Vast and still largely unknown outside its main tourist areas, China is a land rich in immersive cultural experiences for those willing to explore

Top Tip...

“Bookings to China with Wendy Wu Tours grew strongly in January with a year-on-year increase of 20%. We also noted a large rise in interest for active and adventure travel to China, with 2017 departures on our Discovery Tours up 70% compared to last year.”


On the rise

China is a vast and still largely unknown tourist destination outside of the main population centres of Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu (for the giant pandas) and the Yangtze River. English is not widely spoken, infrastructure is poor and the country is so huge it can be hard to know where to start.

UK could fit into China 40 times. The world’s second largest country is also the most populous, with 1.3 billion, and coping with crowds is often one of the big challenges when visiting the more popular tourist destinations.

Despite these challenges, China is in fact the third-most visited tourist destination, welcoming almost 68 million tourists in 2016. The 2016 figures were up almost four per cent year on year, and if this growth continues China will claim the number one spot in 2020, according to the World Tourism Organisation. The UK sits in 15th spot with 580,000 visitors in 2015, says the China National Tourism Administration, but this number is likely to rise.

Infrastructure is also catching up – the network of bullet trains has been expanded and more quality hotels are being built outside of Shanghai and Beijing. A staggering 544 first-class and luxury hotels with 164,400 rooms are currently under construction, in Beijing and Shanghai as well as other Chinese cities like Changsha, Chengdu and on the Chinese tropical island of Hainan, says the China National Tourist Office.

Perfect 10

  1. Take a hike: Climb up Longevity Hill in the Summer Palace, Beijing, for stunning vistas over Kunming Lake

  2. Wall to wall: Walk the winding Great Wall fortifications of Jinshanling and see the sunset at the Simatai Great Wall section

  3. Old times: Discover quaint charm in Pingle Ancient Town near Chengdu

  4. Pedal it: Cycle along the ancient city walls in Xian

  5. Wake up: Join Shanghai locals on a tasting tour of the city’s breakfast joints

  6. Cruising: Take a two-day cruise along the mighty Yangtze River visiting the Ghost City of Fengdu

  7. Get high: Drink a cocktail in the sky in Cloud 9 Bar, on the 87th Floor of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai

  8. Cuddly friends: Come face to face with the Giant Panda at Dujiangyan

  9. Timeless: Stand on the Bund (old Shanghai) and marvel at the futuristic buildings in Pudong (new Shanghai)

  10. Picture it: Have dinner in the French Concession and imagine yourself in pre-World War Two Shanghai

What the expert says

“Recommend visiting China in the spring and autumn, avoiding the extreme heat of the summer and cold of the winter, although being such a huge country this varies regionally”

“China is becoming a more popular starting and finishing point for cruises. Travel 2 has seen an 88% increase under its dedicated Cruise Plus programme this year to date. Many passengers will tie this in with a tour of Japan”

“Our tip to agents would be to go beyond the main attractions when discussing China with their customers and to highlight more off-the-beaten-track cultural sites and active experiences. The Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors and the giant pandas are without doubt must-see attractions, but the modern traveller also wants to experience local culture and authentic activities.”

What’s new

Airlines: In February, China introduced fingerprint checks of all foreign arrivals, beginning at Shenzen Airport. The checks are a bid to improve security and will gradually roll out at other airports across the country.

Hotels: The Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay, is Marriott’s third hotel in Hainan. With views of mountain, ocean and beach, the 458-room resort hotel is surrounded by tropical gardens.

Attractions: Shanghai Disneyland celebrates its one-year anniversary in June. The resort expects to welcome up to 10 million visitors in its first year. It features Disney’s tallest castle, two hotels, a pirate-themed park, shopping, dining and a 40-hectare ‘Wishing Star Park’ with natural scenery.

Attractions: Star Cruises is adding a number of longer cruises from Shanghai, allowing passengers to include Tokyo and Mount Fuji in their itineraries. The new cruises will begin on July 6 and until November 30 2017.

Carnival Corporation will build two cruise ships in China for the Chinese market for launch in 2023. The new ships will establish the first domestic Chinese cruise line, with an option for four more.

Norwegian Cruise Line is to send another purpose-built ship to China in 2019, joining sister ship, Norwegian Joy.

Where to book it

Wendy Wu Tours has a 15-day China Explorer trip (part of the Discovery Tours collection) priced from £3,190pp. Highlights include the Summer Palace, hiking the winding Great Wall fortifications of Jinshanling, cycling along the ancient city walls in Xian, a two-day cruise on the Yangtze River and time in Shanghai. International flights are included.

The 17-day Grand Tour of China 2017 from Great Rail combines ancient cultures, history, scenery and urban landscapes from £2,995pp with departures in 2017 scheduled on May 18, September 14, and October 12, 19 and 26. Included are flights from London to Beijing and Shanghai to London, 12 nights in four- and five-star hotels, a tour manager, high-speed rail travel, a three-night five-star cruise on the Yangtze, tours in Beijing, Xi’an, Suzhou and Shanghai and excursions to the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall of China.

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