In the Footsteps of John Thomson in China

10 - 25 Apr 2021
  • Cultural Tours

About the tour

John Thomson was a pioneering Scottish photographer, geographer and traveller. He was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East in the 1860s, documenting the people, landscapes and artefacts of modern day Singapore, China, Vietnam and Cambodia in a series of extraordinary, high quality images. He was the first to instruct the Royal Geographic Society in the art of travel photography and he pioneered social reportage - his work, documenting the lives of the poorest street people in London, formed the basis for photojournalism. However, his photography covered a wide swathe of regions and people and he photographed both paupers and princes, charming his way in the homes of the aristocracy and royalty in both Asia and England. The great Isabella Bird followed in his footsteps.

This tour follows in the footsteps of Thomson from Canton (Guanzhou) and up the coast to Beijing. It visits the places he visited and seeks out the sights he photographed that remain to this day. You will travel through the streets of Shanghai and Beijing with local historic societies, learning about the society and history of Beijing and Shanghai in the period that Thomson was there.

This tour is led by the accomplished photographic historian, Deborah Ireland, who has lectured widely on Thomson and written about Isabella Bird's travels in China.

For more information on Thomson and to see some of his work, please visit

Your tour leader

Picture of JBT tour leader, Deborah Ireland

Deborah Ireland

Deborah Ireland FRGS is a freelance curator and author specialising in the history of photography, with a particular interest in travel photography. Her previous posts include assistant curator at The Royal Photographic Society and director of photography at AA Publishing. She has curated exhibitions and written for the Royal Geographical Society and Royal Photographic Society, including Isabella Bird, a photographic Journal of travels through China 1894 – 1896. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, she has been a judge on Travel Photographer of the Year since its inception in 2003.

Need more information?

  • Tel: (Toll Free) 1-8777-398-764
  • Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm
Contact us

Itinerary at a glance

  • 10 April (Sat) Guangzhou: Arrive in Guangzhou, which was historic Canton. Visit Culture Park and the city museum. Take the ferry to Whampoa Island, which was the anchorage for Western ships in the 19th century, and see the Pearl River divers.
  • 11 April (Sun) Guangzhou: Visit old Canton, including Huaisheng Mosque and the old Muslim quarter, and wander down to the Pearl River. On the riverfront see the old Post Office and the old Customs House. Visit historic Shamian Island, which was leased to the British. See the British-built consulate dating from 1865 and explore the colonial era buildings, many now restored and operating as coffee bars, upmarket tea houses and antique shops.
  • 12 April (Mon) Guangzhou / Shantou / Xiamen: Transfer to Shantou (historic Swatow). Explore the historic quarter dating from the 19th century before continuing to Xiamen (historic Amoy). Arrive and transfer to the hotel
  • 13 April(Tues) Xiamen: Take the ferry to Gulangyu Island, the colonial heart of old Amoy and location of the international settlement. Explore the settlement including the US Consulate building, the former Office of Great Northern Telegraph Company (Denmark), the Foreigners’ Football Field and the Christian cemetery
  • 14 April (Wed) Xiamen: Visit the south of Xiamen Island to see South Putuo Temple. Drive out to the Wanshi Hills east of Xiamen, with their forests, lakes and oddly shaped rocks, and visit the White Deer grotto
  • 15 April (Thurs) Xiamen / Fuzhou: Drive via Anxi to visit the famous Oolong tea plantations. Travel to Fuzhou (historic Foochow)
  • 16 April (Fri) Fuzhou: Explore the old European and Chinese quarters of Fujian. Travel out to Drum Hill and visit Yongquan Monastery
  • 17 April (Sat) Fuzhou: Take a cruise along the Min River before driving into the interior. Continue to Jinshan Monastery on an island in the river. Return to Fuzhou. In the evening visit the night market
  • 18 April (Sun) Fuzhou / Shangahi: Take the high-speed train to Shanghai. Transfer to the hotel in the north Bund
  • 19 April (Mon) Shanghai: Explore the historic heart of Shanghai, including the Bund and the French Concession. Walking tour of historic Shanghai, looking at the Shanghai of the 1870’s. See Longhua Pagoda and temple in south Shanghai. Dinner on the Bund
  • 20 April (Tues) Shanghai (Optional Ningpo Day): Full day at leisure or the option to take a day trip to Mount Putuo
  • 21 April (Wed) Shanghai / Beijing: Take the high speed train to Beijing. Arrive and walk to see the Temple of Heaven
  • 22 April (Thurs) Beijing: Visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Visit Prince Gong’s mansion and the hutongs of old Beijing and the Courtyard Institute. Walking tour looking at Beijing of the 1870’s.
  • 23 April (Fri) Beijing: Visit the Summer Palace in the morning. In the afternoon visit the Great Wall at Jinshanling and The Ming Tombs
  • 24 April (Sat) Beijing: Visit Peking Observatory. Afternoon at leisure before a farewell Peking Roast Duck dinner in the evening
  • 25 April (Sun) Beijing: Depart Beijing

Tour cost

US $3,982 per person sharing (excluding international flights and transfers)

Book now

Coronavirus Update

Updated information on our response to COVID-19.

Read more