Beijing highlights for 2 days – 10 tips

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
3
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
10
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
5
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
1
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
10
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
10
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
65 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
China
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 240
Time of year visited
July
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
163rd/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 50% SUMMARY RATING: Great Experience

Summary

Beijing is the political, cultural and historic centre of China and, with its world famous attractions of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden Palace, the Summer Palace, and nearby Great Wall, it is a must for any visit to China

 

I lived for 2 years in Beijing, so wanted to use this not to write some kind of all-encompassing travel guide, but just share with you 10 tips on what I would suggest to get the most out of a 2-3 day trip

 

  • Tip #1 – make sure to walk through the Hutongs.  You’ll naturally cover the main attractions of the Great Wall and Forbidden Palace as part of your visit, but make sure that you give yourself at least a couple of hours to walk, and get lost, through the historic Hutongs just to the north of the Forbidden City.  Hutongs are traditional narrow streets that formed by the connection between the traditional courtyards that 4 generations of northern Chinese families used to live in, and provide a sharp contrast to the modern day Beijing of dramatic economic growth and glistening skyscrapers

 

  • Tip #2 – visit the “wild wall” section of the Great Wall.  The Great Wall is iconic, and a must when visiting Beijing.  But the main sites of Badaling and Mutianyu can be super hectic with the sheer number of tourists and tacky infrastructure around them.  Instead, as long as you’re in a basic level of fitness, head to one of the remoter wild wall sections, such as Jinshanling.  There are way way fewer people, very similar views and, critically, that feeling of wow and adventure as you’re heading off into the distance on one of the Wonders of the World . . . something it is very hard to experience in the busier sites.  I’ve written a more detailed review of this experience here – Walking the wild Great Wall of China by Jinshanling – so check out for more detailed tips

 

  • Tip #3 – priorities if short on time.  I think 3 days is about right for Beijing, but appreciate that some may have less time.  I’d prioritise as follows: #1 The Forbidden City and area around it, including the Hutongs and grabbing some Peking Duck, and Tiananmen Square (you need to walk through the square to access the Forbidden City). #2 The Great Wall.  #3 The Summer Palace.  #4 The Temple of Heaven Park.  #5  Other attractions such as Behei Park, the Lama Temple and the Drum & Bell Towers.  You can easily fit #1 – #4 in 2 days whereby you aim for #1 and #4 on Day 1 and #2 and #3 on Day 2, but just bring the energy with you!

 

  • Tip #4 – Food.  Peking Roast Duck is of course the signature dish and the Beijing Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant just to the east of the Forbidden City is the classic, if overpriced, place to have it (note its called Peking rather than Beijing just because Peking was the old “mispronounced-by-foreigners” name given the Beijing). But be sure to also try the Beijing dumplings which are actually more widely eaten in Beijing and have a variety for you to chose from

 

  • Tip #5 – Beijing is massive and so are the famous sites.  The city itself sits within 6 ring roads, the later of which is around 188km / 117 miles long, and with a population of around 22 million.  So getting around can take a while – especially trips to outlying sites like the Summer Palace (40mins by taxi) and the Great Wall (1.5 hours – 2.5 hours depending on which section you chose).  The famous sites are also massive – the Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square are more than a square km (half a square mile); and the Summer Palace is 3 square kms (1 square mile).  So be prepared for quite a lot of walking, which in the stifling Beijing summer heat (temperatures can break 40 Celsius / 104 Fahrenheit) can be energy sapping

 

  • Tip #6 – try to break the language barrier.  Other than your hotel and tourist spots, don’t expect much English to be spoken.  After all China is so vast, and at times insular, that it doesn’t really make sense for the vast majority to know anything other than Mandarin (and the local dialects).  Be aware of it, but also see if you can bridge the barrier by using google’s simultaneous translator function (which is now allowed in China).  You’ll be amazed just how open and how much you can learn from a taxi driver on one of those long rides to the Summer Palace or Great Wall.  Might even be the best memory from your visit

 

