3 Week China Itinerary: What to See in China in 3 Weeks

3 Week China Itinerary: What to See in China in 3 Weeks

Traveling to China for 3 weeks or less? This blog shows you the best places to visit in China if you have 3 weeks in China.

<Updated March 2023> China now allows foreigners with valid visas issued before March 28, 2020 to enter China. For updates on Chinese Visa and Entry Policies, be sure to check the official embassy website for information.

China is a large country with plenty of amazing places to see. Many people only know about Beijing and Shanghai but there are so many beautiful places in China that are relatively unknown to foreign travelers.

With the help of social media and global traveling, more and more visitors now come to China to experience history, beauty, culture and food in China.

If you are thinking about planning a trip to China then I highly recommend spending 3 weeks so you can see some of the most important and beautiful cities and sights in China.

In this 3 Week China itinerary, I will provide you with a sample itinerary assuming this is your first time in China. Even if this is not your first time in China, you will for sure find nice places mentioned on here that can inspire you during your new trip.

This blog contains occasional affiliate links, where I receive a small commission on sales of the products/hotels that are linked at no additional cost to you. In addition, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

How Long Do You Need in China?

Since China is one of the largest countries in the world and there are so many beautiful places and cities to visit in China, you can literally spend 3 months in China and not see it all.

Unfortunately most people do not have 3 months to travel around China (if you do then I’m super jealous of you), so realistically you should spend a minimum of 2 weeks in China.

2 weeks in China will allow you to see some of the most famous cities in China as well as some natural wonders (China really has beautiful mountains, lakes and rice terraces, etc).

3 weeks in China is a good amount of time to see the most famous spots in China but this itinerary can only cover part of Northern and Southwestern China. If you are interested in visiting Southern China and Hong Kong then you will need another week to 10 days at least.

This 3 week China itinerary also not only covers major cities like Beijing and Shanghai but I also aim to show you one of China’s most beautiful mountains as well as scenic villages that you often see on TV or in the movies to get the real feel of China.

China Tourist Visa Requirement

Depending on where you are traveling from, you most likely need a Chinese tourist visa. You generally need to either apply online (and mail in your passport to the closest Chinese embassy) or go through a visa application agency who will do everything for you.

If it’s your first time applying for a Chinese tourist visa you may benefit from using an agency just so you don’t miss anything.

I highly recommend that you start the process early and oftentimes the embassy requires your passport photos, full itinerary, round trip and internal flight confirmation and hotel bookings (with your full legal name).

If you are an American applying for Chinese tourist (L) visa, check out the official website for visa application requirements.

If you are a British citizen applying for Chinese tourist (L) visa, this website may be useful for you.

Xitang China

3 Week China Itinerary

The 3 week China itinerary below is a brief outline of how to spend 3 weeks in China. I added a few places that are usually not on first time China visitors’ radar to give you a new perspective of China (I mean who only wants to visit cities!)

Day 1-3: Shanghai
Day 4: Xitang Water Town
Day 5: Hangzhou
Day 6-7: Huangshan (Yellow Mountain)
Day 8: Hong Cun Ancient Village
Day 9: Travel back to Shanghai (Travel Day)
Day 10-13: Chongqing & Surrounding Area
Day 14: Chengdu & Pandas
Day 15: Leshan Giant Buddha
Day 16-18: Xi’An
Day 19-21: Beijing & the Great Wall

Day 1-3 of 3 Weeks in China: Shanghai

Shanghai is a great city to fly into as it has one of the busiest airports in China with tons of international airlines flying into it.

Shanghai is also the largest city in China in terms of population and the financial center of mainland China so you can expect to find tons of bars, shopping centers, upscale restaurants, hotels, etc. There is also a large expat population in Shanghai so it’s a great city to start your 3 week China trip.

Arriving in Shanghai

There are two international airports in Shanghai depending on where you are flying in from and on what airline. Both Pudong international airport and Hongqiao airport have convenient public transportation or taxis that can get you to Shanghai city center within an hour. But Hongqiao Airport gets to the city a bit faster than from Pudong Airport.

How To Get to Shanghai City Center From Pudong Airport

From Pudong International Airport, you can either take subway line 2 all the way into Shanghai or take the more expensive MagLev train to “Long Yang Road station (龙阳路)” then transfer to subway line 2.

Shanghai Maglev train

How to get to Shanghai City Center From Hongqiao Airport

From Hongqiao International Airport, you can take subway line 2 or subway line 10 directly into Shanghai City Center depending on which terminal you land in.

If you don’t want the hassle of doing public transportation or taxi, you can always book a private transfer from one of the two Shanghai airports to your hotel.

China Subway

Things to Do in Shanghai If It’s Your First Time in Shanghai

I’ll list some of the most popular things to do in Shanghai for the remainder of your 2.5 days in Shanghai and you can decide how to arrange the itinerary based on your interests.

YuYuan Garden & Bazaar (豫园)

Shanghai is modern but there are parts and bits of Shanghai that preserves traditional Chinese architecture and YuYuan Garden is one such place.

YuYuan or Yu Garden is a famous garden inside the City God Temple. The garden itself is very famous and the surrounding area is a large Bazaar/ street market with tons of food stalls, restaurants and shops that attract both tourists and locals.

The Yu Garden ticket price is RMB 30-40 depending on the season. The garden is very pretty and because entrance tickets are needed to enter Yu Garden, it is not as crowded as the bazaar outside.

Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai
Yuyuan

Once you finish checking out the garden, spend sometimes exploring the bazaar, try some of the food stalls as well as the famous Nanxiang Soup Dumpling (南翔小笼包)since Shanghai is famous for soup dumplings (小笼包) and pan fried pork buns (生煎包).

