Impactful and colossal, modern and rustic, traditional and innovative; China is all of these things at once, it is a country with a fierce nature that is incomparable to any other country in the world.
Home to over one billion people, approximately a fifth of the world’s population, China is exhausting and energising, presenting contrasts everywhere you look. With ten megacities like Shanghai and Beijing with populations of over ten million people and the independent region of Hong Kong, it’s difficult to believe that beyond these metropolises lie thousands of miles of remote, picturesque countryside complete with traditional villages, lush terraced rice paddies and staggering mountain scenery. Rural life in China is something few travellers venture into, but it is certainly worth the journey.
A country so vast and densely-populated, one can expect that the result is a diverse country home to several microcultures, different languages and customs. That much is true of the far south with its ethnic minorities and hill tribes. China’s big cities have long drawn in expats from all over the world. However, it’s the diversity of China that has resulted in one of the highlights of most people’s trips – the food! With over one billion mouths to feed, combined with the vast geographical variations, you can expect your palette to be both tested, and tantalised. In a country where the people ask ‘have you eaten?’, not ‘how are you?’ as a gauge of your general wellbeing, it’s no surprise that food will be at the centre point of your trip.
China’s 5000-year-old civilisation, the world’s oldest continuous civilisation, has expectedly resulted in some breathtaking antiquities. With many having been destroyed to pave the way for modern skyscrapers and other developments, don’t expect to be tripping up over ancient artefacts. But what you will find is very special. From the intriguing crumbling sections of the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Army and the Forbidden City to the temple-topped mountains, UNESCO-listed gorges and villages lost in time; China’s rich history awaits.
Every single trip to China will be a different experience. Whilst it may be the bucket-list ticking landmarks and the dazzling metropolises you initially visit for, your lasting memory of this country will likely be its sheer scale and awe-inspiring diversity.
With a significant language barrier, the non-stop pace of life and the vast size this country takes up, planning a trip to China as a first-time traveller can be exhausting. Backed by specially-crafted customisable itineraries designed by Local Designers in China, this China travel guide aims to leave you an excellent grasp on what this country offers and everything you need to know.
- When is the Best Time to Visit China?
- Best Things to Do & Best Places to Visit in China
- How to Get Around on Your China Tour
- Accommodation Styles & Where to Stay in China
- Must-Try Foods in China
- The Cost of China Travel
- Festivals & Special Events in China
- Ready to Plan Your Trip to China?
When is the Best Time to Visit China?
China is the second-largest country in the world; therefore, as you would expect, its climate and temperature vary drastically from region to region.
Summers in China match those of the European summer (June to August); it is the hottest time in the country and also the peak time to visit. During these months, you can expect temperatures above 30 degrees celsius and high humidity levels. In the cities, during these months, the pollution levels can reach dizzying heights with increased levels of traffic.
Winters in China are a different story, and travelling during this time is rare. During winter, many of the key attractions close due to harsh weather and temperatures can drop to -13 degrees celsius overnight.
In order to avoid the inflated prices and sticky humidity of the summer and the harsh conditions of winter, April to May and September to October are great months to take a China trip. The temperatures generally sit at a comfortable 20 degrees celsius which is much more pleasant for exploring.
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Best Things to Do & Best Places to Visit in China
Make your China tour exactly what you want to be with experiences hand-picked for you by our Local Designers. To get you started, here’s our pick of the top places to see in China.
Beijing’s most significant and most prominent landmark, the sheer size of Tian’anmen Square is hard to comprehend until you are standing in the middle of it. At 109 acres, it is one of the largest city squares in the world holding great cultural significance to China.
A great place to start your Beijing tour, you can visit the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the National Museum of China, the Great Hall of the People and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Whilst here, you can learn about the Tian’anmen Square protests of 1989, the pro-democracy movement that ended in the death of several hundred people.
Cruise the Li River
For a hefty dose of natural beauty, there is no better activity than a cruise down the Li River. Measuring 272 miles long, the Li River is flanked by some of the world’s best photography spots of classic jagged limestone peaks, bamboo falling over bubbling streams and farmers sowing rice paddies with water buffaloes in tow.
This staggeringly beautiful rural countryside landscape has inspired poets and painters for centuries, and a luxurious cruise down the Li River will show you why.
