China is a dream destination for many. This two-week adventure is the ultimate introduction to the world's oldest continuous civilization that is modernizing at a staggering pace. Starting in Beijing, you'll experience the best of this exhilarating capital before making your way to Shanghai with a range of scenic and cultural detours, plus a winter festival known for towering snow and ice sculptures.

Highlights

  • See the Forbidden City and walk along a popular section of the Great Wall
  • Experience the largest snow and ice festival in the world in Harbin
  • Get up close to the magnificent terra cotta warriors in Xi'an
  • Take a boat cruise along the mountainous Li River for serious photo ops
  • Explore Shanghai's best neighborhoods, gardens, and museums with a local guide

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Beijing Beijing
Day 2 Beijing City Tour: Architectural Highlights Beijing
Day 3 Beijing City Tour: Famous Historical Sites Beijing
Day 4 Fly from Beijing to Harbin Harbin
Day 5 Explore Harbin - Fly to Zhengzhou Zhengzhou
Day 6 Drive from Zhengzhou to Luoyang Luoyang
Day 7 Explore Longmen Grottoes - Train to Xi'an Xi'an
Day 8 Xi'an City Tour with Terra Cotta Warriors Xi'an
Day 9 Fly from Xi'an to Guilin Guilin
Day 10 Yangshuo Day-Trip  Guilin
Day 11 Fly from Guilin to Shanghai Shanghai
Day 12 Shanghai City Tour Shanghai
Day 13 Zhujiajiao Water Town Shanghai
Day 14 Depart Shanghai  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Beijing

The Forbidden City

Welcome to China! Upon arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport, a private driver will pick you up from the airport and transfer you to your hotel.  

Time and energy permitting, you can take a guided evening visit to Wangfujing Street, a vibrant shopping area and home to one of Beijing's famous night markets for a wide variety of shops, eateries, and boutiques, some of which are of world-famous brands. Despite its modernity and buzz—it is said that 600,000 people pass through here every day—there is also a slew of traditional stores which have been here for hundreds of years.

Day 2: Beijing City Tour: Architectural Highlights

The Great Wall of China

Today is an especially exciting day for those who have dreamed of experiencing the Great Wall of China. At the designated time, you'll be picked up from your hotel to drive 1.5 hours to the Mutianyu Great Wall—a section that's located in the Huairou District within the city limits of Beijing. Stretching over 5,500 miles long, the wall dates back to the 5th century when construction first started. These fortifications were built to protect the Chinese empire from invaders, and it remains an unmissable part of the overall China experience.

When you arrive at Mutianyu, you can ride the cable car up and then walk back down along the wall for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

From here, you'll drive to Beijing's Olympic Park to see a number of modern masterpieces built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, including the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube.

Day 3: Beijing City Tour: Famous Historical Sites

Tiananmen Square

Today, after breakfast at your hotel, you'll take a guided tour of some of Beijing's most famous historical sites. Your first stop is the Summer Palace with lakes, gardens, and palaces dating back to the Qing Dynasty. This was the royal family’s formal residence during the hot summer months, and you'll quickly see why they chose this beautiful area outside of Beijing to escape the heat.

From here, you'll visit the impressive Tiananmen Square where most of China's national ceremonies are held. From the square, you can walk to the splendid Forbidden City. This UNESCO-listed site is not only China's largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings but also the largest palace complex in the world. Prepare to be wowed by the sheer number of buildings with red walls and golden roofs. 

Next, you'll embark on a famous Rickshaw Hutong Tour & Family Visit. Hutongs are traditional alleyways that comprise Beijing’s old city planning. During the rickshaw ride, you'll experience a wonderful glimpse into yesterday’s world and the old way of life of traditional Beijing culture. Compared to more modern areas of the city, you can see the dramatic changes that Beijing has undergone in the last century.

Following the tour, you'll be returned to your hotel where you'll have the rest of the evening to enjoy on your own.