Shanghai itinerary Yu Garden
Bazaar
Shanghai China itinerary Nanxiang Soup Dumpling
Nanxiang Soup Dumpling

Lujiazui (陆家嘴)

Lujiazui is the financial center of Shanghai and it’s located on the side of Huangpu River (黄浦江) opposite from the Bund. The famous Shanghai skyline is the view of the buildings in Lujiazui.

The Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower (Oriental Pearl Tower 东方明珠) is one of the most famous buildings in Lujiazui. There are also many new skyscrapers in Lujiazui in recent years and many of these new buildings have an observation deck.

I recommend going up to one of the observation decks in either the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai Jinmao Tower or the Shanghai Tower (currently the highest one) for a panoramic view of Shanghai and the Bund. There are also restaurants, shops and hotels in most of these skyscrapers and along the river.

Shanghai Financial Center Observation deck

The Bund (外滩)

The Bund is the most promenade in Shanghai and a place frequently featured in movies and TV shows.

The Bund used to be the financial center of Shanghai with a number of banks and trading houses located there. Nowadays the Bund is a tourist attraction with colonial relics and buildings the government decided to keep. It is the best area to see the famous and colorful Shanghai skyline and many luxury hotels are on the Bund like the Fairmont and the W.

Shanghai Bund China itinerary

Things To Do at the Bund:

Walk along the Bund: walking along the Bund is the best way to enjoy this area and the view There are numerous high end restaurants and hotels along the Bund.

The Bund Cruise Tour: There are 2 types of cruises you can take from the Bund. One goes from the Bund to Zhujiajiao that costs RMB 2 min and takes 10 min. This is not really a tourist cruise but it is a cheap way to see the bund from the Huangpu River.

The other type of Bund cruise is a tourist boat that leaves from Pier 16, RMB 80-150 for an hour.

The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel: Under water tunnel between Lujiazui and the Bund with multimedia experience.

Enjoy the Bund from above: a great way to have a panoramic view of the Bund is from above and this includes both observation decks and rooftop bars and restaurants such as Flair from Ritz Carlton, New Heights, House of Roosevelt, M ON THE BUND, Bar Rouge, etc

Shanghai bund

Nanjing Road (南京路)

If you are visiting the Bund then you simply cannot miss Nanjing Road. Nanjing Road is a commercial street near The Bund. There are a lot of shops, restaurants and shopping centers on Nanjing Road and it is perfect for walking around when you visit the Bund.

Former French Concession (法租界)

The Former French Concession area was a part of Shanghai that was conceded to France between 1849 to 1943.

Even to this day, the former French concession area is a nice residential area with tons of cute restaurants, cafes and shops. One hall mark of the Former French Concession area is wide road lined with London plane trees.

The buildings in the Former concession area are either colonial styled buildings or traditional Shanghainese buildings called Shikumen – old brick works and big stone doorways. You can literally spend half a day to a day exploring the different parts of the Former Concession Area and visit famous writers’ former residences, etc.

Shanghai Former French Concession

Tianzifang (田子坊)

Tianzifang is a popular and touristy area of the Former French Concession with cute cafes, restaurants, shops. There are several alley ways that make up this area and it has been redeveloped in recent years.

Xintiandi (新天地)

Another famous and trendy area of Shanghai called Xintiandi is also located in the Former French Concession. Many people to go Xintiandi for the nightlife as well as shopping and dining. However the restaurants in Xintiandi are definitely more expensive but with a lot of western options.

Other noteworthy things to see in the Former French Concession include Fuxing Park, Fuxing Road, Site of the first National congress of CPC, Zhou Enlai’s former residence, Sun Yat-sen’s Former residence, Shanghai Propoganda Poster and Art Center, etc.

People’s Park (人民公园)

People’s Park is a large public park in Shanghai and I threw this in here because on the weekend, there is a famous “marriage market” at People’s Park. This is where older Chinese parents go with their kids’ photos and “resume” hoping to find a match for their children. It’s a rather interesting concept and worth checking it out.

Best Places to Stay in Shanghai

The Bund: The Bund is perhaps the most famous and visited area in Shanghai but it is also very convenient. If you want a beautiful view of the Shanghai skyline, I recommend staying at The Fairmont if you want a luxurious experience or Les Suites Orient for a more budget friendly option.

Xintiandi: Packed with shopping, bars and restaurants, Xintiandi is a great choice for anyone really. A few places to consider: Old French Concession Shikumen ApartmentURBN Boutique ShanghaiManxin Hotel Shanghai XinTianDi.

Day 4 of 3 Weeks in China: Xitang (西塘) Day Trip From Shanghai

Xitang is a famous water town and scenic village about an hour from Shanghai. If you have never heard of Xitang, you would be delighted to know that Xitang was actually featured in one of the Mission Impossible movies when Tom Cruise had to travel to China to save his wife (and to find the rabbit’s foot).

Xitang is very popular among Chinese domestic tourists due to its proximity to Shanghai. There are multiple daily buses despairing from Shanghai and once you are in the Xitang bus station you can get your hotel to pick you up (I generally don’t recommend taking taxis there since they probably will rip you off).

Xitang Sunset

Since Xitang is a scenic town, you actually have to pay for entrance tickets if you visit between the hours of 8-5. Sometimes your hotel can try to get you in for free or help you to get discounted entry ticket. If you visit later during the day (after 5) like I did, you won’t need to pay for the ticket.

I personally visited at night and stayed overnight in Xitang and thought that was the best decision. It is a lot less crowded and so festive and beautiful at night as there are lanterns everywhere and people are still out and about.

Xitang at night

For more information on how to visit Xitang, what to do and what to eat in Xitang check out my detailed Xitang day trip from Shanghai blog for all the details.

