China map & itineraries

In case you weren’t aware, the country is massive - absolutely vast. To experience some of the best places to visit in China you’ll need a decent pair of walking shoes – you’ll clock up mileage simply seeing the sights, especially in Beijing where the traffic is horrendous and taxi hops will only add to the pollution. Otherwise, getting from A to B is reasonably straightforward: the collective mileage of China’s well-conditioned roads is over two million miles and the country’s super speedy bullet train has become a tourist experience itself. The only problem you might face is the language barrier, so brush up on your basic Mandarin before you board.

1. Beijing

Beijing is not a beautiful place. Itís chaotic and stiflingly smoggy, but if youíre brave and open-minded it represents an adventure of history, of power, and of the future all rolled into one. The Forbidden City, its main attraction, is a mammoth compound of almost 1,000 palaces, museums and pavilions and was the former home of Chinaís emperors from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing.

2. Chengdu

You donít go to Chengdu for its natural beauty; itís a modern city with mediocre weather and a lot of traffic. But it just has a laid-back cheeriness about it that canít fail to delight. Its urban parks are clean and colourful and the locals, in a decidedly un-Chinese twist, think nothing of kicking back with a cuppa enjoying the teahouse culture that is central to life in the city.
Giant Panda Research Centre

3. Giant Panda Research Centre

We donít recommend wildlife attractions in China, but the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base just outside Chengdu is the one exception. One of the cityís most popular attractions, it houses over 100 of Chinaís most famous animal residents in large enclosures tended by dedicated keepers and teams of scientists all working to get these notoriously reluctant bears to breed.
Great Wall of China

4. Great Wall of China

Wriggling its way west over treacherously steep mountains to the dusty Gobi Desert in the east, the Great Wall of China attracts everyone from day trippers to serious trekkers. Itís easy to squeeze the Great Wall into any trip to China thanks to its proximity to Beijing, but the further from the city you go, the more youíll find your group alone and surrounded only by the spectacular scenery.
Hong Kong

5. Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a little bit fur coat and no knickers: it has an unrelenting drive for money and status powered by its moneyed elite, but many locals work very long days and live in cramped conditions. The flipside? An infectious energy, a surprisingly traditional culture and a cooler, more sophisticated outlook than its mainland contemporaries.
Longji rice terraces

6. Longji rice terraces

The Dragonís Backbone (Longji) Rice Terraces were carved out of the mountains in Longsheng more than 600 years ago. From above they look like contour lines on a map Ė or the scales on the curve of a sleeping dragonís back. In spring, the water-filled terraces glimmer like mirrors and by autumn the rice is golden and ready for harvest by villagers from the surrounding wooden-stilted hamlets.
Dong villages

7. Dong villages

The Dong ethnic group lives in the mountainous landscape of southwestern China. Their wooden villages are small Ė the largest is home to only 4,000 people Ė and often feature tall drum towers with elaborately tiered roofs, and fengyuqiao Ė covered ďwind and rainĒ bridges. Some villages have small guest houses that share home-cooked dishes made with rice from the nearby terraces.
Terracotta Army

8. Terracotta Army

Xiían of yesteryear was the beginning and end of the Silk Road, a thriving and sophisticated city of commerce, religion and creativity. Marked by an impressive wealth of important sites and relics, notably the Terracotta Army that still stands guard, modern day Xiían is more traffic and pollution than pomp and procession, but well worth a visit nonetheless.

9. Shanghai

Shanghai is a skyline of soaring high-rises, designer boutiques and Michelin-star dining Ė but also art deco architecture, boisterous outdoor markets and Buddhist temples. Youíll get the best feel for local life by wandering the narrow and winding lanes (nontangs) of Old Shanghai, learning to make steamed dumplings with a host family or taking a lesson or two of Mandarin Chinese.

10. Xiían

Once an important city and the final destination at the east end of the Silk Road, Xiíanís influence has waned since the start of the 10th century. Still, much of the ancient city remains in the shadow of the new, modern metropolis and its Ming-era city walls can be explored with a guided walk or by bicycle. More or less located in central China, itís also a crossroads for many regional cuisines.

11. Yangshuo

A world away from Chinaís built-up cities, Yangshuo is a village flanked by exquisite countryside and jutting karst pyramids carved into the elements by the lapping green waters of the Li River. It can get busy during peak season, but there really arenít enough superlatives to describe the surrounding scenes of water buffalo grazing and local farmers working their fields wearing conical hats.
Yangtze river

12. Yangtze river

The aquatic equivalent of Chinaís Great Wall, the Yangtze is a twisting, turning hotbed of scenery and culture that stretches from remote mountain plains through canyon gorges and into fertile regions where other lakes connect. Itís most hair-raising stretch, the Three Gorges, was once unnavigable. Now though, thanks to a dam, it is a beautiful lake for ferrying and cruises.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about China or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

China itineraries

For families:
Beijing > Great Wall: Jinshanling > (sleeper train) Luoyan > (bullet train) Xi’an > Yangshuo > Hong Kong

Great Wall walking:

Beijing > Mutian Yu > Jiankou > Gubeikou > Jinshanling > Taipingzhai > Huangyaguan > Beijing

Photography tour:
Guilin > Longji > Sang Jiang > Yangshuo > Putao village > Huang Yao > Yangshuo > Xing Ping > Guilin

Travel times in China

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in China

    Beijing – Xi’an: 5hrs 45 (high-speed train) Beijing – Hong Kong: 23hrs 45 (sleeper train Beijing – Chengdu: 4hrs 25 (flight) Beijing – Gubeikou: 1hr 30 (by road) Gubeikou – Jinshanling: 15mins (by road) Jinshanling – Beijing: 1hr 30 (by road) Beijing – Yangshuo: 13hrs (by road, train)
Written by Polly Humphris
Photo credits: [Page banner: Emile Guillemot] [Beijing: JuniperPhoton] [Chengdu: ORIENTO] [Giant Panda Research Centre: Yu Wang] [Great Wall of China : Usukhbayar Gankhuyag] [Hong Kong: Simon Zhu] [Longji rice terraces: Chopsticks on the Loose] [Dong villages : Rutger van der Maar] [Terracotta Army: Aaron Greenwood] [Shanghai: Henry Chen] [Xiían: Kunal Kalra] [Yangshuo: Zhimai Zhang] [Yangtze river: Shane Young] [Travel times: Dong Xie]