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

Highlights

  • Tour the Forbidden City and walk along the Great Wall of China
  • Experience the world's largest snow and ice festival at Harbin
  • See the magnificent Terracotta Army in Xi'an
  • Cruise down the tranquil Li River and enjoy the mountain scenery
  • Explore Shanghai's coolest neighborhoods and historic gardens

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 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 that have been here for hundreds of years.

Day 2: Beijing City Tour: Architectural Highlights

The Great Wall of China

You're in for a treat as today you'll visit one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: the Great Wall of China. Because this ancient fortification is so massive, it's separated into various sections open to visitors. The area you'll be visiting is Mutianyu, one of the best-preserved portions of the Great Wall. Located 40 miles (64 km) north of Beijing, it was built in 1368 ACE by Xu Da, a general in the army of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

This section of wall stretches for 13 miles (22 km) and is comprised of 22 stone watchtowers. Sitting atop steep hills blanketed in rich green pines and cypress trees, the views from here on a clear day are nothing short of breathtaking. Walking these ramparts you'll understand how this landmark became a prominent symbol of China's history and heritage.

When you arrive at Mutianyu, you can ride the cable car up to the ramparts and then hike back down for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After the visit, you'll transfer back to Beijing and visit a landmark of China's recent history: Olympic Park. This complex was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics and includes a number of interesting buildings including the Bird's Nest (National Stadium) and Water Cube (aquatics center).

Day 3: Beijing City Tour: Famous Historical Sites

Tiananmen Square

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll take a guided tour of some of Beijing's most famous sights. 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 Heritage 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.

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 at the north end of the city and 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 a bit more free time to explore Harbin and enjoy more sights and activities related to the festival. In the afternoon, you'll transfer to the airport for your three-hour flight to Zhengzhou, the capital of eastern China's Henan province.

Bordering the Yellow River, Zhengzhou is one of the nation's Eight Ancient Capital Cities and one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization. It dates back an incredible 3,600 years and was the capital of various Chinese dynasties beginning with the Shang Dynasty (1766–1050 BCE). Also, just west of Zhengzhou is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Shaolin kung fu.

Zhengzhou is also a major transport and economic hub. Its railway connects to Europe, and it's the home of China's first securities exchange, the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange. Also here is the pyramid-shaped Henan Museum, which displays cultural exhibits from prehistory and early China, including jade artifacts and musical instruments.

Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel for check-in. You'll then have the remainder of the evening free.

Day 6: Drive from Zhengzhou to Luoyang

Shaolin Temple
A performance at Shaolin Temple

After breakfast, you'll visit the Henan Museum. Built in 1927, this is one of the oldest and largest museums in China and is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the Yellow River Basin. To this end, it houses over 130,000 cultural artifacts that date back centuries.

Among other exhibits, it features an impressive collection of jade artifacts dating from the neolithic age through the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE), Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE), Han Dynasty (221–206 BCE), and later. Prized items include pendants, ornaments, and even jade clothing found in the tomb of King Liang of the Han Dynasty. The museum also showcases various pottery, porcelain, and bronze relics of many dynasties plus natural history exhibits of dinosaur bones and fossils. 

After visiting the museum, you'll transfer a couple of hours west to Shaolin Temple, which is located at the foot of Shaoshi Mountain, the central peak of the Song Mountains. This historic monastery was built in the year 495 ACE and is famous for being both the birthplace of the Chan school of Buddhism (Shaolin's official religion) and Quan, which is Shaolin Kung Fu. It is the main temple of the Shaolin school of Buddhism and martial arts and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. 

As for kung fu, Shaolin monks first began developing their own fighting style beginning in the late 6th century. This incorporated various elements, including boxing techniques, spears, staffs, and swordsmanship. The monks used these fighting skills to repel bandits and invaders, and by the 16th century martial arts was a daily part of monastic life at the temple. Today, Shaolin Temple is home to the largest kung fu Academy in the country and has been featured in numerous martial arts films.

