This two-week China getaway combines the nation's major tourist draws with cultural exchanges and even a family-friendly trip to an amusement park. It starts in Beijing, where you'll tour the Forbidden City plus take an excursion to the Great Wall. Next, you'll see the famous Terracotta Army of Xi'an, spend time with giant pandas in Chengdu, enjoy a riverboat excursion amid the limestone mountains of Guilin, and cap it all with a tour of modern Shanghai and a trip to Disneyland.

Highlights

  • Tour the Forbidden City in Beijing, then travel to the Great Wall
  • See the Terracotta Army of Xi'an
  • Visit a giant panda research facility in Chengdu
  • Take a cruise on the Li River in southern China
  • Relax and have fun at Disneyland in Shanghai

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Beijing Beijing
Day 2 Beijing City Tour Beijing
Day 3 Great Wall Guided Tour Beijing
Day 4 Visit the Temple of Heaven - Train from Beijing to Xi'an Xi'an
Day 5 See the Terracotta Army - Evening Cooking Experience Xi'an
Day 6 Visit Xi'an's Muslim Quarter - Train from Xi'an to Chengdu Chengdu
Day 7 Visit Leshan Giant Buddha Chengdu
Day 8 Chengdu Panda Base & City Tour - Fly to Guilin Guilin
Day 9 Li River Cruise to Yangshuo Yangshuo
Day 10 Cycling & Rafting Tour Near Yangshuo Yangshuo
Day 11 Country Village Tour - Fly from Guilin to Shanghai Shanghai
Day 12 City Tour of Shanghai Shanghai
Day 13 Family Day at Disneyland Shanghai Shanghai
Day 14 Departure from Shanghai  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Beijing

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. Or, if you're a bit jet-lagged, you can stay in, relax, and enjoy the hotel amenities.

Day 2: Beijing City Tour

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 known as the Imperial Palace Museum), which was constructed in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. You'll enter the gate and tour this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it will surely leave you awestruck. This vast complex is 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, give your legs a rest with a 30-minute pedicab tour through the hutongs of Beijing. Hutongs are narrow alleyways that crisscross through old neighborhoods in the city. Some of these are so ancient that they go as far back as 800 years to the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. There's a traditional Chinese folk culture here, and many people still live in the old houses that line the hutongs. Sadly, the hutongs are a fast disappearing sight as city developers move in to modernize these areas.

After the hutong tour, you'll return to the hotel and will have the rest of the day free. In the evening, head out for a special dinner of authentic Peking duck.

Day 3: Great Wall Guided Tour

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.

After visiting the Great Wall, you'll return to Beijing and your hotel. You'll then have the remainder of the day free.

Day 4: Visit the Temple of Heaven - Train from Beijing to Xi'an

The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven

In the morning, your guide will take you to the Temple of Heaven, one of Beijing's most famous landmarks. This complex sits on 670 acres (271 hectares) and is actually comprised of a few buildings. Construction began back in 1407 under the Yongle Emporer, who also commissioned the building of the Imperial City. For hundreds of years spanning the Ming and Qing Dynasties up until 1900, this was the main imperial temple where emperors prayed to heaven for a good harvest. 

Your guide will lead you on a tour of the complex. The first stop is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This large, three-tiered structure was where the emperors would come for annual prayer ceremonies. Other iconic buildings you'll visit include the Circular Mound Altar, which was the site of winter solstice ceremonies, and the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a circular building constructed in 1530 and which housed the stone tablets used in the harvest prayer ceremonies.

A visit to the Temple of Heaven is also great for people watching. Beyond being a collection of religious sites, it's also a park, and walking around the buildings you'll see locals enjoying playing chess, mahjong, and practicing Taichi. For more local flavor, after the temple, you can visit the Panjiayuan Market, Beijing's largest craft and antique market. Taking up six whole acres (2.5 hectares), this massive market features over 4,000 shops selling everything from Buddha statues antique furniture.

In the afternoon, you'll head to the railway station and hop on a bullet train for the approximately five-hour ride southwest to Xi'an. This city is notable for many things. With over 12 million residents, it's the most populous city in north-central China. It's also the oldest of the country's Four Great Ancient Capitals. It was founded way back in 202 BCE and has served as the capital city of 13 imperial dynasties. 

Perhaps most famously, Xi'an is home to the Terracotta Army. This massive collection of incredibly detailed, life-size clay sculptures depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang. He was the founder of the Qin Dynasty and the first emperor of China, reigning from 221 BCE to 210 BCE. Upon Qin's death, this clay army was buried with him so as to guard him in the afterlife. 

Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel for check-in. If you have the energy, head out to a local restaurant for dinner. In Xi'an you can sample various styles of Chinese cuisine, including Cantonese and Sichuan.

Specific items to try include Xi'an kebabs (chuan'er), mutton dumplings (suantang shuijiao), and Biang Biang noodles, which are broad, hand-stretched noodles often served with spicy chiles. Also not to be missed is roujiamo, similar to a hamburger and which consists of baked bread filled with braised, shredded meat.

