At 3,915 miles long, the Yangtze is China's longest river and the third longest waterway in the world. Flowing from the Qinghai-Tihet Plateau eastward into the East China Sea, the river acts as a dividing line between North and South China and is one of the best ways to see all the country has to offer. From ancient palaces with storied pasts to modern metropolises clad in neon lights, exhilarating opportunities are only moments away from the Yangtze.
Along the River
A cruise along the Yangtze will stop at various towns and villages, allowing you ample chances for exploring your surroundings. The most famous sight on the river is the Three Gorges, a scenic area along the river spanning 125 miles and made up of the Xiling, Wu, and Qutang Gorges. Xiling is the longest of the gorges at 49 miles and is home to numerous reefs and karst caves. Wu Gorge is known for its forest-covered mountains and deep canyons, while Qutang Gorge, the shortest but most dramatic gorge, is framed by mossy cliffs.
Created to produce electricity, increase the Yangtze's shipping capacity, and reduce the potential for floods downstream, the accompanying and controversial Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric project in the world. A number of enchanting smaller gorges on the Shennong Stream and the Daning and Ma Du River are also worth seeing.
Other places of interest along the river include the "Ghost Town" of Fengdu with its unique temples filled with statues of ghosts and devils, Shibaozhai's 400-year-old, 12-story-high red wooden pagoda perched high on a cliff, and the Rare Stone Museum in Wuhan featuring over 200,000 cultural relics. Huangshan is home to quintessential Chinese mountain landscapes and hillside Chongqing, China's capital during World War II, offers attractive parks, a historic Old Town, and impressive views of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers.
The Yangtze River Delta empties into the East China Sea and is home to many popular cities including Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, and Shanghai. Stroll among the lovely lakes and temples of Hangzhou, visit the beautiful Humble Administrator's Garden and Embroidery Institute in Suzhou, and explore Nanjing with visits to Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, a Qing Dynasty-style bazaar, and a Confucian Temple.
The city of fortunes lost and found, cosmopolitan Shanghai boasts Ming Dynasty gardens, outstanding museum collections, and impressive architecture ranging from Art Deco to French Colonial. Wander the classical Ming Dynasty Yu Yuan Gardens featuring pavilions, ponds, rockeries, cloisters and six scenic zones or peruse the Shanghai Museum's exquisite collection of Chinese bronzes.
Shanghai's Nanjing Road is a shoppers' paradise with over 400 stores and malls, while the waterfront Bund and its park-like promenade lined with historic buildings, banks, and trade houses retains a nostalgic old-world charm while offering fantastic views of Pudong's gleaming skyline. See the world-renowned Shanghai Acrobats, indulge in Xintiandi and the French Concession's lively nightlife, and discover Old Town, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and Jade Buddha Temple.
South of the River
Yangtze River cruises visit a number of exciting places south of the river including Lijiang, Kunming, Yangshuo, Guilin, Macau and Hong Kong. Kunming, the "City of Eternal Spring," is the capital of Yunnan Province. See the magnificent Dragon Gate and Western Hills here, and then travel to the remarkable stone forest housing small lakes, waterfalls, and towering limestone pillars, some of which reach 100-feet-high. The medieval town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is surrounded by 16,000-foot mountains and is home to the minority Naxi ethnic group. Visit the Museum of Naxi Dongba to learn about their ancient culture or head to Black Dragon Pool for stunning views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
Divided by the tranquil Li River and dotted with limestone rising majestically over fertile rice paddies, Yangshuo is astoundingly picturesque and the perfect place for a relaxing bike or boat ride. In nearby Guilin, limestone mountains, their needle peaks hidden in mist, rise from the green plains surrounding the city. Explore the unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations of the Reed Flute Cave or visit a local team farm.
With its ritzy casinos and massive hotels, Macau has long been considered the Las Vegas of the East. But beyond the city's glittering façade you'll find cobbled backstreets, baroque ruins, Portuguese-influenced architecture, and the notable Macau Museum.
The vibrant island of Hong Kong has long been characterized by its cultural pursuits and glamour. Amble along the mirrored towers lining the Wanchai waterfront, take a cable car up to Victoria Peak for amazing panoramic vistas, enjoy a sampan ride in an Aberdeen fishing village, or head the popular beach area of Repulse Bay. Shop up a storm at Temple Street and Stanley Market, get absorbed in the city's many museums, enjoy a sunset cruise across Victoria Harbour aboard the Star Ferry, or view the giant Buddha on the nearby island of Lantau.
North of the River
Fascinating cities you might visit north of the Yangtze include Shaolin, Luoyang, Chengdu, Xi'an, and Beijing. In Shaolin, watch the dynamic training sessions of kung fu acolytes, while Luoyang houses over 100,000 rock-carved Buddha images and a series of ancient caves dedicated to various forms of worship. In Chengdu, make a furry friend and learn about conservation efforts at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base or see the exquisite carvings at Wenshu Temple.
One of the wealthiest cities in the world when China dominated the silk trade, today Xi'an is an archaeological treasure trove. Visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, constructed in 652 A.D. and one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the world, and then make your way to the City Wall, one of the largest and oldest military fortifications built during the Tang Dynasty. Wander the vibrant Muslim Quarter and step into the courtyards of Xian's Islamic Mosque or discover the incredible underground necropolis of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, guarded by 6,000 life-sized Terracotta Warriors for over 2,000 years.
The capital of China, Beijing is packed with sightseeing opportunities. Traipse along the Great Wall, stretching 4,000 miles across China's barren northern terrain from the Bohai Sea to the Gobi Desert, and enjoy sweeping vistas of the immense fortress. Wander 100-acre Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, and then head to nearby Forbidden City with its Imperial Palace. Encompassing more than 800 buildings and covering 720,000 square meters, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was once the home to China's great emperors and houses the world's largest collection of ancient wooden architecture.
Gorgeous Summer Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a complex of pavilions, temples, and galleries set among beautifully landscaped grounds and situated on Kunming Lake. See the lavish Ming Tombs, tour the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, take in a Peking opera, or enjoy a rickshaw through one of Beijing's hutongs, the city's ancient alleys.
Travel to the holy city of Lhasa, the capital of the mystical Buddhist kingdom of Tibet. Visit Jokhang Temple, the Dalai Lama's Summer Palace, and Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's former winter residence and once the center of Tibetan government. Learn about traditional Tibetan medicine and therapy at a Tibetan hospital, shop for goods in the local bazaar, or explore a typical Tibetan monastery. Nestled on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, the town of Xiahe's streets are a colorful mix of monks and nomads. Learn about the lives of Xiahe's monks at the Labrang Monastery.