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China: the word alone is enigmatic. You’ve heard whispers of great dynasties, the mystical myths and legends surrounding ancient artefacts, the modern day culture defined by communism, the symbolic power of the lucky colour red, the rigid traditions as old as time and a growing modernity so brand-spanking, shiny and new that you can see your face in it. This is the Middle Kingdom and you’re here to unearth all that this country cloaked in oriental mystery has to offer.
Here, encased in a great bulking frame, lies one of the world’s biggest superpowers and one that may seem intimidating, inaccessible, or exhausting – if not all of the above – at first glance. But done the right way, a China tour is set to introduce you to a corner of the world that rewards at every turn. Making up one of earth’s longest continuous civilizations, China’s past and present are being constantly interwoven to make one eternal, spellbinding story.
And with over 4,000 years worth of chapters under its belt, this is no quick read. But superlatives are just the norm here. Oldest, newest, greatest, largest, busiest, tallest. You name it, China has it – contradictions and all. And no country has ever evolved so quickly. It’s currently the second richest nation in the world and one that is still developing at rapid rates. Considering the chaos that it survived just a number of decades ago, the progress is nothing short of astounding. Something that a fiercely proud population of approximately 1.4 billion – which is, of course, is the world’s largest – will always be on hand to reiterate.
Both frenetically fast paced and sumptuously slow, must-see sights here range from the mighty Great Wall to the lazy winds of the Li River. The big cities will bowl you over with their sheer size, the fairytale-like pastoral scenes are set to enchant and the pandas, well they can’t be forgotten off of anybody’s list. Then there’s the Silk Road history, rich food ranging from Sichuan’s trademark spice to Beijing’s peking duck, the frenzy of labyrinth-like streets, the dizzying heights of skyscraper skylines, the rolling rice fields, the iconic, the underrated and the undiscovered. Oh and pretty much everything is in Chinese, so some mandarin for dummies wouldn’t go amiss.
So, holidays in China. What are they all about? In short, throwing yourself into the unknown of a place teetering on the edge of drastic change and entrenched tradition, and relishing every mind-blowing second.
To create your own tailor-made China holiday, start with our Iconic Highlights, Yangtze Discovery or Panoramas & Pandas base itinerary, packed with all the essentials. You can then customise your trip with extra stops, experiences and accommodation that suits your style and budget.
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Navigating your way through the labyrinth-like hutongs of Beijing, ogling at the skyscraper skyline of Hong Kong, coming face-to-face with a panda in Chengdu, or drifting down the Li River in amongst Guilin’s enchanting karst scenery. Wherever your china to-do list takes you to, you’ll be doing it in all authentic style. Our China destinations are handpicked to showcase the best of what this old-meets-new country has to offer. It’s up to you now.
Standing as both its political and cultural centre, China’s capital city is packed full to the brim of wonders old and new. Peel back layers of history with a visit to any one of its six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, or plunge yourself into its bizarre, fast-forwarded modernity. Whether traipsing the Great Wall, or tiptoeing around Tiananmen Square, there’s no doubt that Beijing is the home of China’s icons.Discover More
A World Heritage old town and stunning natural scenery - it’s easy to see why Lijiang is one of China’s most popular tourist spots. Spend some time getting swept up in the bustle of the cobbled streets before heading into the countryside to hike in the foothills and visit traditional Naxi villages. This is a place where culture-rich attractions and scenic views come hand in hand.Discover More
Packed full to the brim of Silk Road history and home to the most astounding archaeological find of the 20th century – a.k.a. the Terracotta Army – Xian, or “see-an” as it’s pronounced, is one of China’s city greats. Reminisce on its glory days as the country’s ex-imperial capital from the heights of its ancient city walls or get lost in the sights, sounds and smells of the bustling Muslim Quarter to get a feels for the city’s melting pot atmosphere.Discover More
Shanghai is a city with swagger. Cloud-touching skyscrapers, ultra-chic art galleries, designer stores and a stylish dining scene make this one of China’s most exciting and exuberant metropolises. Dig a little deeper, through, and you’ll find a treasure trove of authentic Chinese culture, from serene gardens and traditional teahouses to bustling bazaars and curio shops.Discover More
With its karst hills and pristine lakes, Guilin is one of China’s most scenic cities. The mountain-and-river landscapes, plus its close proximity to attractions such as the Longji rice terraces, make it the perfect base for exploring the natural wonders of the Guangxi Province. Relax on a leisurely river cruise, go hiking in the lush hills or take a scenic stroll around the city lakes.Discover More
Compared to the relentless bustle of China’s main cities, Chengdu is refreshingly laid-back. Here, it’s all about teahouses, temples and taking it easy. It’s the gateway to the scenic western hinterlands, where pandas chomp their way through bamboo forests and the Himalayan foothills give way to lush valleys. This provincial capital is fast-becoming one of China’s most popular places to visit, so make sure you tick it off before word gets out.Discover More
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From the old, so old that it’s ancient, to the new, so new that its still shiny, China offers the best of both worlds when it comes to things to see. Ancient icons vie for your attention every which way that you look. From the majestic winds of the Great Wall of China to the silent pride of the Terracotta Army, China’s top sights seem to tell a story as old as time itself. Then there’s the chic city slick of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, the wildlife wonders of Chengdu’s Panda Base and the incredible natural beauty of everything from Lijiang’s himalayan horizon to the Li River’s sumptuous winds between Guilin and Yangshuo. These are experiences that won’t leave you wanting for much.
