- 4 Weeks
China's richest seam of historic antiquity runs through rugged, dry north China. This route takes in the north's signature sights, all the way from Běijīng and the Great Wall via the Terracotta Warriors to the Silk Road of the distant northwest.
Běijīng is fundamental to this tour, so give yourself five days to do the Forbidden City, size up the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and and the city’s hútòng (narrow alleyways). The splendour of the Yúngāng Caves outside the rebuilt ancient city of Dàtóng should put you in a Buddhist mood, sharpened by a few nights on monastic Wǔtái Shān. Make a three-day stopover in Píngyáo, an age-old walled town, followed by the historic walled city of Kāifēng in Hénán, once the traditional home of China’s small community of Chinese Jews; move on to Luòyáng and the Buddhist spectacle of the Lóngmén Caves and the Shàolín Temple, also within reach. Four days’ sightseeing in Xī’ān brings you face-to-face with the Army of Terracotta Warriors and gives you time for the Taoist mountain of Huà Shān. Xī’ān traditionally marked the start of the Silk Road which you can follow through Gānsù province all the way to the oasis-town of Dūnhuáng, and beyond.
Yangzi River tour
- 4 Weeks
This epic tour follows the astonishingly long Yangzi river, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the bustling boom town of Shànghǎi.
After exploring north Yúnnán’s ancient Naxi town of Lìjiāng, pick up the trail of the Jīnshā River (Gold Sand River, which spills down from Tibet and swells into the Yangzi River) on a breathtaking multiday hike along Tiger Leaping Gorge. Rest your worn-out legs before discovering the scattered villages and old towns around Lìjiāng, including Shāxī and Shùhé on the old Tea Horse Road, and being blown away by the magnificent views of Yùlóng Xuěshān. Also consider (warmer months only) a trip from Lìjiāng northeast towards west Sìchuān and the gorgeous Lúgū Lake on the provincial border, where you can spend several days unwinding by the lakeside. During the winter months this entire area is snowbound, so you may have to fly on from Lìjiāng. Daily minibuses do the seven-hour run from Lúgū Hú to Xīchāng in Sìchuān, from where you can reach Yíbīn and then Chóngqìng; alternatively, return to Lìjiāng to fly to Chóngqìng, home of the spicy and searing Chóngqìng hotpot and gateway to the Three Gorges. Detour by bus to the stunning landscapes and natural beauty of Chìshuǐ on the Guìzhōu border to relax, unwind and explore the region before returning by bus to urban Chóngqìng. You’ll need around three days in Chóngqìng for the sights in town and for a journey to the Buddhist Caves at Dàzú and a trip to the Yangzi River village of Sōnggài to keep a perspective on historic, rural China. Then hop on a cruise vessel or passenger boat (or even a bus followed by hydrofoil) to Yíchāng in Húběi through the magnificent Three Gorges. Journey from Yíchāng to the Yangzi River city of Wǔhàn via the walled town of Jīngzhōu, where it’s worth spending the night. After two days in Wǔhàn, jump on a bus to Lúshān in Jiāngxī province, from where you can reach Nánjīng or make your way to Huáng Shān in the Yangzi River province of Ānhuī. Alternatively, travel direct to Nánjīng and thread your way to Shànghǎi via a delightful string of canal towns – Sūzhōu, Tónglǐ, Lùzhí and Zhūjiājiǎo. Explore Shànghǎi and consider launching yourself into the East–South Rural Tour.
Silk Road tour
- 5 Weeks
This breathtaking journey takes you from the must-see Terracotta Warriors via the Buddhist heritage of Gānsù to the vast desert distances of Xīnjiāng and far-flung Kashgar.
From the southernmost extents of the Silk Road at Xī’ān, discover one of imperial China’s most iconic remains at the Army of Terracotta Warriors and, for a major workout, climb the precipitous Taoist mountain of Huá Shān – just don’t look down. Back in Xī’ān, explore the Muslim Quarter to feast on local Hui specialities – one of the culinary high points of China travel – and climb atop the imposing city walls. Hop aboard the train to Lánzhōu but get off in southeast Gānsù at Tiānshuǐ for the remarkable Buddhist grottoes at verdant Màijī Shān. From Lánzhōu you have the option to disengage temporarily from the Silk Road to ramble along the fringes of the Tibetan world in the Buddhist monastic settlements of Xiàhé and Lángmùsì. The Hèxī Corridor draws you on to the ancient Great Wall outpost of Jiāyùguān, via the Silk Road stopover town of Wǔwēi, and the Great Buddha Temple with its outsize effigy of a reclining Sakyamuni in Zhāngyè. Stand on the wind-blasted ramparts of Jiāyùguān Fort, the last major stronghold of imperial China, and tramp alongside westerly remnants of the Great Wall. The delightful oasis outpost of Dūnhuáng is one of China’s tidiest and most pleasant towns, with the mighty sand dunes of the Singing Sands Mountains pushing up from the south, a scattered array of sights in the surrounding desert and some excellent food. The town is also the hopping-off point for China’s splendid hoard of Buddhist art, the spellbinding Mògāo Grottoes. From Dūnhuáng you can access the mighty northwestern Uyghur province of Xīnjiāng via the melon town of Hāmì before continuing to Turpan and Ürümqi; consider also spending the night in a yurt or camping on the shores of mountainous Tiān Chí. Thread your way through a string of Silk Road towns by rail to the Central Asian outpost of Kashgar, or reach the distant Uyghur town via the Marco Polo–journeyed southern Silk Road along the cusp of the Taklamakan Desert. From Kashgar, hatch exciting plans to conquer the Karakoram Hwy or, in the other direction, work out how to get back into China proper.
