Cruising the Yangtze River

The magnificent Yangtze River flows a staggering 6,300 kilometres through China from the southwestern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to its mouth on the East China Sea. It is the world’s third largest river and stretches through eighteen provinces across China’s enormous heartland, showcasing some of the country’s most extraordinary natural landscapes and colourful cities. Cruisers on a Yangtze river cruise will find themselves in the heady, fast-paced city of Chongqing one day and floating serenely alongside the spectacular Three Gorges of Qutang, Wu and Xiling the next. Immerse yourself in the majestic ancient city of Jingzhou and enter a world of artistic wonder in the elegant town of Jingdezhen - known as the ‘City of Ceramics’. Gaze up in awe at the towering peaks of the Jiuhua, Lushan and Niushou mountains, after having explored the antique architecture of the unusual Shibaozhai Pagoda and ancient Confucius Temple. On a river cruise of the Yangtze, every day offers a new experience and a myriad of magical places to explore.

Why choose Yangtze river cruises

Some of China’s most unique and fascinating cultural, historical and natural attractions are dotted along the Yangtze River, making Yangtze river cruises an amazing way to experience several areas of China. Cruise companies tailor their trips to include optional shore excursions to fabulous nearby places, such as Fengdu Ghost City and the Tribe of Three Gorges. The most popular Yangtze River tour programme frequented by cruise liners transports visitors downstream along the eastern section of the river from the municipality of Chongqing to the city of Yichang. This is perfect for travellers who wish to only spend three to four days on the water and is available through river cruise companies including Viking Emerald, Victoria Cruises, Century Cruises, President Cruises and Yangtze Gold Cruises. Century Legend cruise ships make the eleven-day journey from Chongqing to the ultramodern metropolis of Shanghai where the river meets the Yangtze Delta and empties into the sea.

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Yangtze river cruises: Countries of the Yangtze River


Bustling Chongqing, China’s largest municipality, pulses with energy and spirit. It is renowned for its fiery hotpot stew which can be sampled at eateries scattered across the city. Chongqing’s rich cultural scene is just as enticing as its cuisine, drawing curious visitors into its countless museums, monuments and the stunning Wulong Karst Geological Park home to gorges, streams and caves. Chongqing lies on the banks of the Yangtze and serves as the starting point for enchanting Yangtze river cruises.


Located in the Central China region, the Hubei province is a thriving cultural, political and economic hub. Hubei boasts gorgeous natural attractions from the Three Gorges of the Yangtze to the snowcapped mountaintops of the Shennongjia district. Combined with the exquisite old Jingzhou City and the province’s buzzing capital Wuhan, you’ll experience a place that you’ll never forget on a cruise down the Yangtze river.


Jiangxi offers cruisers a glimpse into rural China, blanketed in fertile rice paddies and a crisscross of natural and artificial waterways. Quaint, fairytale villages surround the city of Wùyuán and cloud-covered rolling mountains rise dramatically from the verdant fields. Avid tea drinkers on luxury Yangtze river cruises will revel in Jiangxi’s mass tea production, while nature-lovers can keep a keen eye out for the province’s numerous animal species, including the Chinese giant salamander and the South China tiger.


Sprawled on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Jiangsu has been nicknamed ‘the land of fish and rice’ owing to its thriving rice and fish farming industries. Gentle, glistening canals flow through the province, weaving their way alongside charming residential houses. The province’s culture is rooted in its ancient traditions of pingtan storytelling and unique style of opera – kunqu. Jiangsu’s main city, Nanjing, is renowned as the former capital of China under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek and is packed full of important historical sites, making it a must-see on a cruise down the Yangtze River.


Towering mountaintops, quaint villages and ravishing natural beauty characterise the Anhui. It is a deeply rural province, dotted with perfectly preserved ancient villages and craggy granite cliffs rising high into the sky. Anhui’s centrepiece is the exquisite Mount Jiuhua which is clustered together with Mount Wutai, Mount Putuo and Mount Emei. Enjoy ornate religious temples and spectacular panoramic views off your Yangtze river cruise at this hugely significant Buddhist site.


The stylish metropolis of Shanghai is China’s most developed city, where futuristic skyscrapers puncture the sky and frenetic streets burst with boutique shops and throbbing markets down below. Off the best Yangtze river cruise, stroll through the enchanting green gardens of Yuyuan and enjoy cultural exhibits at the Shanghai Museum before discovering the city’s eclectic architecture from the traditional residential area of Qibao to the ornate European-style architecture at the Bund.

