Finder is committed to editorial independence. While we receive compensation when you click links to partners, they do not influence our content.

China travel guide

The ultimate handbook on what to see, where to go, what to eat — and beyond.

China is set in a diverse and vast landscape. With grassland and desert, mountains and rivers, cities and coastlines, there’s plenty to explore and experience. Its countryside hosts a haven of tranquility, with rolling plains, paddy fields carved into mountains and lakes and deserts that blend seamlessly into the horizon. Its 870 miles of coastline features cliffside drops, port towns and sandy beaches. Even within major city centers, historical spaces, monuments and awe-inspiring temples wheedle their way out of the woodwork.

If you’re planning a trip to China, start here. We’ll help you figure out the details, from take off until its time to go back home.

Top China flight deals

Travel tips for first time visitors

A new country can be intimidatiing for even the most seasoned of travelers. That’s why reading up on where you’re traveling to is essential to ensure you’re not stuck up a creek without a paddle. Here a few tips that you should consider before traveling to the Far East:

Research

Sounds simple enough, but some in-depth research about your destination is a must. If you go without any prior knowledge, you’ll likely get lost or even worse, offend the locals. Knowing about the culture and common etiquette is a must when traveling to a country that isn’t your own — you don’t want to be disrespectful.

Plan accordingly

Have your passport and visa documentation taken care of well before you’re ready to go. Look for attractions and sites you’d like to visit prior to leaving so you’re not wasting your valuable time planning what to do while you’re in China. While public transportation is easily available, if you want to rely on private services, make sure to arrange your plans in advance.

Breaking the language barrier

Obviously you won’t be able to learn the language in a snap, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn some key phrases before you go. Picking up a phrasebook or pocket dictionary can be extremely useful when trying to communicate with the locals. A translator app on your mobile device can be a lifesaver if you’ve got a question that you’re having a tough time relaying.

Medical concerns

Travel insurance is another small cost to your trip, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. In the unfortunate case that something happens to you while you’re traveling, travel insurance can help alleviate costs for missed flights or medical bills. Also, packing your own prescriptions is highly recommended as pharmacies may not be able to provide the medicine or drugs you’re are used to.

Food in China

Rich and flavorsome, Chinese cuisine is a favorite of many all over the world. If you’re a fan, then the most authentic Chinese food experience can really only be had in its country of origin.

Here, different regions of the country serve up different versions of the same dishes. The food is cooked fresh, fast and in a way that appeases the local tastebuds.

Some dishes may seem familiar to you like stir fries, fried rice and dumplings, though others may be a little more unique, such as fried pigeon or snake soup. Whether you’re feeling adventurous or you’re simply seeking something addictively good, these dishes will hit the spot.

  • Dumplings. Chinese dumplings come in all forms and flavors. They can be fried or steamed, encased in a thin wheat wrapping or covered with a thick, bread-like dough and filled with barbecued meats, seafood, tofu and more. Dumplings can be eaten throughout the day, but they’re traditionally a brunch meal that is eaten at yum cha or from street stalls.
  • Sweet and sour pork.Dating back to the 18th century, sweet and sour pork is a dish popular in the Canton region in south China. It consists of deep fried pork pieces that are stir fried in a mixture of sugar, vinegar and soy sauce to give it its signature “sweet” and “sour” flavor. It’s often eaten with rice and pieces of pineapple, capsicum and onion.
  • Chow mein.Literally translating to “fried noodle”, chow mein can be found throughout China and has been transformed into several different versions around the world. It comprises of thin egg noodles that are boiled, dried and then fried alongside vegetables and meat. A thick sauce of stock, garlic, rice wine and MSG is common.
  • CongeeCongee is a common breakfast dish throughout the country. At its simplest, it’s rice boiled until creamy, however, it often comes flavored with chicken and crab and garnished with ginger and chives. Many eateries will serve it with “youtiao”, a deep fried dough stick that you chop up and drop into the dish, similar to croutons in a soup.
  • Peking duck.This crispy-skin duck dates back to the imperial days of Beijing where one of the first versions of the dish was prepared for the Emperor of China. Today, it’s often eaten with scallions, sliced cucumber and a sweet bean sauce and wrapped in deliciously thin pancakes.
    • Regional delicacies

      Being such a vast country that features a variety of climates, different parts of the nation boast different traditional cuisines. Here’s a snapshot of what you can find in each:

      • Northern China
        The mountainous region of northern China features rich meaty dishes. Examples include Peking duck in Beijing, beef and dairy in Mongolia, seafood in Shandong and flatbreads in the Muslim northwest region. Dumplings and congee are popular breakfast dishes. Vegetables aren’t as plentiful due to the climate.
      • Central China
        Hot and spicy is the name of the game in central China. Chilis and peppers are often used to flavour dishes, which include kung pao chicken, mapo tofu, Sichuan hotpot and dan noodles.
      • Southern China
        Southern China is a small and minor region where the food tends to take on a more sour palate. Ingredients are often pickled due to the fact that the south was a poorer area in previous dynasties, where pickling was a popular means of food preservation. As such, the cuisine in southern China is less extravagant, with rice being a staple of many dishes.
      • Western China
        Similar to northern Chinese cuisine, western Chinese dishes are heavy on the meats and lighter on the vegetables. As this region borders numerous Muslim countries, the cuisine takes on a similar style with lamb being a common ingredient due to it being halal.
      • Eastern China
        Eastern Chinese food is light and sweet, making it one of the more favoured cuisines for western tastebuds. Examples include dumplings, pickles and soups, with seafood being the hero of many dishes due to the region’s proximity to the coast. Dishes include fish ball soup, sweet and sour mandarin fish and shark fin soup.

