How to Plan Your First China Trip

Written by Vivian Updated Jan. 8, 2024
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From December 1st, 2023 to November 30th, 2024, travelers from France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia can enjoy a 15-day visa-free entry to China for tourism, business, transit, and visiting friends and relatives in China.  

You can start planning your trip to China now! We will provide you with a flexible, tailor-made private tour of China. Do not hesitate to contact us for your China tour planning. 

Thinking of traveling to China?

China, with its long history and unique culture, may be a must-visit place for you. The numerous destinations, vast geography, and unintelligible language make trip planning appear challenging. Is this true? Not at all!

Our 11 easy-to-follow tips, based on our 25+ years of experience in custom travel, will help you create the perfect itinerary with ease. So, if you want to plan your first China trip effortlessly and make the most of your vacation, read on!

1. Determine Your Travel Duration in China

Considering your time constraints, it is recommended to choose 2-3 cities for a more immersive travel experience, allowing you to explore the culture and attractions of China in depth.

After years of experience and feedback from our travelers, we have found that the best destinations for a first-time trip to China are Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai. The classic three-city tour takes about 8 days. Click to check the itinerary of 8-Day Classic China Tour

If you have an additional 3 to 4 days, we recommend visiting one of the following cities: Guilin, Chengdu, or Zhangjiajie.

Top Destinations in China For Your First Time
Choose Your Destinations from the Top China Places

1) Take a Classic China Tour to Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai

Beijing – China's capital and a major gateway to the country.

Start your trip in the capital city, Beijing. Explore the historic Forbidden City, walk along the Great Wall of China, and visit the Temple of Heaven. Don't miss the ancient alleyways of Hutong and the impressive Summer Palace.

To cover the city's highlights, you would need about 3-4 days.

Xi'an – the place to go if you are interested in history.

Discover why Qin Shi Huang built the marvelous Terracotta Warriors, one of the world's most significant archaeological discoveries. Explore the city's well-preserved city walls, visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and sample delicious local dishes.

With so much to see, you could spend 2 days here and it's only a 4-6 hour high-speed train ride from Beijing.

Shanghai – China's biggest and most prosperous city. 

Explore Shanghai's blend of history and modernity with a 1-2 day tour and extend your itinerary for 2-8 days to nearby Suzhou, Hangzhou, or Huangshan for more culture-rich experiences.

Want to start planning your private China tour now? Click on the tailor-made tour to arrange your unique trip. 

2) Extend Your Trip to Guilin, Chengdu or Zhangjiajie

Guilin – the perfect destination to immerse yourself in natural picturesque landscapes, ethnic culture, and rural scenery.

Take a Li River Cruise to Yangshuo and soak in the stunning scenery. Cycle around the picturesque Yangshuo countryside, hike the Longji Terraced Fields, and try exciting outdoor activities like Ferrata, Drifting, Kayaking, and more.

You can easily spend 3-4 days enjoying Guilin and its surroundings.

Chengdu – the home of the Giant Panda and famous Sichuan cuisine.

You have a chance to get close to the fluffy Pandas, marvel at the towering Leshan Giant Buddha, and pray at the Golden Summit of Mount Emei. Don't miss authentic Sichuan dishes like kung pao chicken and spicy hotpot.

You can enjoy all these experiences and more in Chengdu, which typically requires around 2-4 days to fully explore.

Zhangjiajie — offers a wonderland of natural landscapes and exciting outdoor activities perfect for a 3-4 day trip.

Take a cable car up to the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, walk through the thrilling Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, and trek the 999 steps up to Tianmen Mountain.

If you are interested in exploring other parts of China, such as Lhasa for Tibetan culture, Yangtze River for the Three Gorges Dam, and Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-la for a diverse range of minority cultures and history, don't hesitate to contact us.

We can organize a custom tour that is tailored specifically to your needs and preferences.

2. Choose How Long to Spend in China

Touring Simatai Great Wall at night Visit Simatai Great Wall at Night

Evaluate how much time you have for your trip. China's vast size means you may need to prioritize certain areas if you have limited time. For a first-time visit, it's recommended to allocate at least one week to explore this fascinating country.

For 7-10 days, we suggest visiting China's "Golden Triangle," which includes Beijing for 3-4 days, Xi'an for 2 days, and Shanghai for 1-2 days. You can refer to our 8-Day Classic China Tour for more information.

If you have 11-16 days, you can discover more of China, such as the beautiful Guilin, charming Chengdu, wonderful Yangtze, etc. Check out our carefully selected 13-Day China Adventure Tour, and 16-Day Panoramic Impression of China.

If you want to get more inspiration, please contact us about your requirements, including the length of your holiday. Our experienced travel specialists can design a travel plan tailor-made to your needs, ensuring a uniquely fulfilling experience.

3. Decide on the Travel Season

The best time to travel to China depends on your interests, the region you want to visit, and also the time you have.

The most popular China tourist hotspots of Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai are suitable to visit all year round.

Usually, spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are the most comfortable and recommended times for a China tour. If you want to travel comfortably without too much sweating and no too much rain, that's the best time.

The summertime from July to August is hot in the afternoon in some places, but air conditioning and expert arrangements will help you to avoid the heat as much as possible. Meanwhile, there are various summer activities for you to experience.

During the winter from December to February (except the Chinese New Year and New Year's Day), there are fewer travelers with better prices. So you could enjoy the benefits of the 'low season'.

Check more detailed tips on Best Time to Go to China.

4. Consider Budget and affordability

China is not the cheapest country to explore, but some good planning can save you a lot of money.Your budget will influence both your destination choice and the duration of your trip. Larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai tend to be more expensive, while rural areas may offer more affordable options. Research the cost of accommodations, transportation, and activities in different regions to make an informed decision.

Usually, international airfare is the largest cost item. The airfare from the US or Europe to China costs about US$1200 to US$4,000 for a direct economy round trip.

However, it is possible to save a lot if you get a great deal or take stopovers. We recommend you start to look for flights as soon as your travel date is fixed.

You can expect to spend about US$180–350 per person per day on a high-quality China tour based on 2 persons' group, including domestic flights/trains, 3/4/5-star hotels, attractions, meals, private tour guides, and vans.

China's peak tourist seasons typically take place during the first weeks of May and October summer holidays and Chinese New Year(around late January or early February ).

During these periods, the price differences between peak and low season can be quite significant, with hotels and airfares going up by anywhere from 30% to 50% or more.

To avoid higher costs during peak season, we suggest you book your travels at least two months in advance. If you book with us, we offer a guarantee of a 100% refund if you cancel your travel plans up to three weeks before departure.

5. Consider Traveling Independently or Taking a Guided Tour

Should you go to China with an organized tour through a tour agency, or make the tour arrangements yourself? It depends on your needs.

Take a Private Tour

Visit the Bund in Shanghai Visit the Bund in Shanghai

A private tour is the best option for you if you want to have deeper experiences in China. 

A private guided tour is always to help you to maximize your time and make sure a worry-free and more enjoyable trip for you. 

If you're considering taking a private China tour, it's very important to choose a reliable and trustworthy travel agency, like ChinaTravel. We have 25 + years of experience in creating custom tours.

You can be guided as much or as little as you like. Our professional trip advisers will customize a tour that suits your budget and interests, and local drivers and guides will make your trip a carefree and insightful experience.

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Based on 91 reviews

LiPing best guide for Guilin

I visited Guilin for the first time in October 2023 and only had a 2-day window. Absolutely worth a packed full 2-day tour. And, LiPing with her love of this land and her enthusiasm, made a huge difference for me...

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Dan C

2 Day Private Tour Highlights Guilin, Li River Cruise and Yangshuo

I had a great experience during this private 2 days tour organized by Vanessa at China Travel and guided by Gary, a highly professional, friendly and knowledgeable guide...

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Chris

4-star Li River cruise

It was fabulous and met my expectations. It was part of a 4-day private tour in Guilin. The local guide - Henry - was courteous, knowledgeable, professional, patient, and very flexible and accommodating...

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Trusted, friendly, concise and highly recommended

We were on a 4 day trip to Guilin and Yangshuo covering the highlights. The tour guide, Ms Yang, gave us the highlight of our lives when we traveled to the cities...

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Marcus Hoo

 
 

Tour as A Group

Advantage: You can spend less money to see China's key sights and have more security.

Disadvantage: The downsides of this option are the lack of flexibility and the that you can only scratch the surface of Chinese culture.

Travel Independently

Advantages: If you are an adventurer or you have a great deal of time to plan an itinerary, you can do a lot of preparation to book transportation tickets, hotels, etc. 

Disadvantages: It is not easy for first-time visitors to have a smooth solo trip in China. In addition to a lot of hard work, study, planning, and bookings, once you are on the ground, you may waste time trying to get to places and end up seeing less.

There will also be numerous problems to overcome, such as an unfamiliar language and it is not always the cheapest option. 

6. Research China Visa Policy

Most people require a visa when traveling to China. We recommend that you apply for your Tourist Visa (L visa) one to two months before your departure date.

However, do not apply too early because China visas are usually valid for only three months from the date of issue.

Alternatively, you can take advantage of the 144-hour visa-free transit policy or apply for a port visa, which makes it easier for you to take a China tour.

If you book with us, we will provide you with an invitation letter that you will need to apply for a tourist visa. Just contact us about your tour needs.

