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How to Plan a First Trip to China — 5 Easy Steps

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

 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.

1) Beijing — a vibrant mix of history and modernity

Beijing 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

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, 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

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: For discerning travelers who wish to go beyond the regular attractions, here are some exclusive experiences: 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

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!

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. Spicy Sichuan hotpot is another draw of Chengdu.

Insider travel tips: 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 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

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

autumn is the best time 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. Decide Travel Type: Group Tour or Private Tour?

a must-do thing in your first china trip: Visit local family

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.

a must-see city in your first china trip: Guilin Longji

Itineraries for Inspiration

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.