Planning that big bucket list adventure to the far east? Make sure you’re well prepared by following these travel tips for visiting China.
Plan your itinerary
This one might sound a bit obvious, but unlike some beach retreats or small European city breaks, you cannot visit China without a good bit of prep work. This is one of the largest countries on the planet, so first things first, you need to know where you want to go. Most of the destinations and attraction you’ll be most interested in are on the eastern side of the country, but even that’s a colossal amount of land to cover. That’s where Culture Trip comes in, with our immersive small-group adventures. We take the planning off your plate, leaving every element of the itinerary – from what-to-do to how-to-get-there – to our seasoned Travel Experts. All you need to do is book some flights and meet us there!
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On the ground our friendly Local Insiders will be your private guide throughout the entire journey, offering you priceless cultural insights and top local tips on everything from the best stretch of the Great Wall to the finest bao in town.
So, if you want authentic adventures without having to trawl through endless travel blogs or stumble your way through broken language conversations with locals, look no further than our Icons of China by Train itinerary – all the bucket list big hitters, plus plenty of surprises along the way.
Obtain the appropriate visa
Travellers from most countries will need a visa to enter and, with the country having been largely closed off due to Covid right up until March 2023, it’s important to keep up to date with latest entry requirements. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your departure date, check the latest Covid testing requirements, including tests and declaration forms, and apply for your travel visa in good time. You will need to visit your nearest Chinese Visa Application Service Center in order to apply. Those with an in-date 10-year China visa shouldn’t need to get a new one.
Prepare for cultural differences and language barriers
For Western travellers it doesn’t get more exotic than East Asia and, unlike some nations whose economy rely heavily on tourism, China has not had to adjust as much to foreign visitors. English proficiency varies a lot, so expect to get by OK in the major cities, but you’ll struggle a lot the more rural it gets. Have a map of where you want to go, keep the addresses of your accommodations handy, work on your hand gesturing and download some translation apps. More importantly, make an effort to learn some basic Chinese phrases, like “Ni hao” (Hello), “Xie xie” (Thank you), and “Zai jian” (Goodbye) – it’s polite and will go a long way with the locals.
Brush up on local customs and little bits of etiquette, such as accepting items with two hands or removing your shoes upon entry to someone’s home. China has its own unique cultural practices and it’s important to try and stick to them as much as possible. This is a place that puts great importance on respect and politeness, so however hard you find the cultural adjustment, always try to be pleasant and smiley. You’ll get by just fine.
Utilise public transport
The distance between some of China’s most famous attractions and desirable destinations can be vast, but luckily for us they also have the largest high-speed rail network on the planet. It connects major cities and regions across the country, with trains reaching speeds of up to 350 km/h (217 mph). They’re efficient, comfortable and very punctual. It’s good to purchase tickets in advance, especially for peak time travel, and passengers are expected to sit in their designated seat.
It’s also worth noting that many of China’s major train stations operate a little like airports, in that there are rigorous security checks, luggage restrictions and boarding gates. Allow ample time to get to the station, and enjoy the scenic, speedy ride once you board.
It’s the country’s amazing rail network that inspired the creation of our Icons of China by Train trip. In just 10 days we’ll show you the very best of Beijing, Shanghai, Pingyao and Xi’an, as well as hikes on the Great Wall of China, a face-to-face with the Army of Terracotta Warriors, and a day trip to see the ancient trade canals of beautiful Zhujiajiao.
Embrace local cuisine
Chinese cuisine has been exported across the world, but usually the shipped product has been tweaked, catering to the unadventurous tastebuds of local customers. If you want to experience real Chinese food culture, then you have to go to the source. Cuisine varies massively by region, but be sure to embrace street food culture and authentic, family-run eateries. Must-tries includes Peking duck, Pingyao beef, Sichuan hot pot, dim sum and plenty of bao. Do drink bottled water and stick to reputable establishments in order to avoid any health repercussions. Local guidance is always best, but it isn’t hard to have an amazing foodie experience in China.
Travel with Culture Trip!
We can’t deny the bias, but we also genuinely believe the best way to visit China, especially for first time travellers, is our Icons of China Rail Trip. Avoid the stress of booking long-distance domestic travel, have reliable accommodation booked on your behalf, and enjoy the priceless insights of our amazing Local Insider. All you need to do is book your flights and sort your entry documents. Once you land, just sit back and enjoy China!
Highlights of our trip include sunset and sunrise hikes on the Great Wall, as well as rooftop barbecue at a nearby hotel. You’ll get guided tours in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the stunning old town of Pingyao, and a cycle on the city walls of ancient Xi’an. You’ll visit the Army of Terracotta Warriors, explore the ancient watertown of Zhujiajiao and master Chinese cuisine on a home-cooking masterclass. The trip ends with a gorgeous sunset cruise along Shanghai’s Huangpu River, glass of bubbly in hand and a suitcase full of memories for the road.
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meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
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Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.