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Top Trip Memories

  • Standing face-to-face with thousands of life-sized, individualized clay warriors excavated from the vast necropolis of China’s First Emperor in Xi’an.
  • Viewing and walking on the Great Wall to discover how steep it is (and, if you visit at some locations, how much of it now lies in ruins).
  • Sailing down the Li River from Guilin through an unearthly landscape of sheer cliffs and peaks that resemble a dreamy ink-brushed scroll.
  • Cruising through the remains of the Three Gorges on the Yangtze River and visiting the huge hydroelectric dam that partially submerged them.
  • Window shopping the length of Shanghai’s Nanjing Road, China’s premier commercial avenue since colonial days, from Jade Buddha Temple to the Bund.
  • Riding a cable car to the top of Mt. Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) for breathtaking views of swirling mists, odd rock formations, and some of its 70 peaks.
  • Circumnavigating the entire city wall of Xi’an by bicycle, then surveying the intimate street life of the city within.
  • Reaching two fabled oases on the Silk Road: Urumqi (China’s Timbuktu) and Kashgar, site of one of Asia’s largest outdoor markets and camel bazaars.
  • Getting lost and lost again in the natural labyrinth of the Stone Forest outside of Kunming in the far western province of Yunnan.
  • Summiting Mt. Tai at sunrise, where Confucius observed, “The world is small,” and Chairman Mao proclaimed, “The East is Red.”
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Tour Tips

  • When choosing a tour, consider how much free time is allowed, especially in cities, where the chance to walk the streets and observe daily life can be an unforgettable experience.
  • Resident tour guides are your best resource for insights into modern Chinese life, and the best of them are bright, sophisticated, willing to answer your hard questions and eager to find out more about you.
  • Request or procure a multiple-entry 10-year China tourist visa (which became available late in 2014), making a return visit easier and cheaper.
  • Jet lag is a reality for most travelers to China. Try to fly in at least a day ahead, if possible, so that you can begin your tour at full strength.
  • Early spring and late fall are the best times to travel in most parts of China—less hot and crowded. Southern China is much warmer than the North in winter months.
  • Learning a few Chinese phrases can go a long ways in smoothing your way, even on a tour. Being able to say “Hello,” “Good-bye,” and “Thank you” opens doors, while “Yes,” “No,“ and “How much is this?” in Chinese make shopping (and fending off vendors) much easier.
  • After you’ve arrived…
  • Credit cards will be all you need for most purchases, and ATMs are widely available in cities, but street markets and village shops usually require local currency.
  • If you’re venturing outside the main cities, be sure to carry tissues, hand sanitizers and other hygienic devices. China has modernized rapidly, but it is still a developing nation.
  • Most Chinese are frank and outgoing, rather than reserved. Few topics are taboo these days, especially among young people, but certain topics of conversation -- such as Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Hong Kong elections, abortion, Taiwan -- can be unfruitful.
  • Jokes and puns, however, are popular, as is Western pop culture, including music, films and designer clothes.
  • Wear sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, since you’ll want to see as much as possible on foot.
  • Given the air pollution and dusty (sometimes unclean) conditions, choose serviceable outdoor attire by day. Touring China can be more a ramble through the outback than a stroll through a shopping mall.
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China Travel Reviews & Ratings

4.7 out of 5



486 Reviews

  • Excellent 351
  • Great 117
  • Average 16
  • Disappointing 1
  • Terrible 1

Rating Details

  • Value
  • Guide
  • Activities
  • Lodging
  • Transportation
  • Meals

Tour Reviews

Highlights of China

Highlights of China

January 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
Great tour – can't believe how much we packed into 12 days (Xièxiè , Emma!), and how many 'Chinas' we saw and enjoyed (old and new, city and country, quiet and noisy). Still have images popping up unexpectedly in my mind of things we saw and people we met.
Maybe not inspirational, but most fun in the cooking class - sixteen nervous jugglers all with hot woks. lots of ingredients and not enough time

Super. Endlessly patient, deeply knowledgeable, great fun.

Go soon, try everything!