Alternatively if you prefer tours, this Xitang tour is a good option.

Day 5 of 3 Weeks in China: Hangzhou (杭州)

Hangzhou is a city located not too far from Shanghai and Xitang. There is a a Chinese saying that means “paradise in heaven and Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth” so you can imagine how nice Hangzhou must be.

A day trip to Hangzhou really doesn’t do it justice and there are many beautiful places to see in Hangzhou. But given the short amount of time, I’ll list the most famous and popular places to visit in Hangzhou in a day.

West Lake (西湖)

West Lake is the most famous sight in Hangzhou; it is a large freshwater lake that attracts tons of tourists and locals everyday.

One reason the West Lake is so famous is because it has long been the subject of poetry and Chinese literature throughout Chinese history and there is always a romantic association when one thinks of West Lake.

Hangzhou Xi Hu (West Lake)

Located in central Hangzhou, West Lake is easy to get to by public transportation. You can take the metro to Fengqi Road or Longxiangqiao station then walk 10 minutes to the lake. Since West Lake is a large area, there are tons of things to do and you should expect to spend at least 3 hours to half a day at West Lake to see if all.

West Lake requires no admissions fee and it is free to the public everyday of the year. However there are attractions at West Lake that cost money.

Some of the best places to visit at West Lake include the 1) Broken Bridge (amazing for the winter), 2) Bai Causeway, 3) Baochu Pagoda, 4) Autumn Moon on the lake (scenic area), 5) Solitary Hill, 6) Su Causeway (which cut across the lake), 7) South Lake, 8) Leifeng Pagoda, etc.

There are also 3 islets in West Lake that you can visit by tourist boat, which you will need to pay for. But overall you can plan on spending at least half a day at West Lake.

Leifeng Pagoda at West Lake
Leifeng Pagoda

Hefang Street (河坊街)

Hangzhou has some really cool streets to visit and Hefang Street is one of the most famous.

Located not too far from the east side of West Lake (about a 20 minute walk), Hefang Street is a pedestrian only street in Hangzhou. The reason Hefang Street is so famous is because it is a symbol of historical and cultural Hangzhou with tons of ancient buildings, cool antique and handicrafts stores, Chinese medicine shops and museums, tea houses and restaurants.

If you prefer to have everything arranged for you and not have to worry about looking for public transportation then I suggest this excellent one day Hangzhou Tour to see the West Lake and many other famous places in Hangzhou.

Best Places to Stay in Hangzhou for your day trip would be to stay either West Lake or the bus station for easy access.

Day 6 – 7 of 3 Weeks in China: Huangshan/ Yellow Mountain (黄山)

Huangshan is known as the most famous and beautiful mountain in China and it is the mountain that has inspired numerous Chinese paintings, poetry and literature work. Therefore a trip to Huangshan is a must for anyone visiting China.

You will need more than just a day trip to Huangshan to see it all as the scenic area is really big, therefore I highly recommend that you spend at least one night (if not two) on top of Huangshan in the government owned hotels in order to get the most out of this.

How to Get to Huangshan from Hangzhou

The easiest way to get to Yellow Mountain from Hangzhou is to take the high speed bullet train.

The train departs from Hangzhou East Station (there are many stations in Hangzhou so make sure to go to the correct one) to Huangshan North Station.

The train ride takes less than 2 hours and is considered the most scenic train route in China, passing through 57 scenic areas in China on one train ride.

Once you get to Huangshan North Station, you will then need to transfer to the bus to arrive at the Huangshan Scenic Area known as Tangkou. Make sure to not take the wrong bus to other areas of Huangshan City (yes the city is named after the famous mountain).

Huangshan Scenic Area (Tangkou) to Huangshan

If you are arriving by noon, you should go directly up to the mountain. You cannot bring a luggage up the mountain, so store your luggage in Tangkou and put essentials (toiletry, change of clothes and snacks for 2 nights) in a backpack.

Self Heated Food
Self Heating Food You Can Bring Up

There are official buses from Tangkou to the Yellow Mountain Cable Car entrance that you need to take (need to buy a separate ticket).

There are 3 cable car entrances at Yellow Mountain and some people suggest one over the other but to me they are all about the same, it’s more a matter of which route ends up having more stairs versus less once you are on top.

Since you have plenty of time on Huangshan I suggest you to explore all the places you can.

Yellow Mountain China

The Cable Cars cost money but they are the fastest and easiest way to bring you up to the mountain before you start your official walking tour of Huangshan.

Huangshan Cable Car Ticket

Alternatively you can just walk up the mountain instead of taking the cable cars and there usually aren’t many people on the trail since Chinese people generally prefer to take the cable cars up.

Yellow Mountain Cable Car Line
Line at the cable car
Yellow Mountain Cable Car

If you do decide to walk up, the walk is generally about 2-3 hours on steep and long stairs but you will be able to see a lot of nice views while hiking up.

Note that hiking on Yellow Mountain is not the same as hiking in the Grand Canyon or in Banff. All the “trails” have been carefully constructed and maintained so there are always rails and paved roads/ stairs. It is less “natural” but it helps to ensure large crowds can safely visit and enjoy Yellow Mountain.

Yellow Mountain Hiking

There are three hiking routes at Huangshan, the Eastern Route (back mountain), the Western Route (front mountain) and the West Sea Grand Canyon (on top of the mountain). An ideal hiking route to see the entire Yellow Mountain would be something like this:

Huangshan Arrival Day: Go up the Eastern Route cable car (Yungu Cable Car) and explore all the scenic views along the Eastern Route.
Arrival Day night: stay overnight at one of the hotels like Beihai Hotel.

