommended. Moreover, China's high-speed rail itself is part of the Chinese travel experience.

When booking with us, let us know your travel preferences, and we will arrange the best travel options for you, seamlessly booking the flight/train tickets you need.

Tour China with Us

All our tours can be customized based on your interests and needs. You can use our Create My Trip service to tell us your requirements. Our travel consultant will listen to and answer your inquiries carefully and promptly and prepare the best tour plan for you.

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