We understand planning a trip to China may seem daunting, even if you are an experienced traveler. Don't worry! Below are five simple steps to planning that first trip, from our experience of designing over 100,000 China tours.
1. Choose Where to Go — 5 Recommendations
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.
1) Beijing — China's ancient and modern capital
As imperial and modern capital of China, Beijing is a must-see, because it is home to many of the finest icons of China's imperial and recent past. It is China's top gateway city.
With a bit more time, the Temple of Heaven and its park will transport you deeper into the culture of China, along with a tour of the Hutongs and the Summer Palace.
2) Shanghai — China's largest and showiest city
Shanghai is China's largest city, and many would say must be visited for its significance. It is a convenient city to arrive at or depart from.
There aren't so many world-class tourist sights, and it could be toured in a day. Make sure you see the colonial and sky-rise architecture of the Bund.
If your schedule allows, extend your tour to a water town, Hangzhou, Suzhou, or Huangshan. Get inspiration from our Shanghai tours of 1-5 days.
3) Xi'an — a Window on China's ancient civilization
Next you should discover where the nation of China really began. Visit Xi'an, where First Emperor Qin ruled from the first capital of a united China.
Xi'an is an excellent place to experience something of the pre-Beijing dynasties. See the grand Terracotta Army, temples, a mosque, pagodas, and towers that are more than 1,000 years old.
4) Guilin — picturesque scenery and minority culture
First-timers love Guilin for its beautiful landscapes and as a relaxing escape from the cities.
If your time is limited, enjoy karst peaks combine sublimely with the Li River and cycle around the idyllic countryside in Yangshuo, and even experience to be a Chinese farmer.
If you are interested in minority culture, spend one or two days at the Longji Rice Terraces to enjoy the magnificent tiered fields and experience the world of the Zhuang and Yao minorities.
5) 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.
In this laid back city, you can take part in a giant panda volunteer program to have a close look at the cute pandas, see cultural landmarks, and try spicy Sichuan hotpot.
For more ideas about places to visit, see The Top 10 Most Popular Tourist Destinations in China.
2. Decide How Many Days to Stay
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.
- 6-8 days: Beijing (3-4 days), Xi'an (2 days), and Shanghai (1-2 days). See our sample itinerary for inspiration.
To discover more of China, like charming Guilin and lovely giant pandas, you will need a few more days. See our 11-Day Classic Wonders to Beijing, Xian, Guilin/Yangshuo and Shanghai.
Till now, you might want to know how much does it cost to travel China.
3. Be Aware of Chinese Visa Policy and Gateway Cities
Beijing and Shanghai are the top gateway cities for international flights. Most customers chose them.
Some customers travel via Hong Kong — some of them to open up visa-free travel options, e.g. NY–HK–Beijing–NY or London–Beijing–HK–Xi'an–Bangkok–London.
China has visa-free transit policies for certain cities and regions. Learn more about visa- free Chinese cities to know if you could make a visa-free trip.
Most multi-city China tours require a tourist visa, e.g. Beijing–Xi'an–Shanghai. If that is what you can see yourself doing, see our guide to Chinese visas.
4. Consider When to Travel to China
China's cultural and historical attractions are good for a visit all year around. Things to do in Beijing, Xi'an, 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, and fall is generally drier and warmer than spring.
You can get more detailed tips on Best Times to Travel to China.
5. We Believe Private and Tailor-Made Is Best
A private tour is recommended.
If you don't want to visit the Great Wall of China with a coach-load of 40 people and have only 20 minutes on the wall, a private and tailor-made tour is a better choice.
You will have a chance to ride a sidecar through the ancient alleys of Beijing, walk on the "wild" untouched Great Wall, or visit a local family with your own local guide.
With a private guide and transport you can maximize your time. You can focus on the sightseeing you want to do, and skip the long queues in the most crowded attractions.
Itineraries for Inspiration
Our tours can be customized according to your interests and requirements. Contact us and we can help you tailor-make a first time tour. Our consultancy and tour design service are well worth taking advantage of.
- The Golden Triangle (8 days): Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai
— the most popular destinations for a first trip
- Classic Wonders (11 days): Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and Shanghai
— classic architecture, culture, and scenery
- Visit our China tours for 2022/2023 for more tour inspirations.