Huangshan 2nd Day morning: Sunrise at Lion Peak then hike to Songu Nunnery.
During the day: Take the Taiping Cable Way from Songgu Nunnery to Purple Cloud Station (or hike) and explore the West Sea Grand Canyon.
Night: Sunset at Bring Top (GuangmingDing) and stay at Baiyun Hotel

Huangshan 3rd day morning: hike down the Western Route back to Tangkou
Afternoon: Visit Hongcun (more on that below)

Yellow mountain hiking map

Best Places to Stay in Huangshan

If you want to truly experience Huangshan, you will need to book a hotel on top of the mountain:

Huangshan Beihai Hotel: The closest hotel to the Taiping Cable Car and Yungu Cable Way (back mountain). There is restaurant on site.

Huangshan Shilin Hotel: Another hotel near the two cable cars.

Xihai Hotel: Located within 6 minute walk of Yuping Cable Car, the hotel has 24 hour front desk, luggage storage, free wifi and an on-site restaurant.

Day 8 of 3 Weeks in China: Huangshan & Hong Cun (宏村)

You will be hiking down Huangshan on the Western route the morning of Day 8 back to Tangkou. I highly recommend that you make it down to Tangkou by noon in order to have time to explore Hong Cun, one of the most scenic villages in China.

You probably have never heard of Hong Cun but it was actually one of the location sets for the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

Hongcun

How to get to Hong Cun From Huangshan

There are two daily buses from Huangshan scenic area (Tang Kou) to Hong Cun, one in the morning and one around 1:30pm. If you come back down from Huangshan around noon you can eat lunch then catch the bus to Hong Cun. Alternatively there are multiple buses that go to Yixian  (黟县车站) where you can switch to a bus to Hong Cun. 

Lastly there are unofficial taxis that will take multiple people in one car to Hong Cun that can leave whenever the car is full. You have to negotiate the price with them ahead of time.

Since Hong Cun is really pretty; it is one of those scenic areas that require entrance ticket and ID and there are people there 24/7 so it’s a bit hard to sneak in. 

There is a huge parking lot at the Hong Cun main entrance and there are a lot of tour buses and cars that come every day. Depending on where you stay, if you stay inside Hong Cun your hotel or guest house will send a pick up truck or tuk tuk to pick you up from the main entrance. 

Hongcun Village

Hong Cun is not super big so you can just explore and walk around after you are all settled in. Personally I recommend you wake up early the next morning to explore because there are no tour buses early in the morning (before 8) so you really get to enjoy what this village can offer.

When I was there in the summer there was a school of art students painting at one of the ponds in Hong Cun. You can also go outside of the scenic area to explore outside (some seasons are good to see flowers etc). 

Hongcun in the morning
Lily pond in Hong CUn

Best Hotels to Stay in Hong Cun

Hong Cun is such an unique town that used to mostly cater to Chinese tourists but good thing in recent years some of the hotels have opened up its doors for foreigners.

If you want to stay inside Hong Cun Village itself, check out this hotel:

Hong Cun Memory in Water: located inside the ancient village, this hotel has a garden and a terrace. There is also a restaurant, 24 hour front desk, free wifi, etc.

If you are looking for the ultimate luxury near Hongcun, then you simply cannot miss Banyan Tree Hotel, located about a 20 minute walk to Hongcun.

Day 9 of 3 Weeks in China: Travel Day

When you are ready to leave Hong Cun, catch the bus back to Huangshan North station to take the high speed train back to Shanghai. Alternatively you can also take the unofficial taxis with other random people to get to the train station which is what I did because it was faster than waiting for the bus.

Day 10-13 of 3 Weeks in China: Chongqing & Surrounding Area (重庆)

We are officially about to leave the Shanghai area and go towards western China with the first major city, ChongQing. 

You can either fly from Huangshan to ChongQing (one daily flight in the afternoon) or take the high speed train back to Shanghai for one night before flying out to Chongqing. 

Best Things to Do in Chongqing 

Chongqing is one of the largest city in China and an very important  port city in Southwestern China.

Many people come to Chongqing to see its natural wonders as it is surrounded by mountains. Chongqing is also the city where the mighty Yangtze River runs through so many people actually spend a week in Chongqing in order to do the Yangtze River cruise.

Once you are all settled, walk around Chongqing for the rest of the day and check out some of the things below.

Hongya Cave

Hongya Cave is one of the most frequently visited place in Chongqing. Located on the shore of the intersection of Jialing River and Yangtze River in Chongqing’s most commercial district Jiefang Bei, Hongya Cave is a great place for shopping, sightseeing and eating in Chongqing.

The architecture is of traditional Bayu style with the tall Stilted Building to represent Hongya Cave. Once you are inside there are numerous floors with different restaurants and souvenir shops.

There are four main streets at Hongya Cave that you should walk around, shop, explore, and eat. There are also traditional dance performances at Hongya Cave. Expect to spend 2 to 4 hours at Hongya Cave and be prepared for crowds.

Luohan Temple

Luohan Temple is a popular Buddhist temple not far from Hongya Cave. The temple was built during the Song dynasty. One of the most famous attractions at Luohan temple is the hundreds of clay figures of Buddhist holy man. In addition you can have tea and even vegetarian lunch at the temple when you visit.

Huguang Assembly Hall

Huguang Assembly Hall is a museum that was built back in the Qing Dynasty. Similar to many traditional Chinese architecture, Huguang Assembly Hall is a complex of courtyards, halls, gardens, theater, rooms, etc.  It is one of the few buildings to have survived WWII. It is beautifully decorated and most importantly it is not as crowded as other places you visit in Chongqing.

Yangtze River Cableway

Not too far from Hongya Cave (about 30 minute walk) is the Cable Way for you to cross the mighty Yangtze River. Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest river in the world, which attracts tourists worldwide to Chongqing.

