My Travels around Beijing - Tips and Sugguestions
Beijing, as the capital city and political center of China, is certainly one of the perfect cities to visit for tourists both foreign and domestic. In order to thoroughly enjoy yourself, you should prepare well for the trip. Before starting out, research your potential destinations on the Internet from sites such as China Highlights. Based on the author's personal experiences and several classic travel tips, here are some guidelines to help you have a good time in Beijing.
When you arrive in Beijing, you should first buy a travel card that allows you to take buses and the subway and provides a map of Beijing. If arriving at Beijing Railway Station, go across the platform bridge, turn right and walk for 300 meters. Here you can buy the travel card more easily than in the station itself since there are fewer crowds.
Beijing transportation is quite cheap. Bus lines cost one yuan per line, and lines with fewer stations only need 0.4 yuan. The subway costs two yuan per one-way trip, and you can visit most of the tourist attractions by subway. The subway is generally cleaner and more comfortable than the buses, and it is not as crowded as the subway systems of other large Chinese cities such as Shanghai. It is difficult to take taxis in Beijing, and both buses and taxis are susceptible to traffic jams. Therefore, it’s best to take the subway to visit the tourist areas.
To find a Beijing tourist map, visit a Xinhua Bookstore location (there are many throughout the city). Tourist maps clearly indicate bus lines, subway lines and tourist areas.
Choosing the right season to visit Beijing is very important. Visit in autumn when the weather is good and it is mostly sunny with stable temperatures. It can be dry in autumn, however, so remember to wear moisturizer and sunscreen when exploring the city.
Choosing the right accommodation is of course also very important. It’s recommended to stay in the Chongwenmen (崇文门) Commercial and Trade Zone where there is a subway station, a bus station, a shopping center, a hospital and several restaurants. Subway Lines 2 and 5 converge at Chongwenmen Station. You can also find a bus station within 300 meters. The location is very convenient for exploring the city.
The area around Qianmen Station (前门站) is another good choice, as it is within 15 minutes of such tourist sites as Tiananmen Square (天安门广场), the Great Hall of the People (人民大会堂), the National Museum (国家博物馆), the International Theatre (国际大剧院), the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (毛主席纪念堂), the Monument to the People’s Heroes (人民英雄纪念碑), the Forbidden City (故宫), Zhongshan Park (中山公园), Qianmen Street (前门大街), Lao She Teahouse (老舍茶馆) and more. After dinner in the area, you can take a 10-minute walk to Tiananmen Square to enjoy the charming night scene. Subway Line 2 runs through the area, and there is a bus station at Qianmen Station. Qianmen Street (前门大街) and Xianyukou Snack Street (鲜鱼口美食街) are also nearby, where there are abundant authentic Beijing snacks as well as restaurants with various cuisines. The food choices are quite delicious and cheap. Be aware, however, that the Qianmen Station subway will be closed during the National Day holiday.
There is a great deal of delicious Beijing food to be found in Dongcheng district (东城区), around Qianmen Street (前门大街) and Wangfujing Street (王府井大街).
Qianmen Street and Dazhalan Business Area (大栅栏商务区) have many old and famous shops, such as the celebrated Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant (全聚德烤鸭店), Jiulongzhai (九龙斋), Beijing Tongrentang pharmacy (同仁堂), Goubuli stuffed steamed buns (狗不理包子) and so on. You can find a lot of authentic Beijing snacks in this area, including Rolling Donkey, a kind of sticky-rice cake with a red pea filling. Buy these tasty and cheap Beijing snacks opposite the Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. The dried apricot in the supermarket on Dazhalan Street is also strongly recommended.
Learn how to eat like a local in Beijing with China Highlights.
Xiaoyukou Snake Street on Qianmen Street has a special layout and structure, which gives you a sense of old Beijing’s hutong (胡同) neighborhoods. When walking to the central area, you may feel that you have left Beijing and traveled abroad. The environment is elegant and clean and there are many rich local snacks such as authentic Beijing fried pork liver.
Wangfujing Snack Street is another great place to visit, mainly for traditional Beijing foods and beverages. When you enter the street, you will quickly feel the narrow lanes of old Beijing. There are rows and rows of tables on both sides of the street with people milling around everywhere. People walk in the center, and it’s very crowded and busy. You can hear the traditional melodious hawking of the street vendors now and then. The whole atmosphere is warm and alive. The two food centers, Xianyukou Snack Street and Wangfujing Snack Street, both have different characteristics and environments, which make a trip to each a special and unique treat. These two streets are great places for you to experience the unique flavor and culture of Beijing.
Traditional Beijing snacks are have interesting characteristics and many varied flavors. Many snacks are sweet and are soft, crispy pastry and cakes with different shapes and flavors. There are dozens of famous snacks with Beijing characteristics including bean juice, seasoned millet mush, fried doughnuts, sausages, steamed buns with coarse food grains, rice cakes, pea cakes, almond tea, fried pork liver, fried dough twists and various preserved fruits. These and more are all Beijing specialties. You can also find authentic Tianjin Guifaxiang 18th Street fried dough twists at Qianmen Street. Finally, the Wuyu Tai barley tea is a classic tea with a great taste and cheap price.
