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Discover China

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15 days From £3,395 per person
4.8 stars(20 reviews)

Experience the wonders of China on a spectacular exploration from the Great Wall and Forbidden City to the Terracotta Army and a Yangtze cruise

Mobility Rating 3

2025 Tour code: CYG25

About the tour

Uncover an incredible blend of breathtaking modernism and beautiful imperial history on a tour of China's ancient and modern wonders.

Step into history during visits to the iconic Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall of China while in Beijing. Travelling by high-speed rail, explore ancient Xi'an and its astonishing Terracotta Army before admiring gorgeous panda cubs in Chengdu.

A three-night cruise along the mighty Yangtze reveals the remarkable feat of engineering of the Three Gorges Dam, while Shanghai shimmers as a spectacular contrast between old and new.

Unforgettable Experiences

Walk along a section of the incredible Great Wall of China
Walk along a section of the incredible Great Wall of China
Forming part of more than 13,000 miles of ancient fortifications, the iconic Great Wall is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Bask in its majesty from the parapets and guard towers.
Marvel at the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army in Xi’an
Marvel at the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army in Xi’an
The incredibly well-preserved terracotta statues of more than 8,000 warriors, horses and chariots belonging to the army of China’s first emperor was uncovered by farmers in 1974 and is considered the greatest-ever archaeological discovery.
Step into the imperial past at Beijing’s Forbidden City
Step into the imperial past at Beijing’s Forbidden City
The world’s largest imperial palace was the ceremonial centre of China from the 15th century to the 20th century and evokes the grandeur of the nation’s emperors through its stunning 9,999 rooms and vast squares.
Cruise the beautiful Yangtze from Chongqing to the Three Gorges
Cruise the beautiful Yangtze from Chongqing to the Three Gorges
On a luxurious three-night expedition on Asia’s longest river, the fascinating excursions from our wonderful cruise ship take us to the heart of rural China’s beautiful scenery and the Three Gorges Dam.
Enjoy dinner while sailing through Shanghai’s spectacular cityscape
Enjoy dinner while sailing through Shanghai’s spectacular cityscape
With the evocative Bund on one side and the glistening towers of ultramodern Pudong on the other, admire the glorious Shanghai riverside during a fantastic dinner cruise.
View adorable giant panda cubs at Chengdu’s research centre
View adorable giant panda cubs at Chengdu’s research centre
Chengdu is known as the ‘giant panda capital of the world’, and we spend a morning admiring these characterful animals at a research centre where more than 200 cubs have been born since 1987.

What’s included


Day 1 - Overnight flight to China’s fascinating capital

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 - Arrival in Beijing and free time

Arriving in Beijing this morning, we are met by a local English-speaking guide and transfer to our central 4-Star hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax and acclimatise to our new surroundings or to explore Beijing.

Our hotel is near Wangfujing Street, a pedestrianised area that has been the commercial heart of Beijing for centuries. These days, it reflects the modernity of the Chinese capital, with high-end retailers and department stores lining this stylish avenue. However, as with much of Beijing and China as a whole, the traditional is never far away. Hidden down a side street is Wangfujing Snack Street. To wander down here is to explore a microcosm of authentic Chinese fast food. Look out for the Beijing speciality of sugar-coated fruit on a stick, mutton skewers from Xinjiang and the pungent fermented tofu of Hunan province. Mixed between the rising clouds of steam and swirling scents, the adventurous can even try roasted insects and birds on sticks.

At our hotel this evening, we get to know one another better over our first dinner together.

Day 3 - Exploring Beijing and the iconic Forbidden City

After breakfast at our hotel, our expert local guide joins us for a sightseeing tour of this fascinating city.

Our explorations begin at Tiananmen Square, the site of the 1989 protests. This vast open space is flanked by austere official buildings and the tomb of Mao Zedong - who founded 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. We stroll through breathtaking palaces, ornate grand halls, gorgeous gardens and amongst quintessential Chinese architecture that stands as testament to China's long history.

Our exploration continues after lunch at a local restaurant with a visit to the 15th-century Temple of Heaven. This magnificent complex of Ming-era religious buildings symbolises the Confucian belief in the harmonious relationship between Earth and heaven through striking circular altar temples in a landscaped park.

We return to our central hotel where the rest of the evening is free to dine independently.

Day 4 - Walking along the Great Wall of China

The largest manmade project on Earth, the Great Wall of China stretches from the eastern sea to the western desert. While it's not a single wall, more than 13,000 miles of these historic fortifications snake across mountains and plateaus, designed to keep out foreign invaders and protect the lucrative Silk Road.

This morning, after breakfast, we travel to the rolling hills around Mutianyu, where we admire a beautifully restored section of the Great Wall. Taking a cable car to the wall itself, we are free to explore the towers and walk along parapets in the strikingly fresh air. The views of the local countryside are beautiful, especially when the trees are in bloom, but the Great Wall's majesty mesmerises as it meanders for hundreds of miles in each direction.

On our way back to Beijing, we stop for photo opportunities and lunch. 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, with the star of the show being the duck itself.

