The World’s Greatest Beijing Itinerary
Having lived in Beijing for over two years, I had an opportunity to experience the best and worse of this unique city. Most travelers with Beijing on their upcoming destination list plan to spend at least a few days here. Beijing can be done in as little as 3 days and at most one week. I recommend a quick 4 days to see all the sights.
The following is a suggested fast-paced itinerary which includes many of my favorite parts of the city but if you have time, slow it down for maximum enjoyment. Instead of using subways and taxis, rent bicycles and get around Dong Cheng district. If your lucky enough to catch a day with some cool weather, and low pollution levels (you can check the pollution levels from the US Embassy Twitter feed here) this is a must. Beijing is absolutely massive, and getting familiar with the city is very difficult in a short period of time, so maximize your time!
Accommodations in Beijing -
Beijing has tons of hotels and hostels to choose from. Beijing is EXPENSIVE compared to other cities in China, however if you know where to look you can find affordable accommodations. Like any destination in China you should make sure to book ahead if traveling during peak traveling seasons (Summer, Chinese New Year, and Spring Festival holidays). Here is a list of my favorite hostels in Beijing:
- Couchsurfing.org – Have you ever tried couch surfing? Beijing has a fairly large couch surfing community and what better way to explore a city like Beijing than staying with an expat who knows the ins and outs of the city.
- Fly By Night Hostel - If staying in a comfortable and clean environment is a priority, than Fly By Night is a fantastic choice. Fly by night is a renovated hutong courtyard home located in the center of Dongcheng district not too far from Dongsi on line 5. However the downside is the cost. A private room can cost between 350-500RMB per night. Dorms from 120RMB.
- Qianmen Hostel – +86 10 63132369 - This is my personal recommendation for Beijing. Ive stayed all over the city and I haven’t found a better value hostel. The location is fantastic; just Southwest of Tiananmen square. Dorms from 60RMB per night. The hutong just south of Qianmen has about 3 or 4 other hostels (Leo’s hostel, 365 inn, and Three Legged Frog) you can check with if Qianmen is full. 365 is also very nice, but again can be a little pricy.
Suggested Itinerary -
Having lived in Beijing for close to two years, I had the opportunity explore the city completely. The following itinerary is the absolute best of what Beijing has to offer:
- Forbidden City / Tiananmen Square / National Museum – This will take you almost until the evening to see these three destinations. You can definitely skip the Museum if you your attention span is short for history. (Walking distance from Qianmen hostel)
- Raising and Lowering of the Flag - At sunup and sundown soldiers will come out of the forbidden city and raise and lower the flag. If you start early, or catch the sunset make sure to stop by and have a look.
- Chaoyang Acrobatics Theater – You can purchase discount tickets online on their website here. This is a must see, and to this day is still one of my favorite shows in all of China.
- Hike the great wall from Jinshanling to Simatai – This can be arranged through most hostels in Beijing. This hike is challenging, takes about 4 hours to complete, and offers amazing panoramic views of the wall and surrounding areas. Bring water and some little snacks for the hike. You can usually purchase water along the way from locals on the wall. Skip the commonly suggested Badaling wall. Its overcrowded to the point of ridiculousness. If you want a section that involves much less hiking, and is still fairly senic, I suggest Mutianyu.
- Sanlitun bar district – 三里屯 － Explore part of the nightlife scene in Beijing. Sanlitun has pubs, bars, and clubs. Friday and Saturday nights are the best nights here.
- Beihai Park Sunrise – If you are lucky enough to have a day with nice weather, wake up early and head over to Beihai park on the North side of the Forbidden City. From the temple on the hill you can watch the sun come up over Eastern Beijing, and then explore the park while its still cool outside. You can expect to find tons of exciting cultural activities happening early in the morning such as traditional opera, dancing, tai qi, er hu (traditional instrument) playing, live music, kite flying, chinese chess, amongst others. You can partake as much as you like. Don’t think about it, just go!
- 798 Art district – 七九八艺术区 －this district offers a glimpse into the emerging contemporary art scene in China. Home to many former factories turned into galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and knick-knack shops, this artist landscape of Beijing is a nice place to spend a morning strolling around taking photographs, expanding your knowledge of modern Chinese culture. These is no subway stop for 798. You will have to take a taxi to get here and its a little far from Qianmen; about 25 minutes without traffic.
- Drum and Bell Towers
- Summer Palace
- Underground tunnel tour (Might be out of business now)
- Fragrant Hills Park (Near summer palace)
- Olympic park
- Panjiayuan dirt market – Highly recommended for souvenirs and random history artifacts. (Keep in mind most if not all are counterfeit no matter what the vendors tell you)
When touring famous areas such as Tiananmen or Wangfujing be careful of friendly Chinese girls who will approach single men and befriend you. They will eventually take you to a tea house where you will be charged 1000′s of RMB for tea. People fall for this scam all day long; don’t be one of them!!!
Also the same thing goes for anyone approaching you for art exhibits. Also be careful riding tuk-tuk’s in Beijing some of them will try to charge you 300 RMB for a five minute ride. I recommend not taking them, but if you do it should only cost around 20RMB for a 5-10 minute ride.
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