Great Wall hikes, Shanghai bites and all the northern sights

Discover the breathtaking countryside and rich cultural history of China's north on this 12-day Lonely Planet Experience, bookended by the bright city lights of the country’s biggest hubs. From the dizzying heights of Huangshan, the Great Wall and waterfront Shanghai to the underground pits that hold thousands of Terracotta Waterfront, this trip explores the diversity and significance of China. Go beyond the tourist trail, immersing yourself in the local ways of life, with hand-picked experiences to choose from and curated stays in small guesthouses along the way. Northern China is a feast for the senses – especially your appetite – so make sure you see the best of the best with Lonely Planet and Intrepid Travel.


Start
Beijing, China
Finish
Shanghai, China
Destination
China
Style
Basix
Theme
Lonely Planet Experience
Code
CBRF
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

A powerful partnership

Lonely Planet and Intrepid Travel share the same philosophy: we help curious people explore the world.

Why you'll love this trip

  • China is a land of contrasts. From soaking up the bright city lights of Shanghai’s waterfront to exploring the unearthed Terracotta Warriors outside of Xi’an, you’ll get to see it all for yourself!

  • Spend two nights at the base of the Great Wall in a locally run guesthouse, and follow in the footsteps of soldiers from hundreds of years ago when you trek the lesser-visited Gubeikou to Jinshanling section.

  • This adventure offers plenty of opportunity to get active among the wonders of China. Explore city laneways on walking tours, climb the steps of the Yellow Mountain, trek the Great Wall and cycle countryside lanes in Hongcun.

  • Two overnight trains means you'll maximise your time in each destination, get to know your fellow travellers over a game of mahjong, and have a real sense of the vast size of the country.

  • We’re all about authentic experiences, so go local every step of the way with an experienced local leader, public transport, and family-run guesthouses and lodgings wherever possible.

Is this trip right for you?

  • This is a Lonely Planet Experience powered by Intrepid, made for travellers who value their independence but also want the benefit of a local leader and a group of like-minded travellers. The itinerary has a mix of included activities and free time when your leader will offer suggestions. Please budget spending money for optional activities you want to partake in.

  • This trip pack packs a lot into a short amount of time, so we highly recommend spending extra time in Beijing and Shanghai before and after your trip.

  • This trip has some overnight stays at family-run guesthouses and hostels, which tend to have more basic facilities than hotels (but often a lot more character). You’ll encounter some cold-water showers, might need to rug up inside in the colder months and need to use a few squat toilets. The local experience is worth it – trust us!

  • With treks on the Great Wall and Huangshan, both of which can be tough going with many steps, uneven surfaces and steep terrain, you'll need a good level of fitness to get the most out of this trip. Walking shoes with good support and grip are essential, as is being prepared to sweat it out a bit.

  • The overnight train travel included on this trip is in 'hard sleeper' class – carriages sectioned off into 3 tier (6 berth) compartments. It’s not luxury, but it’s efficient and a great local experience. If you would prefer more comfort, upgrades to 'soft sleeper' (2 tier (4 berth) compartments with lockable doors) can be requested, subject to availability, through your booking agent.

Itinerary

Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is a food-centric city with ancient sites and modern architecture around every corner. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm this evening. Following the meeting, settle into your hotel and then perhaps get together with your newfound travel crew and head out for dinner – your local leader will have a couple of recommendations.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Beijing - Acrobat show - CNY290
  • Beijing - Forbidden City - CNY60
  • Beijing - Beijing by Bike Urban Adventure - CNY530
  • Beijing - Kungfu Show - CNY280
  • Beijing - Lama Temple - CNY25
  • Beijing - Summer Palace - CNY50
  • Beijing - Temple of Heaven - CNY40
  • Beijing - Beijing Foodie Walk Urban Adventure - CNY360
  • Beijing - Beijing Wine, Beer & BBQ Urban Adventure - CNY530
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.

As you will depart for the Great Wall tomorrow, we highly recommend arriving a few days earlier to make the most of your time here in Beijing. If you would like to spend more time here, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability).
Enjoy a few hours of free time in the morning to explore Beijing before taking a 3-hour private bus to a section of the original Great Wall– the Gubeikou section. Built as a northern defensive line for Beijing (then called Youzhou), this section of the Great Wall was first constructed between AD550 and AD557, then fortified during the early years of the Ming Dynasty. You’ll spend the night in a family-run guesthouse nearby, and while the facilities are more basic than some of the other accommodation on this trip, the homegrown hospitality more than makes up for it. Most travellers tonight choose to eat at the guesthouse for dinner as it's a great chance to sample local produce and delicious home cooking.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As there’s plenty of public transport on this trip including subway, buses and trains, you will be best to pack light for your main luggage and bring a good day pack/small overnight bag. We leave our larger bags in storage in Beijing and Shanghai when travelling to the Great Wall, Huangshan and Hongcun.

