Delve into the grandeur of imperial China on your first full day in Beijing. Tiananmen Square, the center of modern-day civic life in the city, is your gateway to the Forbidden City, the vast complex of palaces, gardens and offices that housed China’s emperors for 500 years. Here bureaucrats and concubines schemed for power and artisans created treasures of the Qing and Ming dynasties. Savor a treasure of a different kind over lunch—Peking Duck, served to emperors since the 13th century—and wonder at the Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO-designated site where the emperors performed the rituals that guaranteed the empire’s safety. (Uniworld has arranged a surprise here that lets you experience a cherished local custom.)
Start the day with smiles from the giant pandas at the zoo before exploring the labyrinthine alleyways of the residential neighborhoods—known as the hutongs—dating back 500 years. Explore the area near the Forbidden City, first via rickshaw and then by sitting down for lunch with a local family. Two towers mark the neighborhood; one, a 600-year-old bell tower, hosts a traditional tea ceremony that will remind you of tea’s central place in China’s culture. Cap off your day with another unforgettable highlight: the Great Wall, the legendary ramparts that protected 4,000 miles of China’s ancient borders—followed by a Welcome Dinner with complimentary wine at the base of the Great Wall itself.
Emperors fled the summer heat to relax by the shores of Kunming Lake, where they created a Qing Dynasty garden that embodies the highest achievement in Chinese landscape design. Stroll the inviting Long Corridor, admiring the bridges and temples that adorn the man-made lake, and drift over its peaceful waters in a boat that offers ravishing views. Empress Cixi’s (the Holy Mother) marble boat, “moored” on the lake, is the only sign the lake ever had a naval function, though legend says that Emperor Qianlong observed naval maneuvers on it.
From Beijing, you’ll fly to the ancient capital of Xi’an, where you’ll settle into the serene Shangri-La Xi’an hotel and enjoy a traditional dumpling banquet.
Twenty-two centuries ago, Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified a huge swath of the country (and gave it his name)—and he intended to keep what he conquered, even in the afterlife. He created an astonishing Terra-cotta Army to guard his tomb, which laid undisturbed until the 20th century. Only about 8,000 of the UNESCO-designated Terracotta Warriors and Horses have been excavated, and they still stand in battle formation to face his long-dead enemies at the museum dedicated to this amazing archaeological discovery. From the battlefields, seek peace and pleasure at the serene seven-story Big Wild Goose Pagoda, sacred to Buddhists since the seventh century; legend states if you throw a coin through the pagoda’s windows, it will bring you good luck—give it a try. A lovely traditional dinner and a cultural performance that re-creates the music, folk dances and gorgeous silk costumes of the Tang Dynasty provide the perfect ending to a day in China’s ancient capital.
Cherished for 10,000 years, jade is valued for both its intrinsic beauty and its symbolic meaning. Watch artisans carving intricate designs. Transfer to the airport and fly to Chongqing, where you’ll board your ship and settle into your Executive Suite.
Limestone cliffs sheathed in greenery loom above the water; mountains wreathed in mist tower in the distance; every view of the Three Gorges is a picture straight out of China’s iconic watercolor illustrations—breathtaking, ethereal and unforgettable. A stop at Shibao Pagoda, built into the side of a steep hill that is now an island as a result of rising waters from the Three Gorges Dam, offers you a colorful encounter with some unusual legends. Later, enjoy the Captain’s Welcome Reception with complimentary wine, giving you a chance to mingle with your fellow passengers.
Float through one of the world’s most exquisite landscapes: The pristine turquoise waters of the Goddess Stream shimmer and bubble around your small boat and sheer cliffs rise high overhead. The day offers one of China’s most amazing contrasts, for your ship will leave these peaceful waters to navigate the enormous Three Gorges Dam locks. Bid adieu to the river with a Farewell Dinner.
Note: Due to water conditions, we may substitute a Shennong Stream boat tour if the Goddess Stream is not available.
The world’s largest hydroelectric project, the Three Gorges Dam is designed to control flooding on the Yangtze and provide electrical power for a huge part of the country. The controversial project has forever altered the landscape, but its scale is a tribute to the nation’s ambition. Later, catch a flight to Shanghai, where your elegant room at the Fairmont Peace Hotel awaits.
Past, present and future combine on the exciting, busy streets of Shanghai. Astonishing skyscrapers soar far overhead, and the Bund, Shanghai’s famed waterfront promenade, reminds you that this city, once known as the “Paris of the Orient,” was the West’s gateway to China. Do a little last-minute shopping while taking in the spectacular views. Could you leave China without a traditional dim sum lunch? It’s waiting for you at your hotel. Cap off your journey with one last highlight experiencing spinning plates, flying knives and whirling Hula-Hoops as agile acrobats dance across swaying tightropes and perform death-defying leaps as the famous Shanghai acrobatic troupe performs their gravity-defying routines.