19-day Ancient Capitals of China

China trip package - luxury small group travel package

Beijing – Xian – Luoyang – Dengfeng (Shaolin Temple) – Zhengzhou – Kaifeng – Nanjing – Hangzhou – Shanghai

On this grand tour, you will visit seven ancient capitals of China with a multitude of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The trip delves into the landlocked province of Henan in central China’s Yellow River Valley, one of the the birthplaces of Chinese civilization with over 3000 years of recorded history, and ends at Yangtze River Delta (YRD), the country’s most densely populated and most affluent region. Along the way, you will savour a huge variety of authentic and quality Chinese cuisine, experience Chinese tea culture and hike the Great Wall.

This tour is designed for history buffs in mind. If you have little interest in history and museums, then this tour is not for you.

Important Features

  • Small group size – 20 maximum.
  • Expert local guides.
  • No forced shopping stops.
  • Gratuities for local guides and drivers included.
  • Inter-city travel exclusively by high-speed train.
  • No annoying shopping stops.
  • Quality meals at popular but non-tourist restaurants.
  • Unlimited supply of bottled water during group activities.
  • Free Wi-Fi in all hotels.
  • Peking roast duck at a top rated restaurant.
  • Great Wall visit at Mutianyu with cable car.

Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner

Scroll down for dates, prices and hotel list.

Day 1/Thu: Departing Home City

Your China trip begins with your transpacific flight departing from a city of your choice. You’ll lose a day upon crossing the International Date Line.

Day 2/Fri: Arrival in Beijing
Welcome to Beijing! Meet your driver and transfer to hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure.

Day 3/Sat: Beijing (B/L/D)

Capital of China, Beijing is a world-class cultural and educational centre with a population of 21 million (2013), ranking it China’s second largest city behind Shanghai. Beijing is renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, and huge stone walls and gates, treasures that make it the most popular tourist city in China by the number of visitors it receives every year.

China trip package

We begin today with a visit to the Forbidden City. Officially known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the place where the emperors of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties lived and carried out their administration. Construction of the Forbidden City took 14 years (1406-1420) to complete. The complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 hectares or 180 acres. It exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1912 but the royal family was allowed to continue to live in the Forbidden City till 1924, when the last emperor, Pu Yi, was driven out of the imperial palace. One year later the Forbidden City was turned into a museum. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, this is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Next up is Tian’anmen Square. Located in the heart of Beijing, the square measures 880 metres from north to south and 500 metres from east to west. Said to be the largest public plaza in the world, Tian’anmen Square has the capacity to hold one million people. The imposing Tian’anmen Tower sits at the north end of the square while the Monument to the People’s Heroes dominates the centre. The square is flanked by The Great Hall of the People (west) and the National Museum (east). Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum and Qianmen (Front Gate) are located in the south of the square. One of the top 16 tourist attractions in Beijing, Tiananmen Square is also the witness of the Chinese people’s great struggles for democracy and personal freedom since 1919.

China trip packageAfternoon sightseeing at the Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated in south eastern Beijing the Temple of Heaven is China’s largest extant sacrificial temple where, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the emperors conducted their elaborate and most exalted sacrifices addressed to “the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Construction of the temple started in 1406 during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle, and took 14 years to complete. The temple was expanded under the Qing emperors Qianlong (1736-1796) and Jiaqing (1796-1820). Occupying 2.73 square kilometres (roughly 1,700 by 1,600 metres), the area of the Temple of Heaven is more than twice that of the Forbidden City.

The famous Hongqiao Pearl Market, the largest pearl market in the world, is right across the street from the Temple of Heaven. The market is recommended in numerous guidebooks as a good place to buy fresh water pearls, a market segment dominated by China. If you are interested, please ask the guide to drop you off there. However, you’ll need to get back to the hotel by taxi, which costs about 50 yuan or US$8.

