If you are fortunate enough to have 3 weeks to spend in China, you can sufficiently explore the side of China that focuses more on its timeless, natural beauty as well as its somewhat more temporary, cultural splendor.
Days 1-4: Beijing
Start your time in Beijing with a visit to the Forbidden City and make sure you have plenty of time to explore all of its nooks and crannies. The following day head to the Temple of Heaven and in the afternoon visit the Lama Temple, then stroll through the lakes and hutong alleys of the Back Lakes. Dine looking out over it all, aboard one of Kaorouji's flat-bottomed boats. On the third day, head out early to the Great Wall at Jinshanling or Simatai and take a steep, spectacular hike. By the time you get back to Beijing you will certainly have the appetite for a hearty and delicious Beijing Duck dinner. On day 4 visit the Summer Palace, or whichever of Beijing's astounding range of attractions appeals, and then take an overnight train to Xi'an.
Days 5-6: Xi'an
Check into your hotel and freshen up before heading out to explore Xi'an's historic sights. Get some insight about that which you'll see in the coming days, by heading to the first-rate Shanxi History Museum. Later in the day go for a wander through the artist's quarter, maybe looking in on the Forest of Stelae Museum, or taking a stroll along the City Wall which gives a good overview of the city. In the evening dine on dumplings at De Fa Chang. Early the following day, head out to the Terra-Cotta Warriors. In the afternoon visit the Great Mosque and then as the light fades enjoy an alfresco dinner of kabobs in the Muslim markets.
Day 7: Home Time
Take a morning flight back to Beijing and connect with your international flight home.
Days 7-9: Shanghai
On day 7 make your way down to the Big Goose Pagoda, and in the afternoon take a flight from Xi'an to Shanghai. Speed into town on the maglev and settle into your hotel. In the evening head to Cloud 9 in the Jin Mao Tower for a cocktail while you gaze out over the city. From here it's not far to Jade on 36, where you enjoy yet more views over dinner.
The following day visit the Shanghai Museum, one of the finest in the country. After exploring the museum, wander around Yu Garden (Yu Yuan) which makes for an interesting afternoon, especially when combined with souvenir shopping in the surrounding bazaar, and then a relaxing pot of green tea in the floating teahouse. In the evening head for a sumptuous dinner at one of the eateries in Three on the Bund, and then take a wander along the river. If you have any shoe leather left, cross over and continue your stroll along one of Shanghai's main shopping arteries, Nanjing Road, where very few places close before 10pm.
On day 9 cross town to the French Concession, and wander round one of China's best preserved collections of colonial buildings. Enjoy a meal at one of Xin Tiandi's trendy restaurants and after lunch maybe do a spot of shopping at nearby Huaihai Zhong Lu.
Days 10-12: Yangshuo
On day 10 fly from Shanghai to Guilin and then transfer to the rural retreat of Yangshuo. Spend the next few days taking boat and bike rides through the stunning scenery to traditional villages and markets, interjected with cultural adventures ranging from tai chi to Chinese cooking classes. Break up your activities with leisurely meals and drinks in Yangshuo's cozy cafes.
Days 13-14: Kunming
Kunming city center might seem a little threatening after the sublime beauty of Yangshuo, so head up to the Bamboo Temple, or the Green Lake area and spend your first day in the city acclimatizing.
The following day take the train to the Stone Forest, or, even better, visit the quieter Black Pine Stone Forest, which predates the Stone Forest by about 2 million years. Take plenty of supplies in case you decide not to emerge for lunch.
Days 15-17: Dali
Night trains to Dali are notoriously difficult to book so grab the earliest bus possible instead and spend the rest of the day exploring the cobbled streets and streams of Dali. The next day take the cable car up to the Cang Shan (Green Mountains) and follow the paths as they wind in and out of the surflike clouds. The view from the mountain makes Er Hai Lake irresistible, so spend the following day cycling along the shore or visiting some of the islands such as Jinsuo Dao, filled with caves and caverns. If this all sounds a bit too energetic, weekly markets such as Shaping and a host of others are within easy reach and offer the chance to see the local ethnic minorities resplendent in their traditional costumes.
Days 18-19: Lijiang
Hop aboard a Li Jiang bus and after checking into your hotel try some traditional Naxi cuisine at Naxi Fengwei Xiaochi. Spend the following day exploring the enchanting old town.
Days 20-21: Hong Kong
Catch a flight back to Kunming and then onward to Hong Kong, one of the world's most captivating cities.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.