Beijing Forbidden City
Forbidden City, Beijing (Photo credit: Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke)

Beijing Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • Capital of China and one the world’s most populous cities, with ~20 million residents. 
  • With a rich 3000-year history, Beijing is one of the oldest cities in the world.
  • Has been the political and cultural center of China for more than 700 years.
  • Host city of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
  • Nicknames: the Celestial City, the Northern Capital, The Center of the World.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY).
  • Spoken languages: primarily Mandarin. Sizable English speaking community.
  • Best time to visit: from September to November (cool, relatively humid), and from March to May (although dust storms are common in the spring).
  • Arriving via airport: hail a taxi from the taxi stand, and make sure the driver turns the meter on (~130-200 Yuan from Terminal 3 to downtown), take the Airport Bus, or the Airport Express subway line to the city (a one-way ticket is 25 Yuan).

WHERE TO STAY

Stay in the city center to be close to all the major sights, attractions, and the best food options. Many of the major international hotel chains (e.g. Grand Metropark, Hilton) are conveniently located. For budget options, look for mid-range chains (e.g. Home Inn, Days Inn).

GETTING AROUND

  • The Beijing subway is 2 RMB for all lines and destinations (except Airport Express).
  • Taxi is 12 RMB (13 RMB at night) for first 3 km, 2 RMB (2.4 RMB at night) per additional km, 3 RMB (3.4 RMB at night) from 15 km and above. Taxis can be called at 96103.

BEIJING NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is officially 18 (not enforced at all), and there is no last call (many restaurants and bars stay open all night).
  • Bar scene: There are many nice cafes and bars along the Tian Qiao Shi’chang Byway, including unique tea shops and wine houses.
  • Clubbing scene: There are many bars and restaurants located along the W Da Zhan’lan Street and the Tie’shu Byway.
  • Trendy scene: Another popular urban spot is the Qian Hai Bei’yan and the Hou Hai Nan’yan roads, full of bars and wine bars with great views of the sea.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Note: there is a great variety of landmarks in Beijing, ranging from ancient Chinese temples and pagodas all the way to modern amusement parks and gardens.
  • The four temples of Beijing (Heaven, Sun, Moon, Earth) are religious buildings where the Emperors would pray and make offerings to heaven.
  • The Tian’an Men (the Gate of Heavenly Peace) is the third largest city square in the world (at 440,000 sq. meters), known worldwide as the setting for numerous historic events.
  • The Forbidden City encompasses the Imperial palaces and temples – witness where the Emperors lived.
  • The World Park is a theme park featuring scale models of unique world landmarks, including the Sphinx, Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and many more.
  • The Ba Da Ling Great Wall is the entrance to one of the world’s wonders – the Great Wall of China.
  • The “Bird’s Nest” and the Beijing National Aquatics Center, where the Summer Olympic Games of 2008 were held.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Note: Contrary to popular belief, taking a stroll on the Great Wall is not that pleasant – the paths are steep and can actually be tiring (and somewhat dangerous). Additionally, only a small part of the Great Wall in Beijing is actually a tourist site – people rarely venture beyond the designated visitor zone.
  • There are many interesting villages and temples in Beijing where you can experience local architecture and music first-hand. Among the nicest parks to visit are the Beihai Park, the Jingshan Park, the Houhai Park, and the Zhongshan Park.
  • Go for a walk through the Forbidden City, where there are many museums, statues, and great restaurants.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Don’t be surprised if people you meet don’t speak any English. Although Beijing is extremely open to foreigners, this doesn’t mean everyone will understand you! Be prepared – bring maps with English along as you travel, make use of road signs, and jot down certain names of landmarks in Mandarin. Consider bringing a pocket Chinese dictionary.
  • While China is known for its fascinating culture and history, you may encounter some unpleasant local habits. Don’t be surprised if you see people litter, smoke in public, or spit on the ground. Just be sure to watch where you walk!
  • Where to find good cheap eats: almost everywhere in Beijing! Visit a local Chinese park and try out some of the local specialties. Warning: avoid eating food from street vendors. They are known for using cheap/poor ingredients, and the food could give you food poisoning and/or an upset stomach.
  • Dangerous areas: Beijing is generally very safe. Exercise common sense. A word on taxis: while hailing taxis at night, only enter official ones (with signs on the roof), as others might not be as safe and trustworthy.

RECOMMENDED BEIJING GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days


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Beijing Travel Guide was last modified: September 26th, 2016 by Nick
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