Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. Blending 21st-century architecture with old-world character, Shanghai pulses with the beat of new China. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6 pm this evening. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. Settle into your hotel and then get a feel for this vibrant city – Shanghai’s bright lights, fevered trade and frenetic pace provide a glimpse into the dazzling global future of the country. Your evening is free for your first exploration of the city – perhaps get a taste of Shanghai’s eclectic food scene, which draws influence from far beyond China’s walls.
Day 2Shanghai - Xitang
Today join your leader for a walking tour that will take you back in time. At the Bund you can get a taste of 1920s Shanghai; its spectacular array of art deco style buildings line what was once the most important financial street in Asia. Wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of Old Shanghai, where you can get a real glimpse into the locals’ daily life. Explore the European-influenced French Concession and the tree-lined avenues and Tudor mansions of Luwan's Huaihai Road. In the afternoon, leave Shanghai in the rearview mirror and make the two-hour journey to Xitang, a nearby water town. Once a hub for 19th-century businessmen, this town turns on the charm in the evening when all the day trippers go home. Take a stroll along lantern-lit canals and ask your leader for advice on which hole-in-the-wall eatery to pick from, enjoying some classic Chinese cuisine while watching the lights reflected on the waters' surface.
Day 3Xitang - Overnight train
Rise and shine for a daylight exploration of the streets of Xitang. Wander across charming bridges and relax by the canals, sip steaming cups of tea, learn about local history at one of the many museums or simply get lost among the maze of peaceful cobblestone streets – a welcome break from the bustle of modern Shanghai. Return to Shanghai and board an overnight hard sleeper train bound for Xi'an. The journey will take around 15 hours in total, though you'll hopefully be sleeping for most of it. Train travel in China may not be entirely luxurious but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the country and its people, as it's the main form of transport for locals. These are not as rough as they sound – compartments are open-plan, clean, with padded three-tiered berths (6 to a compartment). Wherever possible, we will group our travellers together, but this will depend on group size and ticket availability. Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. Some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Safe, hot drinking water is always available. It is a good idea to bring a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train (as these are not provided in cabins). Basic bathroom facilities with toilets and washbasins are situated at the end of each carriage. As toilet paper isn't always available, it's best to bring an emergency supply. Keep in mind general train cleanliness may not be to the same standards you are accustomed to. Food is available on the train, but it's a good idea to stock up on snacks for the trip.
Arrive in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. Once the imperial centre of China for 2000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites and is a great place to explore. Today you’ll join your leader on a short walking tour to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. Perhaps visit the Bell & Drum Towers, the former built (according to legend) to restrain the dragons that were causing earthquakes, the latter is (unsurprisingly) full of drums, once used to mark time and warn in emergencies. The city also has a wonderful Muslim Quarter, and you’ll wander the narrow streets of quaint shops, lively markets, groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes, and the Great Mosque, one of the most important in China. See the City Walls and Gates, the most complete in China, running over 13 kilometres around the city. Xi’an’s Silk Road history means it has an exciting mixture of cultures. This is reflected in the food options, which range from delicious Muslim fare to great Chinese dumplings. Perhaps visit the night markets and try some of the tantalising local specialties such as pao mo (lamb broth with flat bread), hand pulled noodles and meat skewers.
Today you’ll journey outside of Xi’an (approximately 2 hours) and visit what is undoubtedly one of the man-made wonders of the world – the Terracotta Warriors. You’ll learn all about this incredible archaeological find, discovered after being buried for 2000 years by farmers digging a well in 1976. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (and originally individually painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. See over 1000 warriors, each individually sculpted from clay and with a different costume, height and facial expression. Afterwards you'll enjoy lunch with a local family nearby.
Day 6Great Wall
Today is a big day of travelling so grab some snacks for the journey. Transfer to the railway station and then board the high-speed train (approximately 6 hours) to Beijing. Watch the landscape change from farmland and villages to industrialised cities and urban sprawl. On arrival in Beijing board a private vehicle and make the three-hour drive into the countryside, where you’ll spend the night in a family-run village guesthouse. This evening your host will show you how to make dumplings for dinner.
