Want to visit China but don’t think you have enough time? Follow in my footsteps and you’ll be amazed at how much you can see with just 2 weeks in China!
China is seriously big and you could spend years traveling within the country and not see everything. I am giving you the exact itinerary I used when I was in China. It’s perfect for first timers and it hits all of the most famous sites and cities. I’ll also give you some alternatives when available, and tell you which parts of my itinerary I would have changed if I could do it over.
Days 1-4: Beijing
Beijing is China’s capital city and has a population of over 11 million and it definitely feels that way. It’s crowded and polluted, but it’s also home to some of China’s most famous places so you can’t miss it.
Tiananmen Square is right in the heart of the city and a great place to start in Beijing. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Tiananmen Square is probably the massacre that happened on June 4, 1989. Today, the Square is a bit more calm and the heavy presence of military guards and video cameras ensure it stays that way.
There are a lot of attractions in and around Tiananmen Square, including the Forbidden City (right across the street behind the building with Chairman Mao’s portrait), National Museum of China, and Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao, where you can see his embalmed body in the flesh, if you’re so inclined.
Ideally, you should do all of these things together. However, I was unable to do so because on Monday many attractions are closed, including everything I just listed, so I had to see the Forbidden City a different day. Because of this snafu I was unable to see the Summer Palace which I hear is amazing. You’ll have to go and let me know.
The Forbidden City is a must. I can’t say I enjoyed my visit due to the outrageous amounts of people there when I went but I am still glad I saw it. Located right behind Tiananmen, it’s easy to get to from Tiananmen Square and should take an hour or two to see it all.
I was told that I just went on a bad day and it’s not usually as crowded as it was when I was there, so hopefully that will be the case for you too. The Forbidden City is very beautiful and you should enjoy it!
Beijing is famous for its delicious Peking Duck and for good reason! This dinner was by far the most delicious meal I ate on the trip and I wish I had eaten it every day I was in Beijing. There are lots of duck restaurants in the city so either find one that looks nice from the outside or ask someone at your hotel for suggestions on where to go.
The main reason anyone goes to Beijing is to see one of the 7 wonders of the world: The Great Wall of China. The Great Wall stretches over 5,500 miles (8,851 km) across China, but most people access it from Beijing. There are many different sections you can hike, some are restored (like in the photo above) and some of them are the crumbling original sections which have been untouched since they were built (like the photo below).
Your level of fitness (and bravery) will determine which part of the wall you hike. If you’re not looking for a challenge and/or you are on a time crunch, consider going to Badaling or Mutianyu which are the closest sections to Beijing, and are the most crowded. Badaling has elevators and Mutianyu has a gondola, so you don’t even have to hike up to the wall if you don’t want to.
For those looking for something more active, the Jiankou to Mutianyu section is said to be the most beautiful. I tried booking this tour but it was cancelled at the last minute. You can book in advance online or most hotels will be able to book tours for you once you get to China. If you want to browse different hikes and book in advance, Beijing Hikers and The Great Wall Adventure Club are both great options and have good reputations.
Don’t leave without visiting Tiantan Park where the Temple of Heaven is located. It is phenomenal. The best part of Tiantan Park was just watching the locals hang out. You’ll find old men playing chess and cards, couples getting wedding photos taken, and my favorite part, the locals dancing to music on the paths. It was unlike anywhere else I went in China. It’s easy to get to by bus or metro, or you can walk there from the Tiananmen area like I did, which was about 25 minutes.
(From subway: Take line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen Station, then use exit 5A)
Day 5: Xian and Guilin (or stay in Xian overnight)
The city of Xian is famous as it’s home to the Terracotta Army. It was made to protect the emperor in the afterlife and contains over 8,000 individually crafted figures, including horses and chariots. As long as you don’t make the mistakes I made here, it will be an amazing to see.
