China | Beyond the Great Wall
China has a remarkable history, spanning back over 10,000 years and remnants of its glorious past can be seen at every turn. We journey from Beijing to Shanghai, through vast and varied landscapes and archaeology.
From Buddhist temples, to the gargantuan monuments of imperial ambition, to lesser-known prehistoric settlements, this is the story of not one but many Chinas through the ages. Over 17 days, we put the great sites we see into their historical context. We see the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors and Ming Tombs not just as grand relics, but as products of the time, people and places that led to their creation.
- See some of China’s most famous sites in the company of a guide lecturer who will weave them into a narrative of China‘s history
- Come face to face with the famous Terracotta Warriors, discovered by local farmers in 1974
- Discover China’s remarkable prehistoric archaeology at sites such as Jinsha and Banpo, which tell the story of ordinary people in ancient China
- Great Cities
- Cultural Excursion
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
We set off on an overnight flight to Beijing, arriving in China on Day 2.
On arrival to Beijing we transfer to our centrally located hotel, where we can either unwind in the comforts of our room, or perhaps begin to explore the intriguing streets surrounding us.
Refreshed after a long night’s sleep and a filling breakfast, our official tour of Beijing begins with a visit to the Forbidden City, or Palace Museum, China’s biggest and most beautifully-preserved collection of imperial buildings. Spanning over 180 acres, and comprising of 980 buildings in total, it would take days to explore the entirety of this astounding complex. We take in as many of the highlights as we can this morning, such as the 52-metre-wide moat, the elegant Golden Stream, and the staggeringly large Gate of Supreme Harmony.
This afternoon we touch on recent history at the nearby Tiananmen Square, before continuing to the Temple of Heaven, a vast Taoist site constructed by the Yongle Emperor, the same ruler behind the Forbidden City’s creation.
Our discovery of Beijing continues this morning as we wander the expansive lakes and gardens of the Summer Palace, the largest royal park in China; a must-see destination for any visitor to the capital. Though the origins of the park date back to the 12th century, the grounds were expanded significantly in the 1700s, when around 100,000 labourers were called in to enlarge Kunming Lake. The park’s hills and views offer a dazzling respite from the bustle of the city.
Later today we travel to Fahai Temple at the foot of Cuiwei Mountain, a destination famed for its vivid frescoes from the Ming Dynasty, which cover an area of over 230 metres.
We explore the Tombs of the Ming Dynasty this morning, final resting place of thirteen emperors, including the famous Yongle, whose marble mausoleum lies just beyond the ‘Gate of Paradise’. The lavish stonework, dragon motifs, and feng shui layout of these tombs made this site an obvious candidate for World Heritage status, which it achieved in the year 2000.
In the afternoon we visit a site which not only holds UNESCO status, but the title of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It can only be the Great Wall, an unparalleled feat of Chinese engineering. While the original wall dates back to the 2nd century BC, the majority of the Great Wall was built and extended during the Ming Dynasty in order to keep warring Mongol nomads at bay. We experience the wonders of the wall for ourselves while walking on one of its more accessible sections.
We bid farewell to the grandeur of Beijing and fly to Luoyang, a city in Central China located near the confluence of the Yellow and Luo Rivers. Luoyang has long been considered the traditional sacred centre of China, and as such has been the principal city for many a king over the centuries.
Excavations here have uncovered ritual sites dating back as far as Neolithic times – and many fascinating traces of Luoyang’s influential past remain.
After breakfast, we visit the Longmen Grottoes, home to almost 100,000 Buddhist statues, which stand in a terrain of artificial caves and limestone cliffs. These remarkable statues differ wildly in size, ranging from just an inch to up to 17 metres high, and the collection is thought to have first been established at the time of the Northern Wei Dynasty (from 493 to 534 AD).
In the afternoon we continue to the Shaolin Temple in the Song Mountain region, where monks have followed a distinct form of Buddhism for over 1,500 years, practising Kung Fu martial arts alongside their meditations and studies of ancient texts. Sometimes referred to as the ‘number one temple under heaven’, this site is an active hub for the Shaolin sect.
We take a scenic train ride to Xi’an this morning, one of the oldest cities in China, and the starting point of the historic Silk Road to Europe. Our afternoon is free to experience the city at our own pace. Visit the Islamic Quarter, with its Great Mosque and Bazaar, or walk the city walls, an imposing structure first established in the Ming Dynasty. Atop of these well-preserved fortifications is a 14-kilometre walkway, rewarding the intrepid traveller with marvellous views for miles around.
