Classic China itinerary: 2 weeks from Beijing to Shanghai
Let me just start by stating the obvious here: China is a huge country – almost a continent – and 2 weeks is barely enough to scratch the surface and have a beginning of idea of what China is. Having said that, like the Chinese philosopher Laozi once said, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, and this classic 2-week itinerary is an ideal introduction trip to this beautiful country.
It covers Beijing and its Great Wall of China, Xi’an, Guilin/Yangshuo with the Li River and Longji Terraced Field, and finally Shanghai.
Word of advice: it is difficult to plan in advance all the steps of a trip in China, even for the main destinations (e.g. planes/trains can be fully booked). Therefore, while keeping a general outline of what you want to see, be prepared to adapt your plans to face the unexpected.
Step by step
Days 1-4: Beijing
This classic China itinerary in 2 weeks starts with the capital, Beijing. The most famous spot near Beijing is the Great Wall of China built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is between one hour and a half and three hours away from Beijing depending on which part(s) of the wall you wish to visit. The Great of Wall of China is an amazing hiking place but you may want to do some research beforehand to pick the most beautiful and less crowded parts like Simatai.
The Forbidden City (imperial palace) is another great monument you should see in Beijing. It was the home of Chinese emperors from the Ming Dynasty until the end of the Qing Dynasty – you may have seen it in the movie 'The Last Emperor' (1987) directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
South east of The Forbidden City in central Beijing is the Temple of Heaven, a group of religious building that were used by emperors for their prayers.
To have an idea of what Beijing looked like before the city started to rapidly modernize in the last century you should have a look at the Hutongs around the Drum and Bell Towers. Hutongs are narrow alleys that can be find between single story traditional courtyard residences.
Finally, to come back to modern China visit Beijing National Stadium and Beijing National Aquatics Center commonly known as, respectively, Bird's Nest and Water Cube. These two monuments were used for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Days 5-7: Xi'an
Take an overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an.
The most interesting sights in Xi'an are:
- Drum Tower of Xi'an that was erected in 1380 during the Ming Dynasty
Days 8-9: Guilin & Yangshuo
Guilin and Yangshuo in the Guangxi region are certainly one of the main highlights of this China itinerary in 2 weeks. The centerpiece of this journey step is certainly the Li River, a beautiful river ranging from Guilin to Yangshuo along 83 kilometers / 52 miles. It is possible and even very much recommended to go on a boat cruise on the Li River. The journey to follow the entire river from Guilin to Yangshuo takes from four to five hours.
The Longsheng Rice Terraces are another grandiose sight that you should not miss. They are located in the Longsheng County about 2 hours away by bus from Guilin. Also named Longji (dragon's backbone), the terraces are built on a slope whose highest point is at 880 meters. The most well-known terraces are the Ping An Rice and Jinkeng Rice terraces.
Days 10-13: Shanghai
This China itinerary finishes with the world's most populated city (although it's not China's capital), Shanghai. There are many things to see in Shanghai and it can be a bit overwhelming with only a few days on your hands. The following attractions are perfect to start your exploration:
- Nanjing Road, the principal shopping street of Shanghai – most likely the busiest in the world
- Zhujiajiao: one of the most ancient water town of Shanghai. It was established 1,700 years ago but archeological elements dating back to 5,000 years have been discovered as well. It is located in the Qingpu district (Shanghai west).
- Fengjing: another water town within Shanghai, in Jinshan_District this time (Shanghai south west). The old town of Fengjing is especially interesting with its expositions of paintings from local peasant artists.