Everything you need to know for visiting Beijing, China
October 13, 2023
For my Tourism Management study, I spent 7 months in Beijing, the capital of China. I have always felt attracted to Asia and to China in particular, because of its interesting and, quite frankly, strange culture. Think about the overwhelming crowds, pollution, lack of hygiene, (strange) manners, but also the kind people and the immense variety which you can see on the streets everyday. Everywhere you go, you will see the mixing of old and new, traditional and modern. Dob’t be surprised if you see someone walking outside in his pyjama’s, a little child wearing split-pants pooping in a public bin or people singing karaoke in the park. I have compiled all my knowledge in this travel guide to Beijing, China. I hope the guide will help you prepare your trip to Beijing. Enjoy!
How to travel to Beijing?
Traveling to Beijing can be an exciting experience and the method of travel would depend on your location and personal preferences. One thing that applies to everyone is that you will probably need to arrange a visa and vaccinations before traveling to china, keep this in mind. Most visitors, including Dutch citizens, require a visa. Below you can find the most common ways to travel to Beijing:
If you are traveling internationally by air, you can book a flight to Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK), which is the main international airport serving Beijing. If you are already in China or a nearby country, you might consider a domestic flights to Beijing.
China has an extensive high-speed rail network. You can take a high-speed train to Beijing from major cities within China. The Beijing Railway Station mainly has trains running to Jinan, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Chengde, Yuanping in Shanxi, and Baotou in Inner Mongolia. There are also plenty of international trains that connect Beijing with neighboring countries, for example the Laos-China Railway.
By car or bus
If you’re in a neighboring city or region, you can consider driving to Beijing. Long-distance buses operate between cities in China and you can find buses traveling to Beijing from various locations. If you decide to drive yourself, keep in mind that traffic conditions and regulations may vary.
I always use 12GoAsia when traveling in other countries. With just a few taps, you can easily book a ride ensuring a seamless and budget-friendly travel experience. Most of the time, you will receive a digital transportation ticket, so you don’t have to worry about printing.
How to get around in Beijing?
There are many ways to get around in Beijing. Here are. themost common ways:
By metro or bus
The best way to get around Beijing is by metro. You can buy a travel card and get around the city easily for only 2rmb per one-way trip, no matter how far you go. The subway can be extremely busy during rush hour, so try to avoid it during this time.
There are also many city buses driving around and these are only 1rmb per line. However, busses are not reliable in Beijing because of the many traffic jams, so they do not have a time schedule.
Bicycles have always been a familiar sight within China. It’s flexible and efficient, especially during rush hours. Shared bicycles can be spotted at almost every corner of Beijing, especially near subway stations, bus stations, and main attractions like Forbidden City, Houhai and Beihai Park. The costs involved are low and after paying a deposit of a few hundred RMB; each ride can be as cheap as one yuan (RMB) for at least 30 minutes.
If you want to take a taxi, make sure you have your destination written down in Chinese. Hotels are happy to help you writing it down. Do not go with the rickshaw taxi’s, because they often will try to scam passengers. If you do use them, carefully check the change they give, because chances a high it is fake money.
Tip: Beijing Smart Card can be used for Airport Express, Beijing Subway, Rail Transit, and local taxis. The card has a preloaded amount of CNY20, which can be used immediately upon redemption. If you want a higher amount, you may top up your card on any top up device.
The best things to do in Beijing
The three most well-known sights in Beijing are Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, but there are many more places to see and things to do in Beijing. Next to the three must-see’s, I will tell you about the city’s other highlights.
Nanluoguxiang is a hutong area with shops, galleries and cafes. Walking here is like taking a step back in time. Many hutongs are being destroyed because of Beijing’s urge to build new things. Even though Nanluoguxiang is very touristic, it is nice to see the old Chinese houses.
