Following your travel to Mongolia, discover some of China’s most memorable landmarks in a visit to two of its most iconic cities. Witness how modern Beijing reaches for the sky, and delve into an emperor’s tomb in Xian to find ancient terra cotta soldiers standing guard for eternity. Explore the Forbidden City’s many courtyards and chambers, and walk along the expanse of one of the world’s wonders, the Great Wall.
- It's Included:
- Roundtrip airfare between Beijing and Xian
- Accommodations for 3 nights in Beijing and 2 nights in Xian
- 13 meals—5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 3 dinners
- 6 small group activities
- Services of an OAT Trip Leader who speaks English and the native language
- All transfers
Beijing, the modern political and administrative center of China, is also the greatest single repository of monuments and treasures from the imperial era. Having arrived in Beijing at the end of your Mongolia & the Gobi Desert tour, you’ll see some of the city's most notable treasures.
Like the old Chinese puzzles of “boxes within boxes,” Beijing was originally laid out in a series of concentric circles. We focus on the innermost two today: the Forbidden City and the surrounding Imperial City. We begin our exploration at grand Tiananmen Square. At 100 acres, it is the largest public square in the world, capable of holding more than a million people. Each of the cobbles is numbered so that parade units can line up in their assigned spots. But as you explore, you may remember a more somber event: the tragic student demonstrations that took place here in 1989. Lined with official buildings, Tiananmen is presided over by the giant portrait of Chairman Mao, which hangs above the Gate of Heavenly Peace and seems to stare down at the leader’s own Memorial Hall. Mao is entombed in the Hall in a crystal sarcophagus, his body draped in the red flag of the People’s Republic that he founded in 1949.
Tiananmen is always filled with people, including kite-flying children. Here, you’ll see legendary landmarks, including the Great Hall of the People and the towering Monument to the People’s Heroes, a 125-foot granite obelisk honoring those who died in the communist revolution.
Next, we visit the Forbidden City, or Gugong, a 9,000-room maze of courtyards, palaces, and ceremonial halls, where 24 emperors (“the Sons of Heaven”) and two dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom. Protected by 30-foot-high walls and a 160-foot-wide moat, the Forbidden City was indeed a forbidden place; commoners were kept out for nearly 500 years. The greatest achievement of the visionary Emperor Yongle, this architectural triumph was completed in a mere 14 years by 200,000 workers. Behind its Gate of Supreme Harmony, which is flanked by bronze lions, you’ll find classic buildings with interiors featuring marble floors and ceilings with grand murals. We view the exterior of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the tallest and largest of the six main palace buildings, and stroll through an open-air exhibition detailing the history and preservation of this famous structure. We will also view two other main halls, the Hall of Central Harmony, or Zhonghe Dian, and Hall of Preserving Harmony, known locally as Baohe Dian.
We have lunch at a local restaurant and an orientation walk to get to know the neighborhood around our hotel. In the evening, we enjoy a Chinese-style Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast at our hotel, we visit a local studio to learn about the history and importance of jade carving, one of China’s greatest cultural legacies, and a symbol for China—in the 2008 Beijing Olympics all the medals were inlaid with jade.
We then set out to explore the Great Wall. China’s Great Wall easily qualifies as the world’s greatest civil engineering feat. The massive ramparts were begun in separate strategic sections between 403-221 BC. During the reign of China’s first Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, some 300,000 men were put to work connecting the segments into one huge, snaking fortification. Archaeologists estimate that the wall once ran for 6,200 miles through an expanse that now covers 16 provinces. Today, the wall is still impressive at 3,750 miles in length, stretching from the Bohai Sea to the Gobi Desert.
Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall was more than just a barrier. Indeed, it served as an elevated highway linking the defensive forces along China’s rugged northern frontier. The roadway atop the wall provided a means of rapid communication and deployment of troops, arms, and food.
After lunch at a local restaurant, the remainder of the afternoon is yours to make your own discoveries, and dinner tonight is on your own.
After breakfast, we head for the Summer Palace, which has the largest and best-preserved royal garden in China. Early in the Jin Dynasty, an imperial palace named Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site of the Summer Palace. Through the centuries, portions of the grounds and buildings were destroyed during warfare, then restored or redesigned. The Summer Palace of today is more or less the same as the palace rebuilt in 1903. After the last Qing emperor, Puyi, was thrown out of the Summer Palace in 1924, the garden was turned into a park. Surrounded by Kumming Lake and classic Chinese gardens, the palace halls and pavilions are filled with ornate furnishings and fine artwork.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll discover some of the animals found only in China at the Beijing Zoo. Occupying more than 220 acres that were formerly a Ming Dynasty-era manor house, the Beijing Zoo’s is home to more than 14,000 animals, including its most famous and popular, the Giant Panda. These endangered animals have become a symbol of China, and the Zoo has been linked with them since 1963, when it became home to the first panda born in captivity, Ping Ping. We’ll visit the Zoo’s Panda House to get to know these shy creatures.
We’ll have dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
After breakfast, we’ll transfer to the airport for our flight to Xian. Upon arrival, we’ll settle into our new hotel and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Then, we’ll set out to discover Xian.
Located in the fertile Wei River valley, Xian was once the largest city in the world during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the capital of eleven dynasties, a major trading hub along the Silk Route, and a center of Chinese civilization. Though its glory days are long over, it is still a cultural and intellectual capital, boasting some eleven universities, a thriving artists’ community, and a burgeoning film industry. As we admire the city, be sure to note its symmetrical grid design, considered by scholars as a model of ancient city planning.
During our tour, we’ll have a chance to explore Xian’s City Wall, one of the most complete structures of its kind in all of China. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, the City Wall is one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.
After dinner on your own, we have the evening at leisure. Or, experience the culinary and cultural delights of ancient Xian this evening with an optional Tang Dynasty show and dinner. The beautiful costumes, enchanting dances, and ancient music of the Tang Dynasty—a period of peace and exceptional creativity from AD 618 to 907—have been carefully recreated for your enjoyment. This type of performance has been treasured as a national art that reflects the glory and richness of the Tang Dynasty. Dinner is served before the show.
After breakfast at our hotel, we visit one of Xian’s most incredible treasures—the great ranks of life-sized soldiers, generals, charioteers, and horses of the Terra Cotta Army. An expert curator will join our group for an illuminating tour of this excavation site.
Considered one of the foremost archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, the 2,000-year-old Terra Cotta Army was discovered by accident in 1974 by local farmers digging a well. The 6,000-plus life-size figures are arranged in vaults at the entrance to the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Qin emperor, a major architect of the Great Wall and unifier of China. The soldiers are ranked in military order, hold actual spears and swords and, incredibly, have unique facial expressions. There is also an exhibit of a remarkable miniature model of a Qin Dynasty bronze chariot, complete with horses and coachmen.
After lunch at a local restaurant, you have the afternoon to make your own final discoveries in Xian. We regroup in the evening to celebrate our adventure with a Farewell Dinner.
After breakfast, we depart to the airport for our return flights home via Beijing.