China was one of my favorite trips. My friend and travel partner, Sarah, and I took advantage of a really great group travel deal that had us flying into Beijing, over to Xian, and ending in Shanghai. This trifecta of destinations in China gives a great overview of the country, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to spend. While I don’t usually travel on group trips, I felt like China was one of those places that it might be necessary, or at least beneficial, since I don’t speak the language. It was definitely the right choice and I would highly recommend traveling China in a gorup.
If you can scoop up a great deal to China (which I continue to see posted regularly), I highly recommend it. Traveling in China was a lot of fun, really fascinating, and one of the best travel experiences I’ve had.
A company that offers regular group trips to China that you can rely on is G Adventures. They have been putting together and running group trips for a very long time and are a dependable and respected travel company. One of their tours, called Classic China, covers the 3 locations mentioned above in 8 days an average of just 12 people on the tour, and most things included (except for meals), for just $1200 per person (less if you snag a special deal). Check out possible tour dates here.
You might also like: 20 fun facts you didn’t know about China
To get you thinking about traveling to China as one of your next trips, I’ve compiled all of the top things I love about traveling in China. I’m not really a fan of going on group tours, but I would actually recommend it for a trip to China. I wouldn’t have wanted to try to put together all of the details of this trip myself, and I definitely think we saw more of the country and participated in activities we wouldn’t have done on our own. It was definitely worth it in this case to travel in a group.
Solo vs Group Travel? Find out which one is right for you.
Before you go, definitely check out this post about useful apps to have in China. Some are more for expats in China, but you’ll find a handful of apps you really need to get around China if you’re traveling on your own.
The Terracotta Warriors
Have you seen a picture of the Terracotta Warriors that were rediscovered in Xian in the 1970s? Assembled sometime during 200 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, the terracotta army is a replica of what the royal army looked like at that time, and it is incredibly impressive. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this before.
The army is so large that it requires multiple enormous excavation tents to cover it all, and there are still archaeologists uncovering and rebuilding the army. When you walk along the side of the pit and see the soldiers and horses up close, it’s hard to believe what it must have taken to build it. If you ever get the chance, you have to see it!
Here is a great article with more information on how to visit the Terracotta Warrior display.
So Much Tea!
I am a huge fan of just about any kind of tea. I especially like green and Oolong teas that originate in China. One of my favorite things about traveling in China was the tea. There were tea shops and houses everywhere! We had a wonderful tea tasting on two different occasions, once in Xian and once in Shanghai, that I will never forget. The leaves are fresh and aromatic, and the ritual of making the tea is so precise and cherished. If you like tea, you will love China.
The Incredible Architecture
Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by some of the most stunning architecture in the world. Whether old or new, the buildings of China have to be some of the most intricate and ornate of any in the world. The palaces, pagodas and monuments will have you walking around with your head thrown back in the air everywhere you go. You won’t want to miss a single detail.
One of the more interesting places to visit in Beijing is the Olympic Park, which was built for the 2008 summer Olympics. The buildings are really unique. Next to the Bird’s Nest National Stadium and the Water Cube Aquatics Center, there is Pangu Plaza that was built to look like the Olympic flame. Really impressive.
The Awesome Statues
There are more statues in China than you would ever imagine. Every structure has a statue, or seven, associated with it. Every time we saw a statue, we felt compelled to take our picture with it. Maybe that’s why they have so many – it encourages travelers to share their photos of China, which inevitably entices more people to visit.
Oh the Food – the Incredible Food
Never have I been as impressed with the incredible array of food that was presented to us as I was in China. Every restaurant we visited served our food family style on a Lazy Susan in the middle of a giant round table, meant to be shared among friends and family. I’m sure we had no less than 10 different dishes of food at every meal.
My favorite part about the food in China is the noodles. Often they are made fresh right there in the restaurant and you can even sometimes watch them being stretched. It’s incredibly impressive. The noodles have great texture and chew. They are never served drowning in sweet sauces, or even soy sauce, like we treat them in the U.S. I think I could eat trays worth of freshly made dim sum. Wait until you watch them making the dumplings. It’s like dinner and a show!
The Great Wall of China
Nothing more really needs to be said about that, right? Who hasn’t wanted to walk on the Great Wall of China in their lifetime? It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done on vacation. I’ll never forget the experience or the thrill of seeing the Great Wall for the first time. It is truly one of the most impressive structures ever built.
Just a warning, in case you didn’t already suspect this – the wall is extremely steep in some places. Be prepared for a climb! I’m not sure I cared about the workout, I was too busy being in awe of everything I was seeing.
The Cheap Souvenirs
One of the things I always forget to pack when I travel is a watch. When you’re traveling with a tour group, it’s super important to know the time. So one of my first cheap souvenir purchases in China was a $2 Chairman Mao watch (Mao Zedong is a former Chairman of the Communist Party in China). We saw these watches being sold everywhere, and though we knew better than to purchase a watch on the street, we just had to! It worked for about half a day before Chairman Mao’s hands stopped moving for good.
Other fun souvenirs we found were a panda hat and a stuffed panda wearing a panda hat. I mean, come on! Who can resist!
Hordes of Delicious Street Food
I’ve mentioned the food, but the street food gets a category of its own, because there is a huge difference between eating at a restaurant and eating at a street food vendor in China. No matter where you go, there will be plenty of street food vendors, and they are often selling things you’ve probably never seen before – at least I hadn’t. We saw chicken feet on a skewer, tons of whole crispy duck, and interesting fried meats and breads.
Jianbing is one of my favorite street foods from China. It’s a crepe fried up right there on the street. The crepe is brushed with hot chili sauce and soy sauce, stuffed with a fried egg, topped with scallions, cilantro and crunchy wontons, then folded served piping hot. I guarantee it’s some of the best street food you’ll ever eat.
China really is a fascinating place to visit. The culture and the food are definitely worth the effort to get there from the United States (or wherever you might be traveling from). Have you traveled in China? What is your favorite things about it? Tell us about it in the comments!
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.