The Yangtze River Cableway take you across the Yangtze River to the other side and let you enjoy the view from above the river. Be warned that during peak travel time the wait can be 2 hours to go one way (you will probably need to take it again to come back).

If you are in Chongqing for longer you can actually take a cruise to enjoy the scenery outside of the city and to visit the Three Gorges.

Jiefangbei Square

Jiefangbei Square is a modern pedestrian area in Chongqing (near all the other attractions) that is perfect for people watching, shopping, sightseeing, etc.

Eat Hot Pot

Spicy hot pot is a signature dish in Chongqing and they can be quite spicy. For those of you who are not familiar with hot pot, think of it as fondue but with different types of broth (in this case spicy broth). You dip different types of items (sliced lamb, beef, veggie, tofu, etc) to cook and enjoy.

Chongqing Hot Pot

Where to Stay in Chongqing

There are many different districts in Chongqing but Jiangbei (north of the river) is usually considered the best place to stay in Chongqing for foreigners since there are a lot of foreign restaurants, bars, etc.

It is also close to the airport and railway station. Some of the hotels to consider in Jiangbei include the Hyatt Regency and Regent Chongqing.

Another good area to consider is Yu Zhong Area, where the attractions I mentioned are. But traffic can be bad and it can be hectic but I think it’s great for sightseeing. If you have a budget you can stay at the hostel called Only Cafe and Backpacker, otherwise the W Inn Design hotel is a good choice.

Day Trips From Chongqing

Since Chongqing is known for its beautiful natural surroundings, I suggest you spend the rest of your time outside of the city to explore some really amazing natural wonders and ancient towns.

Ci Qi Kou

Ci Qi Kou is an ancient village that is a perfect half day (or full day) trip from Chongqing and you can reach there by metro or buses or private tours.

You can walk around the village to appreciate the Qing dynasty style architecture, explore the tea shops, embroidery shops, souvenir shops and craft stores.

Chongqing Ciqikou

Dazu Rock Carvings

Dazu Rock Carvings is a UNESCO heritage site located in the hillsides of Dazu area near Chongqing. It is famous for both religious and non-religious rock carvings from 9th to 13th centuries. The carvings are well preserved and due to its large size and volume; it draws many international visitors.

Wulong Karst Geology Park

Wulong Karst Geology Park is a natural wonder located about 3 hours from Chongqing by bus. It gained international fame after being featured in Transformers: Age of Extinction as well as the Chinese movie Curse of the Golden Flower

How to Get to Wulong Karst Geology Park From Chongqing

By Bus: Board the bus to Wulong (the town) from Sigongli Bus Station in Chongqing. The bus ride takes about 2 hours 10 minutes. Once you reach Wulong, you will need to transfer to Wulong Tourist Center in Xiannu Town (aka Fairy town) then transfer on a tourist bus to get inside the scenic area (the Bumblebee entrance).  You may also see buses that says they will take you directly to the scenic area for a higher price. 

By Train: Take the train from Chongqing North Railway station to Wulong. Then you can walk 15 minutes from the Wulong train station to the bus station to transfer to the Wulong Tourist Center before taking another bus to get inside the scenic area (the bumblebee entrance).

By Tour: The easiest way would be to take a tour to Wulong like this one here

Three Natural Brides Wulong Geology Park
Three Natural Bridges

What To Do at Wulong Karst Geological Park

The Wulong area is quite large and you actually need 2 days in order to see everything. 

Three Natural Bridges (天生三桥)

The Three Natural Bridges are the most famous and popular place to visit in Wulong Karst Geological Park. The bridges are naturally formed by lime stone and there are 3 of them total. Once you enter the scenic area you can take an elevator ride down (or walk down). 

The famous tea house featured in the movies are under the first bridge, as you walk down you will get the best view of the tea house. Note that this tea house is super popular so it may be crowded when you visit.

The ticket price to visit the Three Natural Bridges is 135 RMB including the elevator ride and an electric bus back to the parking lot. If you are not planning to take the elevator or the bus you need to let the ticket office know otherwise they automatically include those in the ticket price.

Wulong Tea House

The Longshuixia Fissure/ Gap (龙水峡地缝)

The second most popular attraction is the gorge valley. After you leave the Three Natural Bridges area, you can either take a bus or walk to Longshuixia Gap.

You have to buy another entrance ticket to enter Longshuixia but once you are inside it’s pretty straight forward (one entrance, one exit). 

Once you enter the gap, you will first see a large waterfall from the top. You can continue walk down into the gorge and feel the water spray and see the rapid currents. If you visit this first thing in the morning rather than going to the Three Natural Bridges you will pretty much have the place entirely to yourself.

Fairy Mountain

The third famous attraction in Wulong is the Fairy Mountain. However you will not be able to visit the Fairy Mountain and the other two attractions in one day. If you do plan on visiting the Fairy Mountain you will need to stay overnight in the town of Xiannu (Fairy).

The Fairy Mountain is a national forest park famous for its steppe scenery. You can visit all time of the year to see different views. 

Furong Caves (芙蓉洞)

The Furong Caves is a karst cave featuring 3 distinct sections with colorful subterranean features as well as the science of cave formation. 

The caves have a constant temperature of 16C so it is a nice place to visit in the summer. It takes about 2 hours to tour the caves.

There are other places to see in Wulong but these are the most popular 4 places. If you have one day, just visit the Gorge and the Three Natural Bridges. If you have two days then visit Fairy Mountain and Furong Caves before going back to Chongqing.

Furong Caves

Day 14 of 3 Weeks in China: Chengdu & Pandas

Chengdu is the capital city of the Sichuan province in southwestern China. It is famous for its spicy cuisine and pandas. Although there are many things to do in Chengdu, you will only spend a day in Chengdu just to get a flavor of it and also visit some pandas.