Today we enjoy a delicious dinner at a popular Peking Roast Duck restaurant. Peking Roast Duck is a famous Beijing dish prized for its thin and crispy skin with authentic versions serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners. The meat is eaten with pancakes, shredded scallion, cucumber, and a sweet and salty sauce made of wheat flour. Condiments may also include pickled garlic and white sugar.

Day 4/Sun: Beijing (B/L)

Early morning we embark on a full-day excursion to the legendary Great Wall at Mutianyu, 75km northeast of the city.

Zigzagging over 6,000 kilometres from east to west along the undulating mountains, the Great Wall was built to hold off tribal invaders from the north. As history shows, the Wall failed the Chinese rulers miserably, especially in the case of Kublai Khan and his men who swept across China from the Mongolian steppe and established the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).

China trip packageConstruction of the earliest sections of the Wall started in the 7th century B.C. A major renovation began with the founding of the Ming Dynasty in 1368 and took 200 years to complete. The wall we see today in Beijing is almost exactly the result of this effort.

Day 5/Mon: Beijing – Xian (B/L/D)

This morning we will first visit a traditional hutong neighbourhood. Hutong refers to an ancient alleyway with a siheyuan or ”4-sided courtyard house” on both sides. The name hutong dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368 A.D.). According to some experts, the word originated from the Mongolian language, in which it is pronounced as hottog and means “well.” In ancient times, people tended to gather and live around wells. So the original meaning of hutong should be “a place where people live around”.

Next on our schedule is the Summer Palace, a well preserved UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The imperial resort was first named the ‘Garden of Clear Ripples’, which was burnt down by the Allied forces of Great Britain and France in 1860 during the Second Opium War (referred to as Arrow War by the British). Reconstruction started 25 years later and was completed in 1895 when the name was changed to Yi He Yuan (Garden of Good Health and Harmony). The design gives prominence to Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, located south of the hill. The sprawling complex covers an area of 290 hectares and the buildings inside consist of over 3,000 bays.

After a light lunch we board the high-speed train for Xi’an – eastern terminus of the legendary Silk Road and one of the ancient capitals of China. The two-hour journey is a fantastic way to enjoy the immense beauty of the lush green terrain of soaring peaks and deep valleys.

Meet your guide and transfer to the hotel after dinner.

China trip package

China trip package: Terracotta Army

Day 6/Tue: Xian (B/L/D)

With a history going back over 3,000 years, Xi’an served as the capital of several ruling dynasties including the Han (206 BC – 220 AD) and the Tang (618 – 907). It is home to the famous Terracotta Army as well as the eastern terminus of the ancient Silk Road – a network of trade routes that connected China proper to regions as far as the Mediterranean beginning from the 2nd century B.C.

Get up early to visit to the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum. Built on the excavation site, the museum is located 30km east of the city. Designed to follow the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) into eternity, the Terracotta Army represents one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century.

After lunch we return to the city for a stroll on the ancient city wall. The wall, declared a national treasure by the State Council in 1961 under the premiership of Zhou Enlai, was started in 1370 during the Ming Dynasty, encircling an area of 14 square kilometres. The wall runs 13.7 kilometres long and measures 12 metres in height and 15 to 18 metres in thickness at the base.

Day 7/Wed: Xian – Luoyang (B/L/D)

Morning sightseeing begins with the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. This modern, well-organized museum was completed in 1992 and traces the history of Xian from prehistory to Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Its extensive galleries and exhibitions offer the visitor an excellent introduction to the area that greatly improves understanding of the numerous historical sites in and around the city.

We then visit the ancient grand mosque in the old town centre and the adjacent Muslim bazaar. The mosque was established in the 8th century but the majority of the complex was constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was further expanded during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, this mosque is completely Chinese in its architectural style. It has neither domes nor traditional style minarets.

china garden toursThis afternoon we ride the bullet train to Luoyang (1h 20m) in central China’s Henan Province. The central plain, or “Zhongyuan” in Chinese, was deemed the centre of the universe by the ancient Chinese, and is from where the word “zhongguo” (‘Middle Kingdom’) is derived. A smaller city by Chinese standard, Luoyao has a rich and fascinating history spanning several dynasties. It is home to the White Horse Temple, one of China’s earliest Buddhist temples and the Longmen Grottoes which contain thousands of Buddhist rock carvings dating to the 5th century.