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November 2016
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
On October 13, 2016, we left for our trip to China & the Yangtze River Cruise. 27 people who couldn't wait to meet each other and most of all our tour guide, Mark Ma. To say that he's the best would be an understatement. Our trip was fabulous from the moment we met him til we boarded the plane, homeward bound. His knowledge of China is vast and his English is perfect. This is my 3rd trip with Smart Tours and I love traveling with them. The price is unbeatable for what we always get. From hotels, to transportation, tours and food Smart Tours can't be beat. The trip is physically demanding but the upside is I lost 6 pounds from so much walking. I can't wait for my next trip. Thanks!!
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The China sampler tour

China Sampler

November 2016
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
The China sampler was a wonderful trip. We had never ventured to the orient and the China Sampler was a good introduction to Chinese culture. We liked all the places we visited in Beijing, Xian, Shanghai,and Sozhou. The hotels were very nice and comfortable. Out guides Hou and Lilly were very knowledgeable and spoke perfect English. All the extra excursions were well worth the time and expense. I would definitely recommend the tour to anyone.
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November 2016
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
We hit the road running, flight from LA to Shanghai...our guide Mark was waiting for us and we set off for the hotel. Mark Ma spent the entire time with us. For most of us that have travelled a lot, we all felt he was one of the best ever. He was patient, intelligent, knowledeable, and informative. There were 26 in our group of varying ages and abilities. At the end of the day, we saw so much and were ready for bed at night. There is so much to see, but the crowds of people for us proved very tiring. China proved to be a remarkable country, we were all blown away how they have advanced mainly since Tienamen and then of course where they are going from here. The cities were all new and amazing, and very, very clean. We were hard pressed to find any litter anywhere. All of the major attractions were amazing....The Terra Cotta Warriors were almost beyond one should miss seeing this piece of history. At every place we went, Mark and smarTours had arranged for a tour guide for us for that area....they were able to give us great insight to that days activities from a local perspective.For your information, we saw tours from much more expensive tour companies all along the way...they were seeing most of the same sights, staying at many of the same sure to realize the value of this trip
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Walking the Great Wall

Walking the Great Wall

November 2016
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
A brilliant trip. The Great Wall was amazing, with spectacular and breathtaking views. The trekking was great, being well paced, as well as having some steep and challenging sections. The Xian extension was really worthwhile, not only to see the teracotta warriors, but also to experience the sights and sounds of this lovely city.
The first steps on the Wall, and the realisation of its vast scale.
The sunset at Jinshanling.
Tai Chi at the temple.
First sight of the warriors.
The food market in Xian.

Our guide Jay was superb. He was informative, helpful, patient, funny, professional, indispensable, and we miss him!

Leave space for souvenirs, and do the Xian extension if you can.

Great trip. Great guide. Great Wall.

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Top Tour Operators and Travel Companies

Classic Itineraries

China in 1 Week

If you have only one week in China, be sure to see Beijing and Shanghai. The former is known for its historical richness and the latter epitomizes modernity in China. Hit the major highlights like the Terracotta Warriors and hike the Great Wall.

Day 1-2, Shanghai: Stroll along the Bund and Pudong Districts, visit Yu Garden, take a boat ride down Huangpu River, and visit the Propaganda Museum.

Day 3-4, Xian: See the Terracotta Warriors and Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, walk along the Silk Road, visit the Bell and Drum Towers, and shop in the Muslim Quarter.

Day 5 -7, Beijing: Hike along the Great Wall, see the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, National Museum, and Temple of Heaven.

Trips that follow this itinerary:

China Highlights with Intrepid: - 9 Days, value trip

Beijing to Shanghai with G Adventures - 8 Days, basic trip

China Express with G Adventures - 8 Days, value trip

Or see All One Week China Itineraries

China in 2 Weeks

If it will be your first time traveling to to China you must see the bustling cities and the serene countryside. Visit Beijing, Xian (Terracotta Warriors), Shanghai, and Guanxi province (known for the picturesque regions of Yangshuo and Guilin). 

Day 1-4, Beijing: Forbidden City, Great Wall of china (Simutai or Badaling), Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square.

Day 5-7, Xian: Xian is one of the best preserved walled cities. See the UNESCO world heritage site of Emperor Shi Huang’s Terracotta Warriors. Walk through the Muslim quarters and try the kebabs at the food stalls.

Day 8-11, Yangshuo/Guilin (Guanxi province): See the Elephant Trunk Hill, Reed Flute Cave, and cruise down the Li River on bamboo raft. This region is known for its serene rice paddies and karst mountains.

Day 12-14, Shanghai: Shanghai is known for its eclectic architecture, blending the old (Old Town “Nanshi”) and the new (Shanghai World Financial Center). Stroll along the Bund and Pudong District, see Yu Garden (Yu Yuan), and take a boat ride along Huangpu River. 

Trips that follow this itinerary:

Highlights of China with Exodus Travels -13 Days, value trip

Best of China with G Adventures - 15 Days, value trip

Highlights of China with G Adventures - 14 Days, value trip

Treasures of China with Trafalgar - 15 Days, comfort trip

Or see All Two Week China Itineraries

China in 3 Weeks

Three weeks in China will give you the opportunity to explore the breadth and diversity of the Middle Kingdom’s rich culture, history, wildlife, and terrain.

Day 1-3, Beijing: See the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square.