It’s easy to get to Chengdu from Chongqing; you can take a high speed bullet trail and reach Chengdu in under 1.5 hours from Chongqing.

The most famous activity for anyone visiting Chengdu is to see the pandas. There are two research and conservation centers for Pandas near Chengdu, one is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and the other one is Bifengxia Giant panda Base.

Both of these research bases allow visitors to see how pandas live and play on a daily basis. Most of the pandas from China are actually from the Sichuan area.

The Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is open all year round from 7:30am to 6pm and costs about RMB58 per person to visit.  Visitors will walk on pre-established path to visit different enclosures of pandas and also see pandas that are different sizes and ages.

Pandas in Chengdu

There are many restrictions and rules as pandas are special animals so make sure you follow the rules to not get thrown out (or even worse arrested by the Chinese police!). With that said of course there is no opportunity for you to touch the panda or take selfie with them or anything like that.

I’ve only been to the Giant Panda Breeding Center which I really enjoyed but I read that Bifengxia has more hiking if you like that.

In addition, if you want to interact with pandas, you can actually volunteer at a Panda Base.

Chengdu’s People’s Park

If you still have time in Chengdu, go take a stroll in People’s Park, a public park in the center of Chengdu. I visited in the morning and it was really nice to be able to walk around the lakes and check out tea houses, etc in the park.

Chengdu People's Park
People’s Park in Chengdu

Day 15 of 3 Weeks in China: Leshan Giant Buddha Day Trip (乐山大佛)

One of the most popular day trips from Chengdu is to visit Leshan Giant Buddha. Leshan Giant Buddha is located in Leshan, about 2 hours by bus or one hour by high speed train from Chengdu.

For more information on how to get to Leshan Giant Buddha from Chengdu check out this detailed post. Alternatively you can book a private tour to Leshan Giant Buddha as well as a fishing village.

The Giant Buddha is about 70 meter tall and is carved out of the cliff face at the confluence of the Min River and Dadu River.

Legend has it that a monk named Hai Tong led the construction of the Buddha in 713 AD hoping the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters. The construction took so much of the cliffs off to the bottom of the river that it indeed helped with the turbulent water.

Leshan Buddha

You can spend at least 3-5 hours at Leshan Giant Buddha to explore the surrounding area in its entirety. There are established path/ stairs that will guide you to walk around the Buddha so you won’t get lost. There is an entrance fee of 80 RMB per person to visit.

Leshan Buddha from Chengdu

If you have more time in China you can even make a trip to EmeiShan (Emei Mountain), another famous mountain in China which is very close to Leshan. I personally didn’t have time to visit but you can do a 2 day Leshan Giant Buddha and Emeishan tour together.

Day 16-18 of 3 Weeks in China: Xi’An

Xi’An is the ancient capital of China and the terminus of the Silk Road therefore it’s not surprising that Xi’an has many historical sites to visit and is one of the “must-see” places in China.

Top Places to See in Xi’An

This 3 week China itinerary has 3 days (including travel) for Xi’An so I’ve listed below the best places to see in Xi’An and you can arrange the itinerary based on what you like.

Terracotta Army

Many people come to Xi’An to see the world famous Terracotta Army, a collection of life-size Terracotta sculptures depicting the army of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China in his tomb.

The sculptures depict army and scholars of various heights, facial structures and clothing in great detail as well as chariots and horses. Terracotta Army is located about an hour outside of Xi’an city center.

Terracotta army in Xi'an

Huaqing Gong (华清宫)

If you are visiting Terracotta Army and have time for a side trip along the way, then you can consider visiting Huaqing Gong (Palace), the ancient hot spring resort for the imperial family. There are numerous gardens, relics of hot spring, historical Chinese architecture and artificial lake at Huaqing Gong.

Xi’An City Wall

The Xi’An City Wall is one of the largest and most well preserved city wall in China. The wall was a fortification back in ancient City to protect the city center within it. The Xi’An City Wall has 4 main gates where visitors can enter and there is also a moat surrounding the city wall.

The best way to see the Xi’An City Wall is to rent a bike to go through the entire wall which should take about an hour. During the evening time the lanterns will be lit up and you will see many locals walking the wall to exercise.

Biking on Xi'an City Wall china

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (大雁塔)

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous Pagodas in China, and it is located in the Da Ci’en Temple complex in Xi’An.

The pagoda was built during the Tang dynasty to collect Buddhist materials and study Buddhist scriptures from India. It had gone through numerous renovation and reconstruction due to war, earthquake and gradual decay. After the earthquake the Pagoda was reconstructed to the current 7 stories.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Similar to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the small wild Goose Pagoda was built for similar purposes and also had to be reconstructed after the earthquake.

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is also part of the Xi’an Museum which you can visit if you have time. However if you don’t have time during your Xi’an itinerary then you can skip this. The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is also closed every Tuesday.

Xi’An Drum Tower and Bell Tower

Located inside the Xi’An historical center (inside the city wall), the Drum Tower and Bell Tower are historical architectures similar to the one in Beijing. If you stay nearby, you can take photos of the towers from the outside.

Muslim Quarter

Xi’An has a large Muslim population due to its history and they mostly lived within the City Wall in the present day Muslim Quarter, which has now become a famous tourist attraction. Many people come to the Muslim quarter for its street food.

Huashan (Hua Mountain)

Interesting fact: One of the most dangerous hikes in the world is at Huashan which is not far from Xi’an. If you really want to be adventurous you can visit Huashan from Xi’an and do the cliff plank walk.

Where to Stay in Xian

There is a famous historical area of Xian where you probably will spend most of your time, therefore I recommend that you stay in that area to easy access.

Medium Range Hotel in Xian

Xi’an is not very expensive compare to Beijing and Shanghai so you can stay at very nice hotels for a good price.

Grand Park Xi’an: Grand Park Xi’an is located right by Yongningmen, the Southern Gate of the Xian City Wall and a 15 minute walk from the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. It’s also close to the subway station making it super convenient to go anywhere.

Howard Johnson Ginwa Plaza Hotel: Very close to the Grand Park Xi’an, great location and price.

Eastern House Boutique Hotel: Located within the historical center of Xian, great price and location.

Budget Hotels & Hostels in Xi’An

Ancient City International Youth Hostel: Located within the historical center, close to the North Gate of the Xi’an City wall as well as the Muslim Street (for food).

Xi’an See Tang Hostel: Within the historical center, close to the South Gate of the city wall.

Day 19-21 of 3 Weeks in China: Beijing & the Great Wall

Beijing is the political center of China and it is so important that in China, the only time zone in China is Beijing time (there is only 1 time zone in China). Beijing became the capital of China in 1421 by the Ming dynasty even though it had been the capital of China prior to that on and off.

Given your last few days in China, I would suggest spend one day visiting the Great Wall and the rest of the time touring the sites in Beijing.

How to Visit the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and you simply cannot say you’ve been to China without visiting the Great Wall.

The Great wall was built in 220-206 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China (who also united China). Many people perished during the construction of the Great Wall leaving it a sad and bitter history.

Over the past thousands of years the Great Wall was destroyed by nature but many parts have been rebuilt and those are the parts that are most frequently visited by tourists now.

Since the Great Wall is so long, there are different parts of the wall you can visit from Beijing.

The most popular and closest section of the Great Wall is called Badaling, and that is usually where tours take you. Since it is the closest section to Beijing, you should expect crazy crowds at Badaling.

Beijing Badaling Great Wall of China
Badaling

The second most popular section of the Great Wall is Mutianyu. Mutianyu is the most “pretty” part of the Great Wall thanks to the restoration efforts.

There is a cable car at Mutianyu that takes you up to Tower 14 and from there you can walk up or even hike to Jiankou section of the Great Wall in 4 hours (10km/6 miles). The Cable car costs RMB120 for round trip and RMB100 for one way trip. If you want to get to Mutianyu by bus hassle free, check out this bus transfer option.

China itinerary Beijing Mutianyu Great Wall
Mutianyu

Some more remote and wild parts of the Great Wall include Jiankou (you can hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu), Jinshanling and Simatai. Each has its own uniqueness and they are the sections that most Chinese people don’t visit.

I personally would love to visit them when I go to China next time. For more information on these parts of the Great Wall, check out the details on my 1 week in China blog.

Best Things to Do in Beijing

Aside from the Great Wall, there are plenty of world famous places to visit in Beijing that can fill up the rest of your time in China.

Tian’anmen

Tian’anmen Square is world famous for many reasons. The square is one of the biggest in the world. Visitors generally walk around Tian’anmen square and take photos of the Tian’anmen Rostrum, with a portrait of Maozedong right in the middle.

If you are visiting Tian’anmen Square early in the morning you may even catch the flag raising ceremony.

Tian’anmen Square is also located in the center of Beijing so it is a great place to start your sightseeing visits in Beijing.

TianAnMen Square 1 week in China 3 days in Beijing

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong (optional) (Closed on Mondays)

The Mausoleium of Mao Zedong is where you can see the body of Mao preserved perfectly. There is usually a very long line to get in which is why I’ve never actually been.

If you decide to visit the mausoleum then you need to keep your bag/camera in the locker before you line up otherwise you won’t be able to get in. But you must have you passport with you otherwise you won’t be getting in either (yes China has a lot of very strict rules).

National Museum of China (optional) (Closed on Mondays)

Situated at Tian’anmen Square, the National Museum of China is perhaps one of the most important museums in China and in the world. It’s the 2nd most visited museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris.

Forbidden City (Closed on Mondays)

Forbidden City is the most famous imperial palace complex in China and located right behind the Tian’anmen Rostrum. Since 1925, Forbidden City has been under the charge of Palace Museum and is now open to the public as a museum and it also has been declared a World Heritage Site.

Plan at least a couple of hours as Forbidden City is quite large and is usually very crowded.  I also recommend that you buy your tickets online ahead of time and bring your passport with you during your visit. There is a limit of 20,000 tickets a day issued for the Forbidden City. If you are visiting during peak season you really should buy tickets ahead of time to avoid disappointments.

Forbidden City in Beijing Itinerary

Jingshan Park

Jingshan Park is an imperial garden directly north of Forbidden City. Generally visitors visit Jingshan Park after they exit through the North Gate of Forbidden City. Jinghshan Park has a hill that gives you a bird’s eye view of Forbidden City. I highly recommend this park since it gives you the best view of Forbidden City.

Jing Shan Park View of Forbidden City

Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven was a sacred place where the emperors of China during the Ming and Qing dynasties worshiped the god of heaven and prayed for good harvest. It’s also one of my favorite places in Beijing because the architecture (including the colors and details) is just so pretty.

Temple of Heaven gets packed so I would recommend you either go extremely early or go near the closing time to avoid crowd.

When you go to Temple of Heaven early in the morning you actually will see a lot of old Chinese people playing Chinese chess, chat or doing tai-chi along the Long Corridor (next the East Gate) which showcases the authentic daily life of the local Chinese people.

Beijing Temple of Heaven China itinerary

Hutongs in Beijing

Beijing is known for well preserved Hutong (alleys) and there are several famous ones in Central Beijing. Most of them are either south of the Mausoleum or near Bell Tower and Drum area.

