How to Plan Your First China Trip - Step by Step

China is very different to Western countries. It has unique natural landscapes, exotic Eastern cultures and customs, adorable giant pandas, various Chinese foods, amazing kung fu, a unique tonal and pictographic language spoken by one fifth of the world’s population, and many other fantastic things for you to explore.

But don’t worry, traveling to this vast country is not as tough as you thought. Now, let’s get started… the following is a step-by-step guide from your door to China!

1. What is the best time to visit China?

Best Seasons to Visit

China is a vast country, and only the less-remote areas are suitable for a tour all year round. A lot will depend on what sort of weather you prefer or can tolerate. The good-weather seasons in major tourist destinations are spring (April and May) and fall (September and October), during which you just need to wear light clothes, maybe with a light jacket.

Crowd Alert: China’s National Holidays

It is advised to avoid the major Chinese public holidays, unless you want to join in the celebrations. These major holidays include Chinese New Year (Jan. 24th to Feb. 8th, 2020), Labor Day (May 1st to 3rd) and National Day (October 1st to 7th), when Millions of Chinese people head home or travel . The traffic jams will be overwhelming, the train will be hard to book, and the price of hotels can go up by double or more.

2. Where to go?

China, full of stunning sights, rich cultures, and mysterious places, is a large country with an extensive range of tour options. There are lots of wonderful places to see and things to do.

Top destinations in China Top destinations in China

1) Like Ancient Water Towns? Go to:

  • Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou area have the following water towns: Tongli, Nanxun, Xitang, Zhuijiajiao, Zhouzhuang, and more.

2) Fans of History? We recommend:

3) Curious about Karst Landscapes? Go to:

4) Interested in Giant Panda and Religious Culture? Don’t Miss:

5) Crazy about Mountain Areas? Go to:

  • Huangshan — see the beautiful sea of clouds, breathtaking sunrise and sunset on the top of Yellow Mountain, experience local culture at Hongcun Village and more.
  • Zhangjiajie — take a cable car up to the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, walking through the thrilling Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, trek the 999 steps up to Tianmen Muntain and more.
  • Want something off-the-beaten-path? We can make a custom tour for you at any of the destinations mentioned in this article. We can also design a custom tour in a location of your choosing.

6) Traveling along the Silk Road from:

  • The thousand-year-old ancient capital- Xi’an, the Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye, the landmark Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, along with magnificent desertscapes heading up to Urumqi.

7) Explore Minority Cultures in:

  • Tibet – Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Yamdrok Lake, Mount Everest
  • Guizhou – Huangguoshu Water Falls, Xijiang Miao Nationality Village, Mount Fanjing
  • Yunnan – Lijiang, Dali, Shangri La

8) See the Combination of Eastern and Western Charms in:

  • ShanghaiThe Bund, Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, Former French Concession, Shanghai Disneyland…
  • Hong Kong — Victoria Harbor, Victoria Peak, Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong Disneyland Park…
  • Macau – Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macau Fisherman’s Wharf, Monte Fort, A-Ma Temple…

 If you want to see the karsts of Guilin and the ethnic Minorities and snow-capped mountains of Lijiang, then we can organize a train tour that goes from Guilin to Lijiang, and ends at Fei Lai Si temple in Northern Yunnan.

3. How long to stay in China?

Touring Simatai Great Wall at night Visiting Simatai Great Wall at night

For first -timers, it is recommended to stay for at least 8 days to visit China’s “Golden Triangle” – Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. By visiting these cities, you are able to see the essence of China: the magnificent Great Wall, the spectacular Terracotta Warriors, and the unique combination of the Chinese and Western style at the Bund. You can take your 8-Day China Experience Tour with us to truly appreciate China.

The most important thing is to decide what you expect in China. The more you want to experience, the more time you will need to take.

4. How much would a trip to China cost?

How much should I budget for a trip to China? Have a quick look at the major costs of travel:

1) International Airfare to China

The airfare from the Americas or Europe to China costs from about 800 to 1300 USD for an economy round trip. But usually it is possible to save up to $400 if you get a great deal or take one or two or more stopovers. Remember, summer is always the most expensive time to travel to China!

2) Accommodation Costs in China

Average Minimum Accommodation Costs (in USD) in China

Location Top tier: HK, Macau Tier 2: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen… Tier 3: Chengdu, Xi’an, Guilin… Tier 4: Harbin, Luoyang…
Luxury Hotels 250 180 130 100
Mid-Range Hotels 120 90 60 40
Budget Hotels 40 30 20 10
Hostels 20 15 10 5
Remarks: A more expensive hotel is not necessarily the best.