      Etiquette and food safety

      China is a proud and traditional nation and while you may be excused for poor etiquette, you should still try to respect it. Here are a few pointers for the banquet table:

      All dishes on the table

      It’s common courtesy to not start eating until everyone has been served their meal.

      Respect your elders

      Traditionally, the first person to eat should be the eldest at the table. Once he or she has started their meal, everyone else is free to join in.

      Don’t poke your chopsticks into your food

      This is considered a sign of death and is bad luck.

      • When it comes to food safety and hygiene, China is a country where you should not drink water from the tap. Instead you can purchase bottled water from the shop or drink hot tea when dining out. Also try to avoid fresh salads as they’re likely to be washed in tap water.

      Food and drink tours in China

      A great way to learn about the local cuisine and to discover the best restaurants for later is through an organised food tour. These are some of the best to wrap your tastebuds around:

      Small-Group Historical Tour & Local Brewery Visit
      Small-Group Historical Tour & Local Brewery Visit

      Orbitz

      Half-Day Hutong & Traditional Chinese Dumplings Cooking Class
      Half-Day Hutong & Traditional Chinese Dumplings Cooking Class

      Orbitz

      Best deals on food tours and cooking classes in China

      It looks like we don't have any coupons at the moment.

Transportation in China

As China is such a vast country, if you are intending to travel between cities you may want to consider fast transport to save on time, including internal flights and the high speed rail. Your best mode of transport within each city will depend on how large the city you’re visiting is as well as how concentrated the tourist attractions are.

It’s best to research this before arriving so that you can commute easily between your desired attractions with minimum fuss or stress.

Traveling from city to city

  • Flights.Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Changan Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines are some of the major domestic airlines operating in China. They have regular flights connecting Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Xiamen.
  • High-speed rail.China has the world’s largest network of high speed rail, also known as bullet trains or CRH trains. These are a fast, reliable and affordable means of travel in central and eastern regions of China.

    For an idea of how far major cities are from one another, Shanghai and Beijing are approximately 1,200 kilometres apart. An internal flight for this route takes 2 hours 15 minutes. A high-speed train journey takes anything from 5-9 hours depending on how many stops your service commands. Bus travel is cheaper, though leaves and arrives at terminals outside the city centres. Total journey times from centre to centre is around 8 hours.

    Xi’an is near equidistant from Shanghai and Beijing. Flights from each are around 2 hours. High speed trains from Shanghai take between 6 and 11 hours, depending on the number of stops. High speed trains from Beijing take between 4.5 and 6 hours. Buses are more expensive though can take up to 15 hours.

    Generally, train travel is preferred over bus or coach travel between major Chinese cities.

    Public transportation in China

    • Buses. Buses in China are cheap and quite comfortable, although they are also very slow. To buy a ticket, go to the bus station in the city where you are staying. The officials usually speak English, so you will not have too much of a problem buying a ticket.
    • Subways. Although subways can get crowded during rush hour, they are a highly effective means of transportation within cities given their convenience, cleanliness, reliability and speed.
    • Bicycle.In China, you can also rent bicycles from several hotels. The streets and highways are flat but the traffic is unpredictable and quite dangerous. Most of Beijing’s main streets have bike lanes which are safer than the roadway, although they are often crowded with thousands of cyclists at peak times.

    Paying for transportation
    To buy a train ticket, you need your passport and enough cash to buy the ticket. You can also buy a China Rail Pass, which is a pre-paid electronic card you can use on bullet trains. In addition, each subway has its own smart-card which offers discounted fares and ease of access.
    Getting to and from the airport
    In every major city in China, public buses and an underground metro connect the airport to the city center. Private transfers, airport shuttles and taxis are other options to get to and from the airport in each city.
    Best apps for getting around on public transportation
    China Metro is a useful app that has downloadable subway maps of 15 cities with information about fares, timetables and shortest routes. If you are looking to travel from one city to another by train, the China Trains app can help you plan your journey and book tickets.

    Taxis and Uber

    • Taxi.If you don’t want to take public transport, taking a taxi is a good option in China. There are many taxis and they are very economical. It is important to carry the destination written in Chinese as drivers are unlikely to speak English. Chinese tuk-tuks are cheaper than taxis, but you must agree to a price beforehand.
    • Uber.Uber is not available in China, but you can use other app-based, on-demand taxis in China like Didi, which has acquired Uber’s Chinese division.

    Renting a car

    Renting a car can be a good choice if your are looking to get out of the city and want to drive yourself.

    Car rental desks of major car hire services like Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, DriveNow and Dollar are available at the major airports in China.

    Hertz_logo_logotype-700x196-170
    Europcar_logo6581-170
    budgetLogoNew1-170
    avis-featured1-170
    DriveNowLogo
    Deal

    Rent a car in China and save big with our exclusive deals on car rental rates

    Expires 1 Jan 2030

    Airport transfers

    You can find several private transfer and airport shuttle services that provide door-to-door transfer to the airport in every major city in China. Many of these can be found on Viator or City Discovery. Transfers to some of the more popular locations can be booked below.

    Private Standard Car: Tianjin Cruise Terminal
    Private Standard Car: Tianjin Cruise Terminal

    Orbitz

    Traveling during COVID-19
    The CDC continues to advise caution when traveling within or outside the US, However, it no longer requires self-quarantine or a COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated domestic travelers as of April 2021. International travelers need to get tested three days prior to flying out of the US and within three days after returning, even if you are fully vaccinated. It recommends that you delay travel if you’re not fully vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading the virus.

    If you’re planning a trip outside the US, bear in mind that many countries have placed restrictions on US tourists. Check the US embassy website for updates before booking international travel.

What to know before you go

If you’re contemplating a trip to China you no doubt have some questions you’d like answered. It’s time to indulge in the culture and customs of the world’s most populous country.

How to spend money in China

You’ll have no problem using a travel-friendy debit or credit card in China, however, cash is the preferred method of payment. The currency used in China is renminbi — or more commonly called yuan. US dollars will do you no good in China as yuan is the only currency accepted.

You’ll have no problem locating an ATM in busy areas of the city, just be aware of withdrawing money with your credit card as you’ll be hit with a hefty cash advance fee.

Also, don’t worry about tipping in China — it is not a common practice.

Is China a communist country?

Although China is a communist country, it does allow capitalism. In practice this means that Chinese companies belong to the state, and any profits become the property of the state. China is officially known as the People’s Republic of China, and is governed by the Communist Party of China.

Does China have Facebook?

Facebook is blocked in China. The block followed the Urumqi riot in July 2009 as government officials derived that Facebook was being used for communication between independence activists.

The block excludes Hong Kong and Macau where it is not enforced.

Do I need a visa for China?

Yes. You need a visa to visit China and must apply for one before leaving home.

The exception is travelers who are traveling through Shanghai, Hangzhou or Nanjing for less than 144 hours. Travel elsewhere is limited to 72 hours. You need an onward ticket from the same airport to be eligible.

Can I fly direct to China?

You can fly direct to China from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Detroit, Washington DC, Honolulu and San Francisco. Prices and flight times vary depending on which city you’re flying from and to.

Questions about safety and health

Is China safe?

In general, China is a safe country and most of its inhabitants are honest and friendly. There are currently no major threats in China. The largest risk factors in China remain the day-to-day risks you can experience anywhere, such as road traffic accidents or petty crime.

You should be vigilant in respect of your personal safety and belongings, and avoid wandering alone down dark alleyways.

China travel deals

Deal

Rent a car in China and save big with our exclusive deals on car rental rates

Expires 1 Jan 2030
Deal

Today's flight deals to Beijing, China

Expires 1 Apr 2027
Deal

Great hotel values in Beijing, China

Expires 1 Sep 2029
Deal

Book China hotels from $54

Book cheap stays in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Shenzen and more cities in China, most with free cancellation.
Deal

Up to 20% off sightseeing and day tours in Beijing

Visit the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, top food markets and restaurants and more during your stay in China.
Deal

Compare flights to Japan from just $449 return

Take off to Tokyo, Kobe, Fukuoka, Osaka and other cities in Japan with China Eastern, Air China, Air Canada, Japan Airlines or ANA.
Deal

Cheap flights to Japan from $308 round trip

Book flights to Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and other cities in Japan with ANA, Air Canada, China Airlines, China Eastern, Xiamen Air, Singapore Airlines, Air China and other airlines.
Code

$20 discount on (1) flight departing from China (including Hong Kong), South Korea, Japan, Vietnam or India and arriving in the United States or Canada. New users only.

Deal

Great Wall of China & Ming Tombs Private Tour

Deal

Small-Group Great Wall of China Experience Tour

Traveling during COVID-19
The CDC continues to advise caution when traveling within or outside the US, However, it no longer requires self-quarantine or a COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated domestic travelers as of April 2021. International travelers need to get tested three days prior to flying out of the US and within three days after returning, even if you are fully vaccinated. It recommends that you delay travel if you’re not fully vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading the virus.

If you’re planning a trip outside the US, bear in mind that many countries have placed restrictions on US tourists. Check the US embassy website for updates before booking international travel.

More guides on Finder

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and finder.com Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.
Go to site