Sprawled across 17,000 Km with a population of 21.5 million, Beijing is as complex as it is compelling. In fact, it really didn’t feel like a city to me due to its sheer size. The intensity of the capital is enough to experience the impact of the population, this place is BUSY so prepare for a bit of a culture shock. Beijing is a city that is quickly racing towards the future yet still steadily embedded in its glorious past.
There is a lot to explore here so I’ve put this post together to outline everything we did during our four-day visit (which we think was plenty of time, it could be done in less). It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to China so I’m here to help! In my series of China posts I will share tips and advice on what to do, where to stay and in general how to have a stress free trip… something we didn’t have haha.
Where to Stay
We stayed in the ‘Happy Dragon Saga Youth Hostel’ located just 2km away from the city centre. If you are looking for budget friendly, clean and comfortable accommodation then I could not recommend this place enough. We stayed in a private room with a shared bathroom. It was standard enough but had everything we needed; our own space, towels and air conditioning.
The best thing about this hostel was the staff. Very few people speak English in China so having a receptionist that speaks good English is a huge bonus. They were so friendly and helped us to organise our stay and showed us where to go. They also serve western food at the bar. The food in China tends to differ quite a lot from what we eat at home. And no, it bears no resemblance to your local Chinese favourite whatsoever! How it can be so different I’ll never know! Haha. So it was nice to be able to go downstairs and have your eggs and toast for breakfast and not noodles or a full blown meal.
The location of this hostel was perfect. It was just a five minute walk to the subway which allows you to get around really easily. It’s a 30 minute walk to the city but because of the intense heat we just got the subway which took about 10 minutes. The ticket machines are in Chinese so more than likely you won’t be able to use them like us. Instead, just queue for the ticket counter and point to where you want to go. Reception gave us a map which we used religiously! You can get around for as little as 75cent.
What To Do
On our first day we set out to visit the world-renown ‘Forbidden City’. The best persevered imperial palace in China which housed 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is the largest ancient structure in the world. The houses inside are visually spectacular. So ornate, intricate and colourful. The whole city is a very good representative of traditional Chinese architecture.
Things to know before you go…
• You need to book a ticket online before you go. You can only do this if you have a Chinese bank account, which I’m sure you don’t! So ask your hostel/hotel receptionist to do this for you.
• You need to book one to two days in advance. We were here during the summer months which are the Chinese holidays (good planning by us!) so there was a lot of Chinese tourists here and it was really hard to get tickets! But apparently it is like this most of the year so book ahead!
• Bring your passport. They ID everyone in China and all Chinese carry it with them. You will be asked to show it so keep it on you at all times.
• Prepare for crowds and queues. The city only let’s in 80,000 people a day, which is a hell of a lot of people! Especially in a confined space.
We knew none of this, so needless to say we didn’t make here on our first day and had to make alternative plans. In general, the Forbidden City is something you have to experience when in Beijing. However the intense crowds and heat defiantly tarnished the whole experience for us. I would suggest booking the afternoon slot in the low season months if you can. It should be less busy and defiantly cooler! But I guess the crowds are all part of the China experience!
This stunning park lies just southwest of the Forbidden City, covering an area of 230,000 square metres. When we couldn’t get into the Forbidden City on our first day (for reasons mentioned above!), we ended up wandering around here instead and it was just so gorgeous.
The park boasts a strong and influential culture with various pavilions, gardens and imperial temples at every corner. There are stunning stone archways, bridges and a greenhouse that house extremely impressive fresh flowers all year round. Although the park can be very crowded in spots, it is big enough for you to escape the mayhem of the city and relax.
Entrance to the park costs only 5CNY (€0.60c). Other stunning parks to visit are Beihai Park and Jingshan Park if you can, unfortunately we ran out of time.
This is the largest public square which can accommodate up to one million people! It was where the ceremony for the founding of the peoples republic was held. The square is located directly across the road from the Forbidden City so ended up here on our first day also.
You won’t spend a lot of time here as there is not much to do other than take in the views. Again it’s just something you have to see when in Beijing.
The Great Wall of China
This was without doubt the highlight of our trip! As something that has been on my bucket list for years, it was a surreal moment standing there and even sooner than I could of imagined! It was a definite *pinch me* moment and an experience we will remember forever.
