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7 Key Yangtze River Facts — Interesting Features for Travelers

The Yangtze River, world's third longest river, and China's largest, has a quarter of Chinese people in its basin. Historically it has been a barrier between north and south and facilitated trade and travel. It is also one of the world's favorite rivers for tourism.

Natural beauty, the biggest dam in the world, China's biggest city, quaint Yangtze Delta water towns, cultural relics, and ethnic culture make it a good river for touring. These seven key Yangtze facts will help you appreciate the river and plan a trip.

1. The Yangtze is the longest river in a single country.

The Yangtze River is the longest river in China and Asia! It stretches 6,300 kilometers (3,917 miles), or the distance from China to the UK or U.S.!

It flows from the world's highest and largest plateau, the Tibetan Plateau, to the world's deepest and largest ocean, the Pacific.

You can see the mountain where it begins, Geladandong, if you take a trip on the world's highest railway to Lhasa, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The train crosses the Yangtze (there the Tuotuo) at almost 5,000 m altitude. It's source is 5,170 m (16,962 ft) above sea level.

2. The Yangtze is tamed by the largest dam in the world.

The Three Gorges Dam discharging at maximum capacity.

The Three Gorges Dam was completed in 2012 and is to date the largest dam in the world. It serves three main purposes: 1) flood control, 2) hydroelectric power production, and 3) improved ship navigation.

It is 2.3 kilometers or a mile and a half wide! Behind it is an enormous reservoir called the Three Gorges Lake that is 660 km (410 miles) long — 97 km (60 miles) longer than Lake Superior.

3. 1/4 of China's population live in the Yangtze Basin.

Thirty major cities line the Yangtze's shores and tributaries, including Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Shanghai — four of China's 10 Largest Cities. The Yangtze basin is home to 400,000,000 people.

Shanghai is the world's largest city proper with 24,000,000 people and the world's largest container port. As one of China's most famous cities, it is #3 for tourism in mainland China, wooing visitors with its record-breaking skyline, colonial history, and individual culture.

4. The Lijiang area is the highlight of the Yangtze's upper reaches.

The Yangtze hurtles and roars down Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang, one of China's best hiking areas.

The upper reaches of the Yangtze consist of bleak Tibetan highlands (see 1.) and narrow valleys, down which the Yangtze cascades before it becomes navigable. The Yangtze blocked travel, and crossing points like the First Bend of the Yangtze became strategic for both trade and conquest.

Lijiang was one of several ethnic Chinese towns built along the Tea Horse Road trade route between Yunnan and Tibet, and profited from lucrative trade for hundreds of years.

UNESCO recognizes the towns' architecture and planning, and tourists love the area for its breathtaking scenery and minority culture.

5. The middle reaches host popular cruises in gorgeous gorges.

Views along the Yangtze River's middle section are best appreciated on a cruise.

The Yangtze's middle reaches have always greatly influenced the lives of the Chinese and the development of civilization, providing water and allowing comparatively easy travel and trade. This area is the middle of the 'Middle Kingdom'.

Now, besides providing almost 1 percent of China's power, the huge dam makes for convenient, relaxing touring of the picturesque gorges and their cultural phenomena on a tranquil and enriching Yangtze cruise.

6. The Yangtze's lower reaches hold lovely water towns and important cities.

zhujiajiao water town Zhujiajiao Water Town has quaint scenery and is one of the most popular.

The Yangtze's lower reaches include the historically important and still thriving cities of Wuhan, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, and the colonial and modern era giant, Shanghai.

Picture postcard water towns have become very popular for tourism with ancient architecture, canal and wetland scenery, historic sights, and boutique hotels.

The longest canal in the history of the world, the Grand Canal, carried water from the Yangtze to dry Beijing, as well as trade and even emperors as far as Hangzhou.

7. The short middle seasons are best for Yangtze tours.

The lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze are very hot in the summer, holding many of China's furnace cities. Winters can still be quite cold though. However, the Lijiang area, with its longer mountain winters and generally cooler weather, is better visited in the summer.

September and October and April and May are the most popular months for cruising the Yangtze. In autumn you can see fall colors and enjoy comfortable temperatures of 16–28 °C (61–82 °F). In the spring, temperatures are similar, and the air is freshest.

Discover the Yangtze Your Way

The Majestic YangtzeEnjoy fall colors in the Three Gorges — cruise the majestic Yangtze and experience the heart of China.

Contact us to travel the Yangtze as part of your tailor-made China journey.

Or consider starting your personalized tour plan from one of these recommendations:

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