The most famous attraction in Beijing, the no-longer forbidden, Forbidden City was the imperial palace that served as the home to 500 years worth of emperors from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. Covering over 175 acres, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a wonderful place to learn about China’s history, legends and imperial culture.
Tip: There’s no underestimating the size and breadth, both physically and historically, of this monument, so give yourself a day to explore it all.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
This is one of the places in China that you can do no justice unless you hike it on foot. Standing as one of the deepest gorges in the world, Tiger Leaping Gorge is simply spectacular. The snow-capped mountain peaks either side of the gorge are laced with hiking trails punctuated by tiny farming villages, perfect for resting, and views so glorious there are no words.
Great Wall of China
Stretching over 21,000 kilometres, the Great Wall of China is a symbol of ancient military defence, mass manpower and engineering skill. Today, it is one of the most famous places in China. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot see the Great Wall of China from space.
The most convenient Great Wall of China tour takes you to the Badaling section, a short distance from Beijing. This is the most visited section of the wall that was reconstructed in 1957 to show what the Great Wall would have looked like originally when it was constructed almost 2,000 years ago.
Indulge to Your Heart’s Content
Food lovers rejoice! China is here to both challenge and reward your taste buds in every sense.
A day spent sampling the delights in the food capital of Beijing and you’ll soon realise that the Chinatown offerings you’ve tried before don’t come close to the world of flavours that awaits you here. From Peking duck and delicious dumplings to foods you’ve never heard of and dishes you can’t fathom the ingredients of; China holds culinary delights around every corner.
Once the largest and most prosperous city in the Far East, Shanghai was propelled into a beacon of opportunity and modernity over the last two decades. Complete with soaring skyscrapers, this economic powerhouse charms every visitor with its contrasting European-style waterfront, the Bund, and the art deco laneways of the French Concession.
Whether it is your first stop or your last, the wonderful places to visit in Shanghai do not disappoint. Give this city a little more time, and your Shanghai tour may just be the highlight of your China trip!
Pandas in Chengdu
Elusively rare in the wild, pandas are an endangered species that even on their home turf in western Sichuan, China, are hard to find. The Panda Research Base in Chengdu gives you a chance to see these giant pandas up close. The bamboo forests here aim to simulate the panda’s natural habitat, making them feel as at home as possible.
Xi’an & The Terracotta Warriors
Considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries ever made, more than 6,000 life-size terracotta warriors and horses stand lined up in battle formation were unearthed in 1974. What is remarkable about this army is that it is made up entirely of individuals; each and every warrior is wearing a distinct expression, no two warriors are the same.
As well as the Terracotta Warriors, you can visit the city wall, the Muslim Quarters and their fascinating architecture and even hike Mount Hua if you’re feeling inspired!
Travel Along the Silk Road
Dating back over two millennia, the Silk Road originally spanned from China all the way to Italy, a huge 6,400 kilometres in length. Much of the Silk Road was within Chinese territory, and today, it’s a wonderful way to get off the tourist trail and explore fragments of China’s early Muslim and Buddhist heritage.
Whilst there is no specific road to follow, you can spend time in the deserts of Gansu, hop on trains and follow the route that ancient traders once did and visit Kashgar, the ultimate Silk Road town.
How to Get Around on Your China Tour
China is vast so getting around takes some planning. Luckily, despite being one of the biggest countries in the world, China’s destinations are well connected.
China by Plane
Due to the vast expanse between destinations, air travel is the fastest and most convenient way to get around China. The country’s air travel network is extensive, with airports being built and expanded regularly.
In general, domestic flights are inexpensive, and most provide a free checked baggage alliance of up to 20 kilograms and five kilograms of hand luggage, which is a huge advantage. Be aware that excess baggage fees above this weight can be very steep.
China by Train
A mix of train and plane travel is the best way to explore China.
China has excelled into the modern age when it comes to train travel with high-speed networks lacing across the country punctual to the second. If you are looking to travel a long distance, then you can save a night of accommodation and opt for one of the ‘soft sleeper’ overnight trains. With two bunks in each cabin and western toilet facilities, these trains are a great way to travel and mix with locals. Of course, if you’re a little hardier and want an even more local experience, you can opt for the ‘hard sleeper’ option.
For example, you can expand your Beijing itinerary by adding a night or two in Shanghai. The route between Beijing and Shanghai takes less than five hours.