3) Traveling Between Chinese Cities

By air: The earliest and latest flights, low season flights, and stopover flights are cheaper. Ctrip.com is a popular website for searching domestic flights.

By train: China has the largest high-speed railway network in the world, and it tickets are 10 to 150 USD to travel between cities by high-speed train. It’s fast, convenient and with prices not-affected-by-time-or-season.

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

4) Attraction Costs in China

Tickets for most famous attractions in China cost less than 20 USD. Mutianyu Great Wall in Beijing, for example, is the top one of all the Things to Do in China on Tripadvisor, but its entry tickets cost only 40 RMB (5.7 USD).

5) Food Costs When Traveling in China

The cost of food depends on what kind of restaurants you eat at. Usually, expect to pay 5 to 15 USD per meal per person for a regular restaurant and 30-60 USD for a fancy restaurant. Trying some local food at street stalls will save you money and give you a chance to experience authentic Chinese dining culture.

How much would it cost to visit China for a week?

You can expect to spend 2600 USD for a high-quality one-week China tour including round-trip flights. However, China is a miraculous country and its difficult to accurately calculate how much you will spend. It depends where and how you plan to visit.

For first-timers to China who have one week, it is recommended to visit China’s “Golden Triangle”: Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai, here is a sample itinerary:

  • Day 1: Beijing – Forbidden City, Hutongs and Summer Palace
  • Day 2: Beijing – Mutianyu Great Wall and Temple of Heaven
  • Day 3: Beijing to Xi’an – Yonghe Lama Temple and high-speed train from Beijing to Xi’an
  • Day 4: Xi’an – Terracotta Army, Cave Dwelling and Ancient City Wall
  • Day 5: Xi’an to Shanghai – Shaanxi History Museum, Big Wild Goose Pagoda and flight to Shanghai
  • Day 6: Shanghai – World Financial Center, In-Depth Bund Culture Discovery, Yuyuan Garden and Shanghai Old Street
  • Day 7: Shanghai Departure

We offer this tour package with a price from USD 1539 per person based on a group of 2 people and 3-star hotels, including local guides, private drivers and vehicles, entry tickets to attractions listed above, lunches, hotel buffet breakfasts, service charge and tax.

5. Travel solo or with a tour guide?

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

DIY Travel

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 and book transportation tickets, hotels, etc. The articles below will help you satisfy your explorer instinct:

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

There will also be numerous problems to overcome and it is not always the cheapest option . You cannot get the best price on hotels, transportation, from their respective booking pages. You may occasionally get lost, be afraid of an unfamiliar language and lack a sense of security.

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 that you can only scratch the surface of Chinese culture.

Private Tours

Visiting the Bund in Shanghai Visiting the Bund in Shanghai

A private tour is the best option for those who want to have deeper experiences in China, some of which only senior insightful local guides can lead. If you decide to tour China in this way, it is very important to choose a reliable travel agency, like us, Chinatravel.com.

You can be guided as much or as little as you like, plan where you want to go and set your pace. Our professional trip advisers will customize a tour suiting your budget and interests, and local drivers and guides will make your trip a carefree and insightful experience. Below are the top 3 of our best-selling private day trips:

6. Do I need a visa for China?

A China Visa is required for foreign passport holders upon entry into China, but some cities and regions of China allow overseas travelers transit without visa under certain circumstances.

Type 24-Hour Visa-Free Transit 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit
Eligible Countries Except: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Yemen 53 countries 53 countries
Entry Ports Most Chinese cities Guilin, Xi’an, Chongqing, Harbin, Changsha Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Qinhuangdao, Qingdao, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Jieyang, Shenyang, Dalian, Chengdu, Kunming, Xiamen, Wuhan
Means of Transport By air, cruise, train By air By air, cruise, train
Areas Allowed to Stay The transiting city The transiting city The transiting city or region
  • Since 1 December 2019, Chongqing, Xi'an, and Ningbo also provide 144-hour visa-free transit at airports.

7. Book Flights, Hotels, Trains, and Shows

Round-Trip International Airline Tickets

Getting to China is very easy as there are numerous daily non-stop flights from many cities in America, Europe, Australia, Singapore, and many other countries and areas. More routes to China are added every year. Expedia.com is a good choice for flight booking.

Book Your Hotel

When choosing where to stay in China, you will find many choices on the internet, including star-rated hotels, youth hostels, inns, and apartments. Not all hotels can provide service to foreign visitors, but four and five star-rated hotels and other high-end hotels certainly do. For booking hotels in China, Trip.com is not bad.

