Our first lengthy trip in China, and arguably the most memorable. We were able to tick two major destinations off (Xi’an and Beijing), whilst also exploring the lesser known Tianjin. The northern city of Harbin was particularly special, being our home during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Cheap international flights can be found arriving into Xi’an, and departing from Beijing.
Xi’an — Tianjin — Beijing — Harbin
Renowned for the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the northwestern city of Xi’an is the location for the start of the Silk Road, and is hailed as one of the birthplaces of the ancient Chinese civilisation. Xi’an is an excellent starting point for those who wish to understand about Chinese culture and traditions. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is perfect for those travelers who seek more about Buddhism. Cycling along the City Wall is an ideal way of embracing Xi’an’s architectural delights such as the Drum Tower, and immersing oneself in the organised chaos of Chinese life. The Muslim Quarter is a prime night location due to the impressive array of culinary delights and snacks.
The Terracotta Army.
Xi’an City Wall.
The Good – Iconic Terracotta Warriors and architecture make this city a great introduction and breakthrough into Chinese culture.
The Bad – Air Pollution is particularly bad in the winter.
Top Sights – Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an City Wall, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, Muslim Quarter, The Drum Tower.
Ginger Shorts Rating (15.5/20) Menna – 8 Joel – 7.5
Located next to Beijing, Tianjin has often been dwarfed by its more illustrious neighbour. However, this coastal city should be held as more than just ‘Beijing’s gateway to the sea’. Once shared by a host of countries, including the United Kingdom, the USA, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Italy, and Belgium, Tianjin’s streets are dotted with fine examples of European influence and architecture, most notably, the St. Joseph Cathedral and Five Great Avenues. With Tianjin’s calm and laid back approach, it can be all too easy to forget that Beijing is only a 25 minute train ride away. The Tianjin Eye is a perfect way of taking in the city’s impressive skyline.
St. Joseph Cathedral (Xikai Church).
The Good – Colonial buildings and laid back living strikes similarities to Europe.
The Bad – Underwhelming for those seeking authentic Chinese culture.
Top Sights – Tianjin Eye, Italian Street, Five Great Avenues, St. Joseph Cathedral.
Xi’an to Tianjin: 1hr 45. £50 6.5 hrs. £60
Ginger Shorts Rating (12/20) Menna – 6 Joel – 6
China’s economic, political and cultural heart. Home to The Great Wall of China, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World , Beijing is worth the visit for this exemplary piece of architecture alone. Visit two hugely significant historical sites in close proximity to one another; Tiananmen Square represents the controversies and complexities of modern China, whilst the imperial palace complex of The Forbidden City offers an insight into China’s intriguing past. Relive the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games by making a trip to the Olympic Park – Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) and Beijing National Aquatics Center (Water Cube).
The Great Wall of China.
Bird’s Nest in the Olympic Park.
The Good – A goldmine for world renowned sights.
The Bad – Stupendously busy and congested during most of the year.
Top Sights – The Great Wall Of China, The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Olympic Park, Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple, Summer Palace, Beihai Park.
Tianjin to Beijing: N/A 0.5 hrs. £6.
Ginger Shorts Rating (16.5/20) Menna – 8.5 Joel – 8
Nicknamed the ‘Ice City’, Harbin is the largest city in northeastern China. Due to it’s close proximity to Russia, the city has been occupied several times by the Russian people; during the 1905 war against Japan, and the 1917 Russian Revolution. As such, many European styled buildings still remain, the most famous of which being the St. Sophia Cathedral. During the winter, the Songhua River freezes over, allowing the local people to partake in skating, ice sledging and swimming. Attracting over 15 million visitors annually. Harbin’s most dazzling attraction is the annual Ice and Snow Festival. The world’s biggest ice sculptures are masterfully created using ice blocks taken from the Songhua River. These full size buildings are then illuminated at night with vivid and glowing colours.
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival 2018.
Swimmers in the Songhua River.
The Good – Beautiful blend of Chinese culture with Russian architecture. The annual Ice Festival is unmissable.
The Bad – Temperatures of around -20°C in the winter.
Top Sights – The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, St. Sophia Cathedral, Songhua River.
Beijing to Harbin: 2 hrs. £65-£90 8 hrs. £35
Ginger Shorts Rating (17/20) Menna – 8 Joel – 9
This itinerary is perfect for those who wish to visit some of the most iconic destinations in China. Personally, the Terracotta Warriors, Great Wall of China, and Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, were some of my favourite experiences; The latter being my #1 moment during our first ten months in China.