There are some different options for seeing the Terracotta Army. One is to fly from Beijing to Xian and spend the night there. You will have more time to see the Army as well as other historic sites around the city. The other option, which I did, was book a flight to Guilin with a long stopover in Xian and spent the day there. Air China has a flight that leaves Beijing at 6:30 am and arrives in Xian at 8:20 am (assuming it’s on time). The flight to Guilin doesn’t depart until 6:40 pm, which gives you 10 hours to explore Xian.
As soon as you leave the secure area of the terminal in Xian, there’s a tour desk where you can book a driver to take you around all day. It was about $200 but you can go anywhere you want and won’t have to stay the night.
Days 7 and 8: Guilin
If I were to do this trip all over again, I would have probably spent at least 1 extra day here, if not two. To put it simply, Guilin is absolutely gorgeous and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The main thing to do in Guilin is take a cruise down the Li River. The cruise ends in the small town of Yangshuo and you can either stay there or take a mini bus back to Guilin later that evening. Transportation will probably be provided as part of your cruise.
I took an optional countryside tour after the cruise, which included a bamboo boat ride. This is well worth doing! It’s so peaceful and beautiful and it will be the perfect end to your day, whether you stay in Yangshuo or head back go Guilin.
I ended up taking the bus back to Guilin because I was flying to Hong Kong the next day, but I wish I had stayed in Yangshuo and explored some more. You can rent bicycles or motorbikes and find your way through the karsts to the swimming area, go rock climbing, or take a tour of the Longji Rice Terraces.
Days 9-12 Hong Kong and Macau
If you’ve never been to Hong Kong, you’re in for a treat. If you have been, you’ll be excited to be back. Hong Kong is such a great city and it’s a breath of fresh air after being in mainland China for over a week. It’s extremely easy to get around, English is widely spoken and the food is amazing!
On a clear day, you should take the tram up to the top of Victoria Peak, which is the only way to really appreciate how massive the city really is. For directions, click here.
To see the skyline from a different perspective, take the MTR across to Tsim Sha Tsui and head down to the Avenue of the Stars to watch the nightly Symphony of Lights show, which begins at 8 pm. Get there early to stake out a good spot as the best viewing areas fill up quickly.
Eat dirt cheap, super delicious dim sum at any of the Michelin Star rated Tim Ho Wan restaurants around the city.
Lose yourself in one of Hong Kong’s many street markets where you can get everything from souvenirs to clothing to animals.
For a completely different experience, take the ferry to Macau and spend a day walking around this former Portuguese colony. The architecture looks very European, which is a dramatic change from anything else you’ll find in China. And if you love gambling, this is the place for you! Macau brings in more money from gambling per year than Las Vegas and the small island has 33 casinos to play at.
Helpful tip: Even if you don’t plan to gamble, you can still use the casino shuttles to get around the island!
If you don’t want to visit Macau, consider going to see the big Buddha on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. I’ve never been but plan to the next time I’m in the city.
Day 13-14: Shanghai
Shanghai is the most cosmopolitan city in all of mainland China. It’s home to world class shopping and restaurants, as well as tons of local Chinese shops and food and an incredible skyline when viewed from The Bund.
I came to Shanghai to meet up with a friend who was there on business. If I were to do this trip over again, I would have skipped this part to spend more time in Guilin and Hong Kong, but I am very glad I saw it.
2 weeks in China doesn’t sound like that much, but it’s more than enough time to see all of the highlights. China was one of the most difficult solo trips I’ve taken, but also one of the most rewarding. I cannot wait until I am able to go back for Round 2!
- Keep in mind that China requires citizens of most countries to get a visa and you must get your visa before you enter the country.
- Flight delays are very common. Trains are much more reliable but take longer.
- Bring tissues with you as most public restrooms will not have toilet paper
- If this is your first trip to China, you may want to purchase the book ‘China Survival Guide‘. I brought this with me and read it on the flight over. It’s full of extremely helpful tips for traveling, as well as what to expect when you get there.
- Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are technically part of China, but not. It’s confusing, but if you’re going to either of these places and are NOT going to mainland China, you may not need a visa.
- If you plan to travel to Tibet, you will need additional travel permits in addition to your Chinese visa
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