Please note that during winter months (November–February) you may stay in alternate accommodation near other sections of the Great Wall where there is better heating.
Embrace an early start and make the trek from the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall to the Jinshanling section. Hike over steep, remote terrain for around 5–6 hours, taking in incredible views along this comparatively quiet trail. Some parts of the wall are unrestored, so you'll need to concentrate hard to keep your footing, while other stretches will take you off the wall to walk alongside it through the countryside. The trek will be challenging, but the sight of the wall snaking through the hills as far as the eye can see and the feeling of being immersed in ancient history will be ample reward for your efforts. After the hike, check-in to a guesthouse by the foot of the Great Wall and put your feet up, have a few beers or maybe learn how to play mahjong with the locals.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Beijing - Great Wall trekking
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
This is one of the highest-rated Great Wall trekking routes. Parts of the section of wall here are not well maintained and the trek can be challenging. You'll need good fitness and walking shoes with good support and grip for the walk – a walking pole may be handy as well. There are many steps and slopes (some very steep) on the way so be prepared for a tough climb in sections. The views make it more than worth the while though – this is a real highlight of the trip. If you don’t believe you’re fit enough for the trek, you can take the bus with the driver to where the trek finishes and still have a chance to explore.

Please note that during winter months (November–February) you may stay in alternate accommodation near other sections of the Great Wall where there is better heating. The trekking route along the Great Wall may also be altered to account for this.
Take a 3-hour drive back to Beijing before midday and make use of your last free afternoon in the capital. Consider checking out the Temple of Heaven while you're in the city, or tuck into a Peking Duck banquet right in its birthplace. Keep in mind that this evening you’ll board a 13-hour overnight train bound for Xi’an, so maybe stock up on snacks and supplies for the journey. While comfortable, the train isn’t luxurious, but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the vastness of this country. Be sure to have a good book or a device loaded with binge-worthy shows for the journey.
Accommodation
  • Overnight Hard Sleeper Train (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
We use hard sleeper class trains for the overnight train journey. Compartments are open-plan, clean, with padded three-tiered berths (six to a compartment). Wherever possible, travellers will be grouped together, but this will depend on size and availability. Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. Some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Safe, hot drinking water is always available. It is a good idea to bring a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train. Basic shared bathroom facilities with toilets and washbasins are situated at the end of each carriage. As toilet paper isn't always available, it's best to bring an emergency supply. Keep in mind general train cleanliness may not be to the same standards you are accustomed to. Food is sometimes available on the train, but it's a good idea to stock up on snacks for the trip.
Welcome to Xi’an – the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. Head to the hotel to freshen up and then head on a leader-led walking tour, uncovering what was once the start of the ancient trading route known as the Silk Road. Choose to visit the Bell Tower, which according to legend was built to restrain dragons that were causing earthquakes, or the Drum Tower, which is full of instruments once used to mark time and warn the population in emergencies. Your leader will also introduce you to the Muslim Quarter, which features narrow streets of quaint shops, lively markets, and a unique mosque. Another option is to explore the 13-kilometre-long City Walls and attached Gates. Xi’an’s Silk Road history means it has an exciting mixture of cultures, especially found in its food options – Muslim dishes are a specialty here. In the evening, perhaps visit the night markets and try local specialties such as pao mo (lamb broth that you break flat bread into), hand pulled noodles, hotpot or barbecue.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Xi'an - Muslim Quarter walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Xi'an - Great Mosque - CNY25
  • Xi'an - Big Goose Pagoda - CNY80
  • Xi'an - Cycling on City Wall - CNY80
  • Xi'an - Little Goose Pagoda - CNY50
  • Xi'an - Bell & Drum Towers - CNY50
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As you’ll arrive early in the morning, you may not be able to check in right away if rooms are still occupied or have not yet been cleaned. Your leader will try to secure one room for early check-in if possible where the group can leave their luggage and freshen up, however this is subject to availability.
Make the 2-hour journey by public transport to the acclaimed Terracotta Warriors. Spend a few hours at this incredible archaeological find, buried for 2000 years before being discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots were commissioned by the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for viewing, where just under 2000 of the total 6000 warriors – each an individual with a different costume, height, and even facial expression – are on display. Later, return to Xi'an and board your second overnight train bound for Shanghai (approximately 16 hours).
Accommodation
  • Overnight Hard Sleeper Train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Blending 21st-century architecture with old-world character, Shanghai pulses with the beat of contemporary China. Arrive and take the busy subway to your accommodation. Enjoy a full day of exploration, but don't worry if you can't see everything you want to today – you’ll be back later on in your trip. Get a taste of the city during the roaring 1920s with a leader-led walk of the Bund, a strip of spectacular art deco-style buildings. Wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of Old Shanghai, where you can get a glimpse of local life. Explore the European-influenced French Concession, then pound the pavement along Luwan's Huaihai Road – a busy shopping street. The area's tree-lined avenues and many Tudor mansions earned it the nickname 'Paris of the East'. When night falls, why not get together with a few of your travel pals for a taste of Shanghai’s eclectic food scene.
Accommodation
  • Hostel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Shanghai - Walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Shanghai - Propaganda Museum - CNY20
  • Shanghai - Shanghai Museum - Free
  • Shanghai - Yuyuan Gardens - CNY40
  • Shanghai - Urban Planning Exhibition Centre - CNY30
  • Shanghai - Acrobat Show - CNY280
  • Shanghai - Oriental Pearl Tower Viewing Deck - CNY150
  • Shanghai - Huangpu River Night Cruise - CNY120
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Travel into stunning countryside on a 6-hour public bus journey to Huangshan, otherwise known as Yellow Mountain. The 72 sharp peaks of Huangshan provide some of China's most breathtaking scenery, as well as a respite from the bustle of the city. Spend the next two days in a guesthouse with free time to explore the area as you wish. Two popular trails are the Eastern Steps (7.5 kilometres, approximately 3–4 hours) and the Western Steps (15 kilometres). It’s recommended to take the cable car to the summit, explore the area and then descend via the Western Steps. Whatever you choose, the dramatic limestone peaks framing this region make for some breathtaking vistas. After taking in the natural beauty of Huangshan during the day, return to the guesthouse for a well-earned evening rest.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (2 nights)
Included Activities
  • Huangshan - National Park Trek
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As one of China's premier sights, you should also be prepared for crowds of domestic tourists during public holidays, although at any time of the year there can be long waits for the cable car.

