China lures travelers with its famous sites -- the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Warriors -- as well as its lush and exotic natural places. But the country is huge, making a cruise the perfect way to see the sights efficiently and with a guide by your side.
Travelers who want to see the top cities in China, with multiple-day stays in each, will love East Asia cruises that hit Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong -- as well as other marquee destinations in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Nature-lovers who want to walk the Great Wall but also float down the Yangtze enjoying the beauty of the Three Gorges area will find a river cruise to be the perfect vacation.
Touring historic and cultural sites, such as Beijing's iconic Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China, is a top activity in China. Many visitors like to explore the local markets, such as Hong Kong's Ladies Market and Temple Street Market. Hong Kong and Shanghai have unique skylines and blends of modern and older architecture; visitors can view these areas on tours. The Three Gorges Dam is also an engineering marvel that attracts tour groups.
Some tours bring travelers to religious sites, such as the Po Lin Monastery with its 111-foot-high Buddha statue, the 12-story Shibaozhai Temple built into a hill and Mt. Jiu Hua, a Buddhist temple complex in a remote location.
In Hong Kong, popular activities are Star Ferry rides in the harbor or a funicular ride up to Victoria Peak, while in Shanghai, travelers visit the Bund along the waterfront.
On Yangtze River cruises, popular activities include scenic cruising in the Three Gorges area, taking a trip to the Chongqing Zoo to see the pandas and visiting Fengdu, a "ghost city."
Yangtze River cruises run from April through October. You'll find the best weather (pleasant temperatures, less rain) in April to May and September to October.
East Asia sailings mainly take place in the fall, winter and spring, but winter is the most popular time to travel. Summertime (June and July) is rainy, humid and hot.
The main ports in China for East Asia Cruises are Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Yangtze River cruises might call in Yichang and Wuhan, along with a stop at the Three Gorges Dam site (after scenic cruising through the area). These trips often include multi-day land portions to places like Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai.
Most East Asia cruises that include Chinese ports depart from Hong Kong, Tokyo, Yokohama, Shanghai or Beijing.
Yangtze River cruises depart from Chongqing, China.
East Asia itineraries combine visits to China with ports of call in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Most of these cruises are two weeks long, though you can find shorter versions. Look for overnights in the major cities to maximize your time in places like Shanghai, Hong Kong or Beijing.
Riverboats offer itineraries on the Yangtze River. These range from 12 to 19 days and include a sailing of three to five nights along the Yangtze combined with multi-day land tours to major destinations in China, such as Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai.
Here are our best tips for finding a cheap cruise or cruise deal to China. If you book a “guaranteed cabin” (they select for you), a cabin on a lower deck or sail on an older ship from a brand you like, then you can get the best price for a specific cruise to China. Last minute cruises deals to China appear as you get closer to the sail date, usually 1-2 weeks in advance. Taking a cruise to China in the shoulder season (before or after the peak season) can also be a great way to find a cruise deal.