China Itineraries

China is vast, and you’ll barely be able to scratch the surface on a single trip. The following itineraries will, however, give you an in-depth look at some of the country’s most fascinating areas – the Grand Tour covers the essentials, while the other suggested routes cover the trip to the deserts of the west, and China’s tropical southwestern corner.

If you are planning your travel to China yourself, use these itineraries created by our travel writers as a starting point for inspiration.


Lijiang, China

China Itinerary 1 - Wild West

This three-week-long trip takes you from Beijing to China’s Wild West, where you can ride horses across Mongolian grasslands, or soak up Uyghur culture in Xinjiang.

1. Beijing

Before setting out, get a taster of northwestern China in Beijing’s Muslim quarter, where street hawkers sell delicious skewers of barbecued lamb.

2. Datong

Cycle around Datong’s rebuilt city walls, then bus out to giant Buddhist sculptures at the Yungang caves, and the gravity-defying Hanging Temple.

3. Grasslands

Use pleasant Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, for exploring the never-ending grasslands to the north, galloping across the plains on a tiny steed.

4. Shapotou

See the mighty Yellow River flowing smoothly between desert dunes at this tiny, remote resort town in up-country rural Ningxia – a spellbinding sight.

5. Lanzhou

Slurp down outstanding beef noodles at this former garrison town along the fabled Silk Road, the gateway to China’s Muslim northwest.

6. Jiayuguan

The fortress at the Great Wall’s western extremity, over 2000km from Beijing, impressive for its mighty defences yet dwarfed by the stark desert scenery.

7. Dunhuang

Ride a camel across 300m-high dunes outside this small city, then explore the marvellous galleries of ancient Buddhist sculptures at the Mogao caves.

8. Turpan

Small, relaxed oasis town, with a main street shaded by grape trellises and a surrounding desert packed with historical relics from its former Silk Road heyday.

9. Kashgar

Frontier city where Chinese, Uyghur and Central Asian cultures mix: don’t miss the astonishing Sunday Bazaar, crammed with metalwork, spices and livestock traders.

China Itinerary 2 - Grand Tour

This tour ticks the major boxes – historical sights, gorgeous countryside and sizzling cities. Allow two weeks in a hurry, or three at a more leisurely pace.

1. Beijing

The Chinese capital is packed with essential sights, including the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall.

2. Pingyao

Step back in time inside the walls of this charming, traffic-free Ming-dynasty town, spending the night at a traditional courtyard inn.

3. Xi’an

Dynastic capital for a millennium, Xi’an is filled with treasures, including the enigmatic Terracotta Army, built to guard the tomb of China’s despotic first emperor.

4. Chengdu

The Sichuanese capital features traditional teahouses, fire-breathing opera, lively temples and locally bred pandas.

5. Three Gorges

Take a three-day cruise down this impressive stretch of the mighty Yangtze River, between Chongqing and the massive Three Gorges Dam.

6. Yangshuo

Cycle between jagged limestone peaks and brilliant green paddy fields surrounding Yangshuo village, looking like something straight off a Chinese scroll painting.

7. Hong Kong

Stunning cityscapes, modern conveniences, serious shopping, glorious beaches, wonderful mountain trails and superb cuisine – this bustling territory has it all.

China Itinerary 3 - Sights of the southwest

The southwestern provinces offer spellbinding mountain vistas, karst-dotted rivers and rushing waterfalls, alongside fascinating minority villages and laidback cities.

1. Emei Shan

Join Buddhist pilgrims ascending this forested, temple-studded mountain up seemingly endless flights of stone steps.

2. Dafo

This gigantic Buddha statue was completed in 803 AD and remains one of the world’s biggest religious sculptures.

3. Jiuzhaigou

Enchanting alpine valley of calcified waterfalls and stunningly blue lakes, all surrounded by magestically forested peaks – get in early to beat the crowds.

4. Lijiang

Exploring the rambling, cobbled lanes of this picturesque ancient town – once home to the Naxi minority, now crammed with sightseers – makes for an atmospheric few days.

5. Dali

Dali’s laidback street life and outlying minority villages encourage unplanned long stays.

6. Kunming

The cheery, pleasantly warm Yunnanese capital retains considerable charm despite its modernity. Don’t forget to try the famous “Crossing-the-Bridge” noodles.

7. Kaili

Jumping-off point for visiting villages of the Miao minority, famed for their festivals and spectacular embroideries.

8. Li River

Ride a boat down this magical river, lined with karst pinnacles, between Guilin and Yangshuo.

Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 26.04.2021

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