Most guided tours to China take in three or four major cities, often combined with a Yangtze River cruise or a visit to far-flung Tibet. You get a day or two in each place, with the same sights featured in most tours. If you want to explore a given city in any kind of depth, you're better doing it by yourself or getting a private guide.
Shopping stops plague China tours, so inquire before booking as to when, where, and how many to expect. Although you're never obliged to buy anything, they can take up big chunks of your valuable travel time, and the products offered are always ridiculously overpriced. Even on the best tours, you can count on having to sit through at least one or two.
Not all of the companies we list include air travel in their packages. Check this when you're researching your trip.
China Focus Travel. China Focus is a reputable, longstanding agency with small group tours to China's most famous attractions, including the Yangtze River and Yunnan province. 800/868–7244; www.chinafocustravel.com. From $1,700.
Overseas Adventure Travel. Small groups and excellent guides are what Overseas Adventure Travel takes pride in. 800/955–1925; www.oattravel.com. From $167.
Pacific Delight. Pacific Delight is known for its corporate and family tours around North and Southeast Asia. 800/221–7179; www.pacificdelighttours.com. From $1,600.
R. Crusoe & Son. This offbeat company organizes unique small group or tailor-made private tours. 800/585–8555; www.rcrusoe.com. From $6,990.
Ritz Tours. The Ritz Tours is an agency offering mid-range "China Deluxe" and luxury "China Premiere" tours to China's most famous landmarks. 888/345–7489; www.ritztours.com. From $420.
Local guides are often creative when it comes to history and culture, so having an expert with you can make a big difference.
National Geographic Expeditions. China experts lead National Geographic's trips, though all that knowledge doesn't come cheap. 888/966–8687; www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com. From $5,750.
Smithsonian Journeys. Learning is the focus of Smithsonian Journeys' small-group tours, which are led by university professors. 855/330–1542; www.smithsonianjourneys.org. From $5,169.
Wild China. This Beijing-based company offers some of the most unusual trips around, including visits to ethnic minority groups, Tibet, and little-known Xinjiang province. 888/902–8808; www.wildchina.com. From $1,100.
Artisans of Leisure. Artisans of Leisure's culinary tour takes in Shanghai and Beijing from the cities' choicest establishments, with prices to match. 800/214–8144; www.artisansofleisure.com. From $9,000.
Imperial Tours. Imperial Tours Culinary Tour combines sightseeing with cooking lectures and demonstrations, and lots of five-star dining. 888/888–1970; www.imperialtours.net. From $1,000.
Intrepid Travel. Intrepid Travel offers a “Real Food Adventure Tour” which includes market visits, cooking demonstrations, and lots of eating at down-to-earth restaurants. 800/970–7299; www.intrepidtravel.com. From $1,100.
China Highlights. China Highlights organizes short golf packages that combine sightseeing with golfing in Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Guangzhou, and Guilin. 800/268–2918; www.chinahighlights.com. From $720.
Wild China. Wild China offers one-of-a-kind hiking expeditions to the remote mountain areas of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. 888/902–8808; www.wildchina.com. From $4,000.