Seeing the "Big Five" is a Ten-Day Itinerary for the China Basics

terracott warriors xi'an
••• The terracotta warriors in Xi'an. © 2006 Megan Inman & Lincoln Schroth. Used by permission.


On an African safari, if you saw the Big Five, you'd have photos of elephants, lions, rhinos, buffalo and leopards to take home to the grandchildren. There's a lot more to see than the Big Five, of course, but it's nice to have a goal.

You can't see everything in China in one go, well you could, but you'd be here for an awfully long time. So for those of you with a shorter vacation schedule, here's an itinerary for China that includes the "Big Five", five check-list sights for a first-timer to China.

The Big Five

You'll check these five sights off your list when you've finished this tour.


Sample Itinerary

At minimum, you would need ten days for this itinerary. Of course, if you have more flexibility on time, then more time is definitely better. But you're dying to come to China and you've only got ten days? It can be done!

  • Day 1: Arrive Beijing (you'll actually lose a day coming from the US, so plan on a Day Zero, the day you depart)
  • Day 2: Beijing
  • Day 3: Beijing (evening flight to Xi'An)
  • Day 4: Xi'An
  • Day 5: Flight to Chongqing (evening board Yangtze River cruise ship)
  • Day 6: River cruise
  • Day 7: River cruise
  • Day 8: River cruise (evening flight to Shanghai)
  • Day 9: Shanghai
  • Day 10: Depart Shanghai for home


Before You Go

Whoa, hold on. It's great to know you can get so much out of China in so little time, but there are some things you'll need to do before you go.

  • Get your travel documents together. You'll need a current passport and proper visa for visiting mainland China.
  • With this itinerary, since you're not rambling off in the wild, there's not much danger of contracting any infectious diseases, but there is some precautionary health and medical reading for you to do.
  • Your ATM and credit card are probably all you'll need for taking care of your expenses, but familiarize yourself with money matters so you won't have any unwanted surprises.
  • If you have the choice, I'd advise late April, September or October (after the National Day Holiday) as the best times to visit China, but read all about the weather in China so you'll know just what to expect...and what to pack.