When we arrived from Shanghai to Beijing it seemed like we traveled to another country – people, architecture, and the overall atmosphere are totally different. We were supposed to have three full days here, arriving early afternoon on the first day. But apparently China is infamous for delaying flights (both internal and international), so we didn’t get to the capital till 4:00 pm. When the plane touched down, we saw a thin layer of yellowish smog enveloping the entire city. Unsurprisingly, the unassuming grey architecture and communist signage reminded me of some bits and pieces of Moscow. We got stuck in a terrible traffic jam and didn’t get to our hotel till 6:00 pm, so the only thing we managed to do that day was go out for dinner.
Naturally, next two days were packed with sightseeing. We truly appreciated the history and culture of the city – with UNESCO sites around every corner, it’s full of attractions, sights and areas. We were also impressed by the vastness of Beijing – of its broad six-lane avenues (in one direction) and expansive gardens. Here are all the details of how we spent our time in the capital of China and the list of top things to do and see in Beijing.
HIKE THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
I don’t think a trip to Beijing would be complete without seeing one of the seven wonders of the world. Unwilling to hustle with logistics of the trip, we booked a full day private tour that included visits to the Great Wall and The Summer Palace. When you plan to book your visit to the Great Wall, the most important aspect to consider is which section to visit. In general, there are a variety of options around Beijing – the closest and busiest being Badaling, while the more remote stretches include Jiankou and Simatai, which are quieter but require more effort to get to (and involve vigorous hiking). Our tour took us to a good middle ground – Mutianyu. The latter is a restored part of the wall, and history buffs might argue it is not an authentic experience. Honestly, I don’t think it was any less impressive. Notthing can undermine the fact that you are standing at a site that dates back to 770-221 BC. It was incredible to see the wall on both sides stretch as far as the eye can see – a total of 21,000 km!
In general, the trip should take two to three hours, depending on which section you visit. We left early in the morning, at 8:30 a.m. and arrived at a perfect time – the place was almost tourist-free, and we managed to enjoy the scenic surrounds without having to compete for a spot. To be fair, there were more tourists gathering by the time we left (around 11:00 a.m.) so going early was a smart idea! Going up and down was also quite fun – there is a ski lift bringing you up to the wall, and a toboggan (luge slide) to whizz back down.
TAKE A STROLL IN THE SUMMER PALACE
I think this might have been one of my favorite places during our trip to China. Both Justin and I were thoroughly impressed by the expansive grounds of the imperial garden – the largest and most well-preserved in China dating back to 1750. Another one of Beijing’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Summer Palace is situated around the picturesque Kunming Lake (entirely man-made!). It was the summer retreat of the royal members and was particularly favorited by the Empress Dowager Cixi who didn’t shy to spare a lot of funds and labor to perfect it. The entire Palace spans over 700 acres so you will need sufficient time to explore the area. It is rich with splendid pavilions, halls and temples as well as flawless landscape of natural beauty that exude timeless aesthetic. An elegant stretch of woodwork along the northern shore, the Long Corridor is trimmed with a plethora of paintings, while the slopes and crest of Longevity Hill behind are adorned with Buddhist temples. One of the most impressive features were the Presence of Virtue Temple and the Boat of Purity and Ease – Cixi’s personal project made entirely of marble! I also couldn’t help but note the poetic names of each section of the garden – Longevity Hill, Hall of Serenity, Pavilion of Bright Scenery, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Garden of Virtue and Harmony, Hall of Moral Glory and the like.
If you need information about public transportation to the Summer Palace, here’s a useful link.
WALK THE ICONIC TIANANMEN SQUARE
Located right in the center of the city, Tiananmen Square (literally, Gate of Heavenly Peace) is the iconic places in Beijing, with much historical significance. Built in 1651, it is the third largest square in the world. It is here that Mao Zedong announced the birth of the People’s Republic of China and the famous Tiananmen Gate is adorned with his portrait. You’ll see guards constantly parading on this square, and will have to go through a security check point in order to access the area. Entrance is free.
GET LOST IN THE FORBIDDEN CITY
The city within a city, this massive labyrinth of palaces, pavilions and manicured gardens seems to be a maze of worlds within worlds which holds hundreds of secrets and mysteries of the imperial court. Built in 1406, the Forbidden Palace (so called because it was forbidden for commoners to enter during emperors’ reign) was there to follow the move of the capital of China from Nanjing to Beijing. The Palace Museum, or the Forbidden Palace is the historical home of the Emperor of China, having been the center of Chinese government for over 500 years. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of the largest and most well-preserved palace complexes in the world. It is said that there are 9,999 rooms in this construction – number 9 being the number of the Emperor and thus hording great importance. I loved the time we spent to peruse the multiple manicured green spaces where elegant willow trees draped over canals and arching bridges. The vibrant colors and the intricate ornaments of the halls equally stunning and makes you feel like you step back in time.
Please note that you must show your passport to be able to buy an entrance ticket. Forbidden City is closed for the entire day every Monday, except the Chinese national public holidays and the summer vacation from July 01 to August 3. Another important thing to note is that you have to enter Forbidden City from its southern gate (linked to Tiananmen Square) and exit from its northern gate, which is officially set as a one-way south to north travel route. Thus, it makes sense to tour the Tianamen Square first and then proceed to the Forbidden City.
ENJOY THE SUNSET VIEW AT JINGSHAN PARK
Once you exit the north gate of the Forbidden City cross the street from the underground tunnel and enter Jingshan Park. A 10-minute hike atop the hill will bring you to the pavilion which grants fantastic 360-degree views of the entire city. You’ll be able to get the bird’s view of the Forbidden City itself and be amazed by how much ground you covered. Time your visit to catch sundown reflecting off the gold-tiled roofs!
VISIT BEIHAI PARK
Beihai Park, literally meaning Northern Sea, is a public park and former imperial garden located in the northwestern part of the Forbidden City. First built in the 11th century, it is among the largest of all Chinese gardens and contains numerous historically important structures, palaces, and temples. Built to imitate renowned scenic spots and architecture from various regions of China, the structures and scenes in the Beihai Park are described as masterpieces of gardening technique that reflects the style, architectural skill and richness of traditional Chinese garden art.
TOUR TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
Built in 1420 for the Emperor to show respect to the gods and hold annual ceremonies of prayer to heaven for a good harvest, the Temple of Heaven is a beautiful piece of architecture, and an incredible look into the spirituality of China. The round shape is a symbol of heaven, and the main buildings are formed to replicate this shape perfectly. Full of gorgeous colors, this UNESCO site is located in the south of Beijing and is surely worth your time.
PERUSE THE HUTONG AND NANLUOGUXIANG
If you want to step into time and get an insight into the Beijing of yesteryear (alas renovated), Hutong neighborhood and Nanluoguxiang street are a good place to peruse. You’ll enjoy the narrow (dusty) alleys with their ramshackle and gray-brick courtyard dwellings. The areas are also seeded with interesting art galleries, trendy shops and restaurants – just like in Tianzifang in Shanghai.
SHOP ON XIDAN & WANGFUJING STREETS
If you care to shop around Xidan and Wangfujing streets – located along the Forbidden City on west and east sides, respectively – are filled with souvenirs shops, designer boutiques and shopping malls. There are tons of restaurants and street food stalls as well, so it might be a great place to enjoy lunch or dinner.
SAVOR PEKING DUCK
Visit to Beijing is kind of synonymous with eating Peking duck, and there are a lot of restaurants that serve the famous bird. Da Dong seems to be one of the most popular spots in town. It’s worth noting that they have personnel of over 200 people in the kitchen which made us a bit wary of its quality. We opted for two of the smaller restaurants and Duck de Chine located within trendy complex of 1949 The Hidden City turned out to be our favorite of the two. To be honest none of them matched the quality of Lung King Heen in Hong Kong, but Duck de Chine came pretty close and the Peking duck was excellent.
TIPS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP TO BEIJING:
- Usually foreigners need to apply for a visa before travel to China, but Beijing has a convenient visa free travel policy. As of 2016, it is one of about 16 Chinese cities that have adopted a 72-hour visa-free transit policy. The policy allows foreign tourists to travel around Beijing for up to 72 hours without a visa. Read more about Beijing’s Visa-Free Policy.
- Just like Shanghai, there’s no need to tip for restaurants or services, although taxi drivers never refuse some extra cash.
- When shopping in tourist areas, be wary of higher prices and don’t be afraid to bargain. Starting prices are typically anywhere from 2-4 times the market price of the item. Also, please beware of scammers. At one of the silk shops, I was told I would be given a discount, but was charged the full price!
- The subway system is a cheap and convenient way to get yourself around the city. Buy a prepaid IC Card for convenience when using public transport.
- Taxis are also very cheap, but none of the drivers speak English. Make sure you get a card from the hotel with its name and address written on it. And request your concierge to explain to the taxi driver where you want to go.
Have you been to Beijing? What impressed you most? Is there anything else you recommend doing?
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Linking up with Monday Escapes, Wanderful Wednesday.
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Love your post so much! It looks really stunning and inspiring. Every delicate pattern on each wall or sign is quite attractive. Reading your post makes me desired to travel to Beijing immediately. Thanks so much for your sharing!
Thank you so much for reading. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and hope you will get ti visit Beijing!
Before a few months ago I had visited China to saw Great Wall tour with my family. We spent 3 days and just saw many places and doing many things in Beijing this time was very memorable to me, because
1st day we Visit the Forbidden City, Head to Tiananmen Square, Kick back at Jingshan Park, and Try the Famous Beijing duck
2nd day Watching at the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace, Get Lost in Nanluogu Xiang and Eat at Wangfujing Street
Last day Climb the Great Wall of China and Watch Chinese Acrobats
The help of trek club travel Company we saw different places and enjoyed this places easily and his service was very amazing to us.
Looks like you had a wonderful time, thank you so much for sharing! :)
Thank you for your wonderful photos and information, we are visiting Early April 2018, Beijing 3 days, Xi’an 2 days, Yangzhou 4 days and Shanghai 3 days, very much looking forward to it
Wayne, you are very welcome. I’m glad if the information was helpful. It sounds like a wonderful trip, hope you guys have fun!
The pictures are so beautiful! Very nice and detailed blog. Beijing is wonderful. May I know the travel dates? Is it July? :)
So glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you’ll visit it one day too. We visited in June. Thank you for reading! xx
Visited Beijing in 2009, a year after the country host the Olympic. This is one of my top return destination. I in particular love the 798 Art Zone, Temple of Heaven; plus the lush park within, National Centre for the Performing Arts and Forbidden City i even visited twice. If you like do check out my photo gallery https://captureasia.photoshelter.com/gallery/Beijing-China/G0000jBu20wyRY2U/C0000TUnsSOmNkYs
Wow blue skies! When I was in Beijing the pollution was horrendous. The sky was grey and dark the whole time there. All my pics look crap 😏 I agree that it is a totally different place from Shanghai. I think I preferred Shanghai over Beijing.
Honestly I really couldn’t believe my eyes that it was so clear. We really lucked out!
The hotel we stayed at had this big window that faced this big grey nothingness. The last day we were there I opened the blinds and realized that there were mountains in the background! It was really bad when I was there 😏
So so sad! I hope they eventually manage to do something about it.
Indeed, international news were talking about how bad the weather there. You were very lucky to enjoy a fresh weather.
Oh wow it looks so amazing, I would love to visit the great wall and summer garden the detail is so beautiful. I bet its the most interesting country to visit. Thanks so much for linking up my lovely #MondayEscapes x
I’d still say Japan is closer to my sensibilities in many respects, although exploring Chinese culture and history is remarkable.
I would love love love to visit the Forbidden City and see the Great Wall! Also, I didn’t know of the 72 hour visa free policy. That’s so convenient!!
It totally is Vanessa so you must take advantage! xx
Wow, you packed so much into your short visit! That blue sky really surprised me – alas I’ve never been to China, and I always imaged it constantly being smothered in smog! And I had no idea about the “visa-free” nature of Beijing, sounds like a great side trip as part of a larger Asian holiday!
Jane, I thought the same thing – it’s always smoggy and grey. Thankfully we lucked out with beautiful clear weather!
great guide #wanderfulwednesday
Thank you Tanja! xx
There is so much to see and do! And I want to do all of it! The Forbidden city is huge, I had no idea it was so big. And it was just for the Emperor? Wow. It sounds like you picked a good bit of wall to go to, yes maybe the restoration isn’t so ‘authentic’ but you experienced it as it would have been when it was built, which is authentic in a different way!
It was incredible visit! Honestly, I was impressed with Summer Palace grounds even more, garden and lake are stunning!
This is still defo in my bucket list!!!! Lovely photos, as always, Nano! The Great Wall looks phenomenal!
Thanks lovely! It definitely is a must-visit!
I’d still love to visit Beijing one day!
Angie, I definitely think China, and Beijing in particular, is a must visit! xx
I’d love to go to China one day, the Great Wall of China just looks incredible!
Hope you travel there soon. Thank you for reading! xx
Thank you for sharing. But if you have a girl with you, all three days will be spent only for shopping in Beijing.
Hahaha I guess so. I prefer cafe or restaurant hopping lol
These pictures look incredible! I will be going to China later this year and can’t wait!!
Thank you for reading! How exciting, enjoy! xx
It’s great to see this!And I want to recommend Chengdu to you(not just because I live there).There’s a lot of things to enjoy like food,pandas,Sichuan opera.etc.Well,like your writing!
Wow, you managed to see loads Nano! Honestly, I feel stupid for saying this but I genuinely had no idea the wall was that old! That’s insane & must have felt very special to be seeing it in person. I’ve never been to China but didn’t know about the short duration visa free policy in Beijing – useful thing to know if you’re ever elsewhere in that part of Asia & want to see the city. Peking duck was the very first restaurant food I ate in England as a child so it always brings back fond memories so that’s be top of my list!
Thanks for reading l, Shikha! For some reason I was sure you had been to Beijing. Visa free policy is definitely handy. You can hop there from Hing Kong, for example. Very convenient. As for Peking Duck, definitely a thing to do in Beijing, although Hong Kong still does it better, IMO. ;)
Beijing sounds great! I’ll be visiting later during the year.. I’ll be there for winter.
How exciting! Hope you’ll have a wonderful time! Thank you for reading.
Looks like an amazing adventure. China has been on my list for a while (mainly to see the pandas in Chengdu!) Can’t wait to see more from you trip!
Oooh I wish we could go to Chengdu too, that’s still on my bucketlist. Also, we didn’t manage to go to Xian for the Terracotta Warriors. Here’s to another reason to return! :)
You really crammed it all in for just three days. I did all of these and took 6 days last month but you for sure got the best of bunch. Everything except the “Fake” market. All the girls in our group had to hit that to shop for purses.
John, I guess when you are on the clock, you try to be as efficient as you can. I did miss the “Fake” market though! Next time!
The Great Wall is definitely on the list of sights to see. I just love the colours of those Temples. Love your posts Nano. X
Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comment. I agree, the temples of China are very beautiful. xx
Beautiful place.. Informative and well written post with beautiful photography.. I am a travel blogger and I would love if we stay connected here is a link to my blog https://valoniapiresblog.wordpress.com
Thank you for reading and commenting! I’d love to check out your blog!
Thank you so much dear.
Feel free to follow me for future post