This seven-day trip to China covers three historic and beautiful areas that couldn't be more different. You'll arrive in Beijing, and tour landmarks from its imperial past, like the Forbidden City and Great Wall. Then you're off to the south of the country for river tours amid the limestone mountains of Yangshuo followed by some relaxation in the modern metropolis of Shanghai.

Highlights

  • See the Imperial City in Beijing
  • Take a walk on the Great Wall of China
  • Enjoy a rafting trip down the tranquil Li River
  • Visit ancient gardens in Shanghai

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Beijing - Stroll Wangfujing Street Beijing
Day 2 Great Wall Guided Tour & Olympic Park Beijing
Day 3 Forbidden City Tour - Fly to Guilin Guilin
Day 4 Yangshuo Day Trip Yangshuo
Day 5 Tour Reed Flute Cave - Fly from Guilin to Shanghai Shanghai
Day 6 Shanghai City Tour Shanghai
Day 7 Departure from Shanghai  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Beijing - Stroll Wangfujing Street

The Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City, Beijing

Welcome to China!

With a population of over 21 million people, Beijing is the most densely populated capital city in the world. As one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, this metropolis has been the seat of power in the country for eight centuries. It's home to expansive historic landmarks like the Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven, which date all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Also here is the Summer Palace, a lakeside royal retreat and imperial garden during the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911).

However, Beijing is also a shining example of modernity. Some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world exist here. Also, new developments, high-rise apartments, and shopping malls all but engulf historic hutong alleyways and ancient courtyard houses. This city is a megalopolis hurtling towards the future while keeping one foot firmly in the past, and you'll discover its highlights. 

Upon arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport, you'll meet your private guide at the arrival hall and transfer to your hotel in downtown Beijing. After check-in, you'll have the remainder of the day free to head out and explore. Time and energy permitting, you can take a guided tour in the evening to Wangfujing Street, a buzzing shopping area home to one of Beijing's most famous night markets. Here you can snack on street food galore.

Day 2: Great Wall Guided Tour & Olympic Park

The Great Wall of China
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 easily 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 along the wall 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: Forbidden City Tour - Fly to Guilin

Forbidden City
Forbidden City

In the morning, you'll meet your guide and driver in the hotel lobby and embark on a grand tour of Beijing. It begins in the heart of the city at Tiananmen Square, the world's largest city square. Built in 1651 and progressively enlarged over the centuries, this massive public space is surrounded by government buildings. These include the Great Hall of the People, National Museum of China, and the mausoleum of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. 

You'll see an enormous portrait of Chairman Mao on the square's north end at Tiananmen Gate. This is the entrance to the Forbidden City (officially the Imperial Palace Museum), which was constructed in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. You'll enter and tour this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will surely leave you awestruck. It's a vast complex as big as a neighborhood and has a long history: it served as the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty in 1420 through the Qing Dynasty in 1912.  

A walking tour of the Forbidden City takes at least a couple hours. This ensures you see the majority of its some 980 buildings spread across 180 acres (72 hectares). Among other things, you'll see the 32-foot (10-meter) high city walls, the Imperial Garden, ceremonial rooms, emperor's living quarters, and galleries featuring ancient imperial artifacts. You can expect crowds, too, as the Imperial City hosts a staggering 80,000 visitors per day. 

In the afternoon, you'll transfer to the airport and catch a three-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. 

Day 4: Yangshuo Day Trip

Cruise down the Li River
Cruise down the Li River

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 5: Tour Reed Flute Cave - Fly from Guilin to Shanghai

Shanghai's famous skyline
Shanghai's famous skyline

In the morning you'll take a tour of 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.

Then, 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, dynamic city that offers great food, historic sights, and plenty of high-end shopping. A good start is to visit a section of the waterfront known as the French Concession. It was controlled by the French from 1849 to 1943 and is known for its wide, leafy boulevards. Today it's a bohemian enclave abounding with boutiques, wine bars, breweries, cafés, and trendy restaurants.

You can also visit Tianzifang. This is another artsy area comprised of maze-like alleyways and lined with cool bars and restaurants, galleries, artisanal craft shops, and cafés. You'll have the evening free to hang out in these neighborhoods or stay in and relax in your hotel.

Day 6: Shanghai City Tour

Yu Garden
Yu Garden

After breakfast, you'll visit the historic Yu Garden. "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 itself. Other impressive design elements include pavilions, ponds, tea houses, rockeries, cloisters, and covered bridges.

Next, you'll head to the Shanghai Museum, located in the upscale Huangpu District at People's Square. This modern building houses China's foremost collection of ancient artifacts dating from Neolithic times. There are over 120,000 items that include bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy, and jade items. Also here are paintings, sculptures, and even furniture dating to the Ming and Qing dynasty.  

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 7: Departure from Shanghai

Farewell, China
Farewell, China

At the scheduled time, your guide and driver will transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. This concludes your grand China adventure. See you soon!

Map

Map of Beijing, Guilin, & Shanghai - 7 Days
Map of Beijing, Guilin, & Shanghai - 7 Days
Alice
Written by Alice Fu, updated Feb 12, 2020