Get ready for an adventure into the very heart of China as you embark on a five-star cruise down the Yangtze River. The journey begins in Beijing, where you'll not only visit the Forbidden City but you'll take a walk on the Great Wall, too. Then you're off to Chongqing where you'll board a riverboat for three days on jade waters flanked by towering cliffs before finishing the trip in Shanghai.

Highlights

  • Tour the highlights of Beijing, like the Forbidden City
  • Take a stroll on the Great Wall of China
  • Take a five-star cruise down the Yangtze River
  • Tour modern Shanghai

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Beijing - Stroll Wangfujing Street Beijing
Day 2 Beijing Highlights Tour Lhasa
Day 3 Fly from Beijing to Chongqing - Three Gorges Cruise: Day 1 Yangtze River Cruise - Day 1
Day 4 Three Gorges Cruise: Day 2 Yangtze River Cruise - Day 2
Day 5 Three Gorges' Cruise - Day 3 Yangtze River Cruise - Day 3
Day 6 Three Gorges Cruise: Day 4 - Train to Shanghai 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: Beijing Highlights Tour

The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China

This full-day tour begins with a trip just north of Beijing to 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 sections. The area you'll visit 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 the Great Wall, you'll return to Beijing and head to Tiananmen Square, in the heart of the city. 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. 

After the Forbidden City, you'll return to your hotel and will have th4 evening free.

Day 3: Fly from Beijing to Chongqing - Three Gorges Cruise: Day 1

Chongqing is a massive river city
Chongqing is a massive river city

Afterward, you'll transfer to Beijing's airport and catch a three-hour flight southwest 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 boarding 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 4: 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 5: 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 the narrowest at 500 feet/152 meters clearance. It's also the most dramatic. The 1,150-foot (350-meter) high river cliffs at the 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 6: 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 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 Yangtze River Cruise -7 Days
Map of Yangtze River Cruise -7 Days
Alice
Written by Alice Fu, updated Jan 28, 2020