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Highlights of China

You are viewing the 2024 itinerary. Select your departure year
13 days From £2,695 per person
4.5 stars(2 reviews)

Discover China’s ancient and modern wonders, from Beijing’s Forbidden City to the Three Gorges Dam and Xi’an’s Terracotta Army, travelling by rail and Yangtze cruise

Mobility Rating 3

2024 Tour code: CVS24

About the tour

Immerse yourself in the imperial history and breathtaking modernism of mysterious and fascinating China.

On an overland adventure, Beijing reveals its history in the spectacular Forbidden City before we are whisked by high-speed rail to Shanghai, where the old and new sit side by side.

A cruise along the mighty Yangtze shows us the remarkable feat of engineering that is the Three Gorges Dam as well as scenic rural landscapes, before we get up close with panda cubs in Chengdu and are amazed by the astonishing Terracotta Army in Xi'an.

Unforgettable Experiences

Marvel at the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army
Marvel at the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army
Uncovered by farmers in 1974, the remarkably well-preserved terracotta statues of more than 8,000 warriors, horses and chariots belonging to the army of China’s first emperor are classed as the greatest archaeological discovery ever.
Visit the imperial Forbidden City in Beijing
Visit the imperial Forbidden City in Beijing
The ceremonial centre of China from the 15th century to the 20th century, the world’s largest imperial palace evokes the grandeur of the nation’s emperors through its stunning 9,999 rooms and vast squares.
Enjoy fascinating tours of China’s iconic cities
Enjoy fascinating tours of China’s iconic cities
Explore vibrant cities on sightseeing tours with expert local guides, viewing standout attractions including Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Shanghai’s historic Bund, Chengdu’s ancient Wenshu Temple and Xi’an’s evocative Muslim Quarter.
Cruise the majestic Yangtze from the Three Gorges to Chongqing
Cruise the majestic Yangtze from the Three Gorges to Chongqing
Set sail on a four-night expedition on Asia’s longest river aboard a luxury cruise ship with private balconies. View the Three Gorges Dam and rural China’s beautiful scenery on a range of fascinating excursions.
Admire the Great Wall of China
Admire the Great Wall of China
Bask in the majesty of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This impressively restored section of the wall near Mutianyu forms part of more than 13,000 miles of historic fortifications.
See giant panda cubs at Chengdu’s research centre
See giant panda cubs at Chengdu’s research centre
Known as the ‘giant panda capital of the world’, on a morning in Chengdu we get close to these irresistible animals at a research centre where more than 200 cubs have been born since 1987.

What’s included


Day 1 - Overnight flight to imperial Beijing

Meeting our Tour Manager and fellow travellers at London Heathrow, we board a direct overnight flight to the Chinese capital, ready to discover the spectacular sights of this fascinating and ancient country.

Shrouded in myth, legend and warring dynasties, the history of China stretches back more than 4,000 years. This lengthy past has left indelible marks on this intriguing and often mysterious country in the form of its remarkable landmarks such as the Great Wall of China and Beijing's Forbidden City. Connected by ultramodern bullet trains, the country's gleaming cities reflect the recent rapid development, while the natural wonders still shine through, especially the towering limestone cliffs of the Three Gorges and its celebrated wildlife - including the adorable giant panda.

Meaning 'northern capital', Beijing has been the principal city of many dynasties throughout history - most notably the Ming and Qing from 1403 to 1644. As such, it brims with ancient marvels as well as being a shimmering, modern world city.

Day 2 - Exploring Beijing and the iconic Forbidden City

Arriving in Beijing this morning, we transfer to our central 4-Star hotel for early check-in. There is time to catch up with sleep and acclimatise to our new surroundings, while breakfast is also available on arrival.

This afternoon, we explore nearby Tiananmen Square, known in the west due to the 1989 protests. This vast open space is flanked by austere government buildings and the tomb of Mao Zedong - who proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China here in 1949.

A portrait of Mao hangs over the bright red Tiananmen gate, signifying the entrance to the Forbidden City, the world's largest palace, inhabited for 500 years by royals and courtesans, with most people barred from entry. With 9,999 rooms - one fewer than was believed to be in the 'heavenly palace' - we stroll through breathtaking palaces, ornate grand halls, gorgeous gardens and amongst quintessential Chinese architecture that stands as testament to China's long history.

