Day 1 - Shanghai
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. Blending 21st-century architecture with old-world character, Shanghai pulses with the beat of new China. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6 pm this evening. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. Settle into your hotel and then get a feel for this vibrant city – Shanghai’s bright lights, fevered trade and frenetic pace provide a glimpse into the dazzling global future of the country. Your evening is free for your first exploration of the city – perhaps get a taste of Shanghai’s eclectic food scene, which draws influence from far beyond China’s walls.
Day 2 - Shanghai
Today join your leader for a walking tour that will take you to historical Shanghai. At the Bund you can get a taste of 1920s Shanghai; its spectacular array of art deco style buildings, formerly belonging to Western banks, line what was once the most important financial street in Asia. Wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of old Shanghai, where you can get a real glimpse into the locals’ daily life. Explore the European-influenced French Concession, the area of Shanghai once designated for the French, consisting of today's Luwan and Xuhui Districts. Luwan's Huaihai Road is a busy shopping street and is home to both Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang, extremely popular shopping and dining spots for visitors. The area's tree-lined avenues and their many Tudor mansions still retain an air of the 'Paris of the East'. This evening you’ll witness the impressive feats of the famous Shanghai acrobats.
Day 3 - Xitang
Get a taste of traditional China on a day trip to an ornate water town. Drive approximately 2 hours by private transport out to Xitang, a town full of picturesque architecture and views. Wander through the small streets and across the bridges that criss-cross the town. Chill out by the canals, sip steaming cups of tea at a local teahouse or learn about local history at one of the many museums. Get lost among the maze of peaceful cobblestone streets lined with village buildings – it’s a welcome break from the bustle of modern Shanghai. While here, gliding along the waterways in a gondola is the ideal way to enjoy a real water town experience. Return to Shanghai and then board an overnight hard sleeper train bound to Xi'an (approximately 15 hours).
Day 4 - Xi'an
Arrive in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. Once the imperial centre of China for 2,000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites and is a great place to explore. Today you’ll join your leader on a short walking tour to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. Visit the Bell & Drum Towers, the former built (according to legend) to restrain the dragons that were causing earthquakes, the latter is (unsurprisingly) full of drums, once used to mark time and warn in emergencies. The city also has a wonderful Muslim Quarter, and you’ll wander the narrow streets of quaint shops, lively markets, groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes, and the Great Mosque, one of the most important in China. See the City Walls and Gates, the most complete in China, running over 13 kilometres around the city. Xi’an’s Silk Road history means it has an exciting mixture of cultures, especially found in its food options, ranging from delicious Muslim fare to great little dumplings in Chinese restaurants. Perhaps visit the night markets and try many of the tantalising local specialties such as pao mo (lamb broth that you break flat bread into), hand pulled noodles, hot pot and barbecue.
Day 5 - Xi'an
Today you’ll journey out in to the countryside surrounding Xi’an (approximately 2 hours) and visit what is undoubtedly one of the man-made wonders of the world – the Terracotta Warriors. You’ll learn all about this incredible archaeological find, discovered after being buried for 2,000 years by farmers digging a well in 1976. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (and originally individually painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for you to view, where over 1,000 warriors are displayed – each individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expressions – stand in battle formation. The scale is incredibly impressive. Afterwards you'll enjoy lunch with a local family, before visiting our friends at Xi'an Huiling (meaning 'wise spirit') – a special Intrepid-supported project for young people with intellectual and learning disabilities. Here you'll enjoy a performance of singing and dancing by the students (don't be surprised if you're asked to join in) and have a chance to see their artwork and handicrafts. Return to Xi’an for you final evening in the city.
Day 6 - Great Wall
Today is a big day of travelling so grab some snacks for the journey. Transfer to the railway station and then board the high-speed train (approximately 6 hours) to Beijing. Watch the landscape change from farmland and villages to industrialised cities and urban sprawl. On arrival in Beijing meet your private vehicle to drive out into the countryside to the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall (approximately 2 hours) where you’ll spend the night in a family run village guesthouse. All rooms have ensuites with hot water, bathroom toiletries and wifi is available. Please note there is no air conditioning here. Dinner is included here - a great chance to sample local produce and delicious home style cooking.
Day 7 - Beijing
This morning you’ll visit a section of the Great Wall and spend some time exploring, taking photos and learning the history of this mighty site (and sight). An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6,000 km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it's still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements and an iconic destination. You’ll often feel like you have the whole wall to yourself as you take your time strolling along the wall, which snakes through the hills almost endlessly into the distance. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. You’ll then journey back to Beijing (approximately 3 hours) – your last stop on your journey. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation's ancient past as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture.
Day 8 - Beijing
Today you will make our way to the centre of the city – Tian'anmen Square (travelling by metro and local bus). Perhaps most famous outside of the country for the 1989 massacre (and the iconic picture of a single man standing up to a tank), this square – supposedly the largest down town square in the world – is the symbolic centre of Chinese power. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum, and with elaborate flag raising and lowering ceremonies at dawn and dusk, it's a place of pilgrimage for the Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation. From here you will enter the enormous Forbidden City. Built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all that time, its a truly amazing place. Despite the transformation of the city around it, the Forbidden City thankfully looks much like it always has. As you explore the great halls and courtyards you’ll be able appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Beijing is vast and overflowing with sights – with your hotel located centrally, a walk in any direction will unveil all sorts of wonderful surprises.
Day 9 - Beijing
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. Today enjoy a free morning to further explore Beijing. For the travellers joining the trip in Beijing there will be a group meeting at 2pm to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. Board your next overnight sleeper train to Harbin in the early evening (approx 10 hours).
Day 10 - Harbin
Arrive into Harbin this morning. Make sure you layer on the warm clothes, as Harbin is colder than Beijing and you’ll be outside exploring the city for a lot of the day. Transfer from the train station to the hotel, where you may be able check in early and freshen up if the rooms are ready. Enjoy a walking tour of Harbin, visiting Saint Sophia Cathedral and the busy central street of Zhongyang Dajie. Your guide will provide a history of the city during the tour, including Russia’s influence on Harbin. In the evening visit a local restaurant and try some typical northern Chinese fare, such as braised pork with vermicelli.
Day 11 - Harbin
Today explore the Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival with your local guide. The festival is the largest of its kind in the world. Tour the various exhibitions of sculptures made from snow and ice, which is sourced from the nearby Songhua River. The sculptures are life-size re-creations of famous buildings, structures and characters, created by master sculptors and artists. In 2015 the festival featured an ice Kremlin, enormous seated Buddha and a supersized Chinese fishermen. Observe the sculptures during the day, and engage in other optional activities such as sledding, ice hockey and ice mini golf. Revisit the festival at night, when the ice is lit up with colourful lights, keeping warm with a coffee or hot chocolate from one of the festival stands.
Day 12 - Beijing
In the morning, board a high speed train for the comfortable journey back to Beijing (approx 7-8 hours) across the winter landscapes of China's north. Transfer to your hotel on arrival and enjoy a free evening to explore the city. Perhaps catch an acrobatic performance at the Chaoyang Theatre or wander through busy street markets. Beijing boasts a world-class gastronomic scene. Feast on roast duck in a traditional restaurant, eat dumplings and noodles in a backstreet eatery or enjoy some of the best international dining in China. Ask your leader for local food recommendations and farewell your group tonight with a feast.
Day 13 - Beijing
This winter wonderland adventure comes to an end today. There are no activities included, so you may depart the hotel at any time.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
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