Bell Tower and Drum Tower (Gulou and Zhonglou)

The Bell Tower and Drum Tower were used for instruments back in the ancient times and later on they were used by the government to actually tell time. Each building has 2 stories and you need to buy entrance ticket to visit and go upstairs.

In the Drum Tower on the 2nd floor there used to be 25 drums (24 small ones and 1 large one) but now there is only 1 large one remaining.

Beijing Drum Tower Bell Tower

Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷) is a Hutong near in the Drum and Bell Tower district. The alley is about 800m long and in recent years this alley has become a very popular tourist (and local) destinations with restaurants, bars, shops, coffee shops, etc.

Ideally you will want to visit Nanluoguxiang at night and have your dinner there (both western and Chinese restaurants available) and grab some street food and drinks along the way.

I really loved visiting this when I was in Beijing and I can’t wait to go back again. There is also a hostel situated near this Hutong called Beijing Downtown Travelotel that I would recommend checking out.

Houhai Bar Street

Not too far away from Nanluoguxiang (~10-15 min walk) is the famous Houhai Bar Street. The Houhai Bar Street is situated next to the Shichahai Lake and a bunch of Hutongs.

This particular bar street combines both western and Chinese restaurants, bars, Karaoke, coffee shops and tea houses. It is said that there are more than 120 bars on the Houhai Bar Street and the most popular ones include Zoom Bar, East Shore Live Jazz Cafe, Houhai #5 Bar Club, Sex and da City, Buddha Bar, etc.

Summer Palace (颐和园) & Yuanmingyuan (圆明园)

Summer Palace is about 15km outside of the Beijing City Center and it is the largest royal park in China.

It was constructed in 1750 as a garden as a birthday gift to the emperor’s mother and later the Palace was enlarged by the Empress Dowager Cixi.

Unfortunately during the Anglo-French Allied Force invasion of China during the Second Opium War, Summer Palace was burned down and later restored. The park next to Summer Palace,  Yuanmingyuan, shows the post-fire ruin due to the invasion.

You should plan at least a couple of hours to see most of Summer Palace; some of the most famous attractions at Summer Palace including Kuming Lake (can boat on it), the Long Corridor and Longevity Hill. You will need at least another hour or two to visit Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace.

Beijing Itinerary China Summer Palace

National Stadium (Bird Nest) & National Aquatics Center (Water Cube)

The Olympic Sports Center (the stadium, National Aquatics Center, etc) were either constructed or renovated for the 2008 Olympics. There is pretty tight security when you try to get into the proximity of the building so be prepared to have your bag scanned and checked.

You don’t have to pay to see the outside of either building but will need to pay to go inside. I’ve done a tour of the Bird Nest stadium and it was quite informative and fun but I’ve never been inside the Water Cube.

Beijing Bird Nest National Stadium olympic

Wangfujing Street (王府井大街)

Wangfujing Street is a very busy commercial street with tons of Depart Stores, small shops, restaurants, bars and cafes.

If you are looking to eat Peking Duck in Beijing, one of the most famous (and touristy) restaurants is called Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant.

Note that most restaurants in China closes pretty early, and this particular branch closes at 8:30pm.

If you want to try Chinese hot pot, there is a chain called Haidilao (海底捞) that is quite famous and popular in China on Wangfujing Street. Alternatively many visitors go to the Wangfujing Snack Street to try Chinese street food (some may involve fried insects). There are also Pizza Hut and McDonalds on Wangfujing Street.

Best Places to Stay in Beijing

Beijing is a huge city and there are several areas you can stay in. For a first time visitor in Beijing I would recommend staying at one of the more touristy areas for ease of traveling and commuting.

Ultra Luxury Hotels in Beijing

Waldorf Astoria Beijing: This hotel is not only luxurious but also located in a really convenient location. It’s about 5 minute walk from the famous Wangfujing Pedestrian street, 10 minute drive from Tian’anmen Square and the forbidden city and also lose to the subway line #5 station.

Bulgari Hotel, Beijing: This hotel is super luxurious but also extremely close to Sanlitun, where nightlife happens.

Medium Priced Hotels in Beijing

Novotel Xin Qiao: I stayed at Novotel Xin Qiao and loved it. The hotel had an amazing location and it took me no time to get to Tian’anmen Square as well as Wangfujing. I would highly recommend staying here

New World Beijing Hotel: This hotel also has an amazing location: 15 minute walk to the Temple of Heaven and 10 minute walk to the subway station! If I were glad I stayed at Novotel last time, I would love to stay at this hotel next time.

Court Yard Hotels in Beijing

Part of the charm of old Beijing is the courtyard residences otherwise known as Siheyuan. Siheyuan is a historical type of residence in Beijing that used to host multiple families. In modern Beijing many of these Siheyuan became museums but many still are owned by private families with lots going on sale now (at a high price).

If you are interested in staying at one and explore Hutong then be sure to check out the following hotels:
Beijing 161 Lama Temple Courtyard Hotel: Great location close to Ghost Street and Nanluoguxiang (night market street with tons of restaurants, shops and young people).

Kelly‘s Courtyard Hotel: Located near Xidan, a vibrant and commercial area and they also offer bike hire.

Final Thoughts On 3 Weeks in China Itinerary

China is a huge country with amazing things to see. The 21 day China itinerary above only shows you one part of China. Things I did not cover that may interest you include Zhangjiajie (Avatar mountains), Guilin, Yangshuo, Lijiang, Fenghuang, etc. There is just too much to see in China so I really recommend 1-2 months in China to fully explore the country.

Since China is not the easiest country to plan, I’ve written a comprehensive guide on how to plan a trip to China including how to book hotels, how to get taxis/ Uber, how to get a sim card in China, etc.

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3 Week Itinerary China
3 Weeks in China