The paths in Huangshan are steep and often slippery, so you will need good fitness and suitable hiking shoes.

Please note that Huangshan is subject to dramatic changes in weather. You will need to be prepared for mist, fog, rain and cool temperatures. September and October are considered the best months to visit Huangshan. In any season you should ensure you take enough clothing, food and water supplies, as well as extra money, in case the weather changes and you need to take the cable car instead of hiking.
Jump on public transport again and travel through Anhui province to the picturesque villages of the Huizhou region (approximately 2 hours). A number of these villages are now World Heritage listed, and you may recognise the ramshackle, ornate buildings from the film ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. Arrive in Hongcun, check-in to your village guesthouse and then set out on a guided tour of cobbled alleys and Ming Dynasty architecture. Following this short walk, you have the rest of the afternoon and evening free to spend as you wish. Perhaps you might like to clamber up into the hillsides for panoramic views over the traditional settlements. Or maybe you'd prefer to explore the surrounding villages on two wheels. Your group leader will have all the information on bicycle hire and other optional activities.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hongcun - Guided Village Tour
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Bid farewell to the glorious countryside and make the 6-hour journey back to Shanghai by public transport. You’ll arrive back mid to late afternoon, and if there’s time, consider booking into a traditional tea ceremony to learn how important this drink is to Chinese culture. Tonight is cause for celebration, so why not gather with your travel crew and go all out in one of Shanghai’s great restaurants. If you haven't already, tonight is the perfect chance to try the city's famous xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings).
Accommodation
  • Hostel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Shanghai - Huangpu River Night Cruise - CNY120
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
With no activities planned for today, you are free to leave the accommodation at any time, provided you comply with your accommodation’s internal check-out policies. That doesn’t mean you adventure has to stop here! If you’d like to spend more time in Shanghai, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability).
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This trip is a Lonely Planet Experience
Our Lonely Planet Experiences include plenty of free time so you can do the things that suit your budget and interests. Between your Intrepid Travel leader’s local knowledge and Lonely Planet’s trusted travel tips and recommendations, your trip will be more epic than ever.

Meals

No meals are included on this tour

Transport

Overnight Hard Sleeper Train, Public bus, Private vehicle, Subway

Accommodation

Guesthouse/Hostel (6 nights), Hotel (3 nights), Overnight Hard Sleeper Train (2 nights)

Included activities

  • Beijing - Great Wall trekking
  • Xi'an - Muslim Quarter walking tour
  • Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors
  • Shanghai - Walking tour
  • Huangshan - National Park Trek
  • Hongcun - Guided Village Tour

Lonely Planet extras

  • Free access to the Lonely Planet mobile app for one year
  • 25% discount on all items in the Lonely Planet Shop

Dates & availability

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There are currently no scheduled departures on our North China Getaway trip. If you are interested in other trips in the region visit one of the links below.

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Important notes

1. A Single Supplement is available on this trip, excluding overnight trains and guesthouses
2. A scanned copy of the personal details page of your passport is required at time of booking in order for us to purchase your train tickets.
3. Overnight train accommodation on this tour is in 6-berth ‘hard-sleeper’ class. Bedding is provided and wash basins and toilets (squat/western) are available in each carriage, but there are no shower facilities.
4. Please note while traveling through mainland China you will not be able to access some popular internet websites.
5. In winter months (Nov-Feb), we may stay in alternative guesthouses near the Great Wall due to the cold weather. This may also alter our trekking route along the Great Wall.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

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