Top Tips for Travelling in China

From cultural customs to entry requirements and must-see attractions, heres everything you need to know about a trip to China
From cultural customs to entry requirements and must-see attractions, here's everything you need to know about a trip to China | Nuno Alberto / Unsplash
Gethin Morgan

Content Editor

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!

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.

China’s rail network is one of the best, and fastest, on the planet

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.

Sold on our Icons of China trip? Read the full itinerary and book your spot today on the Chinese adventure of a lifetime.

Culture Trips 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. 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 places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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