Day 5 - From imperial Beijing to the Silk Road city of Xi’an by rail

Heading to the railway station after breakfast this morning, we leave the capital aboard the First Class carriages of a modern, high-speed train bound for Xi'an. The 750-mile journey between Beijing and Xi'an is completed in a little over five-and-a-half hours. Travelling at speeds of up to 186mph, we dash through eastern China experiencing the country's rapid urbanisation first-hand as we pass through Shijiazhuang and Zhengzhou - both cities sporting shimmering skyscrapers and urban populations in excess of five million.

Our destination of Xi'an is one of the first 'world cities' and has a remarkable history due to its position at one end of the Silk Road that stretched through central Asia all the way to Mediterranean Europe. This evening is free to dine independently after checking in to our 4-Star hotel.

Day 6 - Ancient Xi’an and the jaw-dropping Terracotta Army

The first emperor of China, Qin Shin Huang, is famed today not only for giving his name to the country we know, but also because of sculptures that guard his massive mausoleum near Xi'an. After breakfast, we marvel at the astonishing Terracotta Army discovered by farmers in 1974. This mind-blowing collection features more than 8,000 terracotta sculptures of warriors, horses and chariots in formation, with each life-sized and unique statue representing the emperor's armies. Recognised by UNESCO, the world's greatest archaeological discovery is utterly captivating.

After lunch at a restaurant, we discover more about the melting pot of cultures that resulted from the Silk Road inside the Ming Dynasty city walls. 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 7 - Tang Dynasty Xi’an and to Chengdu by rail

There's a relaxed morning after breakfast at our Xi'an hotel before we are transferred to the railway station. On board a high-speed train, we journey to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, for a two-night stay. This province is famed for its food, especially the 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.

On arrival in Chengdu, we are transferred to the oldest 5-Star hotel in Chengdu. Dating from 1988, its attractive exterior recalls the Buddhist architecture of Tibet, while the stylish interior blends traditional design with modern comfort. It is here that we gather this evening to embrace the flavours of Sichuan as we enjoy a dinner of local specialities in the hotel restaurant.

Day 8 - Chengdu’s pandas and historic temples

Sichuan may be famed for its food, but there is another reason that people flock here. This morning, after breakfast at our 5-Star 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 creatures as they lounge in their large enclosures. Originally founded in 1987 to house six rescued giant pandas, 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.

We get to know Chengdu more after lunch at a restaurant as we visit the Buddhist Wenshu Temple, the city's largest. Dating from the 7th century and dedicated to the bodhisattva of wisdom, we embrace the wafts of incense, carved sculptures, gorgeous gardens and the hum of chanting in this peaceful haven. Next, we stroll amongst the historic teak buildings of lantern-lined Jinli Street, viewing traditional craft shops and snack stalls. The rest of the day is free to explore and dine independently.

Day 9 - Morning tea ceremony and boarding our Yangtze cruise ship

An authentic slice of Chengdu life awaits us after breakfast today as we visit 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 and explore the park's artful landscaping and beautiful bonsais.

We are transferred to the railway station after lunch at a local restaurant for our high-speed train service to Chongqing in First Class. Situated on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before we board our deluxe cabins on an exquisite Five-Star cruise ship - ready to sail along Asia's longest river to Yichang for the next two days.

Journeying through some of China's most dramatic and beautiful scenery is complimented by our wonderful floating hotel's excellent facilities, including a cinema, library and indoor swimming pool. Stepping out onto the sundeck of relaxing in the lounge both provide perfect vantage points from which to admire the spectacular views.

Day 10 - The verdant hills of Shuanggui Mountain National Park

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

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 is also an optional excursion 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'.

Back on board, we can relax after lunch and enjoy taking part in a selection of cultural activities, before dinner this evening. There is an option to attend the War Fire of the Three Kingdoms show (payable locally and booking on board required).

Day 11 - Marvelling at 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.

This morning's optional excursion (payable locally) is to the White Emperor City, an ancient fortress and temple complex also known as the 'City of Poems'. Either side of lunch we sail through the Qutang and Wu Gorges, two of the famous Three Gorges, both renowned for their picture-perfect scenery. This is a truly spectacular stretch of the river, as we sail under peaks that rise dramatically from the waters, and the canyons stretch out into the horizon, framing the river with craggy cliff faces and verdant, tree-covered slopes.

In the afternoon, we join a sailing excursion along the Shennong Stream. Meandering like a jade dragon between forest-blanketed cliffs that soar steeply away from the near-emerald waters of this beautiful waterway, this picturesque tributary cuts through the ancestral lands of the Tujia people. Following the captain's farewell banquet this evening, we enjoy an on-board cabaret show.

Day 12 - The incredible Three Gorges Dam and flight to Shanghai

Our luxury ship docks in Maoping this morning. After saying farewell to our wonderful crew after breakfast, our exploration of this stunning region continues as we join the shore excursion to the site of the Three Gorges Dam.

