Planning a trip to China? China is a fascinating country, but very different, so we've listed some tips to help you get started and avoid problems, which link in with our wealth of knowledge on touring China.
1. Think what to pack for China early.
Essentials include passport (and visa), enough money (or a card to withdraw it), enough of the right clothes (check out the weather), and any medication you need (you may need a translated doctor's note to get it through customs). Smartphones are a handy spacesaver, especially if equipped with a VPN (see next tip). You may also need an adapter for any electronics you bring as China uses 2 or 3 thin-pin sockets at 220V. See more on how to pack for China.
2. Get a VPN.
Many websites such as Facebook, Google, and Instagram are blocked here in China. Some applications on your smart devices and access to emails may require a VPN connection to work so it is highly recommended to get one. See our list of the best China VPN recommendations for paid and unpaid subscriptions.
3. Be wise to the pollution issues.
The government has been working on reducing air pollution here in China, particularly in the main tourist cities, and it is usually better than the media would lead you to expect. On some days, however, the pollution in cities like Beijing may still affect your experience, especially if you have a respiratory condition.
Beyond wearing a dust mask like the locals, consider traveling in spring or when the pollution is least, and out-of-the-city activities. Find out more on what to do on a poor air quality day in Beijing.
You may also be interested in China's Five Best Cities for Air Quality.
Discover real reviews of Highlights Travel Family's best-rated service across trusted platforms.
First Trip to China
Ethan has been my tour guide for my four day trip to Beijing. He has been knowledgeable, polite, and most helpful. I was uncomfortable coming to China for the first time without speaking any Chinese at all. Ethan gave the tours, arranged for shows and literally took me to my seats. He also accompanied me to the train station to help figure my was around and help me find the correct train and car. I would definitely use China Highlights again in the future.more
Jan 2024, Megan Sandbothe
Beijing trip with Birthday surprise
Had a great time in Beijing with Bruce. On arrival he surprised me with a cake for my 30th Birthday which was a special touch. We toured the Great wall, Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven as well as a few other items. Bruce was really knowledgeable (especially about the symbolism in the Temple of Heaven). He also coordinated gaining entry quickly and moving between locations efficiently. Highly recommend.more
Jan 2024, Sherpa325441
Making Family Memories in China
Our Beijing guide Mark was fantastic! He is so knowledgeable about the history of each place we visited and he was very helpful in getting us to hotels, train stations, restaurants, excursions, etc. He took away all of the travel-related stress that can come with a big trip and we are so thankful to him and China Highlights! My parents are hard to please and they also have been very happy with the hotels and unique activities.more
Jan 2024, rosequarose
Beijing dicembre 2023
Siamo stati 3 giorni a Beijing e grazie a Franco siamo riusciti a vedere e apprezzare questa magnifica città. Lui è sempre stato disponibilissimo, pronto ad aiutarci per ogni nostra necessità. Essendo difficile trovare persone che parlano Inglese ci ha spiegato anche come farci intendere senza problemi. Sempre molto premuroso, attento e preparato. Ci ha spiegato perfettamente tutte le peculiarità della città e ci ha fatto assaggiare ogni giorno piatti nuovi per apprezzare la cucina cinese.more
Jan 2024, Michele Azzoni
Terry the best!