Day 4: Fly from Beijing to Harbin

× Harbin-Ice-Snow-Sculpture
Check out these sculptures after dark

Today, you'll take a flight from Beijing to the city of Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province. The city is known for its Russian architecture including the green-domed Saint Sophia Cathedral, as well as its ice sculptures at Sun Island Park, a recreational area on the Songhua River from the city, which features an expo of enormous snow sculptures.

Though some sculptures are available year round, it's best to come in the winter when the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival take place. This annual themed festival is now is the largest ice and snow festival in the world and it features illuminated buildings made from blocks of ice taken directly from the Songhua River. The park usually opens from late December to late February.

Day 5: Explore Harbin - Fly to Zhengzhou

A sculpture at Sun Island Park

This morning you'll have more time to continue exploring Harbin, including sights, activities, and events surrounding the festival. In the afternoon, you'll be transferred to the airport for your flight to Zhengzhou.

Upon arrival at your hotel, you can spend a little time exploring this ancient capital of the Henan Province along the Yellow River. Though it is rapidly modernizing, Zhengzhou dates back to Neolithic times. It's notable as the ancient Shang dynasty capital (walls still stand in the city center) and is home to the pyramid-shaped Henan Museum, with cultural exhibits from prehistory and early China include jade and musical instruments.

The metropolis also serves as a transport hub and access point for the Shaolin Temple, which you'll see the following day.

Day 6: Drive from Zhengzhou to Luoyang

Shaolin Temple
A performance at Shaolin Temple

This morning, you'll visit the Henan Museum built in 1927, one of the oldest and largest museums in China, before heading to the Shaolin Monastery. Known for countless Kung Fu films, the Shaolin Temple was founded in the 5th century and is a Chan Buddhist temple that has long been famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu. If time permits, you can watch the Shaolin Kongfu performance.

You can also stop at the Pagoda Forest, another highlight and graveyard of the Shaolin Temple. Housing the tombs of eminent monks from different historical periods, it is the largest pagoda forest in China. 

Afterward, it's a two-hour drive to Luoyang which lies in the west of Henan Province. Luoyang served as the center of politics, economy, and culture in China for 1,500 years and was the capital city since the Xia Dynasty (2070 to 1600 BC)—in fact, 105 emperors of 13 dynasties set their capitals in Luoyang during China’s history.

Day 7: Explore Longmen Grottoes - Train to Xi'an

Longmen Grottoes

Today, you'll start the day with a visit to Longmen Grottoes, one of China’s four ancient grottoes, which were built in the 5th century and took 400 years to complete. Longmen has the largest number of statues among the four grottoes with collections of the ancient Chinese art of calligraphy. In fact, UNESCO states that the site is "an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity" and includes the Longmen Grottoes on its World Heritage List. 

From here, you'll take the bullet train to the city of Xi'an (around 2 hours), home of the Terra Cotta Warriors and its living history museum, which is chock full of historical and cultural relics. Upon arrival in Xi'an, you'll be picked up at the station and transferred to your hotel.

Day 8: Xi'an City Tour with Terra Cotta Warriors

Get up close to the famous Terra Cotta Army

Today, you will be driven to the outskirts of Xi'an to marvel at the Qin Terra Cotta Warriors. This collection contains thousands of terra cotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE whose sole purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. Notice how the sculptures have unique facial expressions and are positioned according to rank. Though the warriors and their weapons are mostly gray tones, look for patches of paint that hint at once brightly colored clothes. On this morning excursion, you'll also see skilled artisans at work at a terracotta factory. 

From here, you will return to the city and visit the modern Xi'an Historical Museum, called the pearl of ancient dynasties and house of Chinese treasures. While here, you can take a free calligraphy class and also pay a short visit to Small Wild Goose Pagoda, one of two important Buddhist sites dating back to the Tang Dynasty, 1300 years ago.  

To finish the day, you'll see the fountain show at Big Goose Pagoda Square (this is the big sister to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda you'll see earlier today). The square holds the largest fountain in Asia, and the nightly show combines music, water, and lighting for a spectacular event.

Day 9: Fly from Xi'an to Guilin

Reed Flute Cave

Today it's time to say goodbye to Xi'an! At the designated time, a driver will transfer you to the airport for your flight to the next destination: Guilin.  

