Beijing is located in the northeastern part of China and is the second largest city in the country, with a population of over 21.5 million people! It’s home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Beijing is a mix of ancient complexes and modern architecture. This sprawling capital city is the perfect place to discover the vast history of China.
WHAT TO PACK
Our trip to Beijing coincided with our visit to Hong Kong. HK is very hot & tropical, even in early October when we visited. Beijing however, is warm during the day, but very chilly at night and in the early mornings. I recommend bringing a pair of closed-toe shoes and a sweatshirt or a light jacket (like a jean jacket) for the mornings & evenings. The days warmed up and I was comfortable in just a tank top, pants and sandals.
HOW TO GET TO BEIJING
As with all of China, (with exception to Hong Kong) you will need a Chinese Visa to enter Beijing. Check out my post on how to obtain a Chinese Visa as a US Citizen here. We combined our trip to Hong Kong with Beijing, so we flew into Beijing from HK. It was a 3-hour direct flight on Air China – nice flight/plane with friendly attendants.
From the airport to our hotel, we chose to take the subway. While Beijing has an easy, on-time and clean subway, the initial process of getting our train tickets was a little overwhelming!
Unlike Hong Kong, Beijing doesn’t have any English signage or translation. Very few people speak English, which surprised us, only because it’s such a large metropolitan city. Once we obtained our train tickets, it was smooth sailing from there!
We stayed at the Legendale Hotel in Beijing. It’s located in the heart of Beijing, easily accessible to both the old & new city. The subway station is just across the street, which is perfect when you have luggage. This hotel is very nice, but because Beijing is very spread out, no matter where you choose to stay, you will most likely be doing a ton of walking.
WHEN TO VISIT
We (inadvertently) visited China during their national holiday, Golden Week… which is when almost every family in China is on holiday! So yes, we were touring the second largest city in China alongside the other 1.3 billion people in the country! Many of the tourist attractions were unusually busy, making for some frustration and long lines. We still had a great time, I will just choose a different week next time we go back!
Off-peak season begins right after Golden Week, making October the perfect time of year to visit. The weather is still really nice but you avoid the crowds.
WHAT WE DID
- Jingshan Park
- Summer Palace (UNESCO WHS)
- Temple of Heaven (UNESCO WHS)
- Yin on 12
- The Great Wall of China (UNESCO WHS)
- The Forbidden City (UNESCO WHS)
- Tiananmen Square
- Central Perk
2-DAY GUIDE TO BEIJING
Spend the morning walking along the moat outside of the Forbidden City along the way to Jingshan Park. The Park sits directly north of the Forbidden City. Climb the stairs to the pavilion at the top for breathtaking views of the Forbidden City. We went early in the morning and enjoyed watching the people practicing Tai Chi and playing traditional Chinese instruments throughout the park.
The Summer Palace was built as an imperial garden during the Qing Dynasty. There is a small fee to enter, which includes access to the many lakes, palaces & gardens within the walls. Their hours change based on the season and it costs 30 CNY to enter the park during peak season. That comes out to less than $5 USD. Massive in size, it covers almost two square miles of land, with over half being water.
To be honest, it was incredibly packed and overwhelming because of the holiday. The grounds of the Palace were a bit dangerous, as there were many broken rocks & crumbling stairs. However, there are beautiful panoramic views of the city and intricate details throughout the grounds. It’s definitely worth visiting if you are heading to Beijing.
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
The Temple of Heaven was built during the Ming & Qing dynasties in 1420. It’s an imperial complex of religious temples, used for a variety of reasons, including sacrifices to the heavens in exchange for good harvests. It will likely take a couple of hours to explore the grounds. As with the Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven’s hours also vary by season. The peak price to enter for adults is 34 CNY, still equaling less than $5 USD.
YIN ON 12
Finish the evening with a drink at Yin on 12 at the New World Beijing Hotel. This rooftop bar offers sweeping views of the city and they serve the best Moscow mule I’ve ever had.
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
Before we get into it, let’s go over a brief history of the Great Wall and it’s purpose. The Great Wall of China is the name for the series of fortifications built across the northern boarders of China. The purpose of these fortifications was to protect and consolidate the Chinese territories and empires against attacks.
The Great Wall first opened in 1644 and runs over 13,000 miles in length! To give you some perspective, driving from Los Angeles, California to New York, New York, is only 2,800 miles. Driving from Porto, Portugal to Tallin, Estonia is only 4,000 miles. And for one more example, driving from the southern tip of Africa in Cape Town, to Cairo, Egypt at the north end of the continent, clocks in at just over 10,000 miles. So yes, that’s a LONG wall. Fun Fact: Did you know it’s just a myth that the Great Wall can be seen from the moon? Well, to be fair, I haven’t personally verified that 😂.
We booked a private guide for our visit to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square. Our driver and guide picked us up at our hotel in a clean, air-conditioned & comfortable van for the hour and a half drive.
MUTIYANU – THE GREAT WALL
There are various sections of the Wall that you can visit. We went to the Mutiyanu section. It was well kept-up and beautiful. Our guide had a wealth of knowledge and led us around different sections, providing great photo ops, while also allowing us some alone time to explore.
If you’re looking for a private tour, I can’t recommend them enough. We booked through Viator but you can find their direct website here.
From the Great Wall, we headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, with a stop along the way for lunch.
Our guide booked all of our tickets for the Wall, Tiananmen and the Forbidden City. You will need to have your passport on you for security to review before you can enter the Square & Forbidden City. I am not linking their websites, as they are all in Chinese. A simple Google search will direct you to their sites if you so desire.
Tiananmen Square is a public square in central Beijing. It sits along the entrance to the Forbidden City. The National Museum of China, The Gate of Heavenly Peace and the Monument to the People’s Heros are just a few of the highlights of Tiananmen Square.
It’s also the site of the 1989 massacre. After the death of leader Hu Yaobang in April of 1989, a group of mourners descended on the square. Yaobang was a former Communist working towards democratic reform.
Mourners began to protest China’s Communist rulers in an effort to change the political scene in the country. On June 4, 1989, the military opened fired on the protestors. Although an official number has never been revealed, its estimated hundreds to thousands of civilians were murdered.
The Forbidden City is the home of the former imperial palace during the Ming & Qing Dynasties. It was completed in 1420, making it almost 600 years old! Over the years it has been home to emperors, the site for ceremonies and the center of the Chinese government. With almost 1,000 ancient wooden structures within the walls, the Forbidden City is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sheer size alone makes the Forbidden City an extensive tour. Having a guide really helped us to understand the importance of the site and appreciate the visit.
As our tour wrapped up, our guide & driver offered to drive us across town and drop us off at our next destination… Central Perk!
That’s right, Beijing is home to the famed Friends cafe, Central Perk. Could I BE anymore excited?! The cafe is hidden inside a business high-rise, but as you walk inside, you’re transported to the cozy cafe we all envy. They offer a variety of coffee & teas along with cakes & desserts. They even have a real-life orange Smelly Cat who hangs out in the cafe.
The inside looks shocking similar to the show and they play nothing but Friends reruns on the tv! Because it’s such a small space, they have a second seating area, which is set up like Chandler & Joey’s apartment #NoMoreJManandChannys. It’s a great spot to unwind after a long day of walking! They do not have a website but you can find them here: Ste 0616, Bldg A, Chaowai SOHO, 6 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District
Beijing offers endless spots to explore. If you’re heading to China, be sure to check out my other posts: Heading to Shanghai Disney? Read This First!, A Comprehensive 3-Day Guide to Shanghai, and Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Chinese Visa.
Have you ever been to China?