Over 10 days you'll experience ancient capitals of China like Beijing and Xi'an, which are regarded as the cradles of Chinese civilization. Beyond touring historic sights like Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall, you'll visit the thousands of Terracotta Warriors at Xi'an. Capping this trip is a five-star cruise down the Yangtze River followed by a couple of days in Shanghai, a modern metropolis with limitless options for fun and adventure.

Highlights

  • Tour Beijing's historic highlights, like the Forbidden City
  • Walk along the Great Wall of China
  • See the famous Terracotta Army in Xi'an
  • Take a five-star cruise down the Yangtze River
  • See both the modern and ancient sides of 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 Beijing City Tour - Train to Xi'an Xi'an
Day 4 See the Terracotta Army - Xi'an Culture Tour Xi'an
Day 5 Xi'an Bike Tour - Train to Chongqing - Three Gorges Cruise: Day 1 Yangtze River Cruise - Day 1
Day 6 Three Gorges Cruise: Day 2 Yangtze River Cruise - Day 2
Day 7 Three Gorges' Cruise - Day 3 Yangtze River Cruise - Day 3
Day 8 Three Gorges Cruise: Day 4 - Train to Shanghai Shanghai
Day 9 Shanghai City Tour & Oriental Pearl Tower Shanghai
Day 10 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: Beijing City Tour - Train to Xi'an

Tiananmen Gate
Tiananmen Gate

In the morning, you'll head to the heart of Beijing and 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 each day. 

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. 

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.

Day 4: See the Terracotta Army - Xi'an Culture Tour

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 the Terracotta Army Museum, you'll drive back to Xi'an and visit the Shaanxi History Museum. This impressive museum is located in a Confucian temple and is home to 370,000 artifacts spanning the Zhou to Tang periods (1100 BCE to 907 ACE).

You can then head to the adjacent Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. This seven-story Buddhist pagoda is 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.  

In the evening, you're in for a treat when you see the Tang Dynasty Show, This two-hour performance showcases the history and culture of the prosperous Tang Dynasty (618 to 907) through music and interpretive dance. After the show, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 5: Xi'an Bicycle Tour - Train to Chongqing - Three Gorges Cruise: Day 1

The ancient walls of Xi'an
The ancient walls of Xi'an

After breakfast, you'll head out and visit 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. 

Afterward, you'll transfer to Xi'an's railway station and board a high-speed train for the 5-to-7-hour ride south to Chongqing. This immense metropolis is home to 30 million people and sits at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. The waterfront location is important, as it's from Chongqing that you'll embark on a multi-day river cruise downstream, heading east on the Yangtze to the city of Yichang.

The route passes incredible landmarks both natural and man-made. There's the titular three river gorges—Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge, and Xiling Gorge—plus the Three Gorges Dam. This dam enjoys the distinction of being the world's largest hydroelectric power facility. 

Upon arrival in Chongqing, you'll have dinner at a local restaurant and then board the ship. It is a five-star riverboat that's part of the Victoria Cruises fleet of ships. This is an American company (ensuring nothing gets lost in translation) with modern amenities featuring the utmost in comfort. You'll overnight in your cabin and the next morning the ship will get underway.

Day 6: Three Gorges Cruise: Day 2

Cruising the Yangtze River
Cruising the Yangtze River

The riverboat will pull ashore in the morning and you'll get to stretch your legs on a walking excursion to Shibaozhai. This steep, craggy hill on the banks of the Yangtze is known for the Buddhist temple that sits atop it. Access to the temple is via an impressive nine-story wooden pagoda. It's appropriately named The Pearl of the Yangtze because it's one of the largest wooden temples in the region.

You may also embark on an alternate excursion to Fengdu, a rebuilt city now located high on Ming Mountain. The old Fengdu was situated lower on the mountainside and was just one of over 1,500 regional cities, towns, and villages that were deliberately submerged due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 2003. The around 1.3 million locals who were uprooted during the building of this dam project are a testament to the high human cost of such an ambitious energy project. 

Also left behind during the relocation was the Fengdu "Ghost City." When locals left their homes they also left their temples, shrines, and monasteries dedicated to the Chinese afterlife. It's an impressive complex of ancient buildings that dates back 2,000 years. Time permitting, you'll be able to tour this historic site as well.

Day 7: Three Gorges' Cruise - Day 3

Sunset over Wu Gorge
Sunset over Wu Gorge

After traveling down the scenic Yangtze and hiking around stunning riverside landmarks, today you'll visit the three gorges that are the namesake of this river cruise.

You'll first enter Qutang Gorge. Running five miles/8 km, Qutang is the shortest of the three and also the narrowest at 500 feet/152 meters clearance. Qutang is also the most dramatic. The 1,150-foot (350-meter) high river cliffs at the western entrance form what's called the Kuimen Gate, an image so beautiful it's featured on China's 10 yuan banknote. Beyond that, Qutang is lined with steep mountains whose peaks top out at almost 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). Also here are temples dating to the Ming and Qing dynasties.    

Next up is Wu Gorge. This 25-mile (40-km) ravine is known for its forest-covered mountains and cliffs even steeper than Qutang. Many regard this as the most beautiful of the gorges because of the tributaries here that run from the Yangtze through unspoiled countryside. You'll get to travel these waterways when you transfer to a smaller vessel for an excursion down either the Shennong or Goddess streams. Keep your camera close as you'll travel over tranquil emerald waters and amid virgin forests. 

Finally, you'll enter Xiling Gorge, which at 41 miles/65 km is the longest of the three gorges. It's so big that within Xiling are many smaller gorges that are also scenic and beautiful. Most famously, the eastern end of Xiling Gorge is home to the Three Gorges Dam, which is the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world.

Before the day is over you'll also have the option to embark on a shore excursion to White Emperor City, an ancient city overlooking the western end of Qutang Gorge and dates all the way back to the late Han Dynasty (221–207 BCE).

Day 8: Three Gorges Cruise: Day 4 - Train to Shanghai

The Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam

Today, you'll arrive at your final destination, the city of Yichang. Here you'll cap your grand river adventure with a tour of an impressive example of human ingenuity, the Three Gorges Dam. This hydroelectric facility spans the Yangtze River and has been the world's largest power station in terms of installed capacity and electricity production since 2012.

After visiting the dam, you'll arrive at the pier in Yichang. Your guide and driver will then pick you up and transfer you to the Yichang railway station, where you'll catch a high-speed train for the 7.5-hour ride east to Shanghai. Upon arrival in Shanghai, another guide and driver will pick you up for the transfer to your hotel.

Day 9: Shanghai City Tour & Oriental Pearl Tower

Yu Garden
Yu Garden

After breakfast, you'll embark on a full-day excursion with a local guide. Your first stop is 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.  

Next, you'll visit the nearby 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.

You'll then stop at the Jade Buddha Temple, which is the most famous Buddhist temple in Shanghai. It was originally built in 1882 to house two large statues of Buddha sculpted from pure white jade. One, a Buddha in a sitting position, is 6.4-feet (2-meters) tall and weighs three tons; the other, a reclining Buddha, is 3-feet (1-meter) long. The original temple was destroyed during the fall of the Qing Dynasty, but the statues were saved and the temple that exists today was built over the same site in 1928.   

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 10: 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 China's Highlights & Yangtze River Cruise - 10 Days
Map of China's Highlights & Yangtze River Cruise - 10 Days