With a history dating back nearly 2,700 years and still standing today at a staggering 21,196 km long, the Great Wall of China really is one of the world’s most mind-boggling attractions. Originally built to keep invaders out, ironically now it’s continually repaired in order to draw visitors in.Discover more
Dating back nearly 600 years, this walled city-within-a-city is one of the most important imperial palaces in China. Housing a whole host of Emperors from both the Ming and Qing dynasties and standing as everything that the founder of modern China, Chairman Mao, was against, the Forbidden City is the ultimate symbol of traditional power.Discover more
Pretty as a picture and a mandatory stop during any visit to Beijing, the Summer Palace – where emperors once came to play – is a serene spot, perfectly showcasing all things quintessentially Chinese. Think intricately designed ancient architecture backdropped by the lush verdure of picturesque gardens, all looking out over a charming lake.Discover more
Strikingly beautiful and drenched in rich imperial history, the Temple of Heaven is an integral legacy of traditional China. Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, the same year as the Forbidden City, you can expect plenty of old-school Chinese architecture sat within the tranquil grounds of its very own 267-hectare park.Discover more
Not just another square, Tiananmen is up there as one of the world’s largest and also one of its most political. Dating back nearly 500 years, today this square is utilised to showcase the grand scale of the communist party. Overlooked by a Mona Lisa like portrait of the late founder of modern China, Chairman Mao himself, this is a concrete expanse with one hell of an atmosphere.Discover more
As ethereal as the name suggests, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain consists of 13, snow-capped peaks of adventure loving fun. Primarily known for being a ski resort, but also just a scenic spot renowned for its hiking opportunities and gobsmacking glacier park, this small mountain range has got it all going on.Discover more
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You’ll need a visa to travel to mainland China, but not for Hong Kong. Make sure that it’s the right visa for your travel, that it’s valid for the length and purpose of your stay and that you have at least six months left on your passport from the date you arrive in China. Recent changes mean that you’ll need to obtain a visa in person which can be done at a Visa Application Centre. As it stands, you’ll need to provide fingerprints as part of your application, but for up to date information on China visa requirements, it’s recommended that you check the gov.uk website before you travel.
Travellers should be up to date with routine vaccination courses and boosters as recommended in the UK. However, it’s best to see your GP 6-8 weeks before you travel to check whether they recommend anything different.
The months of sweet spring and fresh autumn are the best times to visit China. In summer the heat can be quite oppressive and the crowds frustrating, especially at popular attractions, and winter is drastically colder than the temperatures that make us moan back in blighty – it’s -4 on the average January day. Brrrr.
The currency is the Chinese Yuan (denoted as CNY, or RMB for Renminbi, and known colloquially as ‘quai’), and there are around nine yuan to the British pound. Tipping just isn’t the done thing in mainland China and could even – god forbid – be seen as a rudely assuming act of charity, or even a bribe. In fact, gratuity is even illegal in airports and some bigger establishments. It just isn’t worth the hassle. There are exceptions to the rule, however. Hong Kong has a completely different view on the matter and tipping is quite acceptable here. It is also a nice gesture to tip your driver at the end of your tour.
If you want to play it safe, conservative is key in China. A country steeped in tradition, the Chinese quite generally have a traditional outlook on clothing, so maybe leave the hotpants at home for this trip. It’s also a good idea to pack some formal clothing for special events as a few establishments will have a strict dress code – don’t worry, we’re not talking a three piece dinner suit, just a step up from your casual trainer and tshirt look will do. When it comes to being polite, think: a handshake and a hello rather than a bow; eat as much as you can to show that you like the food; drinking from your bowl is allowed, but for everything other than soup, chopsticks should be used; never rest your chopsticks in your rice; respect elders. Remember those and you should be just fine!
Although officially Buddhist, the Chinese government recognises five official religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Taoism, Islam and Protestantism. China is a deeply spiritual country whose rights to practise religion are currently protected by the communist constitution, but it is important to note that under its current rule, these practices are limited to ‘normal activities’.
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Whether you go for the base, or make it your own with a whole host of add-ons, our China holidays will have you captivated from the word go. This is travel like never before, say hello to a real get it whilst it’s hot destination. Make this trip of a lifetime and the travel kudos will come rolling in. Because how many people do you know that have been to China?
Chinese food may be different, but it’s also very, very good.
Any trip to China is a truly rich experience and if you’re one of the lucky ones heading there soon and you’re not quite acquainted with the Chinese way of life yet, this one’s for you.
From cocktails to mocktails, beer and wine, we’ve done the research for you and put together a list of the top 5 bars in Beijing we think are worth going out of your way for.
Go wild with our top five picks of the world's wildlife offerings.
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