How do you do justice to such a dizzyingly diverse destination in just a few days?

Truth us, you can’t. What we can do though, is take you to those places everyone should see… and add a few of our favourite surprises along the way. 

Let’s start in the capital. Beijing may not be ‘classically beautiful’, but it has a spacious grandeur that matches its ordered and organised attitude. Kick-started by the 2008 Olympics, the city’s also reinventing itself, so for every Soviet-style block you’ll find a shiny new tower; but the main attraction is its historic treasures. 

Best-known is the Forbidden City, a huge complex of courtyards, halls and pavilions (9999 rooms altogether!) and home to China’s Emperors for over 500 years. Tiananmen Square is vast, surrounded by various historic buildings including Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall and the National Museum of China, while south-east of here is the Temple of Heaven, with its distinctive blue-tiled roof. Hotel-wise, the Park Hyatt and Raffles are close to the heart of the action, while the Aman at Summer Palace has direct access to its classic imperial gardens complete with lake, halls, towers, pavilions and bridges.






For a change from the usual tourist spots, visit the fast-disappearing hutong, the narrow, centuries-old alleyways of ancient Beijing; or come right up-to-date with the city’s contemporary art scene in the 798 Dashanzi Art District or nearby Caochangdi. 



Of course, everyone wants to see the Great Wall, just an hour or so from the city. Most head for the stretch at Badaling, but you’ll find the Jinshanling section just as spectacular and a lot less crowded.

After the modern capital comes the ancient capital, Xi’an. Its best sights are within the old city walls – including the huge walls themselves. The four great fortified gates open each morning to the ringing of a great bell and close each night to the sound of a huge drum; the 14th-century Bell and Drum towers are especially impressive. 

The Hilton Hotel is handy for the historic sights and the Muslim Quarter: colourful, lively and very friendly with narrow streets surrounding the Great Mosque. 

But by far the biggest reason to visit Xi’an lies about 24 miles outside the city – the Terracotta Army, the thousands of life-size clay warriors in a huge underground vault. Each figure is different, and the level of detail will send shivers down your spine!

From Guilin’s other-worldly landscapes it’s on to the City of Heaven; that’s the name given to Hangzhou by explorer Marco Polo, and when you see the city’s West Lake you’ll understand why. Its beauty has inspired generations of writers, poets and painters and has scenic spots with fantastic names like Autumn Moon Over Calm Lake and Watching Goldfish at Flower Harbour. You’ll stay close to here too, in the gorgeous Amanfayun.

Join Buddhist monks for early morning prayers; for great views of the lake climb the octagonal, five-storey Leifeng Pagoda, or just sit at one of its chic lakeshore cafes. Hangzhou's museums, galleries and theatres showcase everything from dance to calligraphy; it's also a major centre for silk and tea (a tasting is a must). And don't miss the Lingyin Temple and 'The Peak That Flew From Afar' with an unbelievable 380 rock carvings!​​​


​After Xi’an, we’d head south to Guilin, and one of China’s natural highlights. Centred on the Li River, this is its most-photographed landscape – the captivating, fairy-tale ‘karst’ scenery with spectacular limestone towers and local fishermen clicking signals to tame cormorants used to bring in their daily catch. It’s breathtaking… and the best way to explore it is by private bamboo raft. It’s also the perfect place to relax – as is your hotel, the distinctive Shangri-La Hotel.  


From here it's a short hop to your final destination – Shanghai. New China at its most confident, it's all go-getting attitude and sci-fi skyline, a city of fabulous contrasts mixing European-style boulevards with dramatic modernity. 

The beautiful Yu Gardens and Old Quarter are virtually all that remains of the pre-colonial days, while the French Concession is a leafy neighbourhood with a definite Parisian air, and the famous Longhua Temple and pagoda. 

Once home to banks, newspapers and consulates, the Bund's grand colonial buildings overlooking the Huangpu River are now art galleries, designer boutiques, smart restaurants and plush hotels (including one of our favourite places to stay, The Peninsula).

Across the river is the Central Business District, Pudong with the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, the pagoda-like Jinmao Tower with the world's highest bar on the 87th floor, and the Shanghai World Financial Centre with the world's loftiest observation deck and the über-funky Park Hyatt hotel. 


Then there's charming Lijiang, a World Heritage Site in the shadow of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain with traffic-free cobbled streets and Naxi flute music drifting through the air. Its main street is bisected by a stream spanned by stone bridges; at night floating candles drift past red lanterns outside restaurants, where staff sing in good-natured rivalry. ​

Head into the mountains and you pass through fabled 'Shangri-La', eventually reaching Lhasa at a heady 12,000 ft above sea level. It's dominated by the famous Potala Palace, home to successive Dalai Lamas from the 7th century. The heart of old Tibet is the Barkhor, its streets teeming with pilgrims surrounding the Jokhang Temple, the region's holiest shrine.​















Of course this is just one itinerary that takes in some of China's most popular sights. 

A more authentic experience can be found away from the tourist trails… such as in the more remote Western provinces, including Tibet.

For example Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province (famous for its spicy cuisine) is a lovely city of tree-lined avenues, half-timbered houses, pagodas and teahouses… as well as the excellent Giant Panda Research Centre. 



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