I had an awesome time in Beijing, Terry is the best not only guided us, it felt like I was being invited for a trip for an old family member, he was so caring for our needs as a big family group, learned our habits, likes and dislikes on the first day and accommodated us. I strongly recommend taking the tour with him, you will not regret itmore
Jan 2024, HugoA@732hugoa
Greatest Asian Experience
China Highlights organized the trip of a life time for my family with teens, from Japan, through Thailand to China. They were flexible and accommodating of our preferences, fast to react when there was a glitch, passionate and knowledgeable of everything we were seeing.All local guides, from Lena in Tokyo, Denis in Kyoto, Tom in Bangkok, Kai in Phuket, Martin in Hong Kong, William in Guilin, Linda in Zhangjiajie, to Jessie in Beijing, did their best to make sure everything went smoothly and to adjust to my teens' additional requests.more
Jan 2024, Gadjanov Dian
Viagem dos sonhos com nosso guia Terry
Servi?o impecável! Me baseei nas avalia??es e n?o me arrependi. Transporte pontual e responsável. Todo o processo de compra muito bem conduzido. Muito bem planejado. Perfeito do início ao fim. Por fim, o mais importante: o nosso guia Terry. Absolutamente perfeito. O tempo todo preocupado com o nosso bem estar. Cuidou de tudo, se preocupou com tudo. Talvez o guia mais atencioso q já vimos em nossas viagens, principalmente cuidando da crian?a pequena que nos acompanhava. ele nos proporcionou uma experiência inesquecível. Quem for comprar, n?o hesite, pois foi um sonho de viagem, gra?as a eles.more
Jan 2024, Mr s@k89Rsmrs
Best of the Best
We visited Beijing with guide Mark, Xi’an with Jenny, Guilin with Frank, and Shanghai with guide Kris. Each guide was so unique but they all had in common a passion for their city and a true kindness. They were early for all of the airport and train station pickups and helped us so much checking into hotels and flights. We tried so many different foods special to each region and appreciated the great recommendations from the guides. The activities we did were a combination of “must-see” sites like the Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, Teracotta soldiers, and participating in local arts like shadow puppetry, fan making, and seeing cultural shows.more
Jan 2024, Rose A
Ski trip to Thaiwoo Ski resort & Beijing Tour
Our Beijing Tour guide Terry, who is very experience and able to explain the history of China. We went to forbidden city, Tiananmen and hutong walking area and took us to a very delicious dumpling restaurant. His English is perfect and very kind to kids also.The trip went smoothly and everything was very well organized, good communications. kids had a lot of fun. Highly recommended for China Highlight when travel to China , Terry - Beijing Tour & Ryo at Thaiwoo ski resortmore
Jan 2024, Explorer00356257314
Bejing for 3 days
We spent 3 days in Beijing and our guide, Ethan, was immediately courteous, punctual and full of advice on Chinese customs and habits. When it came to telling us the history of places and monuments, he always gave complete and exhaustive explanations.more
Jan 2024, Matteo Giudici Turati
3 GG a Pechino
Abbiamo visitato con lui e il driver (ottimo anche lui), la città proibita,il tempio del paradiso, piazza tiennamen e la grande muraglia......stra consiglio Ethan come guida.more
Jan 2024, Matgiu
Great experience in cold Beijing
Bruce was excellent in taking us around Beijing. He was very knowledgeable with the history and the details of each attraction. He knew all the ins and outs and didn’t have to queue where everyone had to. He was also patient with us being a bit older and less than fit especially going up the Great Wall. I would highly recommend Bruce to anyone who wants to do a private tour.more
Dec 2023, sgwelly
Ethan was amazing! He showed us all the detailed attraction and gave us all the useful information and also suggest us places to go. He was really supportive and make our trip unforgettable!more
Dec 2023, Alessandra
First private tour with China Highlights.
The tour guides were all knowledgeable and efficient in taking guiding us through many remarkable historical or natural sites.more
Dec 2023, Catherine W
Terry is the best Tour Guide
Our tour guide Terry was absolutely fantastic. His attitude was amazing, he was very patient with us and the best thing he gave us was his wealth of knowledge when it came Chinese History. This knowledge is exactly why we wanted to visit China and through his words we found it very easy to immerse ourselves in the beautiful architecture and scenery we found ourselves in.more
Dec 2023, sajjads@680sajjads
Best tour experience!