- 4 Weeks
This coastal tour journeys through China's largest collection of concession-era heritage as well as big-ticket port towns, all set to a sublime maritime backdrop
From Běijīng, zip to Tiānjīn en route to the Ming dynasty garrison town of Shānhǎiguān on the edge of Manchuria. Beyond the ancient port town of Xīngchéng and around the coast lies urbane Dàlián and trips to the North Korean border at Dāndōng, or the ferry crossing to Yāntái en route to a two-day sojourn around breezy Qīngdǎo. Cashing in on dashing Shànghǎi is crucial – allow five to six days to tick off surrounding sights, including a trip to the cultured former southern Song dynasty capital of Hángzhōu. Work your way south around the coast to Xiàmén (Amoy) to capture some of the magic of Gǔlàng Yǔ, using the port town as a base to explore the roundhouses around Yǒngdìng. Conclude the tour feasting on dim sum and getting in step with the rhythms of Hong Kong before surrendering to the Portuguese lilt of Macau, or go further along the coast to the sleepy port town of Běihǎi in Guǎngxī and bounce over the sea in a boat to the volcanic outpost of Wéizhōu Island.
Big ticket tour
- 2 Weeks
Tick off the top sights on this varied tour that covers everything from age-old antiquity to some of China's most awesome landscapes and the modern allure of Hong Kong
Give yourself four days for Běijīng’s mandatory highlights before zipping by high-speed G-class train across north China to Xī’ān to inspect the Terracotta Warriors, walk around the city’s formidable Ming dynasty walls and climb the granite peaks of Taoist Huá Shān. Then climb aboard the 11-hour overnight high-speed D-class sleeper to pulsating Shànghǎi, which pulls into town before 8am. After three days sightseeing, museum-going, shopping and sizing up the sizzling skyscrapers of Pǔdōng, detour for a day to the former southern Song dynasty capital of Hángzhōu, before flying from either Hángzhōu or Shànghǎi to Guìlín for some of China’s most serene and ageless panoramas, the breathtaking karst landscapes of Yángshuò. For a fitting and natural conclusion to your journey, fly straight from Guìlín to Hong Kong, or to Guǎngzhōu or Shēnzhèn to make your way south across the border to the former British territory. Squeeze in a day for exploring Macau to add a Portuguese complexion to your voyage.
East–Southwest rural tour
- 2 Weeks
Flee the big cities and get rural on this tour that takes you through some of China's best-looking villages and water towns as well as choice scenic areas and sublime panoramas.
From Shànghǎi, head to Zhūjiājiǎo for its canal-side charms, followed by the pretty water towns and villages of Jiāngsū and north Zhèjiāng – including Tónglǐ, Lùzhí and Wūzhèn. From either Sūzhōu or Hángzhōu, bus it to Túnxī in Ānhuī province to spend several days exploring the delightful ancient Huīzhōu villages of Hóngcūn, Xīdì in Yīxiàn and Shèxiàn and to scale gorgeous Huáng Shān. Hop on a bus again to cross the border to Jiāngxī province for two or three days’ fabulous hiking from village to village in the gorgeous rural landscape around Wùyuán. Take the bus to Nánchāng and then a high-speed train to Chángshā, the Húnán provincial capital, from where you can fly or take the train to the stunning karst panoramas of Zhāngjiājiè. Jump on a bus to the funky rivertown of Fènghuáng, from where it’s a hop, skip, and a bus-then-train jump via Huáihuà through the backdoor into Guìzhōu and the scenic riverside town of Zhènyuǎn. Kǎilǐ and the rest of the province lies beyond.
- 3 Weeks
Embark on this tour of China's Southwest for vibrant ethnic colour, some outstanding landscapes, an array of ancient towns and villages, all the bubbly magic of Hong Kong and a profusion of hiking opportunities around China’s southwest borders
Four days’ wining and dining in Hong Kong and Macau should whet your appetite, before you head inland to Guìlín and three days’ immersion in the dreamy karst landscape of Yángshuò. Join a local tour from Yángshuò to delightful Huángyáo before backtracking to Guìlín and journeying north to the Lóngjǐ Rice Terraces and the wind-and-rain bridges and ethnic hues of Sānjiāng. Creep over the border to explore the minority-rich villages of eastern Guìzhōu, including Lónglǐ, Bāshā and Zhàoxīng, before continuing to Guìyáng and on by train to the capital of Yúnnán province, Kūnmíng. Spend a few days in Kūnmíng before penetrating north Yúnnán to explore Dàlǐ, Lìjiāng and Shangri-la. Consider exploring the border area with Sìchuān at the remote Lúgū Hú, from where you can head into Sìchuān. In the other direction, the fertile Xīshuāngbǎnnà region lies in the deep south of the province, where Yúnnán’s Southeast Asian complexion comes to the fore.
