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Where to go in China – Planning your China itinerary

Incredibly vast and seldom traced as far as the world’s usual tourist trappings go, China may seem impossible to get your head around. Where to start, let alone where to go in China may seem like an overwhelming quest. But our China itineraries cover all bases, so that you don’t have to. From where to find the pandas to where to stay in the world’s third biggest city, Shanghai, filtering down China’s top locations just got a whole lot easier. 

Beijing is top of most people’s “where to visit in China” list. With just the right balance of old and new, this big, bold city has it all. Ancient icons range from the imposing form of the Forbidden City to the timeless beauty of the Summer Palace. Then there’s the buzz of the historic Hutongs, the indisputable cool of the 798 Arts District and, just a stone’s throw away, you’ll find yourself marvelling at the majesty of the Great Wall of China. Basically, this is a city that bucket-lists were made for – because where else can you tick off so much? 

Then there’s Shanghai for its sheer, monstrous size and fast paced modernity that we’ve all witnessed in the movies. Or Hong Kong, often seen as a pitstop when travelling Down Under, but in actual fact is an enigmatic destination in its own right and well worth a number of days exploration. Xian, like Beijing, is an ancient city that’s proud of its history – from the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda to the Terracotta Army any history buffs will be well and truly satisfied here. 

River running between two rocks

But dig a little deeper and there’s a slower side to this frenetic country. A cruise down the Yangtze River will put you in touch with China’s soul – here morning tai chi and 360 views of the brooding mountains that flank the river’s deep cut gorge go hand in hand. And from China’s longest to one of the world’s most picturesque, Guilin and its famed Li River is all classic Karst scenery and lazily winding waterways. 

Add the Himalayas, a.k.a. Lijiang, to your trip and you’ll not only get incredible mountain backdrops, but traditional Naxi culture and quaint cobbled streets too. And then there’s the main attraction as far as any wildlife lovers are concerned: the pandas of Chengdu. This gateway to the scenic western hinterlands is all about teahouses, temples and taking it easy alongside the obvious draw of its star attraction. 

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Locations to add to your China itinerary


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.

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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.

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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.

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Yangtze River

The yin to China’s yang, the Yangtze is not just the country’s longest river, but its heart and soul. Flanked by brooding mountains and cut into dramatic gorges, the winds of this meandering waterway tell the story of a China both past and present, as well as showcasing some of the country’s best examples of natural beauty. Enjoy its sumptuous curves on a slow river cruise, or explore all things old and new on its shores – either way, the scenery is endless.

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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.

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Hong Kong

Inundated with visitors from near and far, the iconic skyscraper skyline of Hong Kong is an image that we’re all familiar with. But look beyond the modern edifices, and this enigmatic destination has oh so much more to offer. Think kaleidoscopic culture, scintillating street-food, rich rainforests, a smattering of beaches and a vibrant heritage – all adding up to make this one of the most livable places in the world.

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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.

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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.

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Not many places find their origins in fiction, in fact, it’s usually the other way round. But not with the ancient Himilayan town of Shangri-La. Say hello to a living, breathing earthly eden that was once simply a figment of James Hilton’s imagination, etched out in his bestselling 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. A dramatic region, defined by spectacular valleys, snow-capped peaks, colourful Tibetan culture and ever-smiling people, all officially marked as China’s answer to heaven on earth since its name change from Zhongdian to Shangri-La in 2001.

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