Top 10 China tours 2024/2025 for first visits and returns: embark on a lifetime experience. Learn more

How to Plan Your First Trip to China 2024/2025 — 7 Easy Steps

Good news for travelers!

From December 1st, 2023 to November 30th, 2024, visitors from France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Singapore, and Malaysia can stay in China for up to 15 days without a visa for travel, business, transit, or visiting friends and family.

Starting March 14th, travelers from Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Switzerland can also enjoy this visa-free entry.

China, with its long history and rich geography, may be on your bucket list. It is also the top place to explore Far-Eastern elements and culture.

Below are seven easy steps for planning a first China tour using our first-hand knowledge, being based in China, and our experience creating over 100,000 custom-made China tours, the majority of which were for families and couples.

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1. Choose Where to Go

With our knowledge of China and feedback from our customers, we suggest you visit Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai for your first trip, extending it to Guilin and/or Chengdu if you have the time.

Top Cities to Visit for First Trip to China

1) Beijing — Explore China's Imperial Past

Beijing, The Forbbiden CityThe Forbidden City

As an imperial and modern capital of China, Beijing is a must-see, because it is home to many of the finest icons of China's medieval and recent past. It is also China's top gateway city.

The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City are both must-see attractions, especially if you are interested in China's architectural marvels and dynastic history.

For a special experience and some private time, we can arrange a less-crowded sunset visit to the Great Wall with a romantic picnic for you.

If you are interested in Beijing's local lifestyle, a locally-guided walk through Beijing's hutongs with your children or husband/wife is highly recommended.

If you want to try some new things with kids, we recommend a family morning tai chi session, a local home visit, trying Chinese calligraphy, and playing with a Chinese yo-yo.

2) Shanghai — Explore Its Unique Blend of Old and New

Shanghai, The BundThe Bund

If you want an intuitive sense of how China's recent past and present meet and collide, Shanghai is the place to go.

Hop on a ferry to cross the Huangpu River. You will see the historical architecture on the Bund as well as the modern skyscrapers opposite, giving you a distinctive contrast between modern life and the post-imperial past.

We have specially designed an in-depth Bund culture discovery walking tour for those who want to learn more interesting stories about the Bund and old Shanghai. See our 2-Day Shanghai Essence Tour itinerary.

If your schedule allows, extend your tour to Hangzhou or Suzhou to see water towns and classical Chinese gardens.

3) Xi'an — Discover China's Ancient Civilization

Xi'an, The Terracotta WarriorsThe Terracotta Warriors

Xi'an is an excellent and interesting place to discover where the nation of China really began. China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, established the first capital of a united China there.

The Terracotta Warriors are definitely a must-see. We offer a more interesting and in-depth experience to learn more about the Terracotta Warriors: make a mini clay warrior with local artisans and visit their disappearing cave dwellings.

For couples and families, a hanfu costume experience in an ancient academy could be a highlight. A bike ride on the 600-year-old city wall is also great to do with kids.

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

4) Guilin — A Relaxing Escape with Picturesque Scenery and Minority Culture

Guilin Li RiverLi River

First-timers love Guilin for its beautiful landscapes and relaxing places to escape from the cities — it is a true masterpiece of classic rural China.

A Li River cruise is the best way to enjoy karst peaks combined sublimely with the Li River.

Yangshuo and Longsheng, two counties next to the city of Guilin, offer most of Guilin's top highlights.

Yangshuo is a place where children can put down their phones and iPads and still be well entertained… by cycling around the idyllic countryside and even experiencing the life and work of a Chinese farmer.

Yangshuo also offers a natural romantic atmosphere for couples. A romantic riverside candlelit dinner set in a mountain retreat garden could be a great way to celebrate your 20th, 30th, 40th, etc. anniversary. Contact us to design a special time for you.

If you are interested in minority culture, the Longji Rice Terraces in Longsheng are really a highlight — both for enjoying the magnificent tiered fields and for experiencing the world of the Zhuang and Yao minorities.

Recommended China Tours:

5) Chengdu — Have a Close Encounter with Pandas

Chengdu,the hometown of giant pandas

Chengdu's giant pandas are for many the icing on the cake, the finishing touch to a China must-do list.

An even more special experience would be to have a close encounter with pandas by taking part in our giant panda volunteer program — clean panda enclosures, make panda food, watch a panda eat it, and more.

Chengdu is also famous for delicious Sichuan food like kung pao chicken and spicy hotpot. A food hunting tour is the best way to taste the delicious specialties of Chengdu.

If you are interested in cooking, you can try cooking the most authentic Sichuan cuisine with a local chef.

2. Decide How Many Days to Stay

Visit China at a slow pace

After a long journey to get to China, you probably won't want to just scratch the surface of China and just take snapshots with the landmark attractions.

We suggest you take at least a week for your first trip to see a spectrum of the highlights in the top three cities: Beijing (3–4 days), Xi'an (2 days), and Shanghai (1–2 days). See our 8-Day Beijing–Xi'an–Shanghai Tour for inspiration.

