The mere thought of visiting China sends my travel senses into a frenzy. From modern cities juxtaposed with ancient temples to old atmospheric canal-side streets fringed with food stands serving up mouth-watering xiaolongbao, China is one place where you’ll never cease to get your fill.
The problem comes with nailing down what to do in China. It’s not as simple as hopping onto a train and zipping off to any destination you want in mere hours (umm, hello Korea!). Distances in China are huge and the cities diverse, more like a continent onto itself rather than a single country.
Naturally, with just 10 days in China you need to realize that you’re not going to see it all. In the grand scheme of things, very little in fact. But that doesn’t mean that you should give up on the dream.
Even on a time-crunch, there’s plenty to discover. Get started planning your trip with this complete 10-day China itinerary…
10 days in China: Things to know before you go
When to go to China
In a country that spans as far and wide as China, any attempt to generalize—well, pretty much anything!—is doomed to fail. Sorting out the best time to visit China really depends on the region(s) you’re tackling.
Since this China itinerary sticks around the country’s more temperate areas, I’d suggest visiting China in either spring or fall. Temperatures during these seasons are more reasonable than in the dead heat of China’s hot & humid summers.
If you manage to catch these seasons outside of local holidays, they’re also a tad quieter than in the summer and can sometimes offer a better selection of accommodations at better prices.
Do I need travel insurance for China?
Like any destination in East Asia, it’s a good idea to take out travel insurance for China. For the best protection, be sure to take out a policy that includes things like medical care, lost & damaged baggage, trip cancellation, and lost & stolen gear.
Finding a travel insurance policy with good medical care coverage is particularly important. If you encounter a medical emergency in China and require hospitalization, you could end up paying quite a bit out of pocket if your coverage isn’t extensive enough.
Although the quality of health care in larger Chinese cities (for example, most of those covered in this China itinerary) is generally good, travelling to remote areas may put you more at risk. In any case, it’s smart to take out a travel insurance policy that includes medical evacuation for serious emergencies.
Getting connected in China
Like many destinations in Asia, it’s generally not-so difficult to find an Internet connection while travelling in China. Well, for the most part.
In major Chinese cities, free WiFi is ubiquitous, available at most decent hotels and, when you’re out-and-about, in many restaurants and cafés.
Just don’t expect overly fast speeds. Free public networks, like in many places around Asia, tend to draw many users who put a strain on the available bandwidth, often slowing down your connection in the process.
Where to go in China in 10 days: A complete itinerary
You’re probably already realizing the immensity of the task at hand. Visiting China in 10 days puts you on a major time-crunch. Even with distances shrinking thanks to high-speed rail, they’re still large; travelling between many of best places to visit in China isn’t always quick or easy.
Tackling China with such constraints is bound to require a judgement call. For this 10-day China itinerary, I’ve chosen to focus on a couple of the most popular destinations for first-time visitors to China. These places will familiarize you with China and give you a good overview of what to expect.
With these first 10 days in China under your belt (if you enjoy yourself, of course!), you can also return to focus on less obvious, yet immensely interesting regions, like Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangdong or Guangxi.
The cultural heart of the nation beats in Beijing. There’s no better place to launch your China itinerary than than the Chinese capital where both the country’s illustrious past and modern trappings collide in grand fashion.
Truthfully, you could spend your entire 10-day trip to China exploring Beijing and its environs without ever getting bored. For this itinerary, spend at least 4 days in Beijing for an unforgettable introduction to China before moving beyond the capital.
What to Do in Beijing
In a city brimming with imperial palaces, ancient temples, and museums, it’s no surprise that there’s a staggering number of things to do in Beijing awaiting the curious traveller. And the usual tourist sites are just the half of it.
Beijing is simply a place that’s worthy of exploring whether or not you stick to an itinerary. Wandering about you’ll revel in the city’s simpler pleasures whether its chowing down on a mouth-watering street-side snack or stumbling into one of Beijing’s beautiful hutongs as the smell of incense fills your nostrils.
Carouse China’s past at Forbidden City
Whether you’ve got one day in Beijing or a week, your first stop in the Chinese capital should be the Forbidden City. Now known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City is the world’s largest ancient palace complex, spreading out over 180 acres in the centre of Beijing.
Chill out at the Summer Palace
Like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace is one of those grand moments in Beijing (and there are many!) that’s got the power to leave you speechless. This stunning imperial park, located about 15 kilometres from central Beijing, dates back to 1750 when it was built as a relaxing getaway for the royal family. Much of what you see today at the Summer Palace swings back to the early-20th century when the palace was rebuilt in face of foreign belligerents who handed it a devastating blow.
Walking about the Summer Palace, you’ll encounter some of the best living examples of traditional Chinese architecture and landscaping in the country. Whether strolling through its wonderfully manicured gardens or marvelling at its palaces, halls, pavilions, and temples alongside Kunming Lake, a visit here is a must.
To experience the full breadth of the Summer Palace, you’ll need at least 2-3 relaxing hours here plus transit time from downtown.
Get awed by the Great Wall of China
When the thought of visiting China pops into your head, images of the Great Wall of China almost immediately pops up. Visiting this grand monument is, along with a handful of places like the Great Pyramids or Petra, truly one of the few absolute must-sees in the world. And since you’re in China, well, it becomes hardly optional!
With over 21,000 kilometres spread throughout the country in a somewhat haphazard fashion, it’s hardly slim-pickin’s for checking out the Great Wall of China. Fortunately, some of the best sections of the wall reside close to Beijing.
For travellers, the most popular section around Beijing is the Badaling Great Wall. Not only is Badaling one of the better preserved sections of the wall, it’s one of the most accessible. It’s easy to reach by public transportation and features accessibility improvements such as handrails.
As you’d image, Badaling can get a little crowded at times, especially during local holidays. For a quieter alternative near Beijing, visit the Great Wall at Mutianyu. The views aren’t quite as impressive as Badaling, but it’s nowhere near as busy.
10-day China itinerary: Tips, tweaks & more places to visit
- Got a little more time to spare? Rather than adding more destinations, add more time to some of the destinations to explore at a more leisurely pace. Extra time in Xi’an will allow more time to take in its cultural treasures while adding a day or two in Shanghai will let you tackle some of the best day trips from Shanghai including water towns like Tongli or interesting nearby cities like Nanjing and Hangzhou.