This hydroelectric gravity dam is a fantastic renewable resource for the people of China and the largest of its kind in the world, producing 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 and has created awe-inspiring vistas of both human ingenuity and the power of nature as the mighty Yangtze swells upstream.

Transferring to Yichang airport after lunch, we take a short flight to Shanghai, with a picnic dinner ready for us on arrival. Our modern yet elegant 5-Star hotel is located just a block away from East Nanjing Road. Draped with illuminated signs and lined by upmarket boutiques and huge department stores, this is Shanghai's main street.

Day 13 - Exploring Suzhou, the ‘Venice of the East’

Transferring out of the city after breakfast, we arrive in Suzhou, a city famous for its labyrinth of canals and bridges, as well as its exquisite gardens.

Understandably dubbed the 'Venice of the East', beautiful Suzhou sits on the Yangtze and China's Grand Canal - the longest manmade waterway in the world. We visit the 12th-century Master of the Nets Garden, one of the finest classical gardens in China. The garden has a long and rich history and shares UNESCO World Heritage status with others in the area due to its beautiful design.

After free time for lunch, we visit a silk mill in the 'hometown of silk' to explore the production of this luxurious fabric that had an amazing influence on global trade more than 2,000 years ago. From here, we uncover a wonderfully preserved example of a Ming Dynasty classical haven at the Garden of Cultivation, before ending our explorations with an enjoyable scenic cruise through the timeless canals lined by spectacular historic buildings.

Returning to Shanghai, the evening free is to dine independently.

Day 14 - 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 stroll round the historic, bustling Yuyuan marketplace. After free time for lunch in the distinctly European French Concession, we view the treasures of the venerable Jade Buddha Temple, which contains two historic statues, one sitting and the other reclining.

The evening sees us board a ship for a dinner cruise along the Huangpu River, absorbing views of one of the world's great city skylines - and one of incredible contrast. On the western shore is the historic Bund, which would not look out of place in a European city. That's because the buildings 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. On the opposite bank, we see ultra-modern Pudong dominated by the futuristic Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

Day 15 - Homeward bound

Our stunning exploration of China concludes in style after breakfast this morning as we board the Maglev train to the airport. With a high speed of more than 265mph, we enjoy the views from First Class as Shanghai's suburbs flash by in a blur as we travel to the airport in under 10 minutes.

During our direct flight from Shanghai to London, we can look back at the many varied wonders of this fascinating country. From experiencing Beijing's iconic Forbidden City and the manmade wonder of the Great Wall, we travelled by high-speed train to historic Xi'an, where we witnessed the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army. Chengdu introduced us to the country's most adorable residents, giant pandas, before a luxurious Yangtze cruise revealed China's natural beauty and modern ingenuity. Concluding in Shanghai, we sailed on the charming canals of Suzhou and admired spectacular city views from the Huangpu River.

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 Peace Hotel, Beijing

Novotel Peace Hotel, Beijing

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Tibet Hotel, Chengdu

Tibet Hotel, Chengdu

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Grand Central Hotel, Shanghai

Grand Central Hotel, Shanghai

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Grand Mercure Renmin Square, Xian

Grand Mercure Renmin Square, Xian

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Chinese Railways


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4.8 stars4.8 / 5 · 20 reviews

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

Mr M Robinson

4 stars

Submitted 12 Oct 2019

Excellent well organised tour with minimal hassle at terminals as porterage very effective. Excellent tour guide throughout and very informative local guides. Highly recommended. Only disappointing feature was the Yangtse river trip where vessel was a bir dated and shabby and service quality - particularly in restaurant - rather patchy..

Collected by Great Rail Journeys

Mr C Bell

5 stars

Submitted 05 Oct 2019

Great itinerary, fantastic tour manager.

Collected by Great Rail Journeys

Mrs P Battman

5 stars

Submitted 01 Oct 2018

Full on but ticked all the 'China boxes'

Collected by Great Rail Journeys

Mr P Moore

5 stars

Submitted 19 Jun 2018

We had a terrific time, with an excellent group of travellers. The tour was certainly full on and we managed to see all the major sights in China and many more besides. Travelling by bullet train meant no long delays at airports and lots of room to enjoy the relaxation. Most hotels were excellent and when there was a complaint our tour guide John dealt with the problem promptly. As usual a great experience we will certainly be travelling with Great Rail again in the future.

Collected by Great Rail Journeys

Mrs S Leach

5 stars

Submitted 27 Nov 2017

Overall well organised tour , good hotels , good local guides .

Collected by Great Rail Journeys

Mrs H Brackpool

4 stars

Submitted 20 Nov 2017

Holiday was good. Local guides very good. Overall the tour was a success, although tiring. The journey back was a bit of an ordeal. Due to a hold up in Shanghai. We missed our connection at Hong Kong. This connection would have been very tight if all on time. We had trouble trying to contact our taxi driver due to the time difference of Eight hours behind . This caused some extra concern. A direct flight from Heathrow to Beijing and out of Shanghai to Heathrow would have made the holiday better. Shanghai to Hong Kong then to Heathrow put at least six hours on Our journey home.

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