15 days from £3500 per person
Places Visited: Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Yangtze Cruise, Shanghai
Our popular ‘Essential’ itinerary ticks off China’s most iconic sights in a focused fortnight, hopping between locations with time-saving domestic flights. You’ll see the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven in Beijing, the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, and the Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu, before cruising through the dramatic Three Gorges of the Yangtze River. Finish with three nights in Shanghai – plenty enough time to savour the city’s landmarks, shop for souvenirs, take in a few galleries and museums and visit the beautiful antique water town of Suzhou before flying back to London.
Cruising Holidays Cultural Holidays Family Holidays Honeymoons
Fly overnight from the UK to Beijing.
On arrival you’ll be met by your guide and accompanied to your hotel. Spend the remainder of the morning recovering from your journey. Later, re-join your guide for a trip to the Imperial Summer Palace.
Situated on Beijing’s northwestern outskirts, the Summer Palace was where the Qing court used to spend the hot season. Comprising an assemblage of pleasure pavilions, palaces, shrines, and pathways, it nestles at the foot of a low, wooded hill beside a lake – the perfect place to ease yourself gently into your trip. After supper, should you have the energy, consider a taking in a performance by the State Circus or Chinese National Opera.
A full day’s sightseeing starts with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the magnificent ‘Forbidden City’, former seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties, followed by the Temple of Heaven in the afternoon.
The Forbidden City is a vast complex, but you’ll have ample time in the morning’s tour to savour its extraordinary architecture and displays of priceless ceramics, calligraphy, weapons, ceremonial robes and paintings. Beyond the north walls, the rockeries and cypress groves of the Royal Gardens provide a serene counterpoint to the vast structures and open spaces of the palace proper. After lunch and some time relaxing back at your hotel, you’ll be driven to the Temple of Heaven – one of China’s great religious and historical monuments. Intricate rituals used to be performed at an open-air marble altar here by the Chinese Emperor to ensure the success of the harvest.
An early start is recommended for your visit to The Great Wall, one of the real highlights of this tour.
Around three hours’ drive north of Beijing, the Jinshanling section is our favourite stretch of the Wall and well worth the effort to reach. Being so far from the city, it sees far fewer visitors. Spectacular views extend from the ramparts, which have been beautifully renovated by the Chinese government. Set amid an expense of rugged mountains, the scenery at Jinshanling is also magnificent. The whole area offers great potential for walkers. For a small additional cost, a specialist guide may be arranged for trekking along particularly steep and dramatic stretches of the wall. Once back in Beijing at the end of the day, head across town to the Liqun Road Restaurant for a definitive plate of Peking Duck.
After an early breakfast, your guide will accompany you to the train station to catch the high-speed ‘G’ service to Xi'an, which takes just under 6hrs. On arrival, you’ll be met by our local TransIndus guide, who will escort you to your hotel.
Spend the afternoon visiting the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, originally built by the Tang Emperor, Gaozong in the late 7th century. Continue across town to the atmospheric Muslim (Hui) Quarter, whose Great Mosque is nearly 1,200 years old and one of the most evocative monuments surviving from the era when the capital formed the end point of the legendary Silk Road. The district’s main street, Beiyuanmen, comes to life in the evenings, when open-air kitchens serve an amazing array of traditional treats to strollers – a great place to soak up the traditional atmosphere of this distinctive neighbourhood.
Visit to the world-famous Terracotta Army archaeological site in the morning, where eight-thousand life-sized warriors, horses and chariots stand guard over the Qin Emperor’s tomb. In the afternoon, return in time for a round of Xi'an’s 16th century Ming ramparts by bicycle.
Until you set eyes on the legion of 8,000 soldiers, horses and chariots, buried in three huge pits outside Xi'an in the 2nd century BC, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of the Terracotta Army. Yet the complex is only one part of a much larger ensemble that includes a colossal mound – still un-excavated – containing the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor. What most impresses about the figures themselves is how unnervingly lifelike they are. Each one has its own distinct facial expression, posture, hairstyle, clothing and weapons, preserved in amazing detail.
Transfer to the railway station after breakfast for your high-speed train to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. On arrival, you’ll be met by your guide and driven to your hotel downtown.
Once you’ve had lunch and a rest, spend the afternoon exploring the area around Jinli Street – a modern facsimile of an antique Chengdu market area, lined with pretty little shops selling traditional Sichuanese delicacies and souvenirs. Afterwards, head across town to the ‘Wide Lanes, Narrow Lanes’ pleasure district to catch a performance of Sichuanese opera, ‘face changing’ and acrobatics at one of the traditional theatres in the neighbourhood, which is also a good place to dine on spicy local dumplings!
A visit to the world-famous Chengdu Panda Centre takes up your second morning in the Sichuanese capital.
As the bears are most active early in the day, we recommend arriving by 8am, when you’ll stand the best chance of seeing the youngsters at play. You’ll also have an opportunity to watch the pandas being fed, and to visit the wonderful nursery to see the newest arrivals.
After lunch, explore the antique heart of Chengdu with a visit to the beautiful Wenshu Temple. With its bamboo furniture and distinctively Sichuanese atmosphere, the traditional tea house behind it is a great place to relax, snack and people watch. Don’t be dismayed by the sound of the house speciality – ‘monkey head dumplings’. The tea house is 100% vegetarian!
Dazu, Yangtze River Cruise
Today you’ll be travelling by high-speed ‘G’ train from Chengdu to Dazu to see the famous Dazu Grottoes, the UNESCO-listed cave sculptures regarded as a high-water mark of Chinese rock art. Continue afterwards by car to Chongqing to join your Yangtze cruise ship.
