Top 4 China River Cruises: Our Picks

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Looking for a unique way to tour China? Try a river cruise. The country has a plethora of rivers — including two of the longest rivers in the world — that flow through incredibly scenic landscapes. One of the most memorable things you can do in China is embark on a leisurely cruise on one of these fine rivers. If you’re short on time, you can even find a China river cruise that’s under an hour. Other than the breathtaking vistas, cruises also allow visitors a glimpse into the everyday lifestyle of the riverside settlements. 

Here is an overview of some of the most beautiful rivers in China and the very best cruises you could take.

1. Yangtze Cruise

  • Cruise start/end location: Yichang to Chongqing
  • Best time to cruise: April to October. The temperature is mild and comfortable.
  • Duration: You can go on a 4-day cruise downstream from Chongqing to Yichang. Alternatively, you can take an upstream cruise from Yichang to Chongqing which takes around 5 days. If you have more time, there is also a 7-day cruise downstream cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai and a 9-day upstream cruise from Shanghai to Chongqing
  • Cruise fare: From USD 329
Small boat near the Three Gorges Dam which is the biggest dam in the world
Three Gorges Dam, the world's second-most-expensive construction project, is an attraction on a Yangtze River Cruise.
The Gates of Hell in Fengdu Ghost City in Fengdu County, Chongqing
Fengdu Ghost City is another popular tourist attraction along the Yangtze River.

In Chinese, the Yangtze River is referred to as Chang Jiang, which translates to 'the long river'. And it certainly is. This 6,379-kilometer-long river is the longest river in China and the third longest river in the world after the Nile and the Amazon. Starting from the Tanggula Range in western China, Yangtze flows into the East China Sea at Shanghai. The river is both culturally and economically important to China, as it houses the largest water system in the country. If you’re looking for the ultimate sightseeing China river cruise, this would be it. Expect to sail through mountain gorges and alongside ancient cultural sites, weaving your way through the heart of China. 

Highlights

  • The Three Gorges Dam is the largest dam and hydro-electric plant in the world. Prepare to be left awestruck by the sheer scale and magnificence of this ambitious project. 
  • Wander through Fengdu Ghost City, a large complex of shrines and temples dedicated to the afterlife. It’s a truly fascinating experience. 
  • Goddess Stream. Yes, it’s just as epic as it sounds. Also known locally as 'beauty stream', the 15-kilometer-long channel is a spectacle of emerald landscape, untouched by human activity. 

2. Li River Tour

  • Cruise start/end location: Guilin to Yangshuo
  • Best time to cruise: September to November. The weather is cool and dry and offers clear views. 
  • Duration: 4 to 5 hours 
  • Cruise fare: The Li River cruise starts from USD 78 and the bamboo raft trip starts from approx USD 56 per raft for four people. 
Motorized boats taking tourists around the Li River
Li River snakes through limestone cliffs and pastoral villages

If you’re planning on visiting Guilin, the Li River cruise is an absolute must to get a view of the bustling village life of China. You’ll be thoroughly charmed throughout, with frequent sightings of water buffalos and fishermen on bamboo rafts. This river flows through the city of Guilin to Yangshuo, taking you past an array of limestone hills and villages. Although you can also tour the Li River via a traditional bamboo raft trip or explore the vicinity on a hike, a cruise is undoubtedly the most relaxing way to take it all in. Get a guided cruise to learn more about the captivating stories behind all the attractions you see. 

Highlights 

  • Situated on the river’s northern bank, Daxu Ancient Town is brimming with history and traditional Chinese homes. 
  • Look out for Elephant Trunk Hill. This unique looking hill on the western bank of the river looks eerily similar to an elephant drinking the river water with its long trunk! 

3. Huangpu River Cruise

  • Cruise start/ end location: The cruise starts and ends at Shiliupu Wharf, near the Bund, in Shanghai.
  • Best time to cruise: March to May or September to November for pleasant weather and clear views. 
  • Duration: 50 minutes
  • Cruise fare: From USD 19
Huangpu River Cruise at night with Pudong Skyline in the background
Huangpu River cruises pass by various attractions, but the best has to be the vibrant skyline of Shanghai

An evening cruise of the Huangpu river is the best way to take in the bright lights of Shanghai’s modern skyscrapers as well as the city’s more traditional architecture. This river cruise flows right through the heart of the city and you’ll get a glimpse of many of its most famous attractions along the way. Choose to take your cruise with a buffet meal of Chinese and western cuisine, or simply feast your eyes on the sights. This China river cruise is extremely popular with both locals as well as tourists to the area. You can also take a longer route if you’d like to get a glimpse of the remains of the Shanghai Expo site from 2010, where the country’s first world fair was held. Just book the ‘Expo’ route instead which runs for 90 minutes.

Highlights

  • Gaze upon the bustling skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center and Jin Mao Tower as you sail pass Shanghai.
  • Yuyuan Garden is famous for being an elegant Chinese garden with exquisite sculptures and carvings.

4. The Grand Canal Cruise

  • Cruise start/end location: Xin Shi Qiao Dock to Shantang Street
  • Best time to cruise: Any time, but March to November offers the mildest weather
  • Duration: 40 minutes for a day tour and 1 hour for a night tour
  • Cruise fare: From USD 19
A lit up and lively night at the Grand Canal, Suzhou
Also known as the 'Golden Waterway', the Grand Canal has been instrumental in the prosperity of Suzhou for thousands of years

At almost two thousand kilometers, the Grand Canal is the longest artificial river in the world and is widely regarded as one of the most impressive water projects from ancient times, dating back to 771 – 476 BC. It flows from near Beijing to Hangzhou, traversing through six provinces and five river systems. Historically, this canal was used as a form of economic and cultural communication between the northern and southern parts of the country. In fact, the enchanting canal has even earned the town the name “Venice of the Orient”. You can now take in most of the town of Suzhou’s major attractions on a Grand Canal cruise.

Highlights 

  • Dating back to the 514 BC, Panmen Gate is the only well-preserved water-and-land city gate in the world. The gate is architecturally beautiful and is of historic and cultural value as well.
  • Built in 852 AD, Shantang street is better known as 'miniature of old Suzhou'. It is a must-visit location to experience authentic Wu culture.

There’s certainly a lot to do and see in this fascinating country brimming with culture, history and, of course, incredible scenery. Prepare to immerse yourself into all that it has to offer with a China river cruise and an unforgettable journey on one of its famous rivers. The sights you’ll see during a river cruise in China are unlike any that you can see from land, all at a leisurely pace from the comfort of a boat.

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  • Ruby Zhao
    Ruby Zhao
    Travel Expert in China
  • Micheal Fan
    Micheal Fan
    Travel Expert in China
  • Cindy Wang
    Cindy Wang
    Travel Expert in China
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