Yangtze River cruises

The Yangtze is one of the world’s great rivers, often called the ‘lifeblood of China’. Over 6,000km in its entirety, it is the longest river in Asia with its most famous section being the Three Gorges. It takes around three days to pass through the Three Gorges, so a Yangtze River cruise will typically form part of a longer China itinerary featuring the pandas of Chengdu, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors, with three nights aboard ship a great way to break it up. In most cases, you will board in Chongqing City, and disembark in Yichang.

Cruising the Three Gorges

These three adjacent gorges, Qutang, Wu and Xiling, between them span 310km of the Yangtze’s middle section. World renowned for their dramatic and kaleidoscopic scenery, helped by a subtropical monsoon climate, they were once tricky to navigate due to fast-running water. In recent years however the massive – and massively controversial – Three Gorges Dam, has raised the water level and quietened it substantially, making the region one of China’s highest ranked tourism attractions, and a very popular destination for large cruise vessels. The Three Gorges region is also significant for its history and culture; great battles once took place in the valley, and ancient scholars carved poems into the rocks.

The Three Gorges Dam, constructed in part to prevent flooding further downstream, is a monumental achievement but one that has come at great cost. Entire towns have been relocated, and many cultural and archaeological points of interest have either already been submerged or are at risk. Many Yangtze River cruises end with a visit to the dam itself to appreciate the scale and challenge of this immense engineering project.

Yangtze shore excursions

Fengdu Ghost Town

Usually the first excursion on a Yangtze River cruise, Fengdu is hard to miss on the north bank. A vast statue of the ‘Ghost King’ carved into the Ming Mountain is the most attention grabbing attraction, while there are a number of sculptures, temples and pagodas that blend impressions of the afterlife with Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Shibao Pagoda

This 12-storey pagoda is bright red and leans against a steep hillside, an architectural achievement all the more impressive given it was apparently constructed with no nails. Legend has it the further you ascend in the pagoda the greater the chances of your wishes coming true, but given that involves climbing a series of rickety ladders you may feel it better to be satisfied with your lot.

White Emperor City

At the mouth of the Qutang Gorge, and so-named for the thick fog its founder, an official turned soldier named Gong Sunshu, encountered there in 25AD, the White Emperor City is also known as the ‘City of Poems’. Dotted with temples, pavilions and many other sights of cultural interest, the area has a tranquil, academic atmosphere.

Goddess Stream

Amazingly this astonishingly beautiful valley only came to wide attention in 2008 following the dam’s construction. Turbulent waters flow through lush scenery, overlooked by majestic mountain peaks. The primeval landscape and towering cliffs make the Goddess Stream a real natural stunner and a highlight of most Yangtze cruises.

Our top River cruising Vacation

China vacation and Yangtze river cruise

China vacation and Yangtze river cruise

A comprehensive China itinerary covering its length and breadth

From US $4079 19 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2023: 10 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about River cruising or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to take a Yangtze
River cruise

Most cruises operate between March and October, which is when you’ll enjoy the best weather, visibility and consequently, views.
The valleys of the Three Gorges section don’t see a great deal of sunshine, and they can often be windy too. In the summer, temperatures can reach around 30°C while rainfall is persistent heralding the start of flood season, with the potential for dramatic thunderstorms. Winter temperatures fall to around 10°C by January, and water levels are low so there are fewer boats on the river. The best time to take Yangtze River cruises then is generally considered to be either in the spring or the autumn, when the scenery is magnificent.

Life aboard ship

You will be traveling aboard a large 4-star cruise vessel, sleeping up to 400 passengers in en suite cabins. The ship itself is akin to a floating exhibition showcasing the Yangtze and the Three Gorges and Chinese culture such as with lessons in making tea. Most passengers are Chinese but you will find English speaking crew, and Western-style food is available onboard if you prefer it. Expect amenities including spa and massage facilities, spacious lounges, and laundry service.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kyla Duhamel] [Intro: Andrew Hitchcock] [Cruising the Three Gorges: Chensiyuan] [Fengdu Ghost Town: Gisling] [White Emperor City: Ekrem Canli] [Best time to go: cq19690527]