Yangtze River Cruise: The Ultimate Guide

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The mighty Yangtze River is one of the twin Mother Rivers of China. Alongside the Yellow River in the north, the Yangtze River nourishes the vast lands of China, helping its people and wildlife to thrive. Known as China’s granary, the Yangtze River basin is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in Asia and is a must-see on any China tour.

While the river can be accessed at various points along its 6,300-kilometer-length, a Yangtze River cruise gives you the time you need to enjoy the exquisite scenery from the ship’s deck and on dry land, with lots of opportunities to disembark and explore on foot.

Yangtze Cruises at a Glance

  • Start/end location: Chongqing to Yichang
  • Recommended duration: 4 – 5 days. However, 6-day and 11-day cruises are also available. 
  • Best time to cruise: April – May (late spring) or September – October (late fall) when the weather is cool and dry.

A 5-day Yangtze River Cruise Itinerary

Day 1 Welcome to Chengdu. Spend the morning exploring Chengdu then travel to Chengdu railway station. Take the bullet train to Chongqing for a tour of Jiefangbei CBD and the historic Ciqikou (Porcelain) Village. Set sail for your Yangtze River Cruise from Chongqing Port at 9:30 pm. Bon voyage!
Day 2 Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and marvel at the scenery. Arrive in Zhongxian at 2:00 pm to explore the stunning Shibaozhai pagoda. Back on board, it’s time to get ready for the captain’s welcome party.
Day 3  Explore the Qutang and Wu gorges then board a smaller boat to meander down the Shennv stream. Back on the cruise ship, you’ll see the western section of Xiling gorge, finishing up a day of extraordinary sightseeing.
Day 4 After breakfast, take a bus to the Three Gorges Dam. Tour the Three Gorges Tourist Center in Yichang City then head to Yichang East Railway Station. Take a 7.5-hour bullet train to Shanghai where you’ll be taken to your hotel.
Day 5 Start your day at the Shanghai Museum, one of the most highly-rated things to do in China. Next, tour Yu Garden in Shanghai’s Old Town, and visit the former French Concession and the Bund. Later, take a one-hour cruise along the Huangpu River before being transported back to your hotel. This is the last day of the itinerary.

4 Main Attractions along the Yangtze River

  1. Chongqing Zoo
Panda's enjoying a leisurely time at the Chongqing Zoo in Chongqing, China
Chongqing Zoo was built in 1953 and opened for the public officially in 1955. Photo by Boris Kasimov [CC BY 2.0]

Before you get on board a Yangtze cruise at Chongqing port, grab the opportunity to visit the Chongqing Zoo. This historic attraction, located around 8 kilometers from the center of the city, cares for more than 230 different species of animals, including the native Giant Panda. There are many attractions on-site, including a skating arena, an amusement park, restaurants and a tea house. But Chongqing Zoo isn’t only about fun, it is also a research center that protects China’s native animal and marine species. 

  1. Three Gorges Dam
The Lesser Three Gorges as seen during a Yangtze Cruise tour
The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest power station

The Three Gorges Dam harnesses the thunderous power of the Yangtze River. This controversial hydroelectric dam is the world’s largest power station and, whatever your opinion on its impact, it is an awesome sight to behold. The Three Gorges Dam is an attraction on the itineraries of most Yangtze River cruises.

  1. Lesser Three Gorges
Clear green river flowing in between rocky hills
Known for rapids with clear green water, the Lesser Three Gorges is a highlight of any Yangtze River tour

Don’t be fooled by the name. Located north of the Wu Gorge on the Daning River, a tributary of the Yangtze, the Lesser Three Gorges is a 60-kilometer-stretch of outstanding natural beauty. Before the Three Gorges Dam was built, the Gorges were fairly inaccessible, allowing animal and plant life to thrive. Now, cruise boats can explore this area and spot monkeys in the wild.

  1. Fengdu
Statues of the Jade Emperor and his soldiers at Fengdu Ghost City
Fengdu City focuses on the afterlife combining the beliefs of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Photo by Michael Lusk [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Fengdu Ghost City is a popular attraction amongst curious travelers. According to believers, Fengdu is the resting place for the dead. The spirits can worship in the afterlife at Fengdu’s 48 temples that represent Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist beliefs. Located 172 kilometers from Chongqing on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, Fengdu is usually the first stop on a downstream river cruise and the last stop on an upstream cruise.  

 A Yangtze River cruise takes you right to the heart of Chinese civilization. Its banks are home to communities of people and an abundance of wildlife and nature. If you have to take one river cruise in China, the Yangtze cruise should be it. 

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  • Ruby Zhao
    Ruby Zhao
    Travel Expert in China
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