To discover more of China, like charming Guilin and lovely Chengdu pandas, you would need a few more days. See our 11-Day Classic Wonders tour of Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin/Yangshuo, and Shanghai. See How Long to Spend in China: Itineraries from 1 Week to 1 Month

Tibet is also open again for international visitors now [March 2023]. If you want to visit this pure land, you may need 3 to 5 more days. See our 2-Week Private Tour of Beijing, Xi'an, Lhasa, and Shanghai.

All our tours can be adjusted based on your interests, travel time, group size, and other needs. Just contact us.

Or get ideas from our:

3. Consider When to Travel to China

Autumn is the best time to travel to ChinaLongji Rice Terraces in Guilin

China's cultural and historical attractions are good for a visit all year round. Things to do in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai are seldom affected by the seasons.

Spring (April–May) and autumn (September–October) are generally the most comfortable and recommended times for a China tour. They are neither too hot nor too cold, but fall is generally drier and warmer than spring.

A more ideal travel time for you could be March and early April or September when there are smaller crowds, favorable prices, and still good weather.

China is a good summer holiday destination too. There are not many rainy days in summer. It rarely rains continuously for a whole day, with rain coming in less and less frequent downpours as the summer draws on.

It can get a little hot in summer, but air conditioning and expert arrangements would help you avoid the heat as much as possible.

You can find more detailed tips on Best Times to Travel to China.

4. Consider Your Budget

Traveling in China is not very expensive. The biggest cost could be international airfares. The cost of airfares from the US or Europe to China varies a lot depending on when you fly and which airline you use, from around US$1,200 to US$3,000 for an economy round trip.

The peak tourist times in China fall on the first weeks of May and October (China's two golden weeks), the summer holidays, and the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The biggest price difference between the off and peak seasons is in the price of hotels and airfares. Prices in peak season can go up by 50 to 100%.

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.

If you travel in the peak season, book at least 2 or 3 months in advance. When booking with us, you'll receive a 100% refund of any payments made to China Highlights if you cancel up to three weeks before departure (more details here⇒).

5. We Believe Private and Tailor-Made Is Best

A must-see city in your first china trip: Guilin LongjiOur clients are talking to a local people.

A private tour is recommended for your first trip to China.

If you don't want to visit the Great Wall of China with a coach-load of 40 people and perhaps only have 20 minutes on the wall and so on, a private and tailor-made tour is definitely the better choice.

With our private tours, you would have much more personal choice in how your tour goes. You could have more hand-picked and interactive experiences, like walking on the "wild" untouched Great Wall or visiting a local family with your own local guide.

With private guiding and transport, we would maximize your time. You could focus on the sightseeing you want to do, skipping what's not of interest and the long queues in the most crowded attractions.

Just contact us if you would like a tailor-made private trip to China. We also offer economical, but still high-class and uncrowded, small group tours.

Discover real reviews of Highlights Travel Family's best-rated service across trusted platforms.

6. Check Out Visa Policy

Visitors from most countries need to apply for a tourist visa (L visa) to visit China. We recommended that you apply for the visa one or two months before the intended travel date.

When booking with us, we would provide the invitation letter that you would need for a tourist visa application.

If you do not have a Chinese visa, you could use the 144-hour visa-free-transit policy to visit China.

From December 1st, 2023 to November 30th, 2024, travelers from France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia can enjoy a 15-day visa-free entry to China for tourism, business, and visiting friends and relatives in China.

Whether you want to visit China via visa or visa-free, we can help you plan a trip including entry formalities. Feel free to contact us.

7. Getting to/around China

Flights from all countries to China have resumed, though maybe not yet at pre-pandemic frequency. At present, there are one or two direct flights a week from New York to Shanghai, Los Angeles to Beijing, Seattle to Shanghai, London to Guangzhou, etc.

There are also many flight options with stopovers that are more frequent and affordable.

Beijing and Shanghai are the top gateway cities for international flights. Most customers chose them.

Flights and high-speed trains are the best and fastest ways to travel intercity in most of China. Booking a private tour with us, we will arrange your transportation within China and provide worry-free and comfortable private transfers.

Popular China Tours for 2024/2025

Our private tours are designed to be the most convenient and fulfilling option for your trip to China. We would create an itinerary according to your flight times, interests, and any other requirements.

Just contact us and we'll create your ideal China trip. Our consultants will listen to and answer your inquiries carefully and promptly and prepare the best tour plan for you.

Here are some popular options that you could base your trip on:

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Why China Highlights

Customize Your Tour

Customize Your Tour

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Maximize Your Flexibility

Maximize Your Flexibility

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  • Explore at your own pace.
  • Unparalleled flexibility, impossible on a group tour.
Ensure Your Satisfaction

Ensure Your Satisfaction

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  • 24/7 emergency support.
Live Your China Story

Live Your China Story

  • Authentic local culture and lifestyles.
  • Understand the culture by living it.
  • Uncover fascinating histories and witness New China.
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Address: Building 6, Chuangyi Business Park, 70 Qilidian Road, Guilin, Guangxi, 541004, China