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 China through the ages. The great sites we see are put 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.
- In the company of our expert guide, this stimulating destination will be brought to life as we discover China’s most famous sites
- View the underground army of the life-sized Terracotta Warriors - one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world
- Luoyang - the cradle of Chinese civilisation - home to Buddhist temples from the 1st century at the outstanding Longmen Grottoes
- Explore the incredible Garden of the Humble Administrator - one of Southern China’s finest gardens
- Visit the fascinating Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre, which exhibits posters from the Maoist period of communist China
- Great Cities
- Cultural Excursion
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
We depart from London this afternoon and set off for an overnight flight to Beijing.
Upon arrival in China we transfer to our hotel where we can unwind. Later, we head out for a visit to the Forbidden City - or Palace Museum - China’s biggest and most beautifully preserved collection of imperial buildings. This site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1987 thanks to its stunning architecture and historic significance. We can view collections that showcase paintings, ceramics and even timepieces here. Beijing is home to six World Heritage Sites and it’s a great starting point for us on this tour.
This morning we touch on recent history at Tiananmen Square. We will then continue with a visit to the National Museum of China, with collections ranging from the very early traces of humans dating 1.7 million years ago to the end of the Qing Dynasty. After lunch, we view the Temple of Heaven, a vast ritual site constructed by the Yongle Emperor.
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: the iconic 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 travel by bullet train to Luoyang, a city in central China located at the confluence of the Yellow and Luo Rivers. Luoyang was considered the geographic centre of China, and is home to a vast wealth of archaeological findings. Excavations here have uncovered ritual sites dating back as far as Neolithic times – and many fascinating traces of Luoyang’s influential past remain. This afternoon we visit the Ancient Tomb Museum.
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 pay a visit to the historical Luoyang Museum and spend time here exploring its vast collections. This site is home to cultural relics and interesting artefacts that reflect the area and its heritage.
Our bullet train will whizz us to Xi’an this morning, which is one of the oldest cities in China. This destination is a melting pot of culture and religion, and there is much to discover here. Our afternoon will be spent at leisure and we can experience the city at our own pace. Wander around the Islamic Quarter, with its Great Mosque and Bazaar, or walk the city walls, an imposing structure that was first established back in the Ming Dynasty.
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. This evening we enjoy a traditional Chinese dumpling meal.
Today we visit the Han Jingdi Tomb, the final resting place of Emperor Jingdi (188-141 BC), which is all too often overlooked and considered to be an underrated highlight of the area. Here, we view some of the 50,000 impressive terracotta figurines that have so far been discovered inside of the tomb’s numerous pits, with likenesses including those of eunuchs, domesticated animals, servants and also women on horseback. We complete out day with a visit to the Shaanxi Provincal History Museum, which presents thousands of years of Chinese history.
We travel by high speed train 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.
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. While in Chengdu we have the opportunity to visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, or alternatively, choose to visit the Sichuan Provincial Museum or visit the tea houses in People’s Park.
We catch a flight from Chengdu to Suzhou. Located in southern Jiangsu Province, in the centre of the Yangtze Delta, over 40% of the area is covered by water and is therefore home to a vast number of pond, lakes and canals. Known as “heaven on earth”, Suzhou was for centuries, the most prosperous non-capital city of the empire. After lunch we have some free time to explore at our own pace.
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. There are few garden names more evocative than the Garden of the Humble Administrator and we spend ample time here wandering around this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site - a title it received in 1997. Widely considered to be one of southern China’s finest gardens, it showcases a range of lovely pavilions, islets and bamboo groves, and a peaceful expanse of water acts as its central focal point. It is the largest and perhaps the most famous in all of Suzhou.
For the last part of our tour we travel to the city of Shanghai on China’s east coast. Thanks to its location at the mouth of the Yangtze river, Shanghai has been an international hub for foreign trade since it was established as a treaty port in 1842, its population burgeoning in the following decades with the mass arrival of refugees during the Taiping Rebellion. Now a modern marvel of architectural, colonial and contemporary, Shanghai is currently the world’s most populous city with over 24 million inhabitants. Before checking in to our hotel, we take a scenic river boat trip along the Bund — the city’s historic quay along the Hunagpu River — to view its 19th century trading houses from the water.
We make the most of our last full day in China by heading to the leafy boulevards of the French Concession. The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre located here, exhibits a collection of objects which reveal the more recent history of communist China - a thought-provoking insight into life under Chairman. From this fashionable part of the city we have the afternoon free to spend at leisure. Enjoy a walking tour with your guide, or discover other highlights of this vibrant city at your own pace. As the day draws to a close, we come together as a group for a farewell dinner, a chance to share our thoughts on this incredible country.
This morning we say our goodbyes to the East and head West, back to the UK on our return flight to London.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - Most meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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