Last updated on February 24th, 2017.
Still at the center of all the attentions, Beijing, the Chinese capital and the second largest city after Shanghai, is proud of its glorious past while looking towards its bursting future. Its story goes back three millennia. As part of the six ancient cities in China, the Northern Capital has been the nation’s political, cultural, and educational center. Every year, it attracts millions of tourists, art lovers, and intellectuals from China and all over the world, drawn to Beijing by feelings of excitement, curiosity and intrigue.
Beijing is at its best during autumn and spring while the temperatures are mild and the weather rather dry. Summers are hot and humid. Winters are cold, windy, and very dry.
Beijing Capital International Airport is situated about 25 kilometres (about 15.5 miles) northeast of Tiananmen Square, and is China’s busiest and most important international airport. 66 airlines operate from its three terminal buildings and connect the city to most domestic and foreign cities.
The train is also very convenient. Every day, over 700 trains run to and from Beijing, linking the city with almost every part of the country. There are even several high-speed trains shuttling daily between the city and major destinations such as Shanghai, Xian, Wuhan, Guangzhou, and Harbin.
Once in the city, taxis can be found everywhere. The 17 subway lines connect every corner of the city and is a great way to avoid the frequent traffic jams.
Beijing and its surroundings are home of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are not to be missed.
The Tian’anmen square, the largest place in the world, is a good starting point and the heart of the city. Only once you have stepped on its floor and looked around, you can understand why this city holds such a special place in the history of the country and its people.
The Forbidden City stands on one side, with its 9,999 rooms. Once the home of the emperors of the last two dynasties, Ming and Qing, it is one of the last standing palaces in China. Explore with a guide or at least the proposed audio tour. They will be a great help to get you through the immensity and complexity of the place. Once you are done with your visit, climb the hill behind the palace to the pavilion at the top for a spectacular view of the majestic maze you have just gone through. At sunset, it is even more striking!
The Temple of Heaven with its intense blue roofs and its incredible architecture will elevate you. If you are lucky, you may see locals dance, sing or practice Taï-chi in the surrounding park. Get there early to beat the crowd.
For the art lovers, 798 Art District is an artist’s paradise located in disused factories. Wandering around the art galleries will give you an insightful tour of the latest Chinese art scene.
Outside Beijing, the Summer Palace is a place like no other. Don’t go there to get away from the crowd! The place gets really busy. Start early to enjoy a full day on the lake, walk in the beautiful gardens and discover the many rooms of the several buildings. The highlight of your journey will surely be to climb the many stairs of the Wanshoushan hill. The 360° view from the top is incredible and worth the effort!
Of course, making your way to the Great Wall is a must-do while in Beijing. The closest section is Badaling but this is also the most crowded and renovated. I love the Mutianyu section. It is in a more natural state and less crowded, with lots of watchtowers to explore. The surrounding scenery is really breathtaking. A cabbleway can take you up while you can go down on a slipway (really fun!). Further away, the Simatai and Jinshanling sections are reserved to climbers. They have been left untouched so walking there can be dangerous, but the sites are surreal.
Eat and Drink
While in Beijing, you have to try Peking Duck. Duck de Chine cooks one of the best I tasted. The preparation of the duck is quite a show and the restaurant is located in a lovely old house.
To experience the delicate and delicious Yunnan cuisine, head to Middle 8th. This elegant restaurant stands on the lively Sanlitun Bar Street.
While walking around one of the many hutong, grab one of the drinking yogurt. This is so typical of Beijing. You can’t find them anywhere else in China. Many food shops will have them stacked up. They are bigger than your usual yogurt and presented in a white-blue terra-cotta pot with a straw.
For the adventurous at heart, venture out to the DongHuaMen Night market. Scorpion, tarentulas, snake, cicadas, cocoons, starfish are all served on skewers for you to eat! Beware, your tastebuds might never forgive you. (Editor’s Note: The DongHuaMen Night Market closed in June 2016.)
Situated only 200 meters from the Forbidden City, Hotel Kapok is an elegant and modern boutique hotel. After a full day of walking, relaxing at the spa or in the quiet courtyard of the hotel will be a most needed reward.
In the heart of the effervescent Sanlitun neighborhood, The Opposite House is a contemporary boutique hotel with modern and spacious rooms, two restaurants, a spa, and a swimming pool.
For a more traditional stay, the Red Wall Garden Hotel is an oasis in the heart of Beijing, located in one of the lovely hutongs near the Forbidden City. Its courtyard is typical of the old houses and so peaceful after a busy day in the city.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Beijing.
Travel Tips and Local Blogs
For more Beijing travel tips and suggestions, have a look at these local blogs and resources.
The official website of the Beijing Government will help you find accommodations, restaurants, transportation, and get organized.
The online Beijing Guide from the Lonely Planet is very well done and can help you get inspired.
Philipp’s Blog relates with such a communicative enthusiasm his exciting opportunity to experience Beijing from the inside. His photos of the great city are so photogenic.
Joella lived in Beijing for many years. Her lovely blog, Paper Crane Stories, is packed with insightful tips and great pictures.
This blog, Maria Abroad, is more cultural. Maria writes about her experience of living in China and all the incredible things she discovered about this intriguing country.