Essential China - A selection of the most celebrated sights in China

    add to wishlist
13 days, from £6320
Martin Randall
Speak to an expert

Need more advice before deciding which tour might suit you best and with whom to travel? 
Our Phonethrough feature allows you to talk directly to an expert holiday advisor from each of the leading specialist operators who organise tours to the destinations featured. 

  • Benefit from their in-depth knowledge and free advice, with no strings attached to give you the re-assurance that you are booking the right holiday for you.
  • Call the Freephone numbers or the 03 Phonethrough number. Calls to 03 numbers cost the same as to other standard fixed line numbers (starting 01 or 02) and calls made will come out of any inclusive minutes you have with your Service Provider. Ofcom rules dictate that 03 calls do not generate any money for the call recipient
  • Prefer to send an email in the first instance? Click on the email icon and submit your general enquiry or for a specific tour with a request to respond by email or to phone you back.
  • This will help you decide if they have the tour that best matches your requirements.

Our aim Is To introduce And match holiday planning consumers With specialist escorted tour holiday operators & organisers. Please note that any booking you make Is made directly With the tour Operator, travel organiser Or provider As Somewhere Special.travel does Not act In any agent Or booking capacity.

Call 020 8742 3355
or Email

Description

* Planned as an introduction to China featuring many of China's most fascinating places.
* Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites are visited.
* Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai: more time in these three main centres than on most tours as well as a selection of small-town and rural sites including a lesser-visited section of The Great Wall.
* Special access is a feature including areas closed to the public at the Forbidden City in Beijing and a special viewing platform for the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an. (Subject to confirmation).
* In September 2017, led by Jon Cannon, expert in Chinese classic architecture and religious buildings worldwide.
* In May 2018 led by Dr Rose Kerr, leading sinologist and expert in Chinese porcelain.

For the average westerner, learning about China's past is a progressively more astonishing journey, and a humbling one. Much that we regard as constituting the fundamentals of civilization were prevalent in China two or even three millennia ago: skills artistic and technological, laws and governance humane and commonsensical, mastery of the arts of war and the arts of peace, building and engineering projects of staggering magnitude, and the possibility, for some, of a life devoted to the pursuit of beauty and intellectual refinement. And then there is the fascination of present-day China, likely soon to be the world's largest economy and destined to have an impact on all of our lives.

The most important Chinese capitals have always been in the north. Xi'an is where the imperial story began, and for centuries it was the capital of the great empire in the east, hosting the grandiose designs of the first emperor with his terracotta warriors and later anchoring one end of the Silk Road.

Beijing has been the grandest city on the planet for much of the past 800 years since Khubilai Khan made it the capital of his China-centric empire. When the Mongols were finally expelled by the Chinese Ming dynasty, Beijing soon became the most perfectly planned cosmological capital, one that would serve the Ming and Manchurian Qing dynasties for over 500 years.

Hangzhou brings us to the lands of rice and fish, where the climate is gentle and the land generous. The Yangtse Valley breadbasket first supported numerous northern governments and later bestowed its cultural riches and leisure activities throughout the entire empire. Marco Polo was enchanted by the grace and charm of Hangzhou, and in the surrounding hills monks developed some of the finest tea plantations in China. Hangzhou lives on today as a locus of relaxation and culture with profound cultural resonances for the Chinese.

Shanghai, by contrast, is a law unto itself: originally a small fishing village, it began its rise with the foreign settlements that followed the first opium war in the mid-nineteenth century. A capitalist machine, it has also been the home of much political radicalism and was where the Chinese Communist Party came into being. These sometime conflicting and irreconcilable roles give Shanghai a vibrancy and timbre like no other Chinese city.

Itinerary

2017


 Day 1

London to Beijing. Fly at 4.30pm from London Heathrow to Beijing (British Airways, c. 10 hours).


 Day 2

Beijing. Arrive at Beijing Airport at c. 9.30am and drive to the hotel for lunch. The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) complex, effectively a sacred park set with platforms for Imperial rites, forms both a fitting antidote to jet lag and a memorable introduction to the unique qualities of Chinese sacred sites. First of four nights in Beijing.


 Day 3

Beijing. The Forbidden City is at once enthralling and imposing; past the formidable walls and moat are vast courtyards punctuated with terraced pavilions, palaces and gardens. Marble paving and bridges and finely-carved balustrades mark the imperial way along which lie three ceremonial halls; beyond these are the comparatively closeted living quarters. There is special access (subject to confirmation) to the Shufang Zhai, where banquets and operas were held. Afternoon visits include the 17th-cent. Lama Temple, formerly an imperial residence before its conversion to a Buddhist place of worship, and a Confucian temple founded during the Yuan dynasty. Overnight Beijing.


 Day 4

Greater Beijing. The Ming Tombs in countryside outside the city are the final resting place of 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. The tomb of Emperor Yongle (1402-1424) consists of a 7-km Sacred Way flanked by stone animals and courtiers, a succession of courts with ceremonial gateways and a man-made hill concealing the tomb itself. Lunch by the Summer Palace, a peaceful setting popular with the emperors since the Jin, periodically enlarged and embellished; after its destruction in 1860 Empress Dowager Cixi expended vast sums in constructing her pleasure palace here. Overnight Beijing.


 Day 5

Jinshanling, Beijing. Morning excursion to a particularly spectacular (though relatively little visited) stretch of the Great Wall at Jinshanling. Walk along a section where it climbs and plunges over hilly terrain. Return to Beijing in the afternoon for some free time. Overnight Beijing.


 Day 6

Beijing, Xi'an. The massive National Museum in Tiananmen Square has superb collections of early Chinese artefacts, Zhou bronzes, painting and the whole range of porcelain from Tang (ad 618-907) to Qing (ended 1911). Fly in the afternoon (Air China) to Xi'an. First of four nights in Xi'an.


 Day 7

Xi'an. Full day excursion east and north of the city. The tomb of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, is yet to be excavated but his legacy was secured in 1974 when farmers digging a well discovered his terracotta army of infantry, cavalry and civil servants. There may be 20,000 of them, over 1.5 metres tall; only a relatively small part of the site has been uncovered, but it is nevertheless one of the most spectacular archaeological finds of all time. The pottery warriors at the later tomb of the fourth Han emperor, Liu Qi, display striking attention to detail; some eunuch figures have been found here, providing the earliest known evidence of this phenomenon in China. Overnight Xi'an.


 Day 8

Xi'an. The Shaanxi History Museum explains the history and culture of the province, the heartland of ancient Chinese civilisation. The Beilin Museum displays a collection of stone stelae, engraved with classic texts and masterpieces of calligraphy, and a fine collection of Buddhist statues. The day ends with a walk through the winding streets of the city's Muslim Quarter. The Great Mosque, one of the largest in China, was originally built in AD 742 although the present fabric dates from the Qing Dynasty. Overnight Xi'an.


 Day 9

Luoyang. Day trip by high-speed train to Luoyang to see the Longmen Caves, an extraordinary collection of statuary carved into the hillside that runs along the western bank of the Yi River. Begun by the Buddhist Northern Wei rulers (ad 386-534) and added to during the later Sui and Tang dynasties. There are over 100,000 statues clustered in 2,000 caves and crevices. Overnight Xi'an.


 Day 10

Xi'an, Hangzhou. Adjacent to the hotel stands the Great Goose Pagoda, first built in AD 452 for the monk Xuanzang to house the sutra he brought back from his pilgrimage to India. Fly to Hangzhou (Hainan Airlines), capital of the Southern Song Dynasty 1138-1279. First of two nights in Hangzhou.


 Day 11

Hangzhou. Start the day at the Lingyin Temple, one of China's largest though now much reduced. Just outside the complex are dozens of Buddhist sculptures carved into the rock face, many dating back to the 10th century. Drive out of the city to Longjing (Dragon Well) Village, source of one of China's most famous varieties of green tea. The scenic tranquillity of the West Lake has been immortalised by countless poets and painters over the centuries. Overnight Hangzhou.


 Day 12

Hangzhou to Shanghai. By train to Shanghai (luggage is sent separately by van). For its density, vibrancy and extent, both horizontal and vertical, Shanghai is the city of cities. Despite frenetic building activity, enclaves of low-rise structures remain in the centre, though there is little here that is more than a hundred years old. Walk along the Bund, Shanghai's iconic riverside stretch of Art Deco and Neoclassical buildings, symbolic of the city's burgeoning wealth in the 1920s and 1930s.


 Day 13

Shanghai. Visit the Shanghai Museum, outstanding for porcelain, jade, furniture and, in particular, Shang and Zhou bronzes. See also the city's finest traditional Yu Garden.


 Day 14

Shanghai to London. Fly at 11.00am from Shanghai to London, arriving at c. 4.30pm (c. 12.5 hours).
2018


 Day 1

Beijing. The tour begins with lunch at the hotel (flights from London are not included - see Practicalities). The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) complex, effectively a sacred park set with platforms for Imperial rites, forms both a fitting antidote to jet lag and a memorable introduction to the unique qualities of Chinese sacred sites. First of four nights in Beijing.