When visiting Tiananmen Square (天安门) and Chang’an Street (长安街), you can go to Qianmen Street (前门大街) or the hutong on the left side of the National Theatre. Continue walking to the pedestrian crossing to the south, and you will find Bingbuwa Hutong (兵部洼胡同), where there is a series of small hotels and restaurants. This hutong is a very clean, cheap area with excellent foods to try.
Planning Your Tour
Arranging your tourist routes in advance is essential for a pleasant and relaxing trip. It’s best to visit the most popular tourist areas before the holidays as there will be much fewer tourists, which can make your trip more comfortable and interesting. Also try to choose more physically demanding destinations such as the Great Wall first so that you can tour leisurely later in your travels. In this way, you can be more energetic and will better enjoy the journey.
It’s a good idea for each day’s destinations to be located in a similar location, or on a convenient transportation path such as one of the subway lines. The right time to visit should also be taken into account. For example, try visiting the Shichahai Teahouse and Bar Street (什刹海酒吧街) in the evening, when the businesses are open.
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The First Day
If you arrive in Beijing at noon, you still have time to visit the Qianmen (前门) area, where there are such sites as Zhengyangmen (正阳门), Deshengmen Archery Tower (箭楼), Qianmen Street (前门大街), Dazhalan Commercial Street (大栅栏商务节) and Xianyukou Snack Street (鲜鱼口美食街). Qianmen Street is similar to the Nanjing Road pedestrian street of Shanghai, and you can leisurely explore its many shops and historical buildings. At Quanjude Roast Duck’s Qianmen branch, you can taste this famous Beijing specialty on the historical second floor with the large, precious palace lanterns as decoration. It’s best to reserve a seat on the Internet or by telephone in order to avoid long queues, however. After leaving the restaurant, walk for 10 minutes to Tiananmen Square to appreciate the night scenery of this iconic Beijing attraction. Afterward, retire to your hotel to prepare for the next day’s activities.
The Second Day
Tiananmen Rostrum (天安门城楼) -- Prince Gong Mansion (恭王府) -- Zhanzi Hutong (毡子胡同) -- Shichahai area (什刹海)
Take a bus and get off at the east of Tiananmen Station. Before going upstairs to the Tiananmen Rostrum, you will first have to deposit your bags and pass a security check. After this, you can walk to the north to the east of Wumen (午门), which is the Working People’s Cultural Palace. Later, take the golf cart to Donghuamen (东华门) and walk 200 meters to Nanchizi restaurant (南池子) to have a meal. After eating, move on to Prince Gong Mansion by taxi which will cost about 20 yuan. This site is just like a smaller version of the Forbidden City, where the Chinese character “福,” meaning happiness, was written by emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty. Tourists like to touch the character in order to bring luck into their lives. When leaving Prince Gong Mansion, turn left for a leisurely walk through Zhanzi Hutong (毡子胡同). Go along the hutong to the north and west for about 20 minutes and you will arrive on the shores of Houhai Lake (后海), where you can view the Wanghai Lou church (望海楼) on the opposite shore.
In the evening, visit the Shichahai Bars Street (酒吧街) where the colorful shining lanterns and the lake waters reflect off of each other, giving the whole area a mysterious sense. At dusk, you will clearly see the outline of the Drum Tower on Yinding Bridge (银锭桥), which is the boundary of the south and north lakes. Beside the bridge, try the traditional Beijing barbecue (烤肉季) and Quick-Fried Zhang Tripe (爆肚张). There are also several Muslim-cuisine vendors nearby. After dinner, take a walk on the hundred-year-old Tobacco Pipe Lane (烟袋斜街) to appreciate the traditional Beijing city scenery. On the east end of the street there is a bus station to take you back to your hotel.
The Third Day: The Great Wall at Badaling.
This tourist destination can be quite crowded, so you are advised to visit before the long National Day holiday. Take Subway Line 2 from Chongwenmen Station (崇文门) and get off at Xizhimen Station (西直门), outside of which is the Beijing North Railway Station. Take the bus in the direction of Yanqing (延庆) and swipe your transportation card for six yuan. The bus leaves at 9:03 a.m. and arrives in Badaling at 10:15 a.m. Badaling district is a little bit colder than Beijing’s downtown area and you’d better dress to match. There are many ticket windows, so don’t worry about waiting in line. After you have your ticket checked, turn right from the gate to go up the hill. There are four beacon towers passing Haohan Hill (好汉坡). These are grand structures and can give you a great sense of the history of the area. After finishing the tour, go down the hill to reach the Badaling train station at about 5 p.m. Take the last train, which is at 5:31 p.m., to get to Beijing North Railway Station at 6:51 p.m. Alternatively, you can choose to go back by bus, and the last bus leaves at 9:10 p.m.
The Fourth Day: The Olympic Sