Group tours are always an option, but often feature unwelcome shopping stops, leaving less time to enjoy the sights. Do your research, ask questions, and if the package price seems too high or low, be skeptical. The best source of information is on Fodor's forums (www.fodors.com), where many travelers share the good, the bad, and the ugly, like pressured tipping, frequent shopping stops, and low-quality food.
Beijing Discovery Tours. This American-Chinese company can arrange private tours of Beijing, the surrounding sights, and beyond. The company is extremely reliable and thorough. 800/306–1264; 130/1112–0229; www.beijingdiscoverytours.com.
Bespoke Travel Company. Run by a friendly English woman who has spent most of her adult life in China, this energetic and knowledgeable tour company can arrange customized excursions to anywhere in China but specializes in trips to the east coast. It also offers interesting "signature experiences" in Beijing and Shanghai. 07A110, 7th fl., 10 Jintong Xi Lu, Beijing, Beijing, 100020. 151/0167–9082; www.bespoketravelcompany.com.