We will have a stroll in the old town before dinner.

Day 8/Thur: Luoyang (B/L)

Morning sightseeing at the magnificent Longmen Grottoes – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 12 km south of the city centre, this historical site contains as many as 100,000 Buddhist statues ranging from 1 inch to 57 feet in height. Dated to as far back as 493 A.D., these ancient sculptures carved out of cliffs on both sides of the Yi River are some of the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art.

china garden toursIn the afternoon we will visit the White Horse Temple (thought to be the oldest Buddhist monastery in China) and the Peony Garden across  the monastery – the site of the annual peony festival held between early April and early May (may be replaced by the Luoyang Folklore Museum nearby).

Day 9/Fri: Luoyang – Shaolin Temple – Zhengzhou (B/L)

After breakfast we will drive 60km to the legendary Shaolin Temple located in Dengfeng county. In 2010, UNESCO inscribed several of the most renowned sites across Dengfeng onto its World Heritage List. Shaolin Monastery and its Pagoda Forest are listed under the title “Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in ‘The Centre of Heaven and Earth’”.

Shaolin is a Chan (Zen in Japanese) Buddhist monastery at Song Hill (Song Shan). It was built by Emperor Xiao Wen in 495 A.D. and the first abbot was an Indian dhyana master, Batuo, who came to China in 464 A.D. to spread Buddhist teachings. Long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu, it is perhaps China’s best known Mahayana Buddhist monastery in the Western world.

Later this afternoon we continue on to Zhengzhou (80km), the capital city of Henan Province that once served as the capital of China for a thousand years, and is now a major transportation hub in central China.

Day 10/Sat: Zhengzhou – Kaifeng – Zhengzhou (B/L)

Today we will take a day trip to Kaifeng by high speed train (20 mins).

Kaifeng, located along the Yellow River’s southern bank, is the ancient capital of eight dynasties that is best known for being the capital of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126). Before the 19th century, Kaifeng was one of the greatest cities in the world and a meeting place of peoples and faiths. Besides Buddhist and Taoist temples, there were Christian churches, Muslim mosques and Jewish synagogues. In fact, Kaifeng has the oldest extant Jewish community in China, the Kaifeng Jews, who came to China from Persia and perhaps Yemen during the Song Dynasty to trade. At the city’s prime time in the Ming Dynasty, there were over 3000 Jew residents in Kaifeng. Over time, the Kaifeng Jews intermarried with local Chinese and became indistinguishable in appearance from their Chinese neighbours. When the last chief Rabbi passed away in 1905, the Kaifeng Synagogue gradually disappeared. Kaifeng is also known for its many women’s mosques (nusi). The oldest, Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque, dates to 1820 and is still active today.

Sightseeing in Kaifeng include the Iron Pagoda (built in 1049), one of the masterpieces of Song Dynasty architecture; Daxiangguo Temple (Temple of the Chief Minister), originally built in 555 AD, where monks perform daily chanting rituals in front of three huge Buddhas; Shanshangan Guild Hall for its exquisite carvings out of stone, brick and wood with great artistic value, and finally the Imperial Street of the Song dynasty with Dragon Pavilion at the end.

Day 11/Sun: Zhengzhou – Nanjing (B/L/D)

Our sightseeing in Zhengzhou includes the Henan Museum and the Shang Dynasty Ruins.

Zhengzhou’s most notable cultural institution is the Henan Museum, one of China’s most important museums. The museum’s huge collections ranges from prehistoric times, including dinosaur bones, up through the Qing Dynasty.