7. Get to/around China

Inside the high-speed train Inside the high-speed train

Getting to China has become easier due to the increasing number of non-stop flights from several cities in the USA, Europe, Australia, Singapore, and other countries and regions. More routes to China will be added in the near future.

Keep in mind that booking your flight at the very last minute can be expensive.

To ensure the best travel experience, make sure you start booking your flights as early as possible and select the most suitable option for your needs, such as direct flights, flights with stopovers, and so on.

When traveling between cities in China, there are many options like flight and train, and the most “Chinese-style” way is to travel by high-speed train, which is fast, convenient, punctual, comfortable, and reasonably priced.

8. Know How to Access Your Money in China

Chinese Currency Chinese Currency

The official currency of China is the Ren Min Bi, often called RMB or CNY (Chinese Yuan), and is used throughout the Chinese mainland. It is commonly referred to as kuai (pronounced kwai) by locals.

The exchange rate between the CNY and dollar and Euro is 1 USD = about 7 CNY, 1 Euro = about 8 CNY, which of course can change.

Download “Digital Money Pocket” – Alipay/WeChat Pay

Cash-free travel, sounds exciting? Chinese people nowadays pay bills via two very practical and convenient payment apps, Alipay/WeChat Pay.

You don't need to worry about how much cash to bring when traveling in China and taking your wallets out anymore – a smartphone can handle all shopping requirements.

From high-end restaurants to wet markets to street vendors, just show your Alipay/WeChat Pay QR code and pay the bills!

Use a Credit/Debit Card

Hotels, standard restaurants, and large shopping malls in big cities accept credit/debit cards.

But please be aware that many restaurants and mall shops will not accept plastic. They are rarely used here, so even if a company officially accepts a credit/debit card, it might not have working hardware for using it.

Prepare Chinese Cash

You may need cash for small purchases in China: taxis, small shops, restaurants, etc. You could withdraw from the ATMs in airports and big malls. 

9. Organise Your Travel Insurance for China

Travel Insurance will make your trip financially safer. It is not only for medical emergencies, but also for providing assistance in cases of lost baggage, trip delays, or interruptions because of snowstorms, heavy rains, and evacuations.

The price of insurance may seem expensive, but it could potentially save you a significant amount of money.

When purchasing insurance, pay attention to what is covered and to what amount. Choose a suitable one rather than just selecting the cheapest option.

10. Stay Safe and Healthy

Is China safe? Yes! China is a country with many places with good policing, tight gun control, and relatively few natural disasters and health risks.

Chinese people are friendly and trustworthy. However, crime, bad weather, and accidents do happen, so buying Travel Insurance is important.

Is Chinese food safe? If you go to reputable establishments, yes, but take care of street stalls and avoid less hygienic eateries.

Can I drink running water? No! Most tap water in China needs boiling (well) before drinking. In some areas avoid tap water altogether and buy bottled water.

11. Pack for Your China Trip

Pack light What to Pack

With only one week left, it's time to start packing. Make a checklist of items you need and pack according to your destination, especially if you are traveling with children.

The economy class seat on International flights generally allows 23kg per person while domestic flight in China limits it to 20kg per person.

Be sure to include important documents such as your passport and China visa, and pack luggage essentials such as a travel adapter and chargers.

Additionally, pack appropriate clothing for your destination. For example, T-shirts and sunglasses are suitable for summer, while a down jacket and sweater are necessary for winter.

12. Travelling with Kids to China

Pack light What to Pack

Traveling with children requires patience and flexibility, so be prepared to adapt your plans based on their needs. Embrace the opportunity for your family to create lasting memories and experiences together in China.

Plan child-friendly activities: Research and include activities that are suitable for children. Look for interactive museums, parks, zoos, amusement parks, and cultural experiences that can engage and entertain them.

Choose family-friendly destinations: Consider destinations that offer suitable facilities and amenities for families. Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong have a range of child-friendly attractions and accommodations. It's also worth exploring smaller cities known for their family-friendly environments, such as Chengdu and Guilin.

Pack essential items: Pack appropriate clothing for the weather, sufficient diapers and baby supplies (if applicable), snacks, toys, books, and entertainment for the kids during the trip. Consider carrying a stroller or baby carrier for younger children.

Choose child-friendly accommodations: Look for hotels or vacation rentals that cater to families. Check for amenities like childproofing, cribs, high chairs, and play areas. Consider options that provide larger rooms or interconnected rooms to accommodate your family comfortably.

Recommended China Tours for 2024/2025

All of the itineraries on our website can be tailored further to fit your needs. You can easily add whatever interests you. They are hand-picked by us from many options and can be adjusted as we go along.

Below are some of our most popular tour packages. 

You can use them as a guide and a starting point. We are here to make your tour easier and more fun. We are ready! Are you?

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