I always say: I love Beijing because it is easy.
So let me put that back into context. I am a 23 year master’s degree student currently spending 5 months in Tianjin for my studies. By bullet train Tianjin is only 30 minutes away from the Chinese capital and I thus have had the opportunity to spend some enjoyable times there and to visit most of its great landmarks.
When I say Beijing is easy, I mean it is easy compared to other places in China. It is easy because you don’t need to speak Chinese to get around, nor do you need to take taxis which are going to charge you more because you look or sound foreign. I also find that Beijing’s inhabitants don’t really stare at me that much (as a blond I am quite the victim of Chinese stares), nor do people grab me or ask for pictures every ten seconds (that is more of a country side/tourist group type phenomena to be honest). So, all of this tends to make Beijing just a very fun even relaxing and yes, I am going to say it again, an easy place to go to.
How long should you stay in Beijing?
It really depends on what you want to do, I personally visited the city on several separate occasions so I didn’t do everything in one go. If you only come once, I would recommend spending at least three days and even up to five days if you can.
Must do’s !
My favorite sightseeing attraction in Beijing has to be the summer palace! Visiting the summer palace definitely is a day trip because the park is huge and you should take your time walking around its pavilions, temples, halls and gardens. Simply enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere, away from the turmoil and rush of the city (just like they did in ancient times), take a boat ride on Kunming lake and hang around the Garden of Harmonious Interest (come on, even the name makes me feel relaxed!)
The Forbidden city
The forbidden city is the forbidden city and you simply can’t say “I went to Beijing but I didn’t visit the forbidden city”. That’s just… no! It is huge, just like in the movies and it takes a good amount of time to walk around the place, and the groups of tourists rushing in. Definitely walk up Jingshan hill to see the city from above and then go enjoy some food in the Hutong (traditional Chinese streets) north of the Forbidden City. Take a rest in Beihai Park if the weather is nice.
The great wall
Yes, technically the great wall is not in Beijing, I know that. However you should take a day to go and see it. They are several sections open to the public, the one I went to is called Mutianyu and is really fun because you can take a alpine slide instead of walking back down, and it is not to crowded. Mutianyu was actually just the arrival point for me, after half a day of hiking on non-renovated sections of the wall. I was accompanied by a guide (and my mum … yayy!) so I am actually unable to tell you exactly where we went but you can get any travel agency to organize a day trip like that for you. It is really worth it to get off the beaten track to get a glimpse of authenticity and avoid the crowds. The great wall truly is one of those landmarks that I will never forget. A magical moment!
Other great Beijing spots
Lama temple is a beautiful Tibetan temple! I have visited a lot of temples while in China, and it might sometimes get a little repetitive, but lama Temple is a good one! The praying rooms are really colorful and greatly decorated. Many people come here to pray which makes it a very lively and spiritual place! Funny anecdote: when I went there I saw a guy sitting on the stairs who looked exactly, I mean EXACTLY, like my dad! Only clue that it was not him is that he was wearing Nike’s and my dad would never do that, but it was quite something!
Temple of Heaven Parc
Temple of Heaven Park is really big and beautiful. You should plan around 2 hours to visit it! A good idea could be to bring a picnic if the weather is nice, and just enjoy being out in the open. I visited in the rain which was not so enjoyable but made it more beautiful I think.
Fun market to go to! Go at the weekend because that is when the magic happens. They sell everything from antiquities, art, furniture, jewelry, old books to Chinese propaganda posters. Prices should be negotiated! I always find that a bit complicated because I never really know how much the stuff is worth and whether they are real antiquities or not! I did buy a beautiful ring though which turned out to be real silver (and made me feel bad afterwards because I managed to buy it at such a low price).
Goulou and Zhonglou
Also known as Drum and Bell Towers! Both towers are situated just across the road from each other but have very different architectures. It is great to go there because the neighborhood has a very cozy atmosphere! Especially Nan Luo Gu Xiang, a street nearby with a lot of cute little shops where you can buy souvenirs and presents to bring back home at low prices!
Secretly my favorites
798 Art District
798 Art District or Dashanzi is a very cool area in Beijing! It is basically an old factory that was converted into a set of modern art galleries and cafes. Almost all galleries are free of charge and you can also get food in the district (like everywhere in China it not a struggle to find food). It has quite a western feel to it to be honest but it’s quite a nice change after visiting temple after temple !
The actual name is Dongzhimennei Dajie! This is THE food street. If you want to have dinner or lunch, it is the place to go. I think you might actually struggle to choose which restaurant to go to because there are just so many! I was lucky to go with a Chinese friend from Beijing who made that painful choice for me, but don’t worry you’ll manage!
If you arrive at the Airport, take the Airport express, don’t bother taking a taxi.
Take the subway to get around, Metrocard duhh!
Forbidden City is closed on Mondays.
So I know I said in the beginning that you don’t need to speak Chinese to visit Beijing, and it’s true. However every committed traveler ought to make an effort to adapt to its host country (and not only the other way round right), and that usually starts with language.
People from Beijing speak Mandarin. Here are the essentials:
Nĭhăo = Hello
XièXie = Thank you
Zàijiàn (bai bai) = Bye
Zhège duō shăo qián ? = how much is this ?
Dăbāo = take away (food)
Wŏ tīng bù dŏng = I don’t understand
Duì = yes
The numbers: 1 yī 2 èr 3 sān 4 sì 5 wŭ 6 liù 7 qī 8 bā 9 jiù 10 shí
I have this really amazing app on my phone called Pleco. It is the best English-Chinese dictionary app from what I know and it pronounces the words which is really useful. You can even use it to read Chinese characters on packaging etc. Another app which I use a lot when travelling is called Chinese Phrasebook, it contains many useful sentences and it pronounces them as well. That being said, there are many apps out there so just go through your store and install the one that you prefer.
Hope you love Beijing as much as I do, enjoy !