Days 1-2: Shanghai
Arrive in Shanghai – the largest city in the People's Republic of China – and settle in to your hotel any time before a welcome meeting at 6pm. (Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask hotel reception about the location.)
During your two-night stay in Shanghai, join your guide for a walking tour of historical Shanghai, a city that blends 21st-century architecture with old-world character. Explore the Bund with its magnificent array of art deco-style buildings, the narrow winding lanes of the Nongtang or the European-influenced French Concession – an area once designated for the French and consisting of today's Luwan and Xuhui Districts. Folllow your guide down Luwan's Huaihai Road, a busy street and home to Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang – popular shopping and dining spots. Or stroll the tree-lined avenues and admire the Tudor mansions that still preserve Shanghai’s reputation as the 'Paris of the East.’
Enjoy a performance by the famous Shanghai Acrobats, and watch in awe as the acrobatic troupe -- which travels around the globe -- performs amazing feats with props such as hula hoops and umbrellas. In addition, your guide will give your small group an informal language lesson in Mandarin Chinese, the official language. (Shanghainese, a dialect of Wu Chinese, is still spoken by about 14 million people in the region.)
You’ll have plenty of free time to barter in the markets, stroll through modern Pudong or check out the city’s buzzing nightlife at a local bar. Consider optional activities (own expense) such as a visit to the Propaganda Museum for a fascinating look at China's revolutionary past, or the thought-provoking Shanghai Museum to see an impressive collection of artwork and bronze. Get a panoramic view of the city from the Oriental Pearl Tower’s observation deck or wander the classical Yuyuan Gardens, completed in 1577 during the Ming Dynasty.
Overnight: Nanjing Hotel in Shanghai
Day 3: Shanghai – Xitang – Xi'an
Take a day trip to Xitang, one of Shanghai's nearby water towns, for a true sense of traditional China. Your guide will take your small group by private transport (an approximate two-hour trip) to Xitang, a unique town with atmospheric waterways including nine rivers joined by old stone bridges and alleys.
Spend time at your leisure during this welcome escape from the bustling streets of Shanghai. Wander the narrow, maze-like cobblestone streets past village buildings and antique temples or sip steaming cups of tea at a waterside teahouse. Learn about local history at one of the many museums or take a gondola ride, gliding along the canals that crisscross the water town – an ideal way to experience Xitang (optional activities at additional expense).
Enjoy the peacefulness of Xitang in the evening when the day-trippers have left, before hopping aboard your overnight hard sleeper train bound for Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province and the beginning of the Silk Road -- an ancient trade route. Before the approximate 15-hour journey, you may wish to purchase extra snacks to supplement food available on the train. While not luxurious, sleeper class trains are one of the most authentic ways to come face to face with China and its people.
Overnight: sleeper train to Xi'an
Days 4-6: Xi'an (1L)
The imperial center of China for 2,000 years, Xi'an offers rich cultural and historical sites. Follow your guide on a short walking tour to explore some of China’s most famous attractions in this modern city still surrounded by ancient walls.
Visit the Muslim Quarter, also called Islamic Street, where more than 20,000 Chinese Muslims reside over several city blocks. Then, follow your guide to the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, where you will see the best-preserved wooden bell and drum towers in China, and the Xi'an City Wall, standing at 40 feet (12 meters) tall and surrounded by a moat. If you’d like, rent a bicycle to explore the perimeter of the Xi’an City Wall or gain entry to the bell and drum towers (each at additional expense).
Travel by bus, accompanied by your guide, for about two hours to reach Xi'an's most famous site – the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Terracotta Warriors. When you arrive at the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses, learn all about the incredible archaeological find, discovered by farmers digging a well in the mid-1970s.
Commissioned by China’s first emperor during the Qin dynasty as part of his mausoleum, the restored clay statues of soldiers now stand in battle formation for public viewing. Follow your guide on a tour of the underground tomb, also named the Eighth Wonder of the World, and get up close to the imposing Terracotta Army – including more than 8,000 life-size warriors, chariots and horses. After your exploration of Emperor Qin's Mausoleum with your small group, stop for lunch at a local restaurant nearby.
You will also visit Xi'an Huiling, meaning 'wise spirit’ – a project that assists people in the local community who have intellectual and learning disabilities. Enjoy a performance of singing and dancing (don't be surprised if you're asked to join in), and admire the students’ artwork and handicrafts.
Visit Xi’an’s night market and sample tantalizing local specialties (own expense) like pao mo (lamb broth with flat bread), hand-pulled noodles, hot pot and barbecue. Optional activities in Xi’an include a visit to the Wild Goose Pagodas, Great Mosque, Shaanxi History Museum, Folk House and the Temple of the Eight Immortals (each entry fee at own expense).
On your final evening, board an overnight hard sleeper train for an approximate 12-hour trip to Beijing.
Overnight: Nanfang Hotel in Xi'an (2 nights) and sleeper train to Beijing (1 night)
Days 7-8: Beijing and Great Wall of China
Upon arrival in Beijing, capital of the world’s most populous country, you’ll be immersed in the chaotic pace of this rapidly modernizing city – where ancient sites are set amid a whirl of bicycles and high-rise buildings.
Accompanied by your guide, explore Tiananmen Square, considered the world’s largest downtown square – framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its portrait of Mao Zedong, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum.
Take a small-group guided tour of the impressive UNESCO World Heritage-listed Forbidden City, former home to China's imperial rulers. Admire the oasis of palaces, gardens and seemingly never-ending grand courtyards as your guide informs you about China’s imperial history. Then, enjoy a walking tour through Old Beijing along an ancient network of alleyways and lanes known as hutongs.
Before your 9-day tour ends, spend time ambling along the ancient stone pathways and bell towers that make up the incredible Great Wall of China. Start out in the early morning on a two-hour drive to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which stretches 3,370 miles (6,000 km) westward from the mountain ridges north of Beijing.
Initially constructed to protect Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north, this iconic site offers spectacular views of surrounding valleys and mountains. Venture up the steep steps to the wall – a 30-minute climb, but well worth the effort – to explore this feat of engineering. You’ll have a few hours to explore the winding wall before heading back to the city for the afternoon.
(Please note: the Great Wall is quite steep in places, so be sure to wear appropriate footwear. If you’d prefer a more leisurely pace, take a chairlift or cable car to the top of the wall and back.)
During your free time, choose from a variety of optional activities, such as a visit to the Beijing Zoo, Temple of Heaven or Lama Temple. Embark on a Beijing art and architecture urban adventure tour, catch a performance at the Beijing Opera or watch a Kung Fu show (each at additional expense).
Overnight: King Parkview Hotel in Beijing
Day 9: Beijing
Since there are no activities planned for your final day, you can depart from your accommodation at any time. Please check with reception for checkout times and luggage storage possibilities if you plan to extend your trip or explore Beijing on your own.