Day 5: See the Terracotta Army - Evening Cooking Experience

The Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army

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. 

After touring the excavation pits, your tour guide will take you to nearby cave dwellings that were once used by local peasants and remain incredibly well-preserved. You'll then take part in a terracotta workshop and learn about the process that went into constructing the famous clay warriors. You'll even get tips on how to make replica statues yourself. 

Upon returning to Xi'an, you'll visit the home of a local family in time for dinner. Traditional dumplings are on the menu, and you'll learn how to prepare these delicious morsels. It's a fun cultural exchange fit for the whole family.

Day 6: Visit Xi'an's Muslim Quarter - Train from Xi'an to Chengdu

The Fortifications of Xi'an
The Fortifications of Xi'an

After breakfast, you'll head out and visit Xi'an's most historic sights. Your first stop is the city center and the famous Fortifications of Xi'an. These stone walls were commissioned in the late 14th century by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, to protect the city. They run a length of 8.7 miles (14 km) in a rectangular pattern and are the most well-preserved ancient walls in all of China. The best way to experience tour these ramparts is on a bicycle ride, which you can do if weather permits. 

Later you'll visit the city's historic Muslim Quarter. Located behind the ancient walls, the historic homes lining narrow streets here are home to Xi'an's Muslim, or Hui, community. It might come as a surprise, but Islam has been the most enduring of all faiths in this city. It was first introduced by Arab merchants during the Tang Dynasty and flourished during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).

One particularly impressive landmark you'll visit is The Great Mosque, which was built in 742 during the Tang Dynasty and is the largest mosque in China. It survived the Cultural Revolution virtually unscathed and remains an outstanding Chinese re-interpretation of an Islamic place of worship. Indeed, the facade looks more like a Chinese temple than any mosque you'll find in the Arab world. 

After touring the Muslim Quarter and enjoying lunch at a local restaurant, you'll head to the railway station and catch a four-hour train ride southwest to Chengdu. This city is the capital of China's Sichuan province, an area famous for many things, not least of which is its namesake chili peppers and mouth-on-fire cuisine.

Upon arrival at the train station, a guide will meet you for the transfer to your hotel. If you really want to test your foodie bonafides and tolerance for piquant food, head to a local restaurant for a dinner of spicy hot pot. This dish is a communal cauldron of rich broth spiked with merciless amounts of five-alarm-fire chili peppers.

Day 7: Visit Leshan Giant Buddha

Visit Leshan Giant Buddha
Visit Leshan Giant Buddha

After breakfast, you'll visit one of the most awe-inspiring sights on the planet: the  Leshan Giant Buddha. Located a couple of hours south of Chengdu at the confluence of the Min and Dadu rivers, this red sandstone monolith was first built in 713 ACE during the Tang Dynasty. And at 233 feet (71 meters) high it has the distinction of being the largest stone statue of Buddha in the world.

You'll transfer to the site by car, and upon arrival get out and follow a narrow path around the Buddha leading to its feet. To stand directly below this massive structure is an amazing experience that reveals its full size and scope. After hiking around the Buddha you'll then hop on a boat for a river cruise, which will give you great vantage points looking back at the statue from a distance. Naturally, throughout the day there will be plenty of opportunities to snap photos.

When the tour is complete, you'll drive back to the city and have the remainder of the day free. Perhaps head to downtown Chengdu and take a picture with the panda sculpture at Chengdu International Finance Square. At 49 feet (15 meters) tall, it is the largest giant panda sculpture in the world.

Day 8: Chengdu Panda Base & City Tour - Fly to Guilin

A group of pandas lounging around at Chengdu Panda Base
A group of pandas lounging around at Chengdu Panda Base

Besides spicy food, Sichuan is also known for giant pandas, whose native environment is the highland bamboo forests of central China. These threatened animals are the icons of the region, and about 6 miles (10 km) outside the city you'll find the Chengdu Panda Base. This is the largest non-profit panda research and breeding facility in the world.

Early in the morning, you'll hop in a car for the half-hour drive to the base. The goal of this non-profit is to replicate the living conditions of giant pandas and facilitate breeding, as this species is threatened in large part due to its low birth rate. The base also doubles as a zoo, with various enclosures and habitats home to around 50 giant pandas. This is on top of other rare and threatened animals, such as red pandas and the black-necked crane.

But it's the giant pandas that are the star attraction. This is the only place in the world to see so many of them in one place. The real surprise is what great climbers panda bears are. It's fascinating to see these rotund animals, which weigh around 250 pounds, shimmy up a tree and balance themselves precariously on a thin branch bending under the weight.

And if you're wondering why you need to arrive at the park at such an early hour, it's because pandas are notoriously lazy. Left to their own devices they'd prefer to do nothing but eat and sleep. This is a big reason for their low birth rate: they can't even get motivated for romance. Pandas are only really active in the morning around feeding times, and by afternoon most of them are sprawled out on the ground enjoying a snooze. 