The Shang Dynasty Ruins are the non-commercialized remains of a section of a Shang Dynasty wall that existed 3000 years ago. Now a part of a city park, it is basically a long mound of dirt where people can walk and sit on top of it under the trees. This is the place you can stroll around and see local people chatting, exercising and playing.

In the afternoon we will take high speed train G1828 (14:15/17:34) to Nanjing.

Day 12/Mon: Nanjing (B/L)

Nanjing (formerly romanized as Nanking) is the capital city of Jiangsu Province with a population of 8.27 million. Situated in the affluent Yangtze River Delta region, Nanjing has a prominent place in Chinese history and culture, having served as the capital of various Chinese dynasties, kingdoms and modern governments. Nanjing first served as the capital of Eastern Wu (229-280) in the Three Kingdoms period, later the Eastern Jin and each of the Southern dynasties (317 to 589), the Southern Tang (937-75) as one of the Ten Kingdoms; and the Ming Dynasty when for the first time, all of China was ruled from the city (1368-1421). Lastly, Nanjing served the capital of the Republic of China under Kuomintang prior to its retreat to Taiwan. The city also served as the seat of the rebel Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1853-64) and the Japanese puppet regime (1940-45) during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Nanjing suffered severe atrocities both times, including the notorious Nanjing Massacre.

This morning we will visit the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dedicated to Emperor Hongwu, the founder of the Ming Dynasty.

After lunch we will visit the Presidential Palace, a historic site of great importance in China’s modern history. From 1840 to 1949, it was the center of Chinese military and politics. Today it is the biggest modern history museum in China.

Day 13/Tue: Nanjing (B/L)

Today on our schedule is the Nanjing Museum, one of the largest museums in China with over 400,000 items in its collection. Especially notable is its impressive collections of Ming and Qing imperial porcelain, which is among the largest in the world.

In the afternoon you are free to relax or explore the ancient capital on your own. Please do not hesitate to ask your local guide for recommendations.

Day 14/Wed: Nanjing – Hangzhou (B/L/D)

After a leisurely breakfast, we will a ride high speed train to Hangzhou (47 minutes).

china_hangzhou_buddha_lingyin_templeHangzhou (formerly romanized as Hangchow) is the capital of Zhejiang Province. It sits at the southern terminus of the Grand Canal and has been one of the most renowned and prosperous cities of China for over a century. Hangzhou was first the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. It was chosen as the new capital of the Southern Song Dynasty in 1132 when the imperial family retreated from its original capital in Kaifeng during the Jin-Song wars. Once the prospect of retaking northern China had diminished, the Song people built Hangzhou into a new major commercial and cultural center, and eventually one of the world’s largest and most prosperous cities of time. Numerous philosophers, politicians, and men of literature, including some of the most celebrated poets of Chinese history came here to live and die. The renowned Su Causeway across West Lake was built by Su Shi (Su Dongpo) when he was the governor of Hangzhou. Su Dongpo is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished figures in classical Chinese literature, calligraphy and gastronomy. Dongpo Pork, a famous dish in Hangzhou, is named in his honour.

Today Hangzhou is the 5th largest city in China with a population of 9 million, and the best rated commercial city with e-commerce giants such as Alibaba headquartered here.

Our sightseeing today includes Lingyin Temple, Six Harmony Pagoda plus a short cruise on West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Day 15/Thur: Hangzhou (B/L)

Hangzhou is famous for its Longjing tea (Dragon Well tea). This morning we will visit a tea plantation that covers an area of more than 800 square kilometers (500 square miles). It is fun to learn how to pick tea leaves (March to April), observe the process of creating Longjing tea and experience Chinese tea culture.

Next we visit the China National Silk Museum, the first national silk museum as well as the biggest of its kind in the world. It showcases the history and culture of Chinese silk. Visitors will have the opportunity to participate in some hands-on weaving activities.

Optional evening entertainment: Impression West Lake is a live show at night on West Lake. Hundreds of dancers perform on lifting platforms with music and light. This 1-hour show tells a beautiful but sad story with five acts. You can see the show today or the previous day.