  • Tip #7 – Travel in Beijing.  Naturally with 22m people, Beijing is crowded and has a few difficulties to be aware of when travelling as a foreigner.  The first one is a bit obvious, but try to avoid the rush hour – you can get bordering on gridlock sometimes when trying to travel across the city by car, and the subway will bring a new meaning to you for crammed in.  The second is about taxis  – there are 71,000 taxis in Beijing (5x New York City), so there are usually plenty available.  The problem is that Beijing isn’t the super-friendly-to-foreigners- city it used to be and you may likely get drivers refusing to take you just because of the extra hassle of trying to understand a foreigner.  There isn’t that much you can do, although having the address written in Chinese can help.  Uber is not allowed in China, but I do recommend downloading the Chinese version of Didi which is basically the same and has the English language option

 

  • Tip #8 – be ready for some pollution.  Beijing’s pollution has improved significantly over the past 10 years (I still remember it when it was at its worst – sports had to be cancelled and you’d find black residue in your nose), but it will still probably be roughly ten times worse than you are used to.  Sometimes you’re lucky and its a bright clear day (in fact sometimes you’re really lucky and they fire up the “artificial rain enhancement rockets”), others it can get a bit smoggy.  2 days won’t harm you

 

  • Tip #9 – don’t expect it to be cheap.  Whilst China is still some way behind the West in average incomes, and for sure there are various things you can do in Beijing that are very cheap, some things (especially hotels, restaurants and bars) can still be western prices or more.  Bear in mind that China is a land of extremes and Beijing has more billionaires than any city in the world

 

  • Tip #10 – other attractions if you have time.  The Lama Temple is very pretty and worth visiting if you haven’t been to a large Buddhist Temple before.   The Drum and Bell Towers are great for views, and make sense to check out when walking around the nearby Hutongs.  If you are spending the whole day at the Summer Palace, it’s worth a trip to the nearby Fragrant Hills Park, especially in Autumn.  And of course, Beijing has some cracking bars – start off in Sanlitun and see where the lash takes you

highlights

#1 The Forbidden City - Beijing's huge palace right in the centre of the city that encapsulates the former imperial grandeur of the past centuries

#2 Hiking parts of the Wild Wall just to the north of Beijing. Far quieter than the other sections and gives you that real sense of adventure

#3 Walking through some of the traditional hutongs and picking up various bits and pieces to buy as souvenirs

#4 Checking out the giant and world-famous Tiananmen Square

#5 Walking through the beautiful gardens surrounding the lake of The Summer Palace just on the outskirts of Beijing

#6 The local food - for sure Peking Duck, but also many of the other varieties that call Beijing home. In particular, the dumplings

#7 - The Temples of Heaven and Earth with their grand designs, and gorgeous surrounding gardens

#8 The Fragrant Hills Park next to the Summer Palace for walks through the hills and gardens

#9 Some of the more touristy walls such as Badaling or Mutianyu. Super busy, but still stunning

#10 Lashing in the various bars in Sanlitun

#11 The Lama Temple - one of the most beautiful Buddhist Temples you will see

Some broad tips for travelling in China

  • China is vastboth in terms of its sheer land area, population, economy, but also its history and culture.  You could spend a lifetime travelling China and still only scrape the surface.  Very much like a continent on its own and, in recommending a book to read or movie to watch, it’s a bit like recommending a book to read on “Europe”.  However, I did find that the book Wild Swans by Jung Chang, gave me good context on modern Chinese history.  The book tells the true story of 3 generations of women living in China from 1909 to modern day and I’d highly recommend
  • The Chinese peopleit’s often difficult to interact with locals in China. There are certainly strong cultural differences that go deeper than you would experience in most other parts of the world, but the main problem is of course the language.   Get out google translate for simultaneous translation.  You’ll be surprised how keen the locals will be to speak to you, and just how interesting you may find their stories
  • Frustrationstravelling in China can often be difficult . . . scream-out-loud, pull-all-your-hair-out, call everyone a c**t, never-ever-going-back style difficult.   The language barrier, the often radically different way of doing things, the combo of an often world leading digital country mixed in with archaically manual processes can all make it feel at times like a challenge rather than a joy.  I lived in China for 2 years and experienced a lot of these frustrations.  My advice is simply to go with it, its all part of the adventure, and above all don’t lose your temper.  Shouting at someone or generally showing frustration will just be viewed by the Chinese as embarrassing and, at worst, a loss of face for them, which means you’ve got very little chance of them helping you.  Patience, politeness and a smile will often see them wanting to help you.  They’re not trying to be difficult . . . most of the time 🙂

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone