Shanghai: China's largest and most developed city hosted the 2010 World Expo, and is the most dynamic city in the world's fastest changing nation. Shanghai continues to flourish as a city where West meets East, and as a show-piece of China's economic boom. The Huangpu River divides the city. The older city centre of Puxi lies on the west bank, which houses the Shanghai Museum, the colonial riverfront of the Bund, and the leafy neighbourhoods of the historic French Concession. The modern sky-rise developments of Pudong on the east bank, including the iconic Jinmao Tower, are the visual metaphor for the city's status as an international centre of finance.
Beijing: China's capital is the cultural centre and seat of government of the nation. As such, Beijing is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions, which are centred around Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square. Aspiring and confident, especially after hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing is an orderly and symmetrical citadel that retains an awe-inspiring imperial grandeur in its palaces and temples. Don't miss out on Beijing's superlatives – exploring the expansive complex of the Forbidden City, strolling through the Summer Palace and the lively park of the Temple of Heaven. Beijing's hutong (alleyways) continue to enchant visitors.
Guangzhou: Known as Canton in the era of tea-clippers, this is the mainland's third largest city and the first city most travellers to mainland China visit. Guangzhou is one of China's most prosperous, liberal, and cosmopolitan cities. An energetic and colourful tribute to consumerism, Guangzhou's image is one of neon signs set against a hazy pink smog. Explore the colonial buildings on Shamian Island, cruise down the Pearl River, stroll through China's largest urban park (Yuexiu Park), and don't miss out on Cantonese fare at its best and most authentic.
Hainan: Having been popular with Russian tourists for decades, this hilly island is now being promoted as China's Hawaii. The hills are home to various ethnic minorities, including the Li and Miao people. The coast is lined with beaches, where locals and, increasingly, tourists flock to kick back and having a good time. Don't forget to try Hainanese chicken rice where it was created!
Cruising down the Grand Canal: This monumental Chinese landmark is the longest artificial river in the world; it starts at Beijing and runs through many of China's great cities. Nanjing is a city renowned for its culture and many historic sites, including the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, where respects are paid to the “Father of Modern China”. Suzhou, also known as the “Venice of the East", is an ancient city famed for its canals, traditional waterside architecture and beautiful classical gardens, featuring a symphony of rocks, water, trees and buildings. The Canal ends in Hangzhou, a famously beautiful city - Marco Polo compared its idyllic West Lake to paradise, and deemed the city to be “beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world”.
Along the Silk Road: This extensive network of historic trading routes were important paths for cultural, commercial, and technological exchange between traders, merchants, pilgrims, missionaries, soldiers, nomads and the ancient cultures of China, India, Tibet, Persia and the Mediterranean. The main overland route begins at Xi'an, China's oldest city and ancient capital. At the heart of Chinese civilisation and China itself, this city was home to thirteen dynasties and thrived with culture and sophistication. Beyond the well-known terracotta warriors, check out the Muslim Quarter and the City Walls. The northern route runs through Turpan, which is known for being an oasis city in a harsh climate and for its grapes and unique Uighur culture.