This evening, we enjoy an authentic experience as we dine at a Peking duck restaurant. At large, circular tables, we savour an array of traditional dishes.

Day 3 - Viewing the Great Wall of China

After breakfast this morning, we get to see the historic neighbourhoods of old Beijing as we embark on a rickshaw journey through the city's hutongs. These ancient, narrow streets are lined with traditional courtyard residences hidden behind ornate entrances often decorated with lanterns and red banners relaying auspicious messages. These characterful alleys have been the beating heart of Beijing since the 13th-century Yuan dynasty.

Lunch is served at a local restaurant before we head out of Beijing, pausing to view the spectacular Bird's Nest Stadium, built for the 2008 Olympics. Our destination is one of Earth's most incredible manmade structures - the Great Wall of China.

In rolling hills around Mutianyu, we admire a beautifully restored section of the wall that forms part of more than 13,000 miles of historic fortifications. You can opt to take a cable car up to the wall (payable locally). We also stop at a jade shop to view intricately carved sculptures. We return to our hotel this evening, where the rest of the night is free to spend as you wish.

Day 4 - To the historic port city of Shanghai by high-speed rail

China has heavily invested in its railways in the past decade and, after breakfast today, we get to enjoy one of the fastest passenger trains in the world.

Leaving the capital, we complete the 860 miles between Beijing and Shanghai in a little over four-and-a-half hours. Travelling at speeds of up to 217mph, we dash through eastern China experiencing the country's rapid urbanisation first-hand. While our windows provide views of pastoral scenes and mountaintop temples in the countryside, what is noticeable are the huge cities we dart through. Since the 1980s, there has been a drive towards industrialisation that has been achieved at astonishing speed, furthering urban growth. This can be seen in the towering skyscrapers of cities such as Jinan and nearby Taian which, between them, have a population of around 8 million people - more than Berlin and Rome combined.

We arrive in Shanghai in the early evening and transfer to a local restaurant, where we have dinner before checking in to our 4-Star hotel for two nights.

Day 5 - Tradition and history in China’s biggest city

Shanghai symbolises China's 'old-meets-new' cultural division like nowhere else. After breakfast, we set out on a guided sightseeing tour, beginning in Shanghai's old city.

Yu Garden is an oasis of calm with ornate pavilions, serene fishponds and decorative teahouses. Outside the walls, we view the historic, bustling Yuyuan marketplace, before moving on to the Bund.

The buildings of this historic waterfront area would not look out of place in a European city. That's because they used to house western banks and trading houses, producing a melting pot of cultures that resulted in the exciting 'golden age' of jazz bands and cabaret bars. Looking out over the river from the Bund, we see ultra-modern Pudong - with a skyline of glistening towers rivalling that of Hong Kong and dominated by the futuristic Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we admire the tree-lined streets and European architecture of the former French Concession, as well as Xintiandi's examples of traditional shikumen-style buildings.

This evening you are free to dine independently on authentic Shanghainese cuisine, including soup-filled dumplings called xiaolongbao.

Day 6 - High-speed rail to our Yangtze cruise ship

This morning, we say farewell to Shanghai after breakfast as we are transferred to the city's expansive Hongqiao train station to board the bullet train to Yichang in western Hubei province.

In modern carriages with reclining seats, we hurry inland through some beautiful Chinese scenery. Passing the former capital of Nanjing, we cross the mighty Yangtze River. After Lu'an, we enter the densely wooded Dabei Mountains, where forests of bamboo and cork trees blanket rugged peaks.

Our destination is the city of Yichang, where we are met by an English-speaking local guide and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. Afterwards, we transfer to our luxury Yangtze cruise boat at Maoping Pier, ready to sail along Asia's longest river to Chongqing for the next three days.

As we settle into our deluxe cabins, we can look forward to journeying through some of China's most dramatic and beautiful scenery, with our wonderful floating hotel offering the perfect vantage point from which to admire the spectacular views.

Day 7 - The incredible Three Gorges Dam on the mighty Yangtze

Waking up on our modern vessel, there is the option to take part in a relaxing tai chi lesson onboard, before breakfast.

This morning, there are two optional shore excursions (payable locally). One is to the Tribes of the Three Gorges Scenic Spot to view the picturesque villages and backwaters traditionally inhabited by the Tujia people, while the other visits the hometown of poet Qu Yuan, born in the 3rd century BC.

After lunch on board, there is an included shore excursion to the site of the Three Gorges Dam. This hydroelectric gravity dam is not only a fantastic renewable resource for the people of China, but it's the largest of its kind in the world and produces record-breaking amounts of electricity. Fully operational by 2012, just 18 years after construction began, the damming of the Yangtze achieved a long-held Chinese dream first imagined in 1919.

Back on board, we are treated to a welcome reception from our captain before dinner. Afterwards, we can enjoy a costume performance showcasing the many ethnic groups and dynasties of China.

Day 8 - Exploring the Yangtze’s breathtaking gorges

Our remarkable Yangtze cruise continues as we immerse ourselves in the region's stunning gorges. For early risers, there is another opportunity to try out the ancient art of tai chi before breakfast. Afterwards, we join a sailing excursion along the Shennong Stream. Meandering like a jade dragon between forest-blanketed cliffs, this picturesque tributary cuts through the ancestral lands of the Tujia people.

Back on board our cruise ship, we sit down for lunch before sailing through the Wu Mountains and the Qutang and Wu Gorges, two of the famous Three Gorges, both renowned for their scenery. This is a truly spectacular stretch of the river, as we sail under peaks that rise dramatically from the waters, and that canyons stretch out into the horizon, perfectly framing the river with craggy cliff faces and verdant, tree-covered slopes.

An optional excursion (payable locally) is available to the White Emperor City, an ancient fortress and temple complex also known as the 'City of Poems'. Tonight's after-dinner entertainment is an on-board cabaret show.

Day 9 - The verdant hills of Shuanggui Mountain National Park

Gently undulating green hills greet us on our third morning aboard our stunning Yangtze cruise. After breakfast, there is chance to soak up the scenery before enjoying a shore excursion to Shuanggui Hill National Forest Park. With birds chirping from the varied vegetation, we stroll amongst ancient, ornate temples and pavilions before returning to our ship for lunch.

There are two optional excursions today, including to nearby Fengdu Ghost City (payable locally and pre-booking onboard our ship is advised), with lunch back on board our ship. This vast, 2,000-year-old temple complex is dedicated to the afterlife and is found nestled high on Ming Mountain. The unique architectural styles and sculptures are fascinating, and include a giant face carved on a hillside rock known as the 'Ghost King'. Another option (also payable locally) is the Wuling Mountain Great Rift Valley with lunch onshore. Here, you find an extraordinarily primeval landscape of tree-covered limestone cliffs plunging nearly 4,000 feet into a narrow gorge.

Sailing onwards this afternoon, in the evening, we celebrate the end of our cruise at the captain's farewell dinner.

Day 10 - Disembarking in Chongqing and onwards to Chengdu

Saying farewell to our friendly crew after breakfast, we leave our luxury ship in Chongqing and return to the railways.

Travelling via high-speed train, we journey to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. This province is famed for its piquant dishes that are revered even amongst other celebrated Chinese cuisines - a source of pride further recognised when Chengdu became UNESCO's first-ever City of Gastronomy.

We get to know this appealing city after checking in to our 4-Star hotel. Dating from the Tang dynasty in the 7th-century, Chengdu's largest and most well-preserved Buddhist temple is dedicated to Wenshu, the bodhisattva of wisdom. Wafts of incense, carved sculptures, gorgeous gardens and the hum of chanting mean that, even at busier times, there is a remarkable sense of peace around the pavilions, pagodas and halls.

Next, we enjoy an authentic slice of Chengdu life at a teahouse in People's Park. Set beside a small boating lake, we sit down on bamboo chairs for a delightful cup of Chinese tea. At a local restaurant this evening, we dine on some of Sichuan's most renowned specialities.

Day 11 - Giant pandas and the Silk Road city of Xi’an

Sichuan may be famed worldwide for its food, but there is another reason that people come to this attractive province. This morning, after breakfast at our hotel, we visit the Panda Research Centre.

Chengdu is known as the giant panda capital of the world, and we get to admire these adorable and endangered creatures at rest and play as they lounge in their large enclosures. Originally founded in 1987 to house six giant pandas that were rescued from the wild, more than 200 panda cubs have since been born at the research centre. A national symbol of China, the morning is the best time to see these charming and characterful animals.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we transfer to Chengdu station to catch an afternoon train to ancient Xi'an. One of the first 'world cities' due to its point at one end of the Silk Road that stretched through central Asia all the way to Mediterranean Europe, Xi'an has a remarkable history. This evening is free to dine independently after checking in to our 4-Star hotel.

Day 12 - Ancient Xi’an and the Terracotta Army

The first emperor of China, Qin Shin Huang, is famed today because of sculptures that guard his massive mausoleum near Xi'an. After breakfast, we marvel at the astonishing Terracotta Army - a jaw-dropping collection of more than 8,000 terracotta sculptures depicting the warriors, horses and chariots of the emperor's armies, each life-sized and unique.

After lunch at a restaurant, we visit the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Built under the Tangs in the early 8th-century, this 13-tiered brick pagoda has towered over this venerable city since the days of Silk Road traders.

Inside the stunning Ming dynasty city walls, we discover more about the melting pot of cultures that resulted from the Silk Road. The existence of Muslim merchants in Xi'an can be traced to the Tang dynasty and the atmospheric streets of the Muslim Quarter contains impressive sights, including the Great Mosque, reconstructed in the 14th century.

We admire the blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture in the mosque's minaret and turquoise-roofed prayer hall before concluding our exploration in style this evening at a dumpling banquet.

Day 13 - Homeward bound

Our incredible discovery of China comes to an end this morning as, after breakfast, we transfer to Xi'an airport for our flight back to London Heathrow, via Beijing.

Enroute, we can look back at the many varied wonders of this fantastic and intriguing country. From Beijing's iconic Forbidden City and viewing the manmade wonder of the Great Wall, we travelled by high-speed train to fascinating Shanghai. Here, we uncovered the European influences and traditional gardens, before setting sail on a Yangtze River cruise from Yichang to Chongqing. The mighty river showcased China's natural beauty and modern ingenuity, while Chengdu saw us meet the country's most adorable residents - giant pandas. In historic Xi'an, we witnessed one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world - the Terracotta Army.

Landing at London Heathrow this evening, we say a fond farewell to our fellow travellers and Tour Manager with whom we have shared these unforgettable experiences.

Additional information

Departure times

Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with our dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We write to all booked customers approximately 10 weeks prior to the start of their tour to advise the exact departure and return time for their particular group.

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular holiday with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.


Novotel Beijing Xinqiao

Novotel Xinqiao, Beijing

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Dorsett Grand Hotel, Chengdu

Dorsett Grand Hotel, Chengdu

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Metro Park Jichen Hotel, Shanghai

Metro Park Jichen Hotel, Shanghai

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Yiyuan Hotel, Xi’an

Yiyuan Hotel, Xi’an

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Chinese Railways


Victoria Katarina

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4.5 stars4.5 / 5 · 2 reviews

  1. 5 stars
  2. 4 stars
  3. 3 stars
  4. 2 stars
  5. 1 star

Lorraine Howard

4 stars

Submitted 14 Nov 2023

An amazing holiday. We were a small group who all got along really well - which added enormously to the holiday. However, the cruise section was disappointing as we boarded the ship further along the river which meant we spent longer in dock than expected. Sailing along Stenney Stream in peaboats (which we were looking forward to) didn’t happen either. Instead we travelled in a large decrepit boat.

from Great Rail Journeys
Dear Mrs Howard, Thank you for your review. I am sorry to hear that changes had to be made to your itinerary, and understand how disappointing this may have been. I will make sure to pass your feedback across to our Product team for the future. Kind regards, Sophie.
1 comment

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5 stars

Submitted 11 Oct 2023

Brilliant well organised by Asian trails. Guided greatly no problems at all.

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