There’s no better place to start your sightseeing than China’s capital – cultural and historic powerhouse, Beijing. Tiananmen Square is a worthy first stop – it was built during the Ming dynasty in 1415 and is one of the biggest squares in the world. It’s the spot where the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 and is now home to the National Museum of China. After you’ve wandered around, it’s on to the Forbidden City – an enormous palace complex with Imperial Gardens that make the perfect setting for sunset. They’re decorated with ornate rockeries, ancient trees and patterned pathways.
The Great Wall of China’s reputation precedes it. It’s no ordinary tourist attraction – it’s so long that you can see it from space. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been under construction since the 7th century and spans over 21,000 kilometres of China’s northern borders. Your guide will take you to the Huanghuacheng section of the wall, which is hidden away from the crowds. Plus, if you’re travelling to China in spring, you’ll get to see the wall covered in wild flowers. Take time to stroll around and snap pictures of the rolling hills before moving on to the postcard-pretty Summer Palace.
Turn the clock back to ancient times in Xi’An, the capital of the former Tang Dynasty. You’ll travel there by bullet train from Beijing to make the most of the time in China. The city’s colourful Tang Dynasty masked shows can’t be missed – back in the day, they would’ve been performed in the courts and for the nobles. Follow the show with a dinner of traditional dumplings for an authentic taste of China. However, there’s more to Xi’An than singing, dancing and dumplings. This city is home to the world-famous Terracotta Warriors – an 8,000-strong army of life-sized statues built for China’s first emperor – and, of course, a bunch of accompanying bronze chariots. Your guide will clue you up on the history of the Terracotta Army, which date back to 200BC, and take you on a tour of the city and the historic Muslim Quarter.
Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan – or Szechuan – province. Sounds familiar? The Sichuan style of cooking has probably popped up on the menu of your local Chinese takeaway. It’s known for its rich flavours, which come from the Sichuan pepper. So, you’ll be pleased to hear that you get to sample a Sichuan dinner on your first night in Chengdu on the tour. And if seeing a giant panda is on your China wishlist, Chengu delivers. Take a trip to the Dujiangyan Panda Base and watch these oh-so-cute bears loll about like mini emperors, munching on bamboo. These pandas have all been rescued and nursed back to health, and will be released back into the wild when they’re ready.
If thinking about China conjures up images of traditional lanterns, you’re in for a treat. The tour stops off in the old town of Ciqikou, where scarlet lanterns are strung between the buildings of narrow cobbles streets. Here, antique shops sit shoulder to shoulder with tea houses and boutiques selling porcelain. Ciqikou holds on to its traditional roots and gives you a glimpse of what places like Chongqing and Hong Kong were like before they became dominated by skyscraper-lined cities. There’s even a 1,500-year-old Buddhist temple to visit – it’s perched on a mountain in the middle of the old town.
On the Once in a lifetime China tour, you spend three nights sailing along the Yangtze River on a cruise ship – the views don’t get much better than this. Admire the stunning natural landscapes from the deck and watch out for exotic birds as they swoop over the water. You can hop off the ship to see sights on the river’s banks, like the Shi Baozhai Pagoda – a scarlet-coloured Buddhist temple, and even take a speedboat to the Shennv Stream. It’s nicknamed the Beauty Stream, as the lime-green trees reflect beautifully on the glass-clear waters. But the real wow-worthy views are yet to come. The ship sails through the Qutang and the Wu Gorges, where steep cliffs rise up dramatically on either side of the riverbed – don’t forget to charge your camera for this bit. You’ll also take a tour of the iconic Three Gorges Dam – the largest hydroelectricity plant in the world.
Rooftop bars and all-night dim sum restaurants line the city in Shanghai – although there’s plenty of history to see, too. Head to the Yuyuan Gardens – with its pavilions, ponds and rockeries – and the bustling old bazaar and you’ll see what we mean. Then, wander along The Bund, a mile-long waterfront promenade lined by buildings, with styles ranging from Baroque to Neoclassical, it’s a like a lesson in the history of architecture. Our top tip? Make sure you stay up past sunset to soak up the views of the Shanghai skyline – it lights up the sky after dark.
If you’re looking to book a tour to China but need some extra advice, call 0203 451 2940 and ask to speak to Natalie – she’s clued up on all you need to know about our Once in a lifetime China tour. Or, chat to one of our other friendly TUI Tours experts by ringing the same number.
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