Is 9 days in China enough time to do this massive country justice? Well, probably not, but you can give it a damn good go with this itinerary. If you’ve got just over a week in China to spare, this is the perfect way to take in the highlights: the terracotta army, the epic metropolis of Shanghai and one of the finest wonders of the world, the Great Wall.
The 9 day itinerary for China below is very similar to the itinerary I took when visiting the country in 2017. I should warn you, you’ll be on the go with little time for rest. Yet, that’s the great thing about it – you won’t get bored on this trip!
Days 1 & 2: See the highlights of Beijing
After arriving in China, the capital Beijing is a great place to start your visit! It’s an incredible city, full of things to see. Depending on your arrival time, you could head straight out into the city or rest at your hotel. In Beijing, take in Tiananmen Square, one of the largest squares in the world (we’ve heard conflicting arguments so won’t give you a figure!) The square is also home to Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and the incredible Forbidden City (below). You could easily spend a whole day in this area, but drag yourself away to explore the traditional Hutongs (narrow residential streets) via rickshaw for the rest of the afternoon. Spend the evening eating dinner and watching a Chinese Acrobatic show.
With another day in the city, visit the famous food markets of Wangfujing Snack Street (vegetarians should be able to find something for them too1) and go shopping in the MASSIVE Hongqiao Pearl Market. With over three floors chock full of souvenirs, clothes, technology and accessories, you can pick up fake designer goods on the cheap, if you’re willing to haggle! Opposite the Market is the Temple of Heaven, a huge complex of religious buildings and a very well-deserving World Heritage Site. Top it all off with a trip to the Red Theatre for a show dedicated to the martial art of Kung-fu.
Where to stay in Beijing: If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Beijing, check out booking.com’s selection of hotels and hostels. For Visa purposes, you’ll need to have something booked in advance, so get looking now!
Days 3 & 4: Hike the Great Wall
Get an early start this morning to drive north of Beijing to the Great Wall. Easily one of the most instagrammable places in China, the Badaling Pass is the best place to get your bearings and, trust me, the first time you see the Wall will stay with you forever. It really is an incredible sight.
You can spend as much time on the wall as you like. Some areas are really very steep and have huge steps up to the top, which can be pretty dangerous on a wet day. Please take your time! We were told there is also a cable car to the top, but where is the sense of achievement in that?! We decided to hike as far as we could, until we found blocked off gates and empty buildings. And then we turned around and went the other way. Just as you think you’re nearing an end, it keeps on going for miles and miles. Although there are gift and snack shops, we didn’t spot any toilets on this part of the wall, so do bear that in mind when you’re hydrating. It’s a fine balance to get right!
There’s not much to do in this area other than climb. Take advantage of the opportunity to rest, ready for another day of hiking tomorrow!
After a hearty breakfast (make sure you get one!), head to the Juyonguan Pass. You can walk this whole section of the wall in under three hours, but it is a hell of a climb. Some parts are steep but you’re always treated to the most incredible views at the end of it.
When you’re done, it’s time to say goodbye to the Wall and return to Beijing to start Part 2 of your adventure… Take an overnight sleeper train to fall asleep in Beijing and wake up in Xi’an.
Where to stay at The Great Wall: We stayed at a wonderful little hotel near the Juyonguan Pass. Although basic, the location was second to none and you could even see the wall from the hotel grounds!
Days 5 & 6: Visit Xi’an
Depending on whether you can sleep, you’ll either arrive feeling refreshed and raring to go, or completely shattered. Still, there’s little time to rest! Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China, so it’s a great place to explore its historical sights including the Wild Goose Pagoda (ask me if you want to know why it’s called that!) to see Buddhist relics and the temples. Hire a bike to see the city from the best viewpoint possible – the 14th century City Wall that encircles the old town with Ming Dynasty architecture. Beautiful!
Most people visit Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army, just a few hours’ drive out of the city. Make like the warriors themselves and prepare to fight the crowds – it gets extremely busy (especially during Golden Week)! Despite only being discovered ~30 years ago, the life size figures date back to the 3rd century BC and most are incredibly well preserved. Each figure is different and is said to resemble the craftsman that designed him – now that’s pretty cool!
After your second day in Xi’an, it’s time to get back on a sleeper train to reach my favourite Chinese city, Shanghai.
Where to stay in Xi’an: Use booking.com to search for places to stay in Xi’an.
Days 7 & 8: Explore Shanghai
This modern metropolis is genuinely HUGE and home to 24 million people. As you can probably tell by the towering skyscrapers and beautiful lights, it is actually younger than I am! Spend a few days exploring the markets, shopping on the famous Nanjing Road, visiting the Yuyuan Garden, scaling the second tallest building in the world and sailing along the Huangpu River at night (don’t bother going during the day).
Where to stay in Shanghai: Search for where to stay in Shanghai.
Day 9: Spend your final day in Suzhou
Just a couple of hours by road from Shanghai, Suzhou is a beautiful place to finish your visit. It is reminiscent of Venice, thanks to its canals and waterways where little boats take tourists past Chinese gardens and under quaint bridges. You can lose yourself in the little streets looking for souvenirs and gazing at the beautiful architecture on every corner. Make a final stop at the Lingering Garden before heading back to Shanghai to round off your trip.
Where to stay in Suzhou: I would recommend heading back for one more night in Shanghai before flying home.
What is the best way to get around China?
Of course it’s all very well planning an incredible itinerary, but if you only have 9 days in China, how are you going to get around to make sure you can make the most of your time?
Try a Group Tour
I would always recommend a group tour if you’re short on time. Not only are you whisked around on a minibus, but you also have a dedicated tour guide making sure you don’t miss out on any of the good bits!
Take taxis in cities
Taxis are without a doubt the most convenient form of transport in China, and you can find them in most cities! Ask your hotel reception to write out where you want to go on a little piece of paper and show your driver. Also, take a hotel business card with you wherever you go so you can always get a taxi back home.
Reserve overnight trains for longer journeys
We took two overnight sleeper trains as part of this itinerary. Despite being exhausting journeys, they were a fascinating experience and a real insight into Chinese life. They were relatively cheap, comfortable and certainly got you from A to B when you had nothing better to do but sleep!
Hire bikes in cities
Despite their size, cities in China are quite compact when you think of the places you want to see. In that way, they’re easy to get around by bike, which you can hire on the street. Most roads have cycle lanes too, so you’ll be safe whilst saving the environment and getting some exercise. Win, win, win!
If you’re planning your first visit to China, check out my top tips on what to expect before you go!
What places or sights would you recommend for people with only one week or 9 days in China? Have I missed anything off this itinerary you would love to do? Let me know in the comments at the end of this post!
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