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How to Plan a First Trip to China — the Best Trip

We understand planning a trip to China may seem daunting, even if you are an experienced traveler. Don’t worry! Below we share six simple steps to planning that first trip, from our experience of designing over 100,000 China tours.

1. Take a Step Back — Plan to Enjoy More!

Ethnic People, China Visit Red Yao ethnic minority people in Guilin, and experience their culture with us.

Traveling in China should be very rewarding, as it is a very different country. But if you don’t plan well it will be a missed opportunity at best. Research well and be realistic about your expectations.

Know what you want from your trip from the outset.

Don't select a hectic tour plan — over-extending yourself will detract from your visit. Our recommendation is to explore only the absolute best of easily-accessible China first time, and spend the rest of your trip relaxing and taking in the ambiance.

2. Choose Where to Go — 3 Golden Recommendations

With our knowledge of China and feedback from our customers, we suggest you visit Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai for your first trip. But keep in mind: you are the traveler, so your itinerary should be based on your interests. Consider whether these are where you want to go, and what you want to do there.

1) Beijing — a vibrant mix of history and modernity

temple of heavenThe Temple of Heaven, Beijing

As one of the world's great ancient capitals, and the modern era 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.

If you only have one day make sure you set foot on the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and eat roast Peking duck at one of the famous restaurants.

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) Xi'an — discover China's ancient history

The Terracotta ArmyThe Terracotta Army, Xi'an

Next you should discover where the nation of China really began. Visit Xi'an, where First Emperor Qin (pronounced Chin, hence China) ruled from the first capital of a united China. See his grand Terracotta Army.

Xi'an is an excellent place to experience something of the pre-Beijing dynasties. Enjoy a Tang Dynasty banquet and show, and see temples, a mosque, pagodas, and towers that are more than 1,000 years old.

3) Shanghai — China's largest and showiest city

shanghai Shanghai's skyline from the Bund

Shanghai is China's largest city, and many would say must be visited for its significance.

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.

The record-speed Maglev to/from the airport is recommended. Shanghai is a convenient city to arrive at or depart from.

3. Decide How Many Days to Stay

see giant panda Get closer to giant pandas with us.

China is multi-layered, and you won't want to just scratch the surface if China's grand civilization is your interest. We suggest you take at least a week for your first China trip to see a spectrum of the highlights in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.

To discover more of China, like seeing lovely giant pandas, you will need a few more days.

4. Consider When to Travel to China

Longji Terraced Rice Fields in Fall Longji's terraced fields in fall, Guilin

You may be constrained to a certain time of the year for your trip, so you’ll be glad to know 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.

If you particularly care about the weather, we suggest you to come during spring and autumn, when the weather is warm and comfortable in most of China. If you are considering going for the scenery and more remote attractions, the local climate is more likely to affect your experience.

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

5. Be Aware of Chinese Visa Policy and Gateway Cities


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

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.

Some customers travel via Hong Kong (it’s attraction-packed; exotic, but very foreigner-friendly) — some of them to open up visa-free travel options, e.g. NY–HK–Beijing–NY or London–Beijing–HK–Xi’an–Bangkok–London.

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.

6. We Believe Tailor-Made Is Best

Visit local familyVisiting a local family with a guide, you can get close to their life your way.

Do you 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, tailor-made tour is a better choice.

Our tailor-made service means you can ride a sidecar through the ancient alleys of Beijing, or walk on the wilder and more untouched Great Wall, or visit a local family with your own local guide.

Your first trip to China should only ever be all that you want it to be. We can help you tailor-make a first time tour from scratch, doing the things you want in the order you want.

Itineraries for Inspiration

unique experience

Our tours can be customized according to your interests and requirements. 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
  • A Close Encounter with Pandas (13 days): Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, the Yangtze, and Shanghai
    — with top experiences, including pandas, and a relaxing cruise

Further Reading for Planning Your China Tour