Day 4-6, Shanghai: Walk along Nanjing Road, see the Bund, Pudong district, Yu Garden, and the Shanghai Museum.

Day 7-8, Xian: See the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Mosque, and stroll through the Muslim Quarters.

Day 9-13, Emeishan: Hike along one of China’s four sacred buddhist mountains, visit a tea plantation, and see one of the largest carvings of Buddha in the world.

Day 14, Chengdu: (Note that this is a great option if you love pandas!) Get up close and personal with the giant pandas of the world famous Panda Breeding Center.

Trips that follow this itinerary:

Essential China with G Adventures - 21 Days, value trip

China Highlights and Walk the Great Wall with Explore! - 17 Days, value trip

Total China with Peregrine Adventures - 24 Days, comfort trip

Or see All Three Week China Itineraries

China Trips & Tour Advice

China is the world’s most populous nation, and has rapidly emerged as the powerhouse of Asia. It's the region’s largest economy, second only to the U.S. But China is also a treasure-house of art and artifacts, temples and tombs, walls and cities stretching back 3,000 years. The attractions are many, the nation vast. Let Stride be your guide in selecting a trip through the dreamscape of China.

The contrast between the modern and the ancient is stark in many countries, but in China it takes on monumental dimensions. At every turn the world’s oldest continuous civilization collides with the 21st century’s most explosive economy, producing moments of bewilderment, but also of insight.

At one end of the street is the serene temple where Buddhism was born in China; at the other end, a traffic jam of raucous Volkswagens and Buicks. These jolting juxtapositions of past, present and future are abundant in the three places you should visit first in China: the modern capital of Beijing, the ancient capital of Xi’an and the capital of China’s economic future, Shanghai.

Beijing: The First Must-Do

Beijing is first on the list because nowhere else has so much survived that defines Chinese civilization -- and survived on such a monumental scale. The Great Wall is an emblem of all that China was throughout its history of dynasties, and it can be viewed and walked upon at several points north of the modern capital, foremost at Badaling where most tourists go, but notable too are the less visited sections at Mutianyu and Simatai.

Nearly as colossal is the Forbidden City, the lavish royal residence of Ming and Qing Dynasty rulers. The Forbidden City fronts Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest public square and site of Chairman Mao’s mummified remains.

Also flanking the square is the National Museum of China, the mainland’s largest repository of imperial treasures. There are legions of other sites to see in Beijing, too -- the splendid Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Ancient Observatory, the Ming Tombs, the traditional hutongs (alleyways), Olympic Park and the up-to-the-minute 798 Art District.

Ancient Xi’an

Westward and deep into China’s interior is Xi’an, China’s ancient capital spanning a dozen dynasties, including the first. Here Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified China in 221 BC and constructed the underground Army of Terra-cotta Warriors guarding his tomb. This site has become China’s foremost archaeological attraction and a top stop on the world tourism list.

Not to be missed in Xi’an, too, are its Ming Dynasty city walls, the towering Big Goose Pagoda (AD 652), the Great Mosque, an array of ancient Buddhist and Daoist temples and two museums: the Shaanxi History Museum, with its exceptional displays of terra-cotta warriors and Tang Dynasty arts, and the Forest of Steles Museum, with its incomparable collection of engraved stone tablets.

Ultra-Modern Shanghai

In stark contrast with Xi’an, there’s Shanghai, China’s boomtown, where skyscrapers serve as 21st century pagodas and high-end shops and restaurants give the city an international flare.

Historical treasures remain here and there -- especially in the fine Shanghai Museum and on the grounds of the splendid Yuyuan Gardens -- and there are still some interesting architectural reminders of Shanghai’s colonial days in the French Concession, along Nanjing Road and particularly along the Bund river promenade. But be prepared to be blown back by Shanghai’s very modern, frenetic pace, its arrogant attitude, and its grand and grandiose shopping outlets.

The Should-Do Spots

Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai are must-dos, but there are plenty of should-dos, too. These include the panda preserves of Chengdu, the uncanny karst scenery of Guilin, and the remoter Shangri-Las of Yunnan Province, Mongolia, the Silk Road and Tibet. 

For those touring China’s major cities, however, the most notable extension is a cruise on the Yangtze River, where two top Western operators, Viking River Cruises and Victoria Cruises, provide excellent voyages through the heart of the Middle Kingdom.

For many visitors to China, booking a tour from an experienced operator makes sense, saving time and effort while delivering quintessential sights and experiences. Stride gives you a choice of tour operators capable of unrolling the enigmatic scroll of China and translating its ancient script.

Related Guides



Local Attractions:  

Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Terracotta Army, Mount Huang, Li River Cruise, Leshan Giant Buddha and Many More

Top Activities:      

Explore Culture, River Cruises & History Sightseeing

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