We booked a tour with Terry for the forbidden city, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China. Terry went above and beyond in providing us with an amazing experience. He spoke fluent English and educated us on the history of the places we visited and answered every question we could think of. He was extremely helpful and friendly and made an amazing trip even more enjoyable.more
Dec 2023, 598ishamams
4 days in Beijing
Jack was welcoming and warm when we arrived at Beijing airport tired late at night. He was diligent and hardworking taking us around the many historical landmarks in Beijing. Whilst it is cold in winter (and we caught the first snow!), it was very enjoyable visiting Mutianyu because there were no crowds.more
Dec 2023, Catherine Wong
Great places, great food
We visited the Great Wall, The Southern Gong Lane, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Amazing places. Our guide, Jeffrey was excellent. The driver was also helpful. The selected halal restaurants are so good with lots of delicious meals to choose.more
Dec 2023, Farid S
Had an awesome trip with Helen as our tour guide in Beijing and Tianjin. She is such a warm personality and highly motivated guide (recommendable!). Also appreciate the little Christmas gift that she gave to us.more
Dec 2023, Ang
5-star experience in Beijing
Kitty spoke good English and was very knowledgeable. She provided great insights on the places we visited and went the extra mile to help us with our requests on shopping, massages and even to arrange a last minute acrobat show.Both Kitty and Mr Ho were very accommodating to the changes we made in our itinerary during the trip, and Kitty was very caring - she gave me a scarf as I had forgotten to bring mine, and even bought me medication when I was feeling under the weather.more
Dec 2023, sharon
4. Spring and autumn are the best times to come.
Whether you enjoy a winter wonderland or the warm sun shining on your skin, China has the perfect destination for you. For the most comfortable weather, consider coming in spring or fall. Spring is a great time as China is fresh and flowering, while autumn has drier weather than spring as well as moderate temperatures. Check out the best times to visit China.
- Classic Wonders (11-day) — the highlights in Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and Shanghai
- The Golden Triangle (8-day) — just the big three: similar to the above, without Guilin
5. But watch out for public and school holidays.
Holidays are great. They put everyone in a joyous mood. Watch out though! Chinese locals usually travel during these periods. Travel costs (hotels, flights…) usually skyrocket during this period. Generally, try to avoid festivals too, unless you want to experience them! Find out more about the busy periods to avoid in China.
- 13-Day A Broad Taste of China (Beijing – Xi'an – Chengdu – Guilin – Hong Kong)
- 11-Day Classic Wonders (Beijing – Xi'an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai)
6. High-speed rail is better than flying for some journeys.
Long bus rides are no more comfortable in China than elsewhere, but China's swish new high-speed trains give you excellent intercity options. They may even be faster than travelling via plane as stations may be closer to the city centers than airports.
7. And private transport is the most hassle-free way to explore China's destinations.
Metros, taxis, and buses are a cheap way to experience local life and to get around easily, but the language barrier and lack of familiarity with an area may mean you're expending more time than you would like. Avoid unlicensed taxi drivers who may charge ridiculous fees or operate other scams.
Our private transport service (transfers or as part of our tours) is the most convenient and reliable way to get from place to place locally. See our transportation guide to review your options for getting around China.
8. But watch out on the sidewalk.
Sometimes cars and motorbikes etc. are parked on the sidewalks. While walking on them, be careful of vehicles zooming past without warning. Sometimes they can drive really close to you and that is alright to them, but may cause an accident if your movements are not what they expect. Just be on the lookout and learn how to cross roads safely in China.
9. Bearing in mind close personal contact follows different rules.
Unlike in Western countries, China is more conservative with physical touch. Usually a verbal greeting would suffice and public affection is seldom shown. Personal space, however, might be a rarity. On public transport, the locals will push and shove for spaces. When queuing up, it is common to see locals cutting lines.
To better understand this and other cultural differences that you might struggle with, see How to Deal with Culture Shock in China.
10. Learn a few phrases of Mandarin.
Learning a few phrases of the local language would further enhance your experience in China. Simple phrases can be easily picked up and used everywhere. Top marks if you can bargain in Mandarin! Everyone loves a foreigner who speaks the local language, so check out these essential phrases and start practicing!
11. And do not be offended by the locals.
The locals are friendly and like to share. In some parts of China, many of them are not used to seeing foreigners on a daily basis. Do not be taken aback if they stare and spit, or ask for photos with you, or ask a lot of personal questions. Here is some more detailed advice on how to how to communicate with the locals in China.