Yangtze river cruises: Ports of the Yangtze River

Fengdu Ghost City

The hauntingly beautiful Fengdu Ghost City is a vast complex of ancient shrines and ornate temples situated on the Chongqing Ming mountain at the northern end of the Yangtze River. This unusual and eerie city pays tribute to the afterlife, drawing together concepts from Chinese mythology and Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Fengdu Ghost City dates back nearly 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty and legend has it that two officials came to the mountain and were turned immortal, together becoming the ‘King of Hell’. Cross over the ‘Bridge of Helplessness’ which was supposedly guarded by demons who decide whether to allow the dead to continue to the next stage in their quest towards the afterlife. If you succeed, you may continue to Ghost-Torturing Pass for judgment before the ruler of the underworld and then stand on a stone on one foot at the entrance to Tianzi Palace. Only if you complete these challenges, can you continue to your next life. Today, actors dressed as demons re-enact these tests with visitors, offering them an authentic, spooky experience. Immerse yourself in the legend on your next Yangtze river cruise.

Shibaozhai Pagoda

Clinging to a hill on the side of the Yangtze River in Chongqing is the gorgeous vermillion-coloured Shibaozhai Pagoda which was built using wood in the 18th-century. The striking temple stands out a mile on the grassy green banks, thanks to its quirky architecture and opulent entranceway. Shiboazhai reaches twelve stories high and as you climb the zigzag staircase, passing by old stone paintings and carvings inside the pagoda, you will be rewarded with an extensive view of the Yangtze River at every level. From your cruise down the Yangtze River, explore the ancient temple of Ganyu Palace that perches at the top of Shiboazhai, which is brimming with vibrant life-size statues, and learn about the legend of the greedy monk digging for rice in the Liumi Cave which can be found in the rear hall of the pagoda. You might see what looks like a small well outside the palace. This is called Duck Hole and it is believed that when you drop a live duck down the hole when spring turns to summer, it will float down the Yangtze River.

White Emperor City

White Emperor City a stunning historical complex of endless temples, said once to have been surrounded in a thick white mist. The city lies atop a small island that rises out of the Yangtze River, located at the mouth of Qutang Gorge. A warlord named Gongsun Shu settled in White Emperor City after claiming to have seen the fog rising from the mountain form the shape of a dragon. Marvel at the beautiful paintings and Chinese calligraphy that lines the walls of the temples and walk down to the spectacular Kui Gate which stands grandly at the mouth of Qutang Gorge. Wander around the ancient buildings, such as Tuogu Hall where it is believed that Liu Bei entrusted his son and country to prime minister Zhuge Liang, before making your way towards Mingliang Palace and Guanxing Pavilian – both gorgeous examples of ancient Chinese architecture. An excursion to White Emperor City is a popular option offered by many cruise liners and is definitely worth the trip from a Yangtze river cruise.

The Three Gorges

The otherworldly and picture-perfect Qutang, Wu and Xiling Gorges are the indisputable highlights of a cruise down the Yangtze River. As you make your way from Chongqing to Yichang, you will glide serenely through these impressive deep valleys which offer sensational scenery and imposing cliff faces. At the entrance to Qutang Gorge, intricate characters have been engraved into the Chalk Wall by old Chinese calligraphers, and a little way along from here, you will float by the Meng Liang Stairway – a series of holes carved into the rock. Wu Gorge is famous for the ominous mist that rises and falls inside the gorge, and Xiling Gorge is composed of a number of smaller gorges. A shore excursion to the Three Gorges Dam should be high on the agenda as it is one of the largest feats of construction ever attempted by man, measuring an astonishing 2,335 metres long. It is also worth visiting the Tribe of the Three Gorges, a tranquil scenic spot within Xiling Gorge, while on your Yangtze river cruise. Here you will come across local tribespeople who live primitively in surrounding villages such as the Village on the Water, the Brook-side Village, and the Mountain Village.

Jingzhou Ancient City

Former capital of the Chu kingdom from 689 to 278 BC, the extraordinary city of Jingzhou is drenched in antiquity. The impressive ancient city wall, built during the Ming Dynasty, is the best-preserved in China. Embark on a tour of the towering wall to each of its separate gates and learn how they were once used to trap enemies in-between doors. Granite statues, gardens and fortifications can be found in different sections of the wall and you can find the opulent Xuan Miaoguan Taoist temple by the East gate. On a day off your Yangtze river cruise, spend an afternoon at the Jingzhou Museum where you can find hundreds of thousands of incredible archaeological artefacts, including a Han Dynasty mummy and a selection of bricks from the Song Dynasty. The ancient city is also teeming with magnificent temples from various points in time and brave souls can venture underground to find swathes of ancient tombs, including those of two Ming princes and 18 Chu kings.


Wuhan is the cultural mecca and capital of the Hubei province, where past and present exist together in perfect harmony. Elegant old Buddhist temples are interspersed with cosmopolitan shopping districts and unexpected areas of natural beauty. Climb to the top of the five-floor Yellow Crane Tower, a source of pride in Wuhan, to discover spectacular views before exploring the Baotong Temple, an intricate Buddhist shrine that still functions as a temple for modern-day monks. If you’re after some retail therapy, wander down Jianghan or Han Street to find countless shops, bars and restaurants housed inside buildings reflecting a fusion of traditional and modern Chinese architecture. For a relaxing break from the city streets, jump on a bike tour around the magical East Lake. In the evening, settle down at a lakeside teahouse to watch the splendid sunset over the opaque mountain range before returning to your cruise down the Yangtze River.