Day 16/Fri: Hangzhou – Shanghai (B)

Free morning. We recommend having a stroll or a bicycle ride along West Lake. You can also explore Qinghefang Old Street, which used to be the most prosperous commercial street of Hangzhou in the ancient past. People come here to taste the local food in the small restaurants, and shop souvenirs and Chinese tea.

In the afternoon we will board a high speed train to Shanghai (1 hour).

Day 17/Sat: Shanghai (B/L/D)China vacation travel

With a population of 26.3 million, Shanghai is China’s biggest city. Rapid economic growth in the past 30 years has turned Shanghai into a leading global city with significant influence in commerce, culture, finance, media, fashion, technology and transport.

Our full-day tour of Shanghai includes the Jade Buddha Temple located in an old neighbourhood, the famous waterfront promenade known as the Bund, and the Yu Garden at the old town centre. We wrap up today’s sightseeing with a drive through the glitzy financial centre opposite the Bund on the other side of the Huangpu River.

Day 18/Sun: Shanghai (B)

Free day to explore on your own. We recommend a tour of the Shanghai Museum and the People’s Square nearby. Shanghai Museum, a great place to explore on your own (audio guide available for a small fee), is frequently cited by visitors as one of the best of its kind in China with a treasure trove collected from around the country. You may also attend an exciting acrobatics show to end this grand tour on a high note.

Day 19/Mon: Shanghai – Home City (B)

Your tour ends this morning. Transfer to the airport at any time for your return flight. You will arrive home on the same day.

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City Nights Hotel/Ship Category
Beijing 3 New Otani Chang Fu Gong luxury
Xian 2 Sheraton Xian North City luxury
Luoyang 2 Lee Mudu Hotel luxury
Zhengzhou 2 Sofitel Zhengzhou luxury
Nanjing 3 New World Hotel luxury
Hangzhou 2 Sofitel Hangzhou West Lake luxury
Shanghai 3 Amara Signature or similar luxury

Dates and Prices


Depart (Thu) Return (Mon) Land Only*
Single Supplement
May-07 May-25 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
May-14 Jun-01 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
May-21 Jun-08 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Aug-27 Sep-14 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Sep-03 Sep-21 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Sep-10 Sep-28 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Oct-08 Oct-26 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Oct-15 Nov-02 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Oct-29 Nov-16 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Mar-04 Mar-22 $5135/$3890 $1770/$1340
Mar-11 Mar-29 $5135/$3890 $1770/$1340
Mar-18 Apr-05 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Mar-25 Apr-12 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Apr-01 Apr-19 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Apr-08 Apr-26 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Apr-15 May-03 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Apr-22 May-10 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
May-06 May-24 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
May-13 May-31 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
May-20 Jun-07 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
May-27 Jun-14 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Jun-03 Jun-21 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Please contact us for Summer dates
Aug-26 Sep-13 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Sep-02 Sep-20 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Sep-09 Sep-27 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Sep-16 Oct-04 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Oct-07 Oct-25 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Oct-14 Nov-01 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Oct-21 Nov-08 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Oct-28 Nov-15 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340
Nov-04 Nov-22 $5270/$3990 $1770/$1340

* Land Only price does not include international airfare. Contact us for competitive airfare quotes from your departure city.

What the tour price includes:

  • Hotel accommodations.
  • Second class seat on high speed train.
  • Daily meals as specified.
  • Guided sightseeing and entrance fees per itinerary.
  • Transfer from airport to hotel on Day 2.
  • English-speaking guides throughout tour.
  • Tips for all local guides and drivers.
  • A full-time tour leader for group with 10+ guests.
What the tour price excludes:

  • Passport and visa charges.
  • Tips for tour leader where applicable – tipping the tour leader is completely at the guest’s discretion and our recommended amount is $10 USD per day per guest.

See Terms & Conditions for more information.