12. Don't offend them either… Be respectful.
Everywhere you go in China, locals will be talking loudly and constantly shouting. In temples, however, shouting and talking loudly are frowned upon. Do not touch or point at the statues of deities. Show respect to monks and nuns by not taking photos without permission. Here are some more things not to do in China.
Avoid politics and religion in conversations generally, and abide by the laws and rules of the land. You may be interested in A Traveler's Guide to Chinese Law.
13. Try the local food.
China is not only known for beautiful scenery and kungfu, but also its food. Different provinces provide their own unique touch to their food. There are plenty of local classics that are available everywhere. Find out about some local delights that might entice your taste buds.
- 9-Day Beijing ,Xian and Shanghai Tour - China Family Classic Tour
- 13-Day Private Tour: Beijing – Xi'an – Chengdu – Guilin – Hong Kong - A Broad Taste of China
14. But practice using chopsticks first.
The use of chopsticks is a symbol of Chinese culture. Never, never stick a pair of chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. This symbolizes joss sticks at a funeral and it is frowned upon. In addition to that, do not "stab" food by using chopsticks like a fork. Find out more about chopsticks and how to use chopsticks properly. An alternative is to bring your own cutlery.
15. And you'll find toilets are slightly more interesting!
It is important to know that many public bathrooms here do not provide toilet paper or paper towels or soap. Always leave your accommodation with toilet paper, and you may want to carry hand sanitizer too. The public restrooms are mostly squat toilets. It is part of the Chinese experience to use a toilet here. Here is all you need to know about toilets in China.
16. There is no need to tip.
It is not customary to tip in Chinese Mainland, and tips are likely to be awkwardly refused. Conversely tipping in Hong Kong and Macau is common and much appreciated. Only at some of the most classy and international establishments in larger cities on the Chinese mainland, small tips can be given to show appreciation for good service.
For tour guides, only tip if the service is good and has satisfied you.
Here is a guide to how to tip in China.
17. But you should bring gifts when visiting.
Chinese people are great at hosting and would gladly host you. Locals would always to whip a scrumptious meal that is an experience to behold. If you visit a Chinese family, do not forget to bring gifts. The Chinese believe mutual gifting is a sign of respect. See more on How to Visit a Chinese Family... Properly.
18. Avoid tourist traps.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is a fake or worse in China. The most common scams include overpriced taxis, services, merchandise... Counterfeit notes are also a fairly common scam. When buying souvenirs, always bargain to get the best price. See our comprehensive guide to common tourist traps in China and how to avoid them.
19. Avoid budget tour groups.
In order to save costs and maximize profits, budget tour groups are generally large, noisy, and very rushed, with lots of time-wasting lining up, and getting on and off buses for commission shop stops. Avoid this option if you want a more fulfilling and authentic experience.
20. And choose a good guide and tour operator.
Guides can make or break a trip. In order to ensure the best experience for you, China Highlights select and train the best local guides available. On our personalized tours, you are the main focus. Your experience is vital to us. We will tailor your itinerary to what you want. Make sure you know how to make the most out of your China tour guide.
Let Us Help You Enjoy a More Care-Free China Tour
Some of the biggest problems with arranging a China trip are the language barrier, China's general complexity, and the difficulty of booking everything efficiently, before you even consider getting off the beaten path. Why struggle when there are companies who can do the work for you?
To make your first trip to China a great one, contact us. We're here to help you tour China your way. 10,000+ people a year use our tailor-made China tour service. Whatever your interests, we can arrange experiences that will bring your China curiosity to life.
Most Recommended First China Trip Itineraries:
- The Golden Triangle — an 8-Day Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai tour — the three major tourist cities of China
- Classic Wonders — an 11-Day Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and Shanghai tour — the most popular destinations in China
- Check out more of our Top 10 China Tour Itineraries based on bookings and feedback.
Or contact us and we'll design a custom tour for you.