9 Day China Travel Itinerary
Planning a trip to China can be a huge undertaking. There is so much to see and do, and it can be hard to compress everything into just a week or two. For our trip to China, we had the added monkey wrench of traveling with our two-year-old daughter, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to do all the activities we planned given the mercurial natures of the toddler set. With that in mind, here are the nuts and bolts of how we planned our trip to China and the travel itinerary we created for ourselves before we left home.
Where to Go
When planning our trip to China, we knew we wanted to bookend our visit with stays in Beijing and Shanghai, but needed to decide where to go in between. We boiled our choices down to seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, the panda bears in Chengdu, or the famously beautiful water towns around Suzhou. Ultimately, we chose the water towns (I’m a sucker for beauty) and decided on stops in Suzhou and Hangzhou.
Knowing that subway transportation in China is fast, inexpensive, and safe, we chose hotels that were close to metro stations. We also read a ton of reviews on the English speaking abilities of each hotel’s staff before booking. You can find very inexpensive hotel rooms in China, but the front desk staff’s English may be limited or nonexistent. We found it costs more to stay at a hotel whose staff speaks English, but to us it was worth the extra expense. The bonus was we ended up staying in way nicer hotels than what we normally choose for ourselves on domestic trips!
Transportation Between Cities
Since we were visiting four cities, we chose to travel by train from one destination to another. As a foreigner, you can’t buy tickets online yourself. It’s also not the greatest idea to wait to buy tickets when you are there, because they sell out in advance. We used an agency, China DIY Travel, to buy our tickets for us.
There were two times we knew we would need tour guides on our trip. The first was to the Great Wall. It is possible to get there yourself using public transportation, but it involved both the subway and a public bus. We watched a video posted by a Beijing tour guide that showed how to use public transportation to get to the wall, and we agreed that it looked out of our depth. Instead, we booked a tour with his company, Beijing Walking Tours. I don’t think his intent with his video was to scare off foreign tourists from using public transportation, but it certainly worked in getting us to book with him instead!
We also booked a tour in Hangzhou with John Wu Tours. It was difficult for us to find much information about Hangzhou on the internet, specifically how to get to the tea fields and what to do once we got there. That’s why we booked a tour in Hangzhou instead of trying to figure everything out once we got there. We later learned that Hangzhou is a big tourist destination for Chinese tourists, but not really for foreign tourists, and that’s the way the city wants it. Their reasoning is that if a lot of foreign tourists start visiting the city in addition to the already large numbers of Chinese tourists, there will simply be too many people for the city to handle. Thus the reason for so little information for us on the internet.
We booked private tours instead of group tours, because we decided we’d have much more flexibility with our own private tour guide considering the unpredictability of traveling with a toddler. Also, booking a private tour allowed us to ensure we had a car seat for our daughter while driving on China’s notoriously chaotic city streets. (We did not take a car seat with us, because the last thing we wanted to do was lug one of those around from city to city.)
Our China Travel Itinerary
This was the travel itinerary we set for ourselves before leaving. As to be expected, we did not get to visit all of these places due to the nature of traveling with a toddler, not to mention our own inability to wake up early in the morning 😉
Day 0: Arrive in Beijing
Days 1-3: Beijing
Days 4-6: Suzhou
Day 7: Hangzhou
Day 8-9: Shanghai
Arrive in Beijing. Take the Beijing Capital Airport Express Train. This train stops at two subway stations: Sanyuanqiao and Dongzhimen. From these stations, you can transfer to different subway lines depending on your hotel’s location.
Summer Palace – As its name suggests, the summer palace for China’s emporers.
Walk the Hutongs – The hutongs are narrow streets or alleys with single story siheyuan (traditional courtyard residences).
Dinner at Mr. Shi’s Dumplings – A dumpling restaurant in the hutongs that has good reviews on TripAdvisor.
Walk Nanluoguxiang Night Market – A reconstructed hutong with shops, bars, cafes, and street snacks.
Day 2 (Tour Guide Day):
Tienanmen Square – The city square in front of the Forbidden City where Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Forbidden City – The imperial palace complex in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Served as the home for the emperors as well as ceremonial and political activities for 500 years.
Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall – A well-preserved section of the Great Wall with less tourists.
Wangfujing Snack Street – An alley off the Wangfujing Pedestrian Street (which is lined with well-known shops and restaurants) with food vendors selling snacks of all types – including scorpions on a stick!
Temple of Heaven – Temple at which the emperor visited annually to pray for good harvests.
Lama Temple – A Tibetan Buddhist temple and monastery.
Beijing Railway Station and Overnight Train to Suzhou – Take an overnight train from Beijing to Suzhou as a way to get one more full day in Beijing and cover both transportation and hotel room at once with a deluxe soft sleeper compartment.
Tiger Hill – A park featuring gardens and historical sites, including the Tiger Hill Pagoda, completed in 961 A.D.
Humble Administrator’s Garden – The largest and most famous classical Chinese garden in Suzhou completed in the early 1500s by a former government servant.
Walk Pingjiang Street – A historical street lined with restaurants and shops, running parallel to a river with picturesque bridges.
Tongli – An ancient water town dubbed “The Venice of the East”, replete with canals and gondolas.
Walk Shangtang Street – An ancient riverside pedestrian street with shops and residences.
Lingering Garden – Another famous classical Chinese garden in Suzhou first built in 1593.
Train to Hangzhou
Walk West Lake – A beautiful lake with trees and flowers in bloom year round.
Day 7 (Tour Guide Day):
Walk West Lake – A beautiful lake with trees and flowers in bloom year round.
Tour Longjing Tea Fields – Walk through the green tea fields, learn about green tea, and taste a brewed cup.
Explore Hefang Street – A historical street with centuries-old shops.
Train to Shanghai
Walk the Bund – A waterfront area that was initially a British settlement with turn of the 20th century architecture.
Take the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel to Pudong Side – A kitschy ride in a rail car through a tunnel beneath the Huang Pu River.
Visit the Shanghai Tower for Sunset – The second tallest building in the world with the highest observation deck and the second fastest elevator.
Walk the French Concession – A residential area once designate for the French known for its cafes, Tudor homes, and tree-lined streets.
Take Maglev Train to Shanghai Pudong Airport – A magnetic levitation train to and from the airport that reaches a maximum speed of 268 mph (431 km/h).
How Well Did Our China Travel Itinerary Work for Us?
As I mentioned before, we knew we most likely wouldn’t be able to hit all the spots on our itinerary traveling with a toddler. I’m pleased to announce we only missed a few places on our list: Pingjiang Street, Shangtang Street, and Lingering Garden in Suzhou; Hefang Street in Hangzhou; and the French Concession in Shanghai. If we didn’t have a little one, and, let’s be honest, if my husband and I were early birds instead of night owls, we without a doubt would have been able to see all of these places.
Do you have any questions about visiting these cities in China? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for my more detailed posts about our times in each city.
Don’t forget to pin this image and save for later: