China's vast history, ethnic and cultural diversity, along with the sheer enormity of its territory, presents so many travel possibilities that you could spend your whole life here and still not have seen everything. This said, for most first time visitors a few cultural icons and spectacular landscapes that deserve immediate attention. Beijing and its cornucopia of imperial sights, Xi'an's Terracotta Warriors, the bustling contrasts of Hong Kong and Shanghai (and the surrounding water towns), and the fairytale limestone landscapes of Guangxi should be your first priorities. The itineraries below principally focus on these areas, and continue on from one another. If you've already visited the previous places then you might want to explore some of China's more remote destinations. Fans of the great outdoors will get the most from the wild west of the country, and Yunnan, Tibet, and Xinjiang are all incredibly worthwhile destinations, not only for their spectacular landscapes, but also for the hardy and hospitable people who live there. All of the destinations mentioned are served by tour companies, but you can also make arrangements yourself as you go along without too much trouble, although the harsher western regions are certainly easier with private transport.

Tip: Avoid the May and October Holidays, and the Chinese New Year at all costs. All forms of transport are booked solid and popular destinations quickly become chaotic. Needless to say, the industry makes the most of this opportunity by hiking prices.

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.