Tip: I recommend to go off the main street. The side streets are quieter. You can also book a Half-Day Private Beijing Walking Tour and experience highlights such as Nanluoguxiang, the Bell and Drum Towers, Yandai Xie Street, Back Lakes, and Yinding Bridge alongside lesser-known courtyards on this door-to-door tour.
The Forbidden City
Ranked as one of the best tourist attraction sites in Beijing, this city is a beauty. Dating back to the 14th century of the Yuan Dynasty, the forbidden city was named so because ordinary citizens were not allowed in. The huge palace was built between 1406 and 1420. The buildings that stand as to now are from the 18th century built by the Qing dynasty, after multiple rebuilding and renovations. Surrounded by a 10-meter-tall wall, and towers on its four corners, the city was secured as it hosted 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
If you are into art, you should definitely pay a visit to this old factory ground. Known and less-known artists display their works of art here. It is around 0.6 square kilometers and is characterized by modern art. You. can find the 798 Art District here.
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall is, by far, the most famous and most impressive landmark of China and part of this immense wall is not far away from Beijing. So if you have the time to go outside the city, definitely go here!
Badaling is closest to Beijing, so if you are on a tight schedule but want to see the wall, I recommend you to go to this part, because it will only take half a day. Be warned that it can be extremely busy with all the tourists. You can either book an entrance ticket or book a full-day tour from Beijing to Badaling.
A little bit further away is Mutianyu. This part of the wall requires a bit more climbing, but the view is better, because there are less people and you get to see unrestored parts of the wall. Mutianyu is a full day trip. There are many other (wilder) parts of the wall where you can go for a hike but these two are closest to Beijing.
Lama (YongHe) Temple & Confucius Temple
The Lama Temple is the most famous Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet and is still active as a place of worship and attracting pilgrims from all over the world. It is very well maintained and beautifully decorated. The Confucius Temple was built to pay respect to Confucius and is generally less crowded than the Lama Temple.
The “Bird’s Nest” aka Beijing’s National Stadium
Made famous for hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Beijing National stadium is famous for its state-of-the art architecture, as well as Usain Bolt’s world records in the event. This national treasure also hosts pop and cultural events. The building is called the Birds Nest, because the entire steel structure is exposed making it look like a birds nest.
Tip: there are stalls selling food and beverages around. It’s literally a night market here. Outdoor activities such as rollerblading can be carried here. Heaven for kids! I suggest to visit the stadium at evening to enjoy the vibrant colour of the bird nest stadium!
Fragrant Hills Park (Xiangshan Park)
Fragrant Hills is an imperial garden in the north western part of Beijing. It is best to visit in autumn, because the whole park will be colored with the beautiful autumn leaves of the red smoke tree. It is a big park and it will take approximately three hours to hike around the whole park. I recommend you to go to the top of the mountain. There you will have a panoramic view of the park and, if the sky is clear, also a little bit of Beijing. There is a gondola going to the top for if you do not want to walk.
Tian Tan (Temple of heaven)
The Temple of Heaven served as the place where the emperors would worship the god of heaven and pray for good harvest. Built with ancient Chinese architectural designs, the temple of heaven is graced as one of the largest and most sacred places in China. The total complex is 267 hectares and is also used as park, playgrounds and exercise areas. There are three main constructions: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, The Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Circular Mound Altar. Save some time and book your entrance ticket in advance.
Tip: Tian Tan hosts taiji and karate practice groups in the early mornings, other people play cards and listen to music.
Summer palace (Yiheyuan)
The Summer Palace once was the holiday home of the imperial family, but nowadays it is a popular tourist attraction. You can easily spend a whole day at this place. It is very big and hosts many beautiful buildings, temples and parks. Save some time and book your entrance ticket in advance.
Tip: take a rest from the busy city crowds and rent a boat to float on the lake.
Designed to be occupied by 1 million residents, the square of heavenly peace is the largest city of its kind. This square has other attractions in it with the China National Museum in the east and the Great Hall of the People to its west. Visiting the museum will definitely enlighten you on China’s history.
