Here are some helpful tips for traveling in and around Beijing, based on my own experiences in the area.
The night scenery of Houhai
For lodging, you are strongly advised to stay in a Beijing courtyard hotel for at least one night, but you’d better book in advance. Relax and treat the hotel as one of your tourist destinations, as many courtyard hotels have been guesthouses since imperial times. But be careful: some guesthouses are not so authentic. For an authentic experience, I suggest Yijing Tavern (易静小栈), which is conveniently located near Beixinqiao (北新桥) subway station and the famous Gui Street (簋街).
Sights to Visit
Be sure to visit Houhai (Shichahai, 什刹海) in the evening, where the night is often alive with the sounds and smells of the many various bars in the area.
Take a rickshaw to visit an authentic Beijing hutong (胡同), which will cost you about 50 yuan after negotiating with the driver. During the trip, ask the driver for advice about cheaper goods and souvenirs in the tourist areas.
You can visit the 2008 Olympics zone to swim in and tour the Beijing National Aquatics Center, commonly known as the Water Cube. Tickets for many activities can be bought online.
If you want to stay in a highly cost-effective hotel, CNCC Grand Hotel near the Bird’s Nest (鸟巢) is strongly recommended. The prices are not adjusted due to the change of seasons, but are instead based on the number of the people commonly staying in the hotel to attend meetings. Each standard room charges 100 yuan. The room is big with soft beds and good service, and a stay there is quite comfortable.
The Bird's Nest
There is a large department store near the Bird’s Nest (鸟巢) in which there are many food items sold. There is also a supermarket inside where you can buy some basic supplies for your time in Beijing.
If you are traveling on your own rather than in a tour group, it is not necessary to rent an electronic tour guide, but it might be useful to rent one anyway and use it as a map for your time in Beijing. Listening to the tour guide is also a good way to learn about the area you are visiting. Regardless, it’s best to prepare in advance for each tourist spot that you visit before arriving, so that you know where to go and what to see.
The bars in Sanlitun (三里屯) are crowded with foreigners in the evening, so this area can be a fun place to unwind after a long day touring the city. There is also a snack street in the area that sells vegetables and meat cooked in spicy soup and barbecue stalls with reasonable prices.
You can buy Old Beijing brand cloth shoes on Wangfujing Street (王府井大街). The shoes bought here are a little bit expensive (about 200 yuan) but are of a higher quality and are more comfortable. You can find similar cloth shoes in the small shops on the street that will only cost you about 25 yuan, but the quality is not as good. Which choice is right for you depends on how much you plan to use the shoes. See Beijing shopping guide
There are some lovely small kites in the small shops on Nanluogu Lane (南锣鼓巷). These make great souvenirs and gifts.
If you want to buy roasted duck, visit a large supermarket. Certainly don’t buy any at the airport shops as the prices are much higher.
According to locals, don’t take the subway at 9 a.m. or 7 p.m. due to the commuter rush.