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How to Plan a Trip to Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai (Itinerary, Costs, Transport…)

How to Plan a Trip to Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai (Itinerary, Costs, Transport…)

Written by Mike HoUpdated Jan. 29, 2024

Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai are China's most popular three destinations and are known as the "China's golden triangle". These top three cities offer a diverse and fascinating outlook on China's ancient history, modern development, and unique cultural experiences. This article will help you plan a perfect trip to these cities.

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Hong Many Days to Spend in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai

The amount of time you should spend in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai depends on the pace of your trip and your preferences. However, we recommend you spend at least 7–8 days to deeply experience these cities' cultures and attractions. If you have around 9–10 days for your trip to China, you would ideally spend 3 days in each of these three cities.

However, if you have less time, you may need to prioritize which activities and landmarks you want to see or consider just visiting one or two cities in more depth.

A Classic 8-Day Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai Itinerary

With 8 days in these cities, you can cover most of the highlights and experience some cultural activities to enrich your knowledge about China.

Days 1–4: Beijing (Visit the Great Wall and Forbidden City)

Beijing Forbidden City

In Beijing, spending two days for city sightseeing is recommended, including the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Temple of Heaven. To help you get a better understanding of the largest and best-preserved ancient imperial palace, our private guide would help you explore 12 carefully-selected places in the Forbidden City, which is definitely an improvement on the standard group tours that are herded down the crowded central axis.

Spend a day to explore country's top landmark: the Great Wall of China. For travelers with kids or seniors, we suggest you visit a less-crowded and easy-walking section called Mutianyu. If you would prefer a more varied and active exploration, you could hike from the Jinshanling section to the Simatai section, where you could have a romantic picnic dinner on the Great Wall with our special arrangements.

If you are interested in authentic Beijinger life, we can arrange a hutong day tour, when you can visit a local family and take a rickshaw ride, and wander around a hutong community with local markets and parks.

Days 5–6: Xi'an

Xian terracotta warriors

Xi'an is well-known for its historical relics. Spend a day to explore the different pits holding the Terracotta Army and learn about more about Chinese history. Our guide would show you around the Terracotta Army and unveil some secrets of this world wonder candidate. See the hundreds of life-size warriors at the site, and get to know how ancient craftsmen made them. Visit a traditional cave dwelling and learn how to make clay warriors. You can make a small one with some expert guidance and bring it home as a souvenir.

For the rest of your time in Xi'an, we would arrange a biking tour on Xi'an City Wall and a chance to try local street food and snacks in the Muslim Quarter.

Days 7–8: Shanghai

Shanghai the Bund

In Shanghai, join our In-Depth Bund Culture Discovery Tour to explore The Bund, which is a must-visit place in Shanghai. Our guide would lead you to the old parts of the Bund where you would travel back in time to the golden age of the Bund in the 1920s. You would walk a route that tourists seldom find by themselves, see the most authentic architecture, and hear some interesting stories that you'll never find in history books.

For the rest of time in Shanghai, you would be free to do numerous relaxing activities, including experiencing local fashionable activities, appreciating art, exploring folk customs, or just shopping.

8-Day China Golden Triangle Tour
8-Day Beijing–Xi'an–Shanghai Private Tour view more

How to Travel Between Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai

Being major travel destinations in China, it is convenient to travel between the three cities by high-speed train and plane. For a richer experience and a level of comfort that is better than plane travel, we recommend you take a bullet train from Beijing to Xi'an or Shanghai, which takes about 4½ to 5 hours. It is better to take a flight between Shanghai and Xi'an as it takes about 6–7 hours by train. If you would prefer the quickest transport, flights between any of the three cities take about 2–4 hours. However, you may spend a significant amount of time on the road to/from airports, especially during rush hours.

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Which City Should I Visit First?

Both Beijing and Shanghai are major entry/exit cities with abundant international and domestic flights. We recommend you start your trip in Shanghai or Beijing, with Beijing being the preferred starting city for most customers.

Costs for a Trip to Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai

Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai are popular travel destinations, which have a higher service cost than lower-tier and less-popular China cities. For a private tour, 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.

For an 8-day Beijing–Xi'an–Shanghai tour that would be around US$1,760–2,800 per person. When you book with us, if you cancel up to three weeks before departure, you would receive a 100% refund of any payments made to China Highlights (more details here⇒).

Accommodation Choices in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai

In Beijing, if you prefer a more central location for entertainment and shopping, then you are recommended to choose a hotel in the Wangfujing area. If you want a traditional Beijing-style accommodation experience, we recommend a hutong-style hotel.

In Xi'an, if you would like to have taste of the traditional atmosphere of Xi'an, we recommend you stay in the Walled City Area near the medieval city walls of Xi'an. If you would like to have easy access to many restaurants and shops, we recommend the area near two iconic landmarks of Xi'an — the Bell Tower and Drum Tower.

In Shanghai, hotels around the Bund and Nanjing Road are popular choices if you prefer a bustling vibe and great night views. If you would prefer relatively quiet surroundings with an old colonial vibe, we recommend the French Concession.

Best Times to Visit Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai

For comfortable weather (warm, sunny, and dry), the best time to visit Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai is autumn, especially in September and October. The rainy season in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai typically occurs in the summer months between June and August, which is characterized by frequent afternoon rains that don't last for long. In case of rainy weather, we would adjust your itinerary to make sure your travel experience is not affected.

The peak seasons are the first weeks of May and October, followed by summer holidays. In these peak times, the price of hotels and airfares can go up by 50 to 100%. If you plan to travel during these periods, please book at least 6 months to 1 year in advance as hotels and train tickets particularly are sold out quickly during these times.

Visa Policy

You would need to apply for a China visa to visit Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai. Although you can enjoy a 144-hour visa-free policy stay in Beijing, Xi'an, or Shanghai, the policy is not available for trips linking these cities. It is recommended to apply for a China visa in your home country.

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