Book High-Speed Train

When traveling between cities in China, you will certainly need to pre-book LOCAL transportation. Otherwise, you may be stuck in a city for longer than you would like. There are many options for getting around cities, but the most “Chinese-style” way is to travel by high-speed train, which is fast, convenient, punctual, comfortable and reasonably priced.

Book Local Activities, Shows and Things to Do

If you travel China with children, book some unique activities to keep them entertained, such as exploring Beijing hutongs by pedicab, watching Chinese acrobatics in Shanghai, visiting pandas in Chengdu, making Bamboo Roasted Rice in Longji Terraced Fields in Guilin, and more. Feel free to contact us !

8. Know Money and Currency 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 mainland China. 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.

Besides please try to be on the lookout for fake currency- as many foreign tourists may have had problems with getting counterfeit currency in their home countries before visiting China.

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 will need cash for small purchases in China: taxis, small shops and restaurants, ticket counters, etc. Where to change money, will your ATM card work, and how much cash should you bring?…You will get your answers from Chinese Currency Guide.

Download “China’s PayPal” – Alipay

A Guide to Alipay for Overseas Travelers in China

Cash-free travel, sounds exciting? Chinese people nowadays pay bills via a very practical and convenient payment app, Alipay, which is regarded as China’s version of PayPal. You don’t need to worry about how much cash to bring when traveling in China and take your wallets out anymore – a cell phone can handle all shopping requirements . From high-end restaurants to wet markets to street vendors, just show your Alipay QR code and pay the bills!

And WeChat is also a good option if you get an account.

9. Buy Yourself a Travel Insurance

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.

10. Learn Some Chinese

In China, English assistance, signage, and speakers are not available everywhere, and announcements in English are often difficult to understand. Learning some simple Mandarin before your arrival will enable you to become more confident, closer to Chinese people, and have a deeper understanding of the Chinese culture. Here some simple but practical Chinese phrases:

English Chinese Pronunciation Chinese Pinyin (no tones)
Good morning 早上好 /Dzaoww-shung haoww/  Zaoshang hao
Good afternoon 下午好 /Sshyaa-woo haoww/  Xiawu hao
Good evening 晚上好 /Wann-shung haoww/  Wanshang hao
Good night 晚安 /Wann-an/  Wan‘an
Hello 你好 /Nee haoww/  Ni hao
Thank you 谢谢 /Sshyeah-sshyeah/  Xiexie
Excuse me 打扰一下 /Daa-raoww ee-sshyaa/  Darao yixia
Sorry 对不起 /Dway-boo-chee/  Duibuqi
How much? 多少钱? / dwor-shaoww chyen/ Duoshao qian?

11. Start Packing

Pack light Pack light

We suggest you do not over pack, just take some useful and essential items, especially when you travel with children. Make your checklist as short as possible and pack according to your destination.

12. When in China

Stay Connected

Be aware of the electrical socket differences that exist between China and your home country. Your phone works in China, and you can also access the internet. However, you may need an adapter, a converter, or both to charge your batteries, mobile devices and laptops.

Stay Safe and Health

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

Taste Chinese Food

Soup Dumplings Eating Soup Dumplings Shanghai

Chinese Cuisine is a profound element of Chinese culture itself. Cultures in different regions are respectively distinctive. The same is true for the food cultures. Below are some popular foods we recommend:

  • 北京烤鸭 Beijing Roasted Duck
  • 上海灌汤包 Steamed Soup Dumplings in Shanghai
  • 西安肉夹馍 Chinese Hamburgers in Xi’an
  • 桂林米粉 Guilin Rice Noodles

Get a Deeper Cultural Experience

  • Become a panda keeper in Chengdu
  • Explore hutong life by pedicab in Beijing
  • Visit a Chinese minority family in Guilin
  • Take a Chinese painting/cooking/tai chi class in Yangshuo
  • Learn to make tea with local farmers in Hangzhou
  • Take part in traditional celebrations like Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year

If you have the desire to do any of the above activities, contact us for more information.

Tipping

Whether to give a tip or not always confuses a lot of foreign travelers during their journey in China. Actually, to not give a tip is acceptable in the mainland of China, so you can choose to leave a tip or not. However, travelers tend to tip guides and drivers as a thank-you for caring for them during the tour.

13. Our Picks of the Best China Experience Tours

Talking with a local farmer
 

Talking with a local farmer

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. 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?

Below are some of our most popular tour packages: