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China is huge. That’s no secret. And being huge — landmass-wise, it’s the size of the United States, and home to around 20 percent of the world’s population, dozens of huge cities, massive stretches of rural and even unpopulated territory, 299 living languages, 56 traditional ethnic groups — it’s a lot to take in, and a lot to make sense of for a first-time visitor. Do you want to see the bustling cities of Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou? Do you want your itinerary to include the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Mount Everest Base Camp or a panda preserve? Perhaps you’d like to bike, perhaps you’d like to take a boat or perhaps a comfortable coach is more your speed. Whatever your preferences, a good tour company can help ease the challenge of narrowing down what to see (and the logistics thereof) while maximizing your time actually enjoying the sights. As with everything else in China, the many, many guided tour options are broad and diverse, so we’ve narrowed down the best of the best for you to book on Viator.
Best Extended Tour: 14-Day China Tour
There’s no way to see all of China in a lifetime, let alone two weeks, but this guided tour ticks a whole lot of items off the must-see checklist, plus offers a number of experiences that you may not have thought of on your own. You’ll start with a few days in Beijing, where you’ll tour the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, a jade factory, the Summer Palace and the Badaling Great Wall. Then it’s off to Xi’an by plane, where you’ll see the Terracotta Warriors, the City Wall and the Great Mosque, and enjoy a traditional music and dance show. From Xi’an: a train to Chengdu, where you’ll visit the Giant Panda Breeding Station, and another train to Chongqing, where you’ll catch your ship for a two-day Yangtze River Cruise culminating near the Three Gorges Dam and Tourist Center in Yichang. A short flight takes to Shanghai, where you’ll spend the final days of your trip visiting the Shanghai Museum, the Bund, the Yuyuan Garden, a silk shop and more. Included in this whirlwind trip are all accommodations (four- and five-star hotels and a presidential balcony room on the boat), all breakfasts and some other meals, all plane, train, and boat tickets within the country, transportation in an air-conditioned coach, entry to all tourist sites and, of course, a knowledgeable local guide at each location.
Best Private Tour: Private 8-Day China Tour: Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai
A private guided tour gives you the obvious benefit of having a guide (and translator) with you for your entire trip, helping to negotiate both logistics and planning, but without the rigid structure of a group tour. Prefer shopping over sightseeing or vice versa? Your guide can work with that. This tour, which includes accommodations, breakfast and entrance fees, offers an itinerary that includes many of China’s most iconic sights: the Great Wall (Mutianyu Section), the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Mosque in Xi’an, the Shanghai Museum and more. Your guide will also take you through some of the more interesting shopping and dining districts in the three cities you’ll see, including the Chenghuang Miao bazaars in Shanghai and the Muslim District in Xi’an. Ample free sightseeing time is built into the entire trip.
Best Cruise Tour: 5-Day President No. 7 Yangtze River Luxury Cruise Tour
The Yangtze is Asia’s longest river and China’s most culturally and economically important waterway. This five-day cruise offers passengers a firsthand look at the river itself, largely from the comfort of a private balcony cabin on a small luxury cruise liner. The boat makes daily excursions for sightseeing and shopping, with stops at the massive Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant, the beautiful Shennong Stream and the hilltop temple at Shibaozhai. There are also optional excursions at White Emperor City and Fengdu Ghost City, two fascinating cultural sites. All meals are included, as is a live guide who’ll offer insights both on and off the ship.
Best Bike Tour: 7-Day Yangshuo Bike Adventure
If you’re an active sort who’s looking to get a bit off the beaten path and see some Chinese countryside, you won’t do better than this seven-day bike tour of rural Guangxi Province, from Guilin to Yangshuo. This region of Southern China is not a wealthy one, but it’s culturally fascinating and has gorgeous scenery, which is dominated by the eerie shapes of karst hills and lush green rice terraces. A guide will customize the tour on the spot, depending on the preferences of the group, but it will include a raft cruise on the Li River, visits with Yao and Zhuang people, traditional cultures of the region, the night market of Zhongshan Road and, if you’d like, a swim in the beautiful Yulong River. The tour does include some fairly intense biking and hiking, so it’s best for people with a moderate-to-excellent level of fitness.
Best Beijing Tour: Three-Night Best of Beijing Private Tour
Massive Beijing, home to 21.5 million people, offers seemingly endless activities for visitors. This tour helps first-timers narrow it down a bit, see the best of the best with both private transportation and professional historical and cultural insight from your personal guide. You’ll see Tiananmen Square, the UNESCO-listed Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. Meals are not included but your guide will assist you with winnowing out the best market vendors and restaurants in the city. An accommodation upgrade for this tour is available, with rooms and breakfast at the five-star Regent Beijing Hotel.