One of the great wonders of ancient China lies hidden among the sandstone hills around Dazu, 125 miles east of Chengdu. Excavated between the 9th and 13th centuries AD, the UNESCO-listed cave sculptures here are regarded as masterpieces of ancient Chinese art by historians because of their naturalistic style, graceful poses and superb ornamentation. Around 50,000 figures survive at half a dozen different sites, many of them forming narrative panels that recount religious myths and yield vivid, and often humorous, insights into life in the Sang and Song dynastic periods.
Boarding for your cruise in Chongqing starts at 7:30pm with departure around 9:30pm.
Yangtze River Cruise
Your first full day on board features visits to some of the archaeological sites along the river.
Highlights of Day One of the Three Gorges Cruise include a shore excursion to Red Pavilion temple complex at Shibaozhai, a craggy river island crowned by a triple-storied Buddhist prayer hall erected in the 19th century during the reign of the Qing Emperor Xianfeng. You will also be offered the option of an additional shore trip to the Fengdu Ghost City in the morning. The ‘city’ comprises an assemblage of 300-year-old monasteries and temples marooned halfway up a mountain by the rising river levels following construction of the Three Gorges Dam. A cable car has been constructed to facilitate access to the site.
Yangtze River Cruise
Some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in Asia awaits on your eleventh day, as the cruise ship passes through the great Yangtze gorges. Before entering the ship locks of the Three Gorges Dam – a marvel of modern engineering.
Although regarded as an engineering triumph by the Chinese government, ‘Three Gorges Dam’ has its detractors. Critics point to the fact 13 cities, 140 towns, 1,352 villages, more than 600 factories and around 1,200 archaeological sites had to be flooded to feed the behemoth with water to drive its massive turbines. In the process, an estimated 1.2 million people were resettled. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the scheme, the dam at its centre forms an undeniably awe-inspiring spectacle.
Yangtze River Cruise
After breakfast, visit the dam – officially the world’s largest hydroelectric installation – before re-embarking for the final leg of your cruise to Yichang, where you’ll be transferred to the airport for your onward flight to Shanghai.
Enjoy a full day’s sightseeing in Shanghai today in the company of your guide.
The city is your oyster for this penultimate day of sightseeing. Begin with a stroll along the Bund, where the great trading houses and banks erected their Art Deco offices in the 1920s and 1930s. On the opposite side of the Huangpu River, the skyscrapers of Pudong form a futuristic counterpoint. Sightseeing priorities may be discussed with your guide in advance, but popular options include trips to Nanjing Road – China’s number-one shopping street – the ascent of the 101-storey World Financial Centre building for a fabulous view over the city, and a visit to the delightfully traditional Yuyuan Gardens, with its pagoda-roofed pavilions, koi carp ponds, luohan pines, gingko trees and rockeries. Of course, Shanghai is also chock-full of top-notch galleries, bars and restaurants.
Your final full day in China will comprise a guided day trip to the delightful water town of Suzhou, on Shanghai’s western outskirts; you’ll travel by car, returning in the evening.
Suzhou owed its former prosperity to its position on the Grand Canal, which you’ll explore on a boat. The tour takes in a succession of postcard-pretty monuments, including the Humble Administrator’s Garden (regarded as one of the finest Classical Ming Gardens in China) and stately Pan Gate. To conclude, a local silk factory offers a fascinating insight into the art of traditional Chinese sericulture. Return to Shanghai early evening, in time to freshen up and head into town for your last supper. We recommend you make it a Cantonese one, featuring local cult dishes such as dim sum, shrimp dumplings or crispy pork belly!
Transfer to the airport in the morning for your return flight to the UK. You’ll arrive in the afternoon of the same day.
15 days from £3500 per person
✓ International flights from UK in economy
✓ 13 nights accommodation
✓ All road travel and and transfers using private chauffeur-driven vehicles
✓ Domestic flights in economy, trains in first-class
✓ Private English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
With its horizons of tower cranes and smog-shrouded skyscrapers, Beijing is a city which has totally reinvented itself in less than a generation, and not without growing pains. At...
Forbidden City (Beijing)
Comprising over 800 buildings ranged around a series of vast paved courtyards, Beijing’s Gugong, or ‘Imperial Palace’, formed the nerve centre of the Ming and Qing empires. For th...
Temple of Heaven (Beijing)
Widely regarded as Beijing’s most exquisite building, the Temple of Heaven marked the spiritual heart of Imperial China in the early 15th century. Each year on the summer solstice...
The Great Wall
China’s Great Wall undulates for over 5,500 miles (8,880km) across the north of the country – an astounding engineering feat and a vivid testament to both the might of the emperor...
Xi'an, capital of populous Shanxi Province, is one of China’s fastest expanding industrial centres, and at first glance seems to hold little promise for visitors. For over two-tho...
On the western edge of Sichuan’s Red Basin, Chengdu is the largest city in Western China, with an ultra-modern, high-rise centre that belies its role as a regional capital for ove...
Giant Panda Base
The bamboo forests of southern Sichuan are the last stronghold of China’s national treasure, the Giant Panda. Around 1,500 of these adorable black-and-white bears survive in the w...
At the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai became the hub of European imperial ambitions in mainland China after the Opium Wars, and today is the powerhouse of a dramatic economi...
Only a 40-minute ride away from Shanghai on the bullet train, Suzhou is an ancient city whose antique core has fared better than many during the recent ferro-concrete revolution. ...
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