 Day 2

Beijing. The Forbidden City is at once enthralling and imposing; past the formidable walls and moat are vast courtyards punctuated with terraced pavilions, palaces and gardens. Marble paving and bridges and finely-carved balustrades mark the imperial way along which lie three ceremonial halls; beyond these are the comparatively closeted living quarters. There is special access (subject to confirmation) to the Shufang Zhai, where banquets and operas were held. Afternoon visits include the 17th-century Lama Temple, formerly an imperial residence before its conversion to a Buddhist place of worship, and a Confucian temple founded during the Yuan dynasty.


 Day 3

Greater Beijing. The Ming Tombs in countryside outside the city are the final resting place of 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. The tomb of Emperor Yongle (1402-1424) consists of a 7-km Sacred Way flanked by stone animals and courtiers, a succession of courts with ceremonial gateways and a man-made hill concealing the tomb itself. Lunch by the Summer Palace, a peaceful setting popular with the emperors since the Jin, periodically enlarged and embellished; after its destruction in 1860 Empress Dowager Cixi expended vast sums in constructing her pleasure palace here


 Day 4

Jinshanling, Beijing. Morning excursion to a particularly spectacular (though relatively little visited) stretch of the Great Wall at Jinshanling. Walk along a section where it climbs and plunges over hilly terrain. Return to Beijing in the afternoon for some free time.


 Day 5

Beijing, Xi'an. The massive National Museum in Tiananmen Square has superb collections of early Chinese artefacts, Zhou bronzes, painting and the whole range of porcelain from Tang (ad 618-907) to Qing (ended 1911). Fly in the afternoon (China Eastern) to Xi'an. First of four nights in Xi'an.


 Day 6

Xi'an. Full day excursion east and north of the city. The tomb of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, is yet to be excavated but his legacy was secured in 1974 when farmers digging a well discovered his terracotta army of infantry, cavalry and civil servants. There may be 20,000 of them, over 1.5 metres tall; only a relatively small part of the site has been uncovered, but it is nevertheless one of the most spectacular archaeological finds of all time. The pottery warriors at the later tomb of the fourth Han emperor, Liu Qi, display striking attention to detail; some eunuch figures have been found here, providing the earliest known evidence of this phenomenon in China.


 Day 7

Xi'an. The Shaanxi History Museum explains the history and culture of the province, the heartland of ancient Chinese civilisation. The Beilin Museum displays a collection of stone stelae, engraved with classic texts and masterpieces of calligraphy, and a fine collection of Buddhist statues. The day ends with a walk through the winding streets of the city's Muslim Quarter. The Great Mosque, one of the largest in China, was originally built in ad 742 although the present fabric dates from the Qing Dynasty.


 Day 8

Luoyang. Day trip by high-speed train to Luoyang to see the Longmen Caves, an extraordinary collection of statuary carved into the hillside that runs along the western bank of the Yi River. Begun by the Buddhist Northern Wei rulers (ad 386-534) and added to during the later Sui and Tang dynasties. There are over 100,000 statues clustered in 2,000 caves and crevices.


 Day 9

Xi'an, Hangzhou. Adjacent to the hotel stands the Great Goose Pagoda, first built in ad 652 for the monk Xuanzang to house the sutra he brought back from his pilgrimage to India. Fly to Hangzhou (Xiamen Air), capital of the Southern Song Dynasty 1138-1279. First of two nights in Hangzhou.


 Day 10

Hangzhou. Start the day at the Lingyin Temple, one of China's largest though now much reduced. Just outside the complex are dozens of Buddhist sculptures carved into the rock face, many dating back to the 10th century. Drive out of the city to Longjing (Dragon Well) Village, source of one of China's most famous varieties of green tea. The scenic tranquillity of the West Lake has been immortalised by countless poets and painters over the centuries.


 Day 11

Hangzhou to Shanghai. By train to Shanghai (luggage is sent separately by van). For its density, vibrancy and extent, both horizontal and vertical, Shanghai is the city of cities. Despite frenetic building activity, enclaves of low-rise structures remain in the centre, though there is little here that is more than a hundred years old. Walk along the Bund, Shanghai's iconic riverside stretch of Art Deco and Neoclassical buildings, symbolic of the city's burgeoning wealth in the 1920s and 1930s. First of two nights in Shanghai.


 Day 12

Shanghai. Visit the Shanghai Museum, outstanding for porcelain, jade, furniture and, in particular, Shang and Zhou bronzes. See also the city's finest traditional Yu Garden.


 Day 13

Shanghai. The tour ends after breakfast. There is a transfer to the airport in time for the direct flight at 11.00am from Shanghai to London, arriving at c. 4.30pm (c. 12 ? hours).