After touring the panda base you'll return to Chengdu and embark on a tour. Sprinkled throughout this modern city are historic landmarks that harken back to ancient dynasties. You'll visit Wenshu Temple, a complex built in 1706 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Chengdu. However, a previous temple existed on the same site during the Sui Dynasty of 581–618.

Covering 13 acres (5 hectares), the monastery features five halls, a pagoda, and a library of ancient Buddhist texts. It's free to visit and open to the general public. You'll certainly see people on their knees in prayer and burning joss sticks at shrines.

Later, you'll transfer to the airport where you'll catch a nearly two-hour flight to the city of 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. Upon arrival at the airport in Guilin, a driver will transfer you to your hotel.

Day 9: Li River Cruise to Yangshuo

Bamboo rafts in Yangshuo
Bamboo rafts in Yangshuo

Guilin is a particularly beautiful city in China's south. Not only are there green mountains surrounding the metropolitan area, but there are four lakes in the city center that join with the Li and Peach Blossom rivers. For these reasons, the most scenic way to tour the city and its surrounding area is from the deck of a riverboat.

Today you'll do just that. In the morning, you'll take a cruise on a four-star riverboat down the Li River to the unspoiled rural region of Yangshuo County. During the scenic trip, you'll pass incredible scenery like towering limestone mountains, bamboo groves, traditional villages, and bucolic farmland dotted with grazing buffalo. The ship will stop at the small town Yangshuo, 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Guilin, where you'll disembark. 

From the dock, you'll transfer to your hotel for check-in, after which you can choose from a variety of activities. Perhaps take a cooking class and prepare traditional southern-Chinese cuisine; or sit down for a calligraphy and brush-painting lesson; and if you'd like to indulge your warrior spirit, there's always a kung-fu course. These activities are perfect for parents and kids alike.

Day 10: Cycling & Rafting Tour Near Yangshuo

Travel with a local fisherman down the Yulong River
Travel with a local fisherman down the Yulong River

After breakfast, you'll head outside of Yangshuo and hop on a bicycle for a countryside tour. It's a leisurely ride complimented by the incredible scenery of endless green rice paddies, grazing water buffalo, and local farming villages. It's a great opportunity to meet the residents of this rural region and withness their culture firsthand. Many have been farming the same land using the same methods for generations. 

After the bike tour, you'll join a local farmer for a one-hour ride down the Yulong River. This tributary of the Li is known for its tranquil, glassy waters, which makes it ideal for a leisurely trip by bamboo raft. Upon finishing the raft trip you'll sit down for a delicious local lunch.

After eating, you'll transfer by vehicle back to Yangshuo. Spend the remainder of the day relaxing by the pool.

Day 11: Country Village Tour - Fly from Guilin to Shanghai

Welcome to Shanghai
Welcome to Shanghai

After breakfast, you'll take a brisk, 30-40-minute hike on a country path to a small village home to the Zhuang ethnic minorities who live in the region. Here you'll visit a traditional wooden house that dates back over a hundred years. At the home, you'll get to chat with the woman who lives there and gain insight into the rich culture and rural lifestyle of the Zhuang, who practice traditional farming methods and make their own clothes. 

After the village excursion, you'll transfer to the airport in Guilin for the 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.

If you can't wait to discover the city's culture and entertainment options, you could visit an art gallery, take in an evening opera or acrobatic show, or revel in the diverse nightlife options that run the gamut from intimate lounge bars to thumping nightclubs. Or, if you're too jet-lagged, just enjoy dinner at one of the city's Michelin-starred restaurants before having a quiet night in the hotel and resting up for the day ahead.

Day 12: City Tour of Shanghai

Take a stroll in the Bund
Take a stroll in the Bund

Start the day with a visit to the Bund, a waterfront area in central Shanghai and 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 home to China's main banks and thus was a major financial center in Asia. There are dozens of historic buildings in the Bund, including the 1920s landmark Customs House and Shanghai Bank Building

You'll then get a glimpse into the near future with a stop at a store that is powered by artificial intelligence. The features at this retail outlet aim to blur the line between online and offline shopping, and features include self-checkout, digital inventories, facial recognition payments. After doing some shopping you'll take a break for lunch.

Later, you'll take a drive to Shanghai Tower, one of the icons of the Shanghai skyline. This 128-story mega skyscraper tops out at 2,073 feet (632 meters) and boasts the world's highest observation deck. It's a great vantage point from which to survey all of Shanghai sprawled out below.

After the tower, you'll head back to the hotel and will have the remainder of the day free.

Day 13: Family Day at Disneyland Shanghai

Disneyland Shanghai
Disneyland Shanghai

As it turns, out, the "Happiest Place on Earth" has more than one location—including one right here in Shanghai. After breakfast, your family will be chauffeured to the Shanghai branch of the Magic Kingdom, which opened in 2016. Take the whole day to relax and have fun while enjoying unique attractions specific to this particular locale, such as the "Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure" spectacle and the "Tron" ride.

Once the outing is over you won't have to travel far, as you and the family will overnight at the resort hotel next to the park.

Day 14: 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, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin & Shanghai Tour - 14 Days
Map of Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin & Shanghai Tour - 14 Days