Tip: combine your visit to Tiananmen Square with a visit to the Forbidden city. GetYourGuide offers a nice walking tour of 4 hours whereby you visit both places.
Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan)
The Old Summer Palace, also called the Garden of Perfection and Light, is a lot less known than the Summer Palace and is therefore quieter. The garden is a mix of Chinese scenery with western architecture. The majority was destroyed in the 1980’s and since then, the park became a ruin site. Walking around the ruins, it is easy to imagine the former grandeur from the buildings.
With the proximity of the great wall, these areas can be visited on the same day. The site, on the Beijing outskirts, holds 13 of the Ming dynasty emperors. The tombs, Changling and Dangling are the two that are opened to the public after their excavations.
The best shopping places in Beijing
Beijing has a diverse shopping scene. Whether you’re interested in traditional markets, modern shopping malls or unique boutiques, Beijing has something for every shopper. It’s important to be prepared to haggle in traditional markets, but in modern malls, fixed prices are more common. Here are some of my favorite shopping places in Beijing:
Wangfujing is one of the most famous shopping streets of Beijing. You can find most upscale and luxurious shopping brands in this street. Personally, I do not like shopping for clothes when I am on holiday, but I still recommend you to visit this street. Especially in the summer, there is always something going on. There are many small sidewalk cafes where you can sit and watch people. The restaurants in this street vary from McDonald’s to Peking Duck.
This historic street has been recently renovated and is lined with shops, restaurants, and traditional Chinese-style architecture. It’s a great place to find both traditional and modern goods. The street is also good for taking pictures. The architecture of the buildings resembles the Qing Dynasty.
Pearl Market & Silk Market
Souvenirs! That is the kind of shopping I like to do. The pearl market and silk market are two indoor markets that provide silk, tea, clothes, bags, shoes, make-up, pearls, jewellery, toys, and most importantly: souvenirs! I prefer the silk market over the pearl market, because from my experience the sellers were a little bit less aggressive here. It is important you haggle about the price in these markets and the sellers will not easily let you go. The pearl market is close to the Temple of Heaven and luckily for me, the silk market is in Chaoyang district, right next to the hotel I used to work. So that is where I spend a lot of my free time.
My favorite places to eat in Beijing
Beijing is known for its diverse culinary scene, offering a mix of traditional Chinese cuisine, regional specialties, and international flavors. Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Beijing:
Wangfujing Snack Street
Right next to Wangfujing shopping street is a snack street where you can get all the weird foods, such as spiders, scorpions, snakes and even seahorses on sticks. But do not worry, if you do not want to eat this, there are also many traditional Beijing snacks. Try the bean juice, steamed buns, rice cakes, fried pork liver or preserved fruits which you can buy at many of the stands.
Jianbing Chinese Pancake
The Jianbing pancake is my favorite Beijing snack. It is very spicy so ask for less pepper when ordering it. You can find it at the food stands which can be found in most parts of the city in the morning.
Peking Duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing. The most important part is the crispy skin, so the authentic restaurants will serve mostly the skin and little meat. It is eaten with cucumber, scallion, sweet bean sauce and small pancakes.
Hot Pot is a kind of stew. A hot metal pot is placed in the middle of the table and ingredients are put in the pot and cooked at the table. Ingredients can include mushrooms, meat, vegetables, seafood, dumplings and wontons. My favorite kind of hot pot is the Sichuan Hot Pot. It’s not from Beijing, but can be found in many hot pot restaurants. Be careful, this hot pot is spicy.
Lao She Teahouse
Make sure to visit a teahouse when traveling to Beijing. Lao She Teahouse serves a variety of traditional Chinese dishes and organizes tea ceremonies and Peking opera performances. A must-visit when traveling to Beijing!
