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How to Plan a First Trip to China — 7 Easy Steps

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

1. Choose Where to Go — 5 Recommendations

 top cities to visit for your first trip to china

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.

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

a must-see in your first trip to china: The Great Wall of ChinaThe Great Wall of China

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 such as the Great Wall  and the Forbidden City. 

Insider travel tips: If you want to be away from the crowds and enjoy an exclusive tour, a night tour of the Simatai Great Wall section is a great option. It is a perfect blend of cultural and romantic experience. 

In the Forbidden City, our exclusive Emperor's Tour of Beijing can help you  go beyond the crowded tourist route and explore some hidden but more attractive halls. 

Time needed: 3-4 days 

2) Xi'an — discover China's ancient history

a must-see attraction in your first china trip: 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 ruled from the first capital of a united China. 

See his grand Terracotta Army, the Great Mosque and the Wild Big Goose Pagoda.  See our classic 3-day Essence of Xi'an tour for reference.

Insider travel tips: If you are seeking an in-depth cultural experience, you might be interested in a visit to a local cave dwelling, where you can learn to make terracotta warriors in a traditional way, or trying on Hanfu (traditional Chinese clothes)in an ancient academy. See the interesting pictures and quotations

Time needed: 2 days at least

3) Shanghai — China's largest and showiest city

a must-see city in your first china trip:ShanghaiShanghai's skyline from the Bund

Shanghai, China's largest city,  has China's most spectacular skyline, with towering modern architecture along 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.

Insider travel tips: Many discerning travelers wish to go beyond the regular attractions. We have tailor-made many exclusive experiences, such as local food hunting, a visit to the former Jewish settlement and night tour in a jeep. See how to make your Shanghai trip more interesting

Time needed: 1–5 days

4) Guilin — picturesque scenery and minority culture

a must-see city in your first china trip: GuilinA fishman on the Li River of Guilin

First-timers love Guilin for its beautiful landscapes and as a relaxing escape from the cities.

If your time is limited to 3 days, you can visit the highlights of downtown Guilin and cruise the Li River to Yangshuo. 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.

Insider travel tips: For those who would like to go off the beaten track, Guilin has some special treats to offer...Be a Chinese villager for an afternoon to experience the life of the local farmers in Yangshuo, or enjoy a leisurely walk around the ancient town of Daxu. See how to spend 4 days in Guilin

Time needed: 3–6 days

5) Chengdu — the hometown of giant pandas!

a must-do thing in your first china trip: see giant panda Get closer to giant pandas with us.

Chengdu's giant pandas are for many the icing on the cake, the finishing touch to a China must-do list. Spicy Sichuan hotpot is another draw of Chengdu.

Insider travel tips: , so you should take a food tour to taste famous Sichuan snacks and learn to cook typical Sichuan dishes. 

If you take an on-the-quiet night tour at Wolong Panda Research Center or take part in a giant panda volunteer program, you can have a close look at the cute pandas without the noisy tourists. See our Chengdu tours for more inspiration.

Time needed: 2–4 days

For more ideas about places to visit, see The Top 10 Most Popular Tourist Destinations in China.

2. Decide How Many Days to Stay

visit China at a slow paceVisit 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.

  • 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

PassportPrepare your passport and visa to travel to China.

Beijing and Shanghai are the top gateway cities for iinternational 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

a must-see city in your first china trip: GuilinLongji's terraced fields in fall, Guilin

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. 

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. Figure Out Local Transportation

High-speed rail is a popular way to travel in China.High-speed rail is a popular way to travel in China.

China’s travel infrastructure has developed greatly in recent years. The major options for intercity transport are flights and high-speed/bullet trains. Taking a bullet train running at more than 300 km/h is on the to-do list of many visitors.

To get from city to city, examine your flight and train options for good times and prices. For train travel, you can save time on the check-in process and your schedule shouldn't be affected by bad weather. Trains costs are 100–300 USD between major cities like Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai; flights are 300+ USD.

In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, transportation is convenient with subway, bus, and taxi options. Private transport is more suitable for those seeking maximum convenience and efficiency. 

6. Decide Your Accommodation

plan a trip to china and select a perfect hotelA boutique hotel in Yangshuo

Accommodation types range from top-class/boutique resorts, to chain hotels, to local experience lodging. Here are some approximate costs for reference:

  • Boutique hotels and top resorts: 250+ USD/night
  • Chain hotels: 100–250 USD/night
  • Local-experience hotels: 50–100 USD/night

If you are looking a unique accommodation experience, you should try China’s boutique hotels that are built in a very Chinese way or blend the city culture and local elements. Enjoy a Great Wall theme hotel in Beijing, or a panda-themed hotel in Chengdu, or an early dynastic theme in Xi'an boutiques. 

Many cities are vibrant at night. If you want to experience the nightlife, choose a downtown hotel near the action. See more on How to Choose a Hotel in China.

7. Decide Travel Type: Group Tour or Private Tour?

a must-do thing in your first china trip: Visit local familyVisiting a local family with a guide, you can get close to their life your way.

A private tour is recommended.

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. 

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.

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.

Itineraries for Inspiration

a must-see city in your first china trip: Guilin LongjiVisit ethnic minority villages in Guilin, and experience their culture with us.

Our tours can be customized according to your interests and requirements.  Contact as and we can help you tailor-make a first time tourOur 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 2019 for more tour inspirations.

Further Reading for Planning Your China Tour

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