The most popular China holidays follow well-known routes and are in danger of giving a dull, distorted picture of the country. With a few minor tweaks these same routes can be brought to life, making for a more worthwhile China experience.

Most visitors will want to include many of the top-rated sites: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors to start with. However, realizing that these sites are in huge demand the wise traveler plans to achieve some balance by also including some lesser known sites. A few hours away from the crowds allows for an altogether different set of experiences, the ones that are likely to remain when the grand images have faded entirely.

A typical two-week route through China would be Beijing – Xi’an – Chengdu, Shanghai or a Yangtze Cruise – Guilin – Hong Kong. Apart from the cruise, which is in itself a crowd experience, this route visits mostly city sites with just some token countryside in the Guilin area.

The Beijing experience can be greatly enhanced by including a less popular section of the Great Wall. It is much more pleasant to be able to walk a short way along the wall without large and noisy crowds. This is even more beneficial if you are able to hike along a longer route and get away completely.

A visit to Shanghai can be brought to life by adding an excursion to one of the nearby waters. These have become popular and aren’t quite the crowd-free experience that they once were but there is still more of a feeling that this is typical China than the cosmopolitan megacity.

Guilin is already an excellent city to explore as the rice terraces at Longsheng and the countryside around Yangzhou are both wonderful landscapes to savor at leisure. A stay in the city is no longer essential as the roads connecting the popular areas have been improved considerably, and there is plentiful accommodation in all but the very top-end of the range.

What makes a visit to these areas special is to have a lot of included activities or free time to really enjoy those aspects that you most like. There are some enjoyable hiking routes around Longsheng and it would be appropriate to stay for 3 nights in the area if you want to explore in-depth. Most domestic tourists head to the Yulong River valley and take a bamboo raft as part of their day. Heading the other way will allow you to escape from these big crowds and get a close-up look at rural life as it still is.

A balanced itinerary does not need a major change of route. China is huge and there are a lot of options to choose from. Of course, those who want to take that concept a few steps further will consider avoiding the most popular China holidays altogether and looking for a less-visited area altogether.