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7 highlights of China

Is China at the top of your must-visit list? Don’t leave these top seven highlights off your itinerary, from ancient Wonders of the World to natural sights and fast-paced cities.
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Beijing

Beijing’s history may stretch back three millennia, but it’s perhaps best known today for its glittering skyscrapers and modern architecture. The sprawling capital of China has been the political and culture centre of the country since Kublai Khan made it the heart of his mighty Asian empire – its presence is so dominant that all of China’s clocks are set to ‘Beijing time’ despite the western reaches being some 5,000 kilometres from the capital city. No trip to China is complete without a visit to Beijing, not least to explore the famous sights of the former emperors such as the Forbidden City (the largest palace on earth), the expansive Summer Palace and the vast Tiananmen Square – you can see all this and more during a three-day stop on our China Highlights holiday.

Xian

At the start of the eastern end of the Silk Road, Xian is a curious city which for centuries held an exciting archaeological secret. It’s unsurprising that this remote outpost is home to buried treasures, given that it was the home of the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties. In the vast, barren plains surrounding the city you’ll find Bingmayong, best known as the Terracotta Warriors – thousands of life-size soldiers, horses and chariots standing sentry over the Qin Shi Huangdi Tomb since 200BC. The terracotta army was only discovered by accident in the 1970s and is considered one of the century’s greatest finds. On our Walk the Great Wall + Xian Extension tour you’ll spend three days in mystical Xian, giving you plenty of opportunity to explore the Terracotta Army, as well as the National Museum, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Great Mosque.

The Great Wall of China

It’s perhaps one of China’s most recognisable sights, snaking around 21,000 kilometres across the country: the Great Wall of China is more than just a wall but a series of fortifications to protect the northern border from attack and the scale of the site is staggering. It’s hard to believe that it was built as far back as 7th century BC, without the modern building materials and techniques that we rely on today, but instead with rice flour mortar and compacted earth. It would take around 18 months to walk the entire length of the Great Wall, but you can walk some of its most fascinating parts on our Walk the Great Wall tour. Spend 10 days traversing sections through rural China, beginning at the Dragon’s Head where the Wall meets the sea, and concluding among the watchtowers of Jinshanling.

Shanghai

While other cities may vie for attention, Shanghai - known as the 'Paris of the Orient' - is China’s biggest, boldest city as well as a global financial centre. Instantly recognisable is the Bund, a waterfront promenade where colonial-era buildings are set against a backdrop of futuristic skyscrapers. This area is known as Pudong, situated across the yawning Huangpu River, where you’ll find the space-age pink bubbles of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Seeing it now, it’s hard to imagine that the city began as a humble fishing village in the 11th century. Spend three days in the city on our China Explorer trip, where you’ll have time to stroll the leafy, elegant boulevards of the Gallic-inspired French Concession or wander the 16th-century Yu Yuan Gardens.

Guilin

Guilin may not be the most famous of China’s cities but it’s definitely one of its most beautiful, surrounded by karst scenery, pristine lakes and a medieval-era moat. Whether you take a leisurely stroll or explore by boat, you can enjoy beautiful views over its dramatic hills and traditional fishing villages, water buffalo wallowing in the limpid shallows and rice paddies tended to by conical-hatted farmers. It’s a great stopover during a Yangtse River cruise, where you can disembark close to the Three Gorges Dam and take a bullet train to the city, perhaps en route to equally beautiful Yangshuo.

Chengdu

The capital of China’s southern Sichuan province, Chengdu’s cultural gems are as fiery as its famously spicy cuisine. Many see Chengdu as the gateway to the country’s wild hinterlands, where pandas still roam in great forests of swaying bamboo, and the wide Tibetan plateau stretches out before plunging into steep valleys. While the city is as energetic and modern as any other Chinese metropolis, Chengdu is surrounded by untamed scenery. This seems to seep into the city itself, and there are spots where a slower pace of life can be enjoyed - taking a cup of tea at a teahouse, or enjoying a flavoursome dish filled with Sichuan peppers.  

Yangtse River

The longest river in Asia, the third longest river in the world, the Yangtse’s accolades are as impressive as its yawning width. Flowing from the Tibetan Plateau to empty into the East China Sea, the 'golden river' passes through impressive limestone gorges towards a series of mighty, yet controversial, dams. A three-day river cruise along the Yangtse is almost a mini holiday-within-a-holiday on our China on a Shoestring tour. Spend three days gliding along the river through the Three Gorges, hemmed by cliffs towering some 900 metres above.

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Planning a trip to China? We offer Discovery, Walking, Family and special Festival tours in China.
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