Best Xi’an Tour: Four-Night Soul of Xi’an and Chengdu Tour by Air
Xi’an is a pleasant, cosmopolitan city with a deep history as the heart of much of China’s historic culture, but as far as sightseeing goes, most tourists are drawn here by one specific thing — or rather, 2000 specific things: the Terracotta Warriors. This massive clay army was built as funerary art in circa 210 BCE for the burial of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, and remained undiscovered (though mentioned in historical documents) until the 1970s, when local farmers began to uncover them. Your tour guide will lead you through the museum complex that’s been built around them and show you many of the other impressive things that Xi’an has to offer — the Wild Goose Pagoda and the Drum Tower, among others — over the course of three days. Then, it’s on to Chengdu, where, among other things, you’ll enjoy a performance of the famous Sichuan Opera and visit the cottage of poet Du Fu, one of China’s most famous wordsmiths. On your final full day, you’ll visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the largest such facility in the world, where you’ll see (and even, for an upcharge, get to hold) frolicking baby panda bears and learn about the process of repopulating this iconic species. Accommodations, entrance fees, all ground and inter-city air transportation and most meals are included.
Best Hong Kong / Macau Tour: 6-Day Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Macau Tour
Visit China’s two most cosmopolitan Special Administrative Regions (they’re part of the country but also kind of independent… a solid explanation of how this works is something your guide will definitely attempt to explain) as well as Guangzhou, a chic, modern metropolis that is China’s third-largest cities. (Why haven’t you heard of it? You probably have — the colonial name was “Canton.”) This tour is great for city-lovers, and while a live guide is offered for many excursions, a significant amount of free time for city exploration is built in. On the agenda: a ride on the famous Kowloon/Canton Railway through the Pearl River Delta, an evening dinner cruise on the Pearl River, overlooking the Guangzhou city skyline, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Memorial Hall, the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the viewing tower at the top of Hong Kong’s Sky 100 Tower, Macau’s UNESCO-listed city walls, the ruins of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church and much more. Four-star accommodations, many meals, coach transportation and tickets for cruises, ferries and train trips are all included.
Best Kashgar Tour: 4-Night Kashgar Tour in Xinjiang
Adventurous travelers looking to get way off the beaten path should consider this tour of Kashgar, a city at the far west of China in Xinjiang province, near the borders of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. It’s an ancient trading center that was once a pivotal spot on the Silk Road and remains a bustling center of traditional-style commerce today, with one of the largest bazaars in all of Asia. This tour takes you to the Uyghur livestock market, a fascinating and traditional window into Central Asian farming culture; the Sunday Main Bazaar, where you can bargain for handicrafts, art, knick-knacks, food and just about anything else; the Id Kah mosque, China’s largest mosque; a hike around Karakul Lake; the Tashkorgan Museum and more. The highlight of the trip for many will be the personal time you spend with Uyghur, Tajik and Kyrgyz people, including a night in the traditional yurt home of a Kyrgyz family (other nights are in four-star hotels) and dinner in an Uyghur home. Ground transportation and accommodations are included; food is separate but extremely affordable, diverse, and delicious.
Best Tibet Tour — Tibet 8-Day Tour Including Mount Everest Base Camp
Tibet, an autonomous region of China since 1951, is a must-visit destination for adventure travelers from around the world, as well as those interested in religion and spirituality, and really anyone else who is simply fascinated by cultures that live in dramatically different ways than we do in the modern West. It’s a strikingly beautiful place, dominated by the rocky Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range, and populated by the Tibetan people, a rich and vibrant pastoral culture that has been deeply rooted in Buddhism since the 7th century and, because of geographical isolation, is largely distinct from neighboring cultures. This tour, which stops in Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse, Tingri and Rongbuk, is an excellent option for visitors who’d like to get a taste of the culture and the region but are uninterested in or unable to do it by backpacking. It visits a number of Buddhist monasteries, including Drepung, Pelkor Chode and Tashilunpo, as well as multiple outdoor sites of interest, including Everest Base Camp, and the major sites of bustling Lhasa, which offers both Tibetan and Han culture. The tour is fully guided and transportation and some breakfasts are included. Accommodation is also included and is primarily at four-star hotels (quite basic in this part of the world, but tidy and comfy), but also includes one night in Rongphu Monastery, near Everest Base Camp, where the rooms are very basic but the overall setting is like nothing else in the world.