The best places to party in Beijing
Beijing has a lively nightlife scene with a variety of bars, clubs, and entertainment venues. Whether you’re into electronic music, live performances, or just a relaxed pub atmosphere, I’m sure you will find something that you like. Keep in mind that some venues may require identification for entry, so it’s advisable to bring a valid ID. Here are some of my favorite places to party in Beijing:
Sanlitun Bar Street
Most expats and backpackers hang out in Sanlitun Bar Street at night. Many clubs and bars with western music can be found here. Chocolate is a long-standing nightclub known for its diverse music genres, including electronic, hip-hop, and pop. During the day, Sanlitun (Soho) is also good for shopping.
Gongti (Workers’ Stadium) Area
Gongti is another popular nightlife area with a concentration of clubs and bars. It’s known for its dynamic atmosphere, and many venues host international DJs and themed parties. Mix Club and Vic’s are two famous club that plays a mix of electronic dance music and hip-hop.
Hou Hai Lake
Go to Hou Hai if you want to relax and have a drink next to the lake while listening to live music. Hou Hai has a cosy atmosphere, because the traditional style of most of the buildings and the Chinese lanterns. If you want a relaxing night out, go to Hou Hai. If you want to party all night, Sanlitun is the better option.
The best accommodations in Beijing
Depending on your preferences and budget, book accommodation in advance. Beijing offers a wide range of options, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels. These are my favorite places:
If you’re traveling on a budget I can recommend to stay overnight in the P.Loft Youth Hostel, located in downtown Beijing, close to the Hutong (alley houses) neighborhood behind the Lama Temple. This property offers dorm rooms, a little shop and very kind staff that can help you with all your questions.
Tip: bring a sarong or something else that you can hang around your bed, because the beds have no curtains (at the moment).
Another option is to book an apartment in Beijing. The Beijing Elegant Seasons Park Apartment is situated in a newly developed residential area which lies close to the metro station and Beijing’s attractions. The flat has all the essentials for a comfortable stay and provides a great view.
The Beijing Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel is my favorite place to stay in Beijing. My parents and friends stayed multiple nights in this beautiful hotel. This Chinese decorated hotel offers an ancient layout and decorative pieces. All rooms are decorated in rich red Chinese fabrics and unique dark wood furnishings. In some rooms, you have a beautiful view of the courtyard. The breakfast was delicious and the courtyard was great to settle after a busy day. Very comfortable beds and fancy bathroom facilities.
Some other insider tips for visiting Beijing, China
Public toilets in Beijing are the traditional squat-style and often very very dirty. Try to avoid if not absolutely necessary.
Many Chinese students will talk to you to practice their English. This is fun, but do not accept their invitation for dinner or drinks, this is most likely a scam.
Take a morning walk through the park to see people practicing Tai-Chi. In the afternoon, the parks are often used for dancing or karaoke.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language. While English might be understood in tourist areas, it’s helpful to learn some basic Chinese phrases.
Besides the Hebei Province (Beijing), there are many other beautiful provinces to visit in China. One example is Yunnan, one of the most beautiful provinces in china. Should you want to visit Yunnan, take a look at Yunnan Travel Agency‘s excursions for some inspiration!
In a nutshell, my 7-month escapade in Beijing was like riding a rollercoaster through the heart of Chinese culture, where ancient traditions dance alongside modern marvels. Picture my Beijing travel guide as your trusty sidekick, helping you survive the Chinese transportation, uncover hidden gems like Nanluoguxiang, and feast on everything from Peking Duck to street snacks. Beyond the usual attractions like Tiananmen Square, Beijing’s got surprises like the 798 Art District. Accommodations? I’ve got options for every vibe – from a cozy hostel to Chinese decorated hotels. Insider tip: beware of English-speaking students offering dinner; it’s probably a scam! So, gear up for a trip to Beijing, China! Safe travels!
Any questions about the above mentioned information? Feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below.
This article is part of the GPSmyCity mobile app. You can download it, read this article offline and obtain travel directions (by foot, car or bicycle) to the places mentioned in this article. Click here to download it.
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