Jiujiang is an understated but up-and-coming tourist destination blessed with attractive natural landscapes and multiple landmarks of historical interest. It is home to the magnificent Mount Lushan, China’s most notable mountain range. In the dynastic era, Mount Lushan was religiously significant as the place where the most esteemed masters of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism taught their spiritual concepts. A hiker’s paradise, Lushan National Park offers adventurous travellers the opportunity to climb to Wulao Peak, China’s tallest summit, traversing rugged terrain and weaving through misty forests. Off your Yangtze river cruise, at the foot of Wulao you’ll find the Three Steep Waterfall which gushes gloriously down three-tier cascades and is one of the area’s natural highlights. Jump on a cable car to view these dazzling falls from above. If you’re looking to satisfy your cultural thirst, visit the majestic Donglin Monastery where you can share dinner with Buddhist monks and listen to their religious chants and music.


The venerable city of Nanjing is the former capital of the Six Dynasties under the Han-ruled regimes. It is steeped in historical allure owing to its identity as one of the four ancient cities of China. Here, you will find a culturally significant monument at every turn, from the extravagant Dr Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum with its lavish archway and enormous tombstone pavilion, to the old Nanjing City Wall fortification which dates back to the Ming Dynasty. At the south end of the wall, you will come across Zhonghua Gate a significant landmark in the military history of Nanjing. The city is also held in high religious regard as the home of Confucius Temple which was built on the banks of the shimmering Qinhuai River. An annual lantern fair is held here, which celebrates the town’s traditional folk customs. For a dose of modern history on your Yangtze river cruise, visit the Presidential Palace which now provides collections on the history of modern China, before paying your respects to the victims of the Nanjing Massacre at the Memorial Hall. To finish off the day, head over to the first self-designed Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge which established a Guinness World Record for the World’s Longest Male Iron Bridge, or go for a leisurely stroll around the peaceful Xuanwu Lake Park, a highly regarded scenic spot known as ‘A Bridge Pearl of Nanjing,' before returning to your luxury Yangtze river cruise.

Yangtze river cruises: Best things to do on the Yangtze River

Try some local delicacies

Cruising the Yangtze is a whirlwind for the senses, with different provinces offering up their own delicious local treats. Tuck into some Snack Oil Tea in Chongqing – a bowl of puffed balls of mushed up rice topped with onions and soybeans. In Hubei, try spicy soups and steamed fish cakes, while in Jiangxi the famous dishes include stewed chicken with three cups of sauce, braised pork with bamboo shoots and deep-fried frog. The cuisine in Jiangsu tends to be mild and sweet, with dishes such as sweet and sour fish, meatballs in brown sauce and Nanjing salted duck. Beggar’s Chicken – stuffed and marinated chicken wrapped in wax paper and mud – is a popular dish in both Nanjing and Shanghai. Don't miss out on the amazing cuisine while on your Yangtze river cruise!

Look out for cultural relics along the riverside

The Yangtze River has flowed its course through countless ages and dynasties, witnessing the arrival and continuation of a wealth of cultures and traditions. Discover some of this culture right there on the banks of the river while on your Yangtze river cruise. Hanging coffins can be seen from the water, suspended along the cliff faces, believed to be part of an ancient burial culture. The Trestle Road is still in place against the rocks of the Three Gorges, an elevated pathway that was used by past peoples who used to live there.

Climb the mountains

China is home to some fantastic fog-covered mountains which offer exhilarating hikes and gorgeous views, some of the best experiences off a Yangtze river cruise. Climb to the top of one of the Huangshan mountain peaks or disappear amongst the clouds at the summit of Mount Jiuhua in Anhui province. Jiangxi boasts the towering Mount Sanqing, a famous Taoist sacred mountain in Mount Sanqingshan National Park. Niushou Mountain in Jiangsu offers colourful scenery and sublime vistas.

Browse traditional handicrafts

Jingdezhen in Jiangxi is globally known for its porcelain production characterised by its blue and white patterns and designs. Browse the markets in Jingdezhen for some authentic, intricately-designed ceramics to bring back from your cruise down the Yangtze River. The Yangtze River is also famous for its painted pottery. Local artisans use yellow mud to create pots and bowls which can be found and purchased in shops in Yiching and elsewhere along the river.

Try to spot some river wildlife

The Yangtze River region is rich in unique wildlife as it holds 40 per cent of China’s freshwater. Look out for Chinese alligators, Chinese giant salamander, Yangtze sturgeon, the golden monkey, Chinese softshell turtles, grass carp and red pandas on your Yangtze river cruise. If you’re lucky you might even see a Giant Panda although they tend to seek shelter in the highland forests of the upper reaches of the river.

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