On a tour of Shaolin Temple, you'll visit the various halls as well as the impressive shanmen (temple gate). If time permits, you can even watch a live Shaolin kung fu performance. You'll also stop at the Pagoda Forest. Located at the west end of Shaolin Temple and spread over about five acres, this is the largest grouping of pagodas (over 230 of them) in China. The area is actually a necropolis, as these historic landmarks are the tombs of eminent monks from different historical periods. 

Afterward, it's a two-hour drive to Luoyang which lies in western Henan Province where the Luo and Yellow River meet. The city is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China (along with Beijing, Nanjing, and Xi'an) and is regarded as the cradle of Chinese civilization. It was the capital of 13 ancient dynasties beginning with the Xia Dynasty (2070–1600 BCE) and was overseen by 105 emperors total, meaning it was the center of politics, economy, and culture in China for 1,500 years.

Upon arrival in Luoyang, you'll check into your hotel and will have the remainder of the day free.

Plan your trip to China
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

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

Longmen Grottoes

You'll start the day with a visit to Longmen Grottoes. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates to 493 ACE and is comprised of 2,300 caves carved out of limestone cliffs along the Yi River. Besides the caves, there are 118,000 stone Buddha statues, 2,800 inscriptions on steles, and 60 Buddhist stupas.

Creating the Longmen Grottoes was an ongoing process, with the actual carving occurring between the Wei Dynasty of the late fifth century to the Tang Dynasty in the mid-18th century. All in all, the project took 400 years to complete.

From here, you'll take a two-hour ride on the bullet train to the city of Xi'an, home of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors, a living history museum chock full of historical and cultural relics. Upon arrival in Xi'an, a driver will pick you up at the station and transfer you to your hotel.

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

See the famous Terra Cotta Army up close

A car will meet you in the morning at your hotel for the one hour drive east of Xi'an to Mount Li, home to the Terracotta Army Museum and the famous life-size warrior sculptures.

The excavation site where these earthen statues were found is part of a larger necropolis: the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He was the founder of the Qin Dynasty and died in 210 BCE. This enormous site covers approximately 38 square miles (98 square km), and its discovery in 1974 represents one of the most important archeological finds of the 20th century. 

The terracotta warrior sculptures were created to be symbolic guardians of Qin's burial tomb and thus protect his spirit in the afterlife. And the hundreds of thousands of artisans and government workers tasked with building them spared no expense. They created thousands of figures, all incredibly detailed and distinct according to their roles within the army.
 
Touring the massive excavation pits, you'll see various warriors, chariots, and cavalry figures. Originally, they were positioned around the burial mound as if on guard and standing at attention in a military formation. There are also non-military figures in certain excavation pits that represent musicians and even acrobats. 

You'll break for lunch then drive back to Xi'an and head to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, a well-preserved example of Xi'an's rich history. It's a seven-story Buddhist pagoda made of solid brick and was constructed in 652 ACE.  As for the unique name, it derives from a Buddhist legend of a "giant wild goose" that fell out of the air dead in front of a group of monks. Supposedly this was a sign telling the monks to be more pious, so they built a pagoda on the very spot where they found the goose.  

On a tour, you can head into the pagoda and walk up the twisting stair, stopping at every floor to peer out the windows for prime views overlooking Xi'an. inside, the walls are adorned with 7th-century Buddha statues engraved by Yan Libe, the famed Chinese painter who lived during the Tang Dynasty.

Leading from the pagoda is the Great Tang All Day Mall. Covering 160 acres  (64 hectares), this is one of the longest and widest pedestrian tourist streets and outdoor malls in the world. It's also a comprehensive cultural center done in the style of the Tang Dynasty. Here you'll find plenty of shopping, dining, and entertainment options as well as recreation activities. There are many cultural offerings too, including impressive sculptures. 

After touring the Pagoda and Great Tang All Day Mall, you'll return to your hotel and will have the evening free.

Day 9: Fly from Xi'an to Guilin

Reed Flute Cave

In the morning, you'll transfer to the airport for the two-hour flight to Guilin. Located in southern China towards Hong Kong, the area around Guilin is known for its subtropical climate, tranquil rivers, and beautiful rural landscapes abounding with green karst mountains. 