Upon arrival, a guide and driver will pick you up for the excursion to Reed Flute Cave. Inside this water-eroded cave are a spectacular world of various stalactites, stone pillars, and rock formations created by carbonate deposition. As you walk through these fascinating surroundings, feast your eyes on the minute details and bigger panoramas and expect a sense of magic (some describe it as a place built for the Gods).

From Reed Flute Cave, you'll drive to Elephant Trunk Hill. This unique rock is shaped like an elephant nose, which extends into the river as if its drinking water straight from the river like a real elephant would do.

Day 10: Yangshuo Day-Trip 

Riverboat cruise

This morning, you'll be picked up for a day trip into Yangshuo County. The excursion starts with a memorable boat cruise along the Li River, where you'll experience the most beautiful area of the region—a landscape that unfolds like a scroll belonging to a Chinese ink painting.

After a rest, you will continue onwards and visit a rock formation named Moon Hill, as well as Big Banyan Tree, which has survived wind and rain over the centuries since it was planted nearly 1500 years ago. A shuttle bus will be arranged.

At the end of the afternoon, you'll return to Guilin and stay overnight. 

Day 11: Fly from Guilin to Shanghai

Yuyuan Garden

After breakfast in Guilin, you'll be transferred to the airport for your flight to Shanghai! Upon arrival, you'll take a train from Pudong airport to the city center. 

Once you're settled in your hotel, a good place to start in Shanghai is the Yuyuan Garden (nicknamed 'Yu'). Dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the site was owned by a government officer named Pan Yunduan who built the garden for his parents as a tranquil place for them in their old age. Present day, this picturesque area attracts visitors and locals alike who come for the manicured gardens, handcrafts and souvenirs, and restaurants serving traditional items like Shanghai-style fried noodles, dumplings, and steam buns. You can also see the sophisticated design and fine layout of pavilions, halls, rockeries, ponds, and cloisters. 

If there's time, take a walking tour of The Bund to enjoy spectacular views of Shanghai's Financial District, especially after dark. While here, walk along the picturesque avenues and check out cafes and restaurants, bars and breweries, clothing boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores.

Day 12: Shanghai City Tour

Nanjing Road

After breakfast, you'll embark on a full-day excursion with a local guide starting with the Shanghai Museum, which specializes in ancient artworks of China, especially bronze ware, chinaware, calligraphies, and paintings. Rebuilt in 1996, the site is considered one of China's first world-class modern museums. 

If you haven't experienced it on your first day, this is your chance to visit Yuyuan Garden's charming walkways, bazaars, and eateries. You'll also visit the Jade Buddha Temple—the most famous Buddhist temple in Shanghai, built between 1911 and 1918, housing 70 resident monks. Its exterior is a sight to behold, while inside, the centerpiece is a 6.5-foot-high (2 m) white jade sitting Buddha encrusted with jewels. 

Afterward, take a walking tour of Nanjing Road the main shopping street of Shanghai and one of the world's busiest shopping streets. You'll end the day with an elevator ride to the top of the TV Tower for an amazing view over Shanghai.

Day 13: Zhujiajiao Water Town Boat Tour

Aptly named a "water town"

Today's itinerary includes a day-trip through the city's outskirts, with a focus on Zhujiajiao—an ancient water town established 1700 year ago in the Qingpu District, where you'll take an educational and scenic boat tour. 

You'll also visit one of Shanghai's silk-spinning mills to learn how silk is created from mulberry-munching silkworms to produce the nest thread and cloth.

On your way back to Shanghai's city center, you'll visit the French Concession and Tianzifang area, a historical quarter that has evolved into a modern leisure area with interesting coffee shops. 

Day 14: Depart Shanghai

Goodbye, Shanghai!

It's time to say goodbye to China! At the designated time, you'll be picked up from your hotel in Shanghai and transferred to the airport for your departure home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Beijing to Shanghai Winter Tour - 14 Days
Map of Beijing to Shanghai Winter Tour - 14 Days
Alice
Written by Alice Fu, updated May 28, 2019