China map & itineraries

Make the most of your time

In case you werent aware, the country is massive - absolutely vast, and to embrace some of the best places to visit in China youll need a decent pair of walking shoes youll clock up mileage simply seeing the sights, especially in Beijing where the traffic is horrendous and taxi hops will only add to the pollution. Otherwise, getting from A to B is reasonably straightforward: the collective mileage of Chinas well-conditioned roads is over two million miles and the countrys super speedy bullet train has become a tourist experience itself. The only problem you might face is the language barrier, so brush up on your basic Mandarin before you board.
Beijing Chengdu Gubeikou Hong Kong Huang Yao Huangyaguan Jiankou Great Wall Luoyang Terracotta Army Yangshuo Yangtze River


Beijing is not a beautiful place. Its chaotic and stifling smoggy, but if youre brave and open-minded it represents an adventure of history, of power, and of the future all rolled into one. The Forbidden City, its main attraction, is a mammoth compound of almost 1,000 palaces, museums and pavilions and was the former home of Chinas emperors from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing.


You dont go to Chengdu for its natural beauty; its a modern city with mediocre weather and a lot of traffic. But, it just has a laid back cheeriness about it that cant fail to delight. Its urban parks are clean and colourful and the locals, in a decidedly un-Chinese twist, think nothing of kicking back with a cuppa enjoying the teahouse culture that is central to life in the city.


The Gubeikou section of Chinas great wall stretches for about 20km and is marked by 143 beacon towers; an historical nod to its great military significance. Unlike other, more tourist-heavy sections of the wall, Gubeikou hasnt been restored and retained its atmospheric blend of steep steps, uneven rocky surfaces and centuries-old pass gates.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a little bit fur coat and no knickers: it has an unrelenting drive for money and status powered by its moneyed elite, but many locals work very long days and live in cramped conditions. The flipside? An infectious energy, a surprisingly traditional culture and a cooler, more sophisticated outlook than its mainland contemporaries.

Huang Yao

Huang Yao is an incredible ancient village characterised by a karst landscape gnarled by primal trees and primitive dwellings made from blue bricks and black slate tiles. The locals are known for their friendliness and their inherent belief in the good luck carried by numbers: odd numbers distinguish commercial streets and houses are fronted by a number of slates determined by wealth.


Huangyaguan is a representation of the entire Great Wall, but in miniature, and is a series of quirky castles and tall towers built on a 700m-mountain ridge. It jumps up and down between ridges, cliffs and crags and is built against an amazing backdrop of lush mountain scenery. It has been repaired, but sympathetically, and has more architectural variety than anywhere else along the wall.


Apart from danger, what do you get if you cross wild disrepair with a mountain ridge and steep cliffs? Jiankou the higher, steeper and more winding bad boy of the Great Wall sections. Typically its also a photography hotspot with a mean looking enemy observation tower and steep steps that ascend heaven bound. Photographers and experienced hikers need only apply.

Great Wall

The Great Wall at Jinshanling is one of the best-preserved parts of the entire wall, but its really remote and isolated. There are rocks and loose stones as you would expect from anything that hasnt undergone a repair since 1570, but if youre looking for a peaceful walk with incredible views across the Greater and Lesser Jinshan mountain ranges then look no further than this.


Luoyang served as the capital city of 13 different Chinese kingdoms for over 4,000 years and is a cradle of Chinese civilisation, peppered with historical and cultural treasures. The Longmen Grottoes are an unbelievable example of Chinese Buddhist art made up of over 2,000 cave clusters, thousands of hand-carved statues of Buddha and 40 intricate Buddhist pagodas.

Terracotta Army

Xian of yesteryear was the beginning and end of the Silk Road, a thriving and sophisticated city of commerce, religion and creativity. Marked by an impressive wealth of important sites and relics, notably the Terracotta Army that still stands guard, modern day Xian is more traffic and pollution than pomp and procession, but well worth a visit nonetheless.


A world away from Chinas built-up cities, Yangshuo is a village flanked by exquisite countryside and jutting karst pyramids carved into the elements by the lapping green waters of the Li River. It can get busy during peak season, but there really arent enough superlatives to describe the surrounding scenes of water buffalo grazing and local farmers working their fields wearing conical hats.

Yangtze River

The aquatic equivalent of Chinas Great Wall, the Yangtze is a twisting, turning hotbed of scenery and culture that stretches from remote mountain plains through canyon gorges and into fertile regions where other lakes connect. Its most hair-raising stretch, the Three Gorges, was once unnavigable, though now thanks to a dam, is a beautiful lake for ferrying and cruises.

China itineraries

For families:
Beijing ► Great Wall: Jinshanling ► sleeper train) Luoyan ► (bullet train) Xian ► Yangshuo ► Hong Kong

Great Wall walking:
Beijing ► Mutian Yu ► Jiankou ► Gubeikou ► Jinshanling ► Taipingzhai ► Huangyaguan ► Beijing

Photography tour:
Guilin ► Longji ► Sang Jiang ► Yangshuo ► Putao village ► Huang Yao ► Yangshuo ► Xing Ping ► Guilin

Travel times in China

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in China

  • Beijing Xian: 5hrs 45 (high-speed train)
  • Beijing Hong Kong: 23hrs 45 (sleeper train
  • Beijing Chengdu: 4hrs 25 (flight)
  • Beijing Gubeikou: 1hr 30 (by road)
  • Gubeikou Jinshanling: 15mins (by road)
  • Jinshanling Beijing: 1hr 30 (by road)
  • Beijing Yangshuo: 13hrs (by road, train)
  • Yangshuo Huang Yao: 3hrs 20 (by road)
Photo credits: [bullet train: Anna Rice] [beijing: Fabio Achilli] [Gubeikou: Ronnie Macdonald] [Jinshanling: ahenobarbus] [Jiankou: Ronnie Macdonald] [Luoang: Xuan Che] [Xi'An: Dimitry B.] [Yangshuo: Bernt Rostad] [Hong Kong: Herry Lawford] [Huangyaguan: Ronnie Macdonald] [Chengdou: Alpha] [Yangtze River: Mulligan Stu] [Village: Anna Rice]

Written by Polly Humphris
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