Following breakfast we spend a morning with the jewel in Xi’an’s crown: the 2,200-year-old Terracotta Army. The 8,000 statues displayed here were crafted for Emperor Qin Shi Huang in order to guard his tomb, and were discovered as part of a vast necropolis by farmers in 1974. We view the assembled ranks and other elements of the monumental tomb complex.
After lunch we continue to Banpo Neolithic Village and museum. In 1953, the remains of a 6,500-year old settlement were unearthed here by local workers. The excavations that followed formed the first large-scale archaeological dig of the People’s Republic of China. We view the findings from this 20-acre site, which provide significant evidence of a society led exclusively by women.
Our first stop today is the Han Jingdi Tomb, the final resting place of Emperor Jingdi, all too often overlooked. Here we view some of the 50,000 impressive terracotta figurines which have so far been discovered inside the tomb’s numerous pits, with likenesses including those of eunuchs and women on horseback.
We continue on to Famensi Temple, home to certain alleged Buddha relics, including a finger bone found within layers of silk and sandalwood boxes. The towering pagoda of the temple is thought to be the first of its kind in the region, and has been extensively renovated from dynasty to dynasty.
We fly to Chengdu this morning, capital of Sichuan Province and a hub for the entire southwestern region. After lunch we explore the 3,000-year-old settlement at Jinsha, near the Modi River. Accidentally discovered in 2001, excavations here have uncovered exquisite jade, ivory and gold artefacts, and evidence of a once flourishing civilisation.
We return to the now flourishing city of Chengdu for dinner, and a chance to sample some of the local Sichuan cuisine.
Our day begins at the enigmatic site of Sanxingdui, where two enormous sacrificial pits were discovered less than a century ago, a direct link back to a culture of around 3,000 to 5,000 years old. A huge museum showcases the hoards of antiquities so far found here, including an amazing bronze statue of a tree measuring almost four metres high.
After lunch, we view the Qingyang Palace, or Green Ram Temple, one of the oldest and largest Taoist temples in the world. It is said that stroking the bronze goat statues that guard the main hall will relieve any life troubles and pains. Failing that, a brew in the temple’s teahouse might do the trick…
Today we fly to Suzhou, north of Shanghai, an important commercial centre. The city has been a significant gathering place for artists and writers across the centuries thanks to its delicate gardens and traditional architecture. Add to this the charming scenes of bridges and canals, and it’s no surprise that Suzhou has been repeatedly dubbed the ‘Venice of the East’.
There are few garden names more evocative than the Garden of the Humble Administrator – though, given that this is widely regarded as one of southern China’s finest gardens, there are also arguably many alternative sites more demonstrative of humility! We spend our morning in this renowned classical garden, strolling alongside placid pools and waterways, and observing Ming patterns of planting that are still followed to this day.
In the afternoon we contemplate Nirvana at the restful Lion Grove Garden, whose name derives from the lion-shaped rocks and grotto at its centre. Our feline theme continues at Tiger Hill, an enthralling site which features a leaning pagoda and the intriguing Sword Pond, under which it is believed some 3,000 swords are buried.
Today begins with a visit to the strikingly modern Suzhou Museum, noted for its world-class store of Chinese arts, crafts and calligraphy, including Ming and Qing Dynasty paintings. The perfect setting for an exceptional collection.
Later we transfer to the city of Shanghai on China’s east coast. A modern marvel, Shanghai is currently the world’s most populous city, with over 24 million inhabitants as of 2014. After checking into our luxurious hotel we take a river boat along the Bund, the city’s historic quay, to view its 19th century trading houses from the water.
Our adventure is nearing its end. We make the most of our last full day in China with a visit to Shanghai Museum, where the country’s foremost ancient art collection has its home. Among the one million artefacts contained within these walls are a transparent Han Dynasty mirror, one of only three in existence, as well as nationally significant galleries of currency and Chinese seals.
In the afternoon we enjoy special access to a collection of objects which reveal the more recent history of communist China at the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre. A thought-provoking insight into life under Chairman Mao.
Our day draws to a close with a fantastic farewell dinner – a chance to share our thoughts on this incredible country over a feast of local food and wine.
We say our goodbyes to the East, and fly home from Shanghai.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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