Hit the ground running on this short but immersive cultural exploration of China that begins in Beijing, the evocative capital. Discover the artifacts and architecture at the Forbidden City, and meet locals in the ancient, winding hutongs. Spend a day hiking along the famous Great Wall before taking a train down to the ancient capital of Xi'an, where you'll visit the world-renowned Terracotta Army, learn the art of calligraphy, and walk along one of the oldest city walls in China.


  • Sample China's most famous dish, Peking duck, in Beijing
  • Take a pedicab through Beijing's ancient alleyways or "hutongs"
  • Hike along the ancient stones of the Great Wall with its mountain views
  • Meet the stone warriors of the famous Terracotta Army near Xi'an

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Beijing, Peking Duck Experience Beijing
Day 2 Tour Tiananmen Square & Forbidden City, See the City's Traditional Hutongs Beijing
Day 3 Hike Along the Great Wall of China Beijing
Day 4 Explore a Local Market & the Temple of Heaven, Transfer to Xi'an Xi'an
Day 5 Discover the Terracotta Army, Calligraphy Workshop Xi'an
Day 6 Explore Xi'an: Ancient City Wall, Drum Tower & Muslim Quarter, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Beijing, Peking Duck Experience

Temple of Heaven
Once you arrive in Beijing, head to a local restaurant to sample the famous Peking duck

Welcome to China! Once you arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport, meet your driver for a private transfer into Beijing, the world's most densely populated capital city. As one of China's Four Great Ancient Capitals, this metropolis has been the seat of power in the country for eight centuries. After check-in at your downtown hotel, you'll have the remainder of the day free to head out and explore epic sights, including the Temple of Heaven or the Summer Palace

Later in the day, your guide will take you to a nearby restaurant for a traditional Peking duck dinner. A staple in Beijing cuisine for centuries, this royal dish of slow-roasted duck is served with paper-thin pancakes, thinly sliced scallions, and cucumbers, and drizzled with hoisin sauce. The resulting combination of tender meat, crunchy skin, and fresh vegetables is uniquely delicious and a must-try in Beijing. 

Day 2: Tour Tiananmen Square & Forbidden City, See the City's Traditional Hutongs

Beijing's Forbidden City has 9,999 rooms
Explore  ornate architecture and artifacts at the Forbidden City

In the morning, you'll meet your guide and driver in the hotel lobby and embark on a grand tour of Beijing, beginning at the famous Tiananmen Square, the world's largest city square. This massive public space, dating to the 15th century, is surrounded by government buildings, including the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the mausoleum of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. 

Walk through the square to the enormous portrait of Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Gate, the entrance to the Forbidden City, constructed in 1415 CE during the Ming Dynasty. Tour the vast, UNESCO-listed complex that served as the Chinese imperial palace from 1420 (Ming Dynasty) to 1912 (Qing Dynasty). For several hours, you'll wander among the 980 buildings spread across 180 acres (72 ha) and visit the Imperial Garden, former living quarters, and galleries featuring ancient imperial artifacts.

In the afternoon, rest your legs with a 30-minute pedicab tour through the hutongs of Beijing. Hutongs are narrow alleyways that crisscross through old neighborhoods in the city, some dating back 800 years. There's a traditional Chinese folk culture here, and many people still live in the old houses, called siheyuans, that line the hutongs. After the hutong tour, visit one of these traditional courtyard residences to meet some of the local families still inhabiting these ancient dwellings.

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

Day 3: Hike Along the Great Wall of China

Jinshanling the Great Wall
Enjoy incredible views as you walk along the Great Wall

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. You'll be visiting 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 the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

This wall section stretches for 13 miles (22 km) and comprises 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. Enjoy a moderate hike along the wall for two to six hours, depending on your chosen route.

After visiting the Great Wall, you'll return to Beijing via Changling Tomb, the final resting place of the Ming-era Yongle Emperor (Zhu Di) and his empress, Xushi. The largest Ming tomb near Tianshou Mountain, it's particularly famous for its exceptionally preserved Ling'en Hall (Hall of Eminent Favor), made from rare Chinese cedarwood.

Day 4: Explore a Local Market & the Temple of Heaven, Transfer to Xi'an

Temple of Heaven
Tour the epic Temple of Heaven before hopping a train to Xi'an

Today, meet your guide and discover the bustling Chaowai Morning Market in central Chaoyang. The daily market, which opens at dawn, sells everything from shoes to fresh fruit, tailoring services to street food specialties. Immerse yourself in the busy lanes lined with stalls and haggle with locals for souvenirs or snacks.

After the market, your guide will take you to the Temple of Heaven. This historic, 13th-century complex sits on 670 acres (271 ha) and is actually comprised of several buildings. For hundreds of years spanning the Ming and Qing Dynasties until 1900, this was the main imperial temple where emperors prayed to heaven for a good harvest. 

With your guide, explore the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and other iconic buildings, including the Circular Mound Altar, which was the site of winter solstice ceremonies, and the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a circular building that housed the stone tablets used in the harvest prayer ceremonies. In the afternoon, you'll head to the railway station and hop on a bullet train for the approximately 5.5-hour journey south to the beautiful city of Xi'an, where you'll spend the rest of your trip.

Day 5: Discover the Terracotta Army, Calligraphy Workshop

× Terra-cotta Warriors
See the famous warriors at the Terracotta Army Museum

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. This massive collection of incredibly detailed, life-size clay sculptures depicts the armies of Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin Dynasty and the first emperor of China, reigning from 221 BCE to 210 BCE. 

This enormous site covers approximately 38 square miles (98 sq km), and its discovery in 1974 represents one of the most important archaeological 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. Touring the massive excavation pits, you'll see various warriors, chariots, and cavalry figures. Spend hours discovering the secrets of the army, then head back to Xi'an. 

Spend the afternoon learning the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy, which dates back to the fourth century. During your workshop, learn about various traditional styles, such as kaishu, xingshu, and caoshu, and familiarize yourself with the "four items" typically used: the brush pen, paper, ink, and ink stone. At the end of the class, you'll have your own artwork, created with the help of a local expert, to bring home as a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Day 6: Explore Xi'an: Ancient City Wall, Drum Tower & Muslim Quarter, Depart

The ancient ramparts of Xi'an
Walk along the city walls in Xi'an, some of the oldest in China

It's the final morning of your trip, but your explorations aren't quite over. After breakfast, meet your guide to discover the best of Xi'an, starting at 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 8.7 miles (14 km) in a rectangular pattern and are the most well-preserved ancient walls in all of China. 

After exploring the walls, see the ancient artifacts in the historic 12th-century Drum Tower. While here, enjoy a performance of bian zhong, traditional Chinese chime bells. Later, visit the historic Muslim Quarter in the center of Xi'an, where the old buildings lining the narrow streets are home to Xi'an's Muslim, or Hui, community. Islam was first introduced by Arab merchants during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE). Today, the quarter is also famed for its halal food, such as yangrou paomo (lamb stew) and roujiamo (lamb burgers). 

Then, it'll be time to pack your bags and leave China. At the appointed time, your driver will pick you up and take you to the airport for your flight home or on to your next destination. Safe travels!

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Map of Cultural Discovery in Beijing & Xi'an - 6 Days
Map of Cultural Discovery in Beijing & Xi'an - 6 Days