Qinghai to Sichuan
- 10 Days
An epic journey along the outer fringes of Han China, through a region deeply coloured with Tibetan culture, this colossal, rough-and-ready journey draws you through stunning landscapes from Xīníng to Chéngdū.
Do this trip only in summer (it’s too cold even in spring); take cash and lots of food with you (you can't change money). Prepare also for bus breakdowns, simple accommodation and high altitudes. The bus journey from Xīníng to Sharda in the former Tibetan kingdom of Nangchen, where monasteries and dramatic scenery await, takes 20 to 24 hours. From Sharda you can continue to Sìchuān by looping back to the Tibetan trading town of Yùshù. You can also fly direct (or bus it) from Xīníng to Yùshù to continue to Sìchuān from there. Buses from Yùshù run through some stunning scenery to Mǎnígāngē (with a fantastic side trip to Dégé and Yarchen Gar), the Tibetan town of Gānzī (check ahead to see it's open) and on past Tǎgōng to Kāngdìng along the Sìchuān–Tibet Hwy, from where you can head west towards Tibet or east to Chéngdū. Direct buses also run from Yùshù to Chéngdū.
Contours of Historic Tibet
- 3 Weeks
An arduous undertaking at the best of times, Tibet is a land periodically inaccessible to foreigners. This tour immerses you in more accessible areas around its long edges
Only undertake the tour in the warmer summer months; other times can be dangerous. From Lánzhōu in Gānsù province, head southwest to Lángmùsì and Xiàhé, before passing awesome scenery by bus or taxi into Qīnghǎi via the monastery town of Tóngrén. Pick up a thangka (Tibetan sacred art) and continue by bus to Xīníng, then fly to Chéngdū in Sìchuān and take the bus to Kāngdìng, or fly to Kāngdìng via Chéngdū. The long, overland bus route from Xīníng to Kāngdìng is also possible via Yùshù in south Qīnghǎi. (Allow an extra week if taking this route.) Yùshù has officially re-opened after the 2010 earthquake and transport connections are available. From Kāngdìng you can journey by bus west to the stupendous scenery around Lǐtáng, with some breathtaking hiking opportunities, or travel south by minivan to Xiāngchéng and on to Shangri-la and the gorgeous Tibetan region of north Yúnnán. From Zhōngdiàn take a bus to high-altitude Déqīn, enveloped in gorgeous mountain scenery.
- 10 Days
Hop aboard this tour through the less-visited northeast for raw scenic beauty, borderland towns, modern, dapper towns and intriguing traces of imperial Manchurian heritage.
Start in Běijīng, then hop on a train to stylish Dàlián, but plan to spend a few days exploring the historic walled coastal towns of Shānhǎiguān and Xīngchéng en route. You’ll need several days for Dàlián’s sights, including the historic port of Lǚshùn and an adorable coastline. Border watchers will be keen to get to Dāndōng, on the border with North Korea. Take a boat tour along the Yālù River, dine on North Korean food and visit Tiger Mountain Great Wall. Consider a trip by rail and bus to Heaven Lake in Chángbái Shān (the largest nature reserve in China) via Tōnghuà. Straddling the North Korea border, the volcanic lake is a stunning sight (only accessible mid-June to September). Alternatively, take the train to Shěnyáng and visit its Qing dynasty Imperial Palace and the tomb of Huang Taiji, founder of the Qing dynasty. Hop on a bus or a train to Harbin to wonder at the city’s Russian and Jewish ancestry. If you’ve really picked up momentum and can’t stop, carry on to China’s ‘North Pole Village’ to try to catch the aurora borealis in Mòhé or to bask in the summer's midnight sun.
Beijing to Mongolia
- 1 Week
For a taste of Inner Mongolia's ranging grasslands, esoteric temples, imperial ruins and Russian borderland regions, head towards Mongolia on this tour from China's capital.
After exhausting the sightseeing, and wining and dining, in Běijīng, jump aboard a train to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia where a late-July arrival should coincide with the Naadam festivities at Gegentala to the north, when the grasslands are turning green. Explore Hohhot’s lamaseries and temples and make a trip to the grasslands outside town for a taste of the epic Inner Mongolian prairie. From Hohhot you can either take the train direct to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia; or an alternative route to Mongolia is to first journey by bus from Hohhot to Zhènglánqí and Shàngdū – vanished site of Kublai Khan’s celebrated palace at Xanadu – and then on to Hǎilā’ěr in the far north of Inner Mongolia, towards the border with Mongolia and Russia. The grasslands outside Hǎilā’ěr are a real highlight, so consider spending the night under the stars in a yurt on the prairie. If you are Russia-bound, you can enter the country via the nearby trading town of Mǎnzhōulǐ on the border. Alternatively, jump aboard a flight to Choibalsan in eastern Mongolia.