Your tour of this incredible region begins right away. Upon arrival in Guilin, a guide will pick you up for the half-hour drive to Reed Flute Cave. This massive limestone cavern was named after the reeds that grow outside of it, which locals do indeed use to make flutes. Inside, the cave is a veritable wonderland of rock formations, stalactites, and stalagmites, which are lit up in a dizzying array of colors via artificial lighting.

Your guide will then drive you to Elephant Trunk Hill, which is located at the confluence of the Taohua River and Li River. This unique rock formation extends into the river in the shape of an elephant appearing to have its head bowed and drinking water. After visiting Elephant Trunk Hill, you'll transfer to your hotel in Guilin for check-in.

Day 10: Yangshuo Day-Trip 

Riverboat cruise

This morning, you'll leave your hotel for a day trip just south of Guilin in Yangshuo County. The excursion starts with a memorable boat cruise along the Li River. It's a leisurely ride complimented by the incredible scenery of endless green rice paddies, grazing water buffalo, and local farming villages. 

After a break for lunch, you'll continue down the river and visit a rock formation named Moon Hill, which features a near-perfectly formed natural archway. You'll also visit another natural highlight of the region, Big Banyan Tree. Located near Gaotian Village, this iconic tree which has survived the elements ever since it was planted nearly 1500 years ago. 

When the tour is over, you'll transfer by vehicle back to Guilin, where you can spend the remainder of the day relaxing by the pool.

Day 11: Fly from Guilin to Shanghai

Yuyuan Garden

At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport in Guilin and catch a two-hour flight to Shanghai, a global economic powerhouse and historic port city on the Yangtze Delta. A guide will meet you upon arrival at the airport and transfer you to your hotel for check-in. After unpacking, you can head out and explore. Shanghai is a modern city that offers great food, high-end shopping, and historic sights.

A good start is Yu Garden, located in the city center. "Yu" translates to "pleasing and satisfying," and the five acres that comprise this historic green space embody those traits perfectly. Dating back over 400 years to the Ming Dynasty, the landscaping features exotic flora like spring bamboo and a ginkgo tree as old as the garden. Other sights here include pavilions, ponds, tea houses, rockeries, cloisters, and covered bridges.

If there's time, head to the Bund for epic views of Shanghai's skyline. This waterfront area features one of the most impressive promenades in Asia. The Bund has a long and storied history, as it was here that the British, Americans, and French set up trading settlements in the 19th century. By the 1940s the Bund was a major financial center in Asia. There are dozens of historic buildings here, including the 1920s landmark Customs House and Shanghai Bank Building

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 didn't experience it on your first day, this is your chance to visit Yu Garden's charming walkways, bazaars, and eateries. You'll also visit the Jade Buddha Temple—the most famous Buddhist temple in Shanghai. It was built between 1911 and 1918 and 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 commercial street of Shanghai and one of the world's busiest shopping districts. You'll end the day with an elevator ride to the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower for amazing views over Shanghai from 1,152 feet (351 meters).

Day 13: Zhujiajiao Water Town Boat Tour

Aptly named a "water town"

In the morning you'll head to the river lands of western Shanghai and tour the beautiful water town of Zhujiajiao by boat. Regarded as the "Venice of China," Zhujiajiao is an ancient city sitting on tranquil canals and whose origins date back over 1,700 years. It's filled with historic courtyard homes and old stone bridges arching over waterways lined with willow trees. 

After touring Zhujiajiao, you'll return to Shanghai and next visit the historic neighborhood of Tianzifang. This newly restored section of the French Concession area of Shanghai has evolved into a modern, trendy, and artistic area. It abounds with cool cafés, bars, restaurants, boutiques, and galleries. Beyond walking the streets and enjoying a coffee or two, you can browse silk shops and even visit a silk factory to see how this material is made from silkworm cocoons. 

Later you'll return to your hotel and will have the remainder of the evening free.

Day 14: Depart Shanghai

Goodbye, Shanghai!

It's time to say goodbye to China! At the designated time, you'll transfer to the airport for your departure flight. 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 Jan 24, 2020