China by Bus
By far the cheapest way to explore, bus travel in China is convenient, affordable and surprisingly comfortable. For rural areas like Longji, bus travel is the best way to get around and will lend itself to being immersed in the local culture.
Most buses have air-conditioning and heating. Some buses even have toilets, but it’s likely that you’ll want to wait for a stop to use it.
China by Private Tour
A China private tour with a local guide will be one of the most expensive options, but the benefits far outweigh the costs if you are looking for a comfortable, stress-free experience. Choosing where you go, when you stop and when you travel are three great benefits of private tours. Travelling with a guide, you’ll be able to learn about everywhere you go as you travel from one destination to the next.
Designing a China private tour within your budget is as easy as specifying your travel preferences, interests and budget then connecting with one of our Local Designers on the ground who can design your perfect China itinerary!
Accommodation Styles & Where to Stay in China
Despite Chinese hospitality still having a lot to learn, accommodation in China is improving at a rapid rate. Luxury hotels, quirky backpackers, budget hotel chains, and even camping options present travellers with accommodation that rivals those of those found in the West!
Hotels in China
The rate at which hotels have been built in the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in the last decade means there’s no shortage of rooms in China, even in peak season. With everything from basic, budget hotels through to five-star, international luxury chains, there’s something to suit everyone. When looking at star ratings, it’s worth bearing in mind that these can be a little generous when compared to the facilities offered.
Bed and Breakfasts in China
From the family-run guesthouses to the smart and quirky boutiques, bed and breakfasts have taken off in recent years in China, meaning there’s a huge range to choose from in this mid-range, budget-friendly group.
Camping in China
Whilst you aren’t going to be able to pitch up a tent in the middle of Beijing, when you venture further south into the remote areas, camping becomes a more feasible option. However, you’ll always have to secure a permit before you get set up camp.
Other Accommodation in China
If you’re planning on spending a long time in a city or certain destination in China, then looking into self-catering apartments is a good option. Like everything else, more and more of these are springing up all over China.
The country’s ever-growing backpacker scene is now well serviced by a range of hostels, dormitory hotels and basic guesthouses throughout the main tourist centres.
Tip: A higher price doesn’t always mean better quality! The industry, whilst developing fast, is still learning. The same goes for old and new so pay special attention to this when booking.
Must-Try Foods in China
With over 1.4 billion mouths to feed, Chinese culture is centred around food. With vast geographical variations come vast cultural and regional variations in Chinese cuisine.
Here’s a brief breakdown of several dishes you must try in China and where you’ll find them!
Peking Duck in Beijing
Arguably one of the most famous Chinese dishes to infiltrate the West, Peking duck is a speciality dish from Beijing and is considered one of the national dishes of China. It is often said that there are two key things to do in Beijing; see the Great Wall of China and eat Peking Duck.
This dish is savoured for its thin and crispy skin and succulent meat. One duck can often be sliced into 120 thin slices! It is then served with pancakes and a sweet bean or plum sauce. Are you drooling yet?
Soup Buns in Shanghai
These flower-shaped buns are steamed in bamboo baskets in which they are served. They are filled with a thick soup which comes in a wide range of ingredient choices. The buns let off their delicious smell as they steam so by the time they arrive at your table, you’ll be eager to dive in.
Tip: When dining at a table in China, you’ll be given a small bowl, a saucer and some tea. It is customary to ‘clean’ your chopsticks by pouring hot tea over them before you dine.
Rice Noodles in Guilin
The go-to snack or light breakfast, lunch or dinner in Guilin, these rice noodles are fragrant, delicious and cheap. Layered up with peanuts, soybeans, chopped onions and thin slices of meat, the final addition to this dish is a few ladles of broth resulting in a deliciously fragrant noodle soup!
The perfect way to tell apart the real Chinese food lovers and those that think they know Chinese food is hotpot!
At the centre of the show is the broth in which the meat and vegetables are cooked. There are hundreds of kinds of hotpot flavours you can encounter from mushroom to tomato and spicy hotspot in Sichuan. The original hotpot is made with peanut butter, smashed garlic and chopped onion, topped with sesame oil.
Dumplings in North China
You simply cannot come to China without sampling an array of dumplings, one of the national dishes of the country. Minced meat, chopped vegetables and spices are wrapped up in a thin dough skin then cooked by boiling, steaming or frying.
Traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year, you’ll find dumplings in almost every tourist centre in China.
The Cost of China Travel
Given the size of China, it isn’t shy of cheap food and accommodation, so if you are on a budget, there are plenty of ways to stay within it. On the flip side, luxury experiences and accommodation awaits around every corner, so it’s up to you how you plan to explore.
Before diving in, there’s a few elements of your China trip that are worth noting as they can directly affect the cost of your trip;
- How long your trip is
- When you take your trip
- Your accommodation
- How many places you go to in China
- The number of activities and tours you do
- Your expenditure on food and drink
Now, what was a simple task can seem a little overwhelming when you factor in all of these variables. That’s where we come in. At Designer Journeys, our Local Designers in China can take all of the stress of planning a trip that’s within budget away from you.
Simply specify your budget, desired trip duration, interests and how you like to travel and our Local Designers will create your perfect itinerary. Taking care of everything, whether you are looking for a fully guided China tour by private car or an adventure by public transport in China, our Local Designers can make it happen.
As an example of the cost of a custom trip of China, this 11-day tour of China costs US$2,923 per person and includes;
- Ten nights of 3- and 4-star accommodation
- 20 activities and tours
- Six lunches
- Entrance fees to attractions and landmarks
- Airport transfers
- Ground transportation in the form of a private driver
If you’re looking for something a little grander or even something more budget-friendly, you can achieve this by changing a few elements of your trip.
Start by browsing our range of fully-customisable China tours and click ‘customise’ to connect with one of our Local Designers to tailor the trip for you! If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can ‘design your own trip’ from scratch!
Festivals & Special Events in China
As you can imagine, a country with one of the biggest economies and a culturally diverse population is going to have a significant events calendar lined up each year. Festivals play an important role in Chinese culture and are fascinating to be a part of if you visit during this time.
Here’s a selection of the most important, culturally significant and exciting Chinese festivals;
Chinese New Year
One of the most important festivals to Chinese people, the Chinese New Year Festival (also known as the Spring Festival) is a celebration of 4,000 years of history, families and Chinese culture.
Lasting almost two weeks, the Chinese New Year festival celebrates with dragon dances, making and eating dumplings and setting off firecrackers. Many travellers choose to avoid this national public holiday; however, you’re sure to have a wonderful time if you do get involved.
Chinese Lantern Festival
Traditionally held on the last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations, setting off millions of giant lanterns began as a traditional over 2,000 years ago. To celebrate the dawn of a new year and the end of the celebrations, people will go outside, fly bright drones, enjoy time with family and friends and set off flying lanterns into the sky.
Dragon Boat Festival
Another with a history of over 2,000 years, the Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. As well as the customary eating of rice dumplings, the Dragon Boat Festival is best represented by dragon boat racing.
Wooden boats are shaped and decorated in the form of dragons, a sacred and spiritually significant figure in Chinese culture. Every year, the teams race out to the sound of beating drums. The winning team is said to have plentiful luck and happiness in the year that follows.
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
Taking place every winter (around January) in China, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world. Lasting for around one month, the festival draws in over 20 million visitors each year.
Artists gather from around the world to compete and showcase their ice sculptures. Each year brings a new theme. If there’s one reason to visit China in the bitterly cold winter, it’s this festival!
One of the three most important festivals in China, the Mid-Autumn festival is also known as the Moon Festival and is celebrated by many East Asian communities like Vietnam. Traditionally falling on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the festival is all about family reunions and celebrating the full moon, a symbol of luck and harmony.
Hungry Ghost Festival
One of the most prominent festivals on the Chinese calendar, the Hungry Ghost Festival originates as part of the famous folklore in China which involves worshipping ancestors. It is believed that special ceremonies are needed for deceased ancestors in the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
Special ceremonies involve burning incense, putting ancestral family tablets, paintings and photographs on tables and preparing food three times a day.
National Day of China
Celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, National Day is one of the most important festivals in China and is celebrated throughout the country. Occurring at the same time as the Mid-Autumn Festival, this week is commonly known as ‘Golden Week’ as it is a huge week for tourism and celebrations.
Ready to Plan Your Trip to China?
Whatever you’re looking for from your China trip, with Designer Journeys, your ideal tour can be made a reality. Taking your travel style, interests and budget into account, our Local Designers in China are ready and waiting to design your dream trip, tailored to your liking!