The Great Wall extends over 4000 miles and has several different sections to explore. The construction of the Ming wall took an astonishing 2000 years with many dynasties, kingdoms and extended walls being built and rebuilt. The most popular sections to visit are Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling. We booked a tour that brought us to the Mutianyu section through our Kook app which I previously mentioned here. You can book a tour through the hostel too but with the app it just worked out cheaper. I highly recommend downloading this app, so good!
The Mutianyu section is less crowded than the popular Badaling, but no less impressive. A lot of western tourists tend to visit this section of the wall to avoid the crazy crowds. We went on a Friday so it was still very busy, just not as busy as some of the other sections. (I would avoid doing anything touristy at the weekends in China if you can, it is just madness!). This section has been renovated so the climb is a lot easier and safer than other areas. We got a cable car up to the 15th watchtower and then climbed up to the 21st where you can see the wall in ruins. You can’t walk past this point as it hasn’t been renovated.
We then walked back down the wall towards the 6th watchtower where you can luge down the Great Wall. This section of the wall was a lot quieter than the top. So if you are looking for those insta-worthy snaps, you’ll find them here! It’s so difficult to get pictures without people constantly photobombing them! The Chinese really don’t give a S#!* about your pictures haha.
In relation to the luge itself, it wasn’t as good as we expected. We did lugeing in New Zealand and it was SO much fun. When we heard that you can luge down the Great Wall of China we immediately looked into it, I mean how cool?! The videos on YouTube looked amazing but in reality it was a bit underwhelming! They squeeze so many people on it at the same time that you end up stuck behind a long line of people, crawling rather than racing down the wall. However, this may be quieter during the off peak season. Its defiantly worth experiencing anyway, plus it saves you an additional 40 minute walk down the wall… and lugeing is way more fun than walking. I would really recommend booking a tour to the Great Wall rather than planning it yourself. It is about two hours outside of Beijing and getting there might be a struggle without an English speaking guide.
The Temple of Heaven
Known as Beijing’s ‘Most Holy’ imperial temple, the Temple of Heaven has been described as ‘a masterpiece of architecture and design’. It is where the Ming and Qing dynasties went to worship heaven.
It’s landscape and colourful design is just stunning. The best time to visit here is in the morning. It’s less crowded and you can watch locals doing their morning exercises. That sounds weird I know, but by exercise I mean martial arts such as sword fighting, karate, tai chi and dancing! It’s so cool to watch. I’d imagine the park here is one of the few places the locals can really escape from the hustle of the city crowds.
There are lots of other temples and alters to explore also. Tickets can be bought easily here (no booking required) and cost 35 CNY during the high season and 30 during the low. Again, make sure you bring your passport with you. It is VERY hot here during the summer so make sure you bring plenty of suncream and water. We also started using umbrellas like the locals to keep the sun off us! I love the heat, but China during the summer is a whole other ballgame! I nearly died haha.
Visit the Bird’s Nest
The centrepiece of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing’s National Stadium is an absolute must to visit. The architecture and design is just damn right amazing. At night, the Birds Nest stadium puts on a pretty inpressive performance! One glimpse of bright lights will have you reaching straight for your camera.
The Chinese really don’t do things by halves and this was pretty evident during the 2008 Olympics. The stadium is really something special. When we visited the stadium, there was actually a concert on and there was THOUSANDS of people wandering around the grounds. The atmosphere and excited vibes around was amazing. It made the visit a whole lot better for us. I can only imagine what the atmosphere must of been like during the Olympics, wow!
You can purchase tickets to enter the stadium at weekends. Unfortunately we didn’t get time, but I would say it is just as impressive on the inside!
Eat Beijing Pecking Duck
The epitome of Beijing cuisine, this needs to be top of your ‘to do’ list! This is SO delicious and you just havn’t lived until you try it! We ate this every day for dinner in Beijing (so bold!) Haha, but have zero regrets. Almost every restaurant serves it so you will have no problem enjoying some delish duck.
So that concludes our trip to Beijing! We had some struggles at the beginning but it ended on such a high. I really hope it helps you plan your trip there. If you have any other questions please let me know. Thank you so much for reading!