2-4 weeks Beaches & Beer
Moving from north to south along China’s eastern coast, this tour is pretty self explanatory; the highlights are some of the nation’s best sandy waterfronts and several of its most popular (and biggest) beer festivals. Start out in late July and you should be able to hit each place when the weather is best and the suds are flowing. Apart from living the care-free life, you will also get a shot of modern culture within a few of the country’s most metropolitan cities.
Touring China’s spritely eastern coast doesn’t just cover beaches and beer – there are plenty of stops at breezy towns with overtones of classical China, romantic lake-side cities, cosmopolitan steel jungles and even a bit of imperial grandeur. But with two beer festivals and some of the best beaches China has to offer, there’s a definite theme that sneaks in. Most beach towns have other diversions as well, so don’t fret about getting sand in your underpants.
Dalian, Liaoning (2-3 days)
Plan to arrive in Dalian in late July or early August, and you’ll be perfectly poised to splash around at the beaches in between guzzling beer and devouring snacks at the Dalian International Beer Festival. The city’s southern coastline is full of breathtaking bays and features a hidden fishing village – a fine sight – and you should consider saving a day for the nearby town of Lushun. For the six to seven-hour boat ride to Yantai, you can either make a day of it or board the 22:00 shift and sleep in a bed.
Yantai, Shandong (1-2 days)
The old port town of Yantai has a few sights from its maritime past. From Western port architecture and hilly gardens to a folk customs museum, lighthouses, a wine museum and a coastal walk, Yantai has more than just beaches. The 15:00 train to Qingdao takes four and a half hours.
Qingdao, Shandong (1-3 days)
If you timed it right, you’ll be rolling into Qingdao (aka Tsingtao but pronounced the same) for the joyous Qingdao International Beer Festival in early August. If not, you can bet that there’s still plenty of beer to be had in the city that gave its name to China’s most famous beer, and you can enjoy it all on Qingdao’s all-popular beaches. To numb the hangover and switch things up, head to the beer museum for more information on one of the world’s most popular beverages. There are numerous trains to Shanghai, running around six to seven hours.
Shanghai (2-4 days)
Shanghai’s gleaming metal and neon-light ripped face is a heavy contrast to the beaches of northern and southern China; it’s in a league of its own. It’s possible to get your fill in two days, especially if you run a 16:30 train here on your last day in Qingdao (arriving in Shanghai at 23:30, giving you two nights and two days here), but others will be more addicted to Shanghai’s nonstop flair and need more time. For sightseeing, head to the Bund; for shopping, Nanjing East Road; for trendy cafes, the French Concession, for culture, art and museums, People’s Square; for a blast into the future, visit the skyscrapers of Pudong. In between it all, try to hit up as many clubs, lounges and bars as possible – this city has the best in all of China.
Hangzhou, Zhejiang (2-3 days)
Take the one-hour high speed train from Shanghai and you’ll be here in the blink of an eye. There are few places in China as refreshingly beautiful as Hangzhou with its West Lake, excellent food, appealing architecture and blooming Xixi Wetlands Park. Hangzhou has more where those came from too, so three days may not be enough for some. Most trains to Fuzhou take five hours, but a better option is to grab one of the sleepers so you can wake up in Fuzhou and quickly power on to relaxing Xiamen.
Fuzhou, Fujian (1 day)
Fuzhou is Fujian’s main transportation hub, but there’s little else to do here besides transfer to the relatively painless 90-minute train to Xiamen.
Xiamen, Fujian (2 days)
In Xiamen, make for Gulangyu Island and have a blast stuffing yourself with beer and seafood. The next day, get some sunshine, check out the sights, (including handsome historical colonial villas), and make sure you do a day-trip out to the Hakka round houses in Yongding. Next, grab a sleeper train and wake up in Guangzhou.
Guangzhou, Guangdong (2-3 days)
Canton, as it’s often known in the West, has too much to do, see and experience. However, there are three basic components to your Guangzhou visit: eat, party and shop! Actually, Guangzhou is a shopper’s paradise, with many malls and wholesale markets offering customers everything from watches and shoes to shirts and electronics. Squeeze every drop you can out of your days here before zipping over to Hainan Island either via a long overnight train or a flight.
Haikou, Hainan (2-3 days)
Hainan’s easy-going capital is a great place to simply mosey around. The peripheral areas offer beaches, the crusty old volcanoes of Haikou Volcanic Cluster Geopark, a coconut plantation and the cool ethnic mountain town on Wuzhishan. You can take the bus straight to Sanya from here, but if you fancy a bit of cycling, consider biking through the interior past Wuzhishan or down the east coast of the island for several days.
Sanya, Hainan (2-5 days)
The last leg of the coastal tour ends at the golden beaches of Sanya, aka the Hawaii of China. Relax in the postcard-worthy sunsets while you reminisce about your journey on the beach. You can try your hand at surfing, or sip cocktails and fruit juices when you’re not up for the cold beers. Once you hang your beach towel up for good, take a flight out from Sanya’s airport and return home.
Your Beaches and Beer journey can easily combine with other itineraries for great alternatives or extensions. In Hangzhou, contemplate moving onto the Imperial Tour’s tail end and following the route backwards. Take Riding the Yangtze to Shanghai and then jump on this tour, or alternatively do Beaches & Beer to Shanghai and take the Yangtze trip in reverse. If you take Beaches & Beer in reverse order (Sanya to Dalian), another option is to move right on into parts or all of the Nomad Lands.