Day 7Great Wall - Beijing
This morning you’ll visit a section of the Great Wall and spend some time exploring, taking photos and learning the history of this mighty site (and sight). An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6000 kilometres west from Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from invaders from the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it's still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements and an iconic destination. You might even feel like you have the whole wall to yourself as you take your time strolling along the wall, which snakes through the hills almost endlessly into the distance. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. You’ll then journey back to Beijing (approximately 3 hours) – your last stop on your tour. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing has quickly shed its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation's ancient past as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture.
Today you will make our way to the centre of the city – Tiananmen Square (travelling by subway and local bus). This square – supposedly the largest downtown square in the world – is the symbolic centre of Chinese power. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum, and with elaborate flag raising and lowering ceremonies at dawn and dusk, it's a place of pilgrimage for the Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation. From here you will enter the enormous Forbidden City. Built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all that time, its a truly amazing place. Despite the transformation of the city around it, the Forbidden City thankfully looks much like it always has. As you explore the great halls and courtyards you’ll be able appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Beijing is vast and overflowing with sights – with your hotel located centrally, a walk in any direction will unveil all sorts of wonderful surprises. Enjoy some free time for exploration in the afternoon, maybe check out the Temple of Heaven, not only a historically important temple for sacrificial ceremony with exemplary Chinese traditional architecture style, also a lively park full of locals singing and dancing, doing tai chi and traditional arts like calligraphy. Get together with your fellow travellers in the evening. What better than celebrate the end of your journey in China than with a Beijng duck dinner?
Day 9Beijing - Overnight train
Today is another free day for you to explore Beijing until the evening train to Harbin. This is a combination trip, so your group leader and group composition may change. The group briefing for the 2nd part of the trip is at 2pm. Check with your leader on where it'll take place.
Arrive into Harbin this morning. Make sure you layer on the warm clothes, as Harbin is colder than Beijing and you’ll be outside exploring the city for a lot of the day. Transfer from the train station to the hotel, where you may be able check in early and freshen up if the rooms are ready. Enjoy a walking tour of Harbin, visiting Saint Sophia Cathedral and the busy central street of Zhongyang Dajie. Your guide will provide a history of the city during the tour, including Russia’s influence on Harbin. In the evening visit a local restaurant and try a hearty stew meal that'll surely warm you up and typical to northern China.
Day 111 Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival
Today explore the Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival with your local guide. Winters are very long and very cold in Harbin, and for entertainment a tradition of ice carving developed, said to date back to the Qing dynasty when fishermen would pull ice from the Songhua river to carve into lanterns. This has evolved in to an epic winter festival, with artists and sculptors competing to create the largest, most extravagant and intricately detailed structures. Entire buildings - cities, almost - are reimagined in frozen form. The festival is the largest of its kind in the world. Tour the various exhibitions of sculptures made from snow and ice, which is sourced from the nearby Songhua River. The sculptures are life-size re-creations of famous buildings, structures and characters, created by master sculptors and artists. Every year, the ice and snow sculptures in exhibit vary, but in the past, the festival has featured ice Kremlin, enormous seated Buddha and a supersized Chinese fishermen. Observe the sculptures during the day, and engage in other optional activities such as sledding, ice hockey and ice mini golf. Revisit the festival at night, when the ice is lit up with colourful lights, keeping warm with a coffee or hot chocolate from one of the festival stands.
Day 121 Beijing
In the morning, board a high speed train for the comfortable journey back to Beijing (approx 7-8 hours) across the winter landscapes of China's north. Transfer to your hotel on arrival and enjoy a free evening to explore the city. Perhaps catch an acrobatic performance at the Chaoyang Theatre or wander through busy street markets. Beijing boasts a world-class gastronomic scene. Feast on roast duck in a traditional restaurant, eat dumplings and noodles in a backstreet eatery or enjoy some of the best international dining in China. Ask your leader for local food recommendations and farewell your group tonight with a feast.
Day 131 Beijing
This winter wonderland adventure comes to an end today. There are no activities included, so you may depart the city at any time