China Tourist Guide China Information courtesy of Toby Simkin

Map of China Overview (courtesy of Toby Simkin)

Over the past decade+ of living & traveling extensively throughout China, and having brought several hundred actors, crew & creative staff to China, I have learnt quite a few realities & secrets of China, and decided to assemble and share into a cohesive simple-to-follow guide.  I hope it’s of use to those that follow….

Major Starting Points

Possible Sightseeing Plan

Please read my planning notes below, trust me, it’s worth it to save you a LOT of grief, cost & set the correct expectations….

For a pretty solid trip in China, based on seeing the major sights, using air or train travel, with private cars and guides, but not factoring jet lag (add a day to arrival city if coming from North America or Europe), I recommend the following as an outline of the major cities to visit:

(in order
of priority)
Min. #
Min. #
Beijing 3-4 4-5 1
1 1 2 (in/out)
Shanghai 1-2 2-3 1
(Water Town)
0 1 drive
Li River
(Boat Ride)
1 2 2 (in/out)
2 3 2 (in/out)
Hangzhou 1 1 train
Yangtse Cruise 4
(on boat)
5 2 (in/out)
Recommended Sightseeing Route

The above includes a little bit of shopping and relax time, but not much. If you want leisurely pace, add a day in the major stops.

A reminder also, most international flights will arrive in either Beijing or Shanghai airports, so it’s likely one of those will be your first city. Ideally, (but not if you are using a transit visa) book your return exit from China from the other city, avoiding another another day and another flight domestically to return you to your starting city.

You should do your own research into details about what to see and do, however, I often given advise to those coming to China to hire a local guide/driver in each city, and try not to miss the following:

Beijing Forbidden City

Beijing Forbidden City

Beijing 北京

The Forbidden City, which housed 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911), is the best preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. The design and the layout of the 870 buildings in the palace represent the essence of traditional Chinese architecture.
Time Needed: 1/2 day (fast) 1 day (exhaustion)
Tian’anmen Square is the largest public square, and can accommodate a million people. It is where the ceremony for the founding of the People’s Republic was held.
Time Needed: 1 hour (drive) 3 hours (walk)
The Great Wall of China extends 4,000 miles. Construction of the wall began over 2,000 years ago and lasted for over 1,000 years. There are several Great Wall sections around Beijing, including restored sections and rugged sections. The most famous sections to visit include: Mutianyu, Jinshanling and Jiankou.
Time Needed: 1 day (drive – rental car)
The Beijing hutongs are mazes of narrow alleyways linking old single-story traditional courtyard houses. Hutongs give a wonderful glimpse into the world of yesterday in Beijing. Visiting a hutong family living in a traditional quadrangle dwelling is a nice way to discover traditional Beijing life.
Time Needed: Afternoon & Evening (walk)
Tasting Peking Duck (Beijing roast duck) is the epitome of Beijing cuisine and also one of the eight most popular Chinese dishes. The dish is mostly prized for the thin, crispy skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat.
Time Needed: 1 evening
Shanghai Pudong Skyline