Beijing Travel Guide: Exploring China’s Modern and Ancient Capital City
Beijing is big. It’s chaotic. And always has something going on. All of these things can make Beijing travel a bit daunting, but make Beijing what it is – a city you cannot miss in China. To help you along the way I wanted to put together this Beijing travel guide.
Beijing is China’s capital city – and it’s also China’s ancient capital city. With over 800 years of history, Beijing will not disappoint when it comes to history and culture.
Home to the largest collection of historical sites in China, and one of China’s most important hubs for business and trade, Beijing travel will not disappoint.
Beijing Travel: When to Visit Beijing
Worried about the air quality in Beijing? You might not have to worry so much. In 2018, Beijing didn’t even make the top 100 cities for bad air quality, and it improves every year. You may want to watch the weather in Beijing, however, as it varies a lot throughout the year.
The best time to visit is April – May, and September – October. During the winter months, it can get extremely cold and in the summer months unbearably hot and humid.
Beijing Travel Guide: How to Get There
Beijing has two international airports, Beijing Capital International Airport and the new Beijing Daxing International Airport. Both of these serve flights from all over the world, as well as domestic flights.
Flying is certainly the easiest way to get to Beijing from abroad, and it will make your Beijing travel a lot easier. Otherwise, there are other options from neighbouring countries, such as a train from Russia or the Trans-Mongolian train from Mongolia.
Coming from Hong Kong, there is both a high-speed and regular train serving between Hong Kong and Beijing. The high-speed is quite luxurious and takes only a few hours, but it can be very expensive – more than a flight.
From in China
Coming from other cities in China, you may fly to either of the international airports or one of the two other domestic airports in Beijing.
The easiest way to travel around China, however, is the train. The train network in China is vast, serving North, East, South, and West. Trains are very reliable, frequent, and comfortable. You can take sleeper trains for very cheap taking you across the country. Depending on the distance, these can take days. Yes, that’s right. Days on a train. It’s not that bad – I promise. These trains offer seating, standing, and tickets that give you beds. Shorter, fast trains only have seating – which is very modern and comfortable.
If you’re travelling from Shanghai to Beijing or vice versa, the easiest option is the train. There are multiple high-speed trains every day serving this route. It takes just a couple of hours – about the same time as a flight. There are also multiple flights daily serving Beijing-Shanghai.
Getting Around Beijing
The easiest way to get around Beijing is via its vast metro system, which may seem complicated at first but can be a great way for you to get you bearings. The Beijing metro serves all main attractions, even the Great Wall!
Beijing Travel Guide: What Not to Miss
Beijing is so full of history and culture it’s hard to visit everything if you’re tight with time. 5 days – a week should give you enough time to really get into Beijing culture and get your bearings around this massive city, seeing all the sites, tasting the food and also having a little bit of breather time here and there. If you can’t find 5 days, 2 or 3 will allow you to see a couple of the main sites.
Great Wall of China
Although you can visit the Great Wall of China from various cities (it’s big, after all), Beijing is the most popular place to visit, due to ease of accessibility and the various stretches of wall available to visit.
There are several areas of the wall you can visit, all varying in climbing difficulty and distance from Beijing. A trip to the Great Wall of China will take up a whole day, as it is around 2 hours from Beijing at its closest.
The Forbidden City
Aside from the Great Wall, visiting the Forbidden City is the second most popular attraction amongst visitors. And due to the size of it, it is also a day trip. It is the world’s largest imperial palace and takes up an area of 720,000 sq m (7,750,000 sq ft), so set some time aside to get lost inside this piece of history.
A ‘Hutong’ is an old alleyway, and Beijing is full of these – although, as Beijing starts to build up more and more, they are slowly disappearing. The Hutongs are a big part of Beijing culture, and a walk around these winding alleyways can see you deeply immersed in this culture. Beijing’s most famous hutong, Nanluoguxiang, is not to be missed. Here there are various shops, cafes, and bars to visit.
The Temple of Heaven
Not only an important piece of history, but the Temple of Heaven has also been described as “a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design. It is truly beautiful.
The Temple of Heaven history begins in the 1400s and was the most important of Beijing’s imperial temples. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens you can also enjoy escaping the city.
The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is a great place to visit during your Beijing travel to escape the bustling city life and relax. It is the largest and best-preserved royal park in Beijing, and walking around here is truly beautiful. You will forget the hustle and bustle of the city and be able to breathe here!
Beijing opera might not be for everybody, but it is a deep part of Beijing history. It’s regarded as one of China’s cultural treasures and is a classic art form of imperial China.
From ancient history to modern. After visiting the hutongs, why not visit Sanlitun – the core of modernisation in Beijing. Here you will find Beijing’s shopping hub, great restaurants, up-market bars, and chic cafes. It is a popular location for many Beijing expats.
Beijing Travel Guide: What to Eat
Beijing food is a nice mix of Northern Chinese style food taste combined with its own style. The food in Beijing can be salty, oily, and packed full of flavour. A top tip in China, as far as you can, stick with Chinese food. Depending on your stomach, it might take some getting used to.
Two typical things to try in Beijing during your Beijing travel are;
Visit Beijing, the birthplace of Peking Duck, and don’t try it? Did you even visit Beijing? Beijing travel is not complete without trying Peking roast duck. You will see various establishments offering this dish. It’s not cheap, so I recommend getting a couple of friends together and sharing a duck.
Jianbing is a type of pancake you will find being served on street stalls, often in the morning near to metro stations to feed hungry commuters. It’s a savoury pancake filled with a crispy sheet, lettuce, sauce, and sausages if you want to add them. These delicious filling snacks cost less than a dollar and are a great idea to have when refuelling during your Hutong walk.
The most important thing to remember during your Beijing travel is to enjoy yourself. Embrace the culture and explore a city like no other!
Note: China is currently closed to foreign visitors (October 2020)
Pro Beijing Travel Tip: It is not a requirement for restaurants in Beijing to have bathrooms, and smaller more local establishments, especially in the Hutongs, will not have a toilet. Instead, they will point you towards the communal Hutong toilet. These are squat toilets, are completely open once inside (ladies too) and are pretty much simply a hole in the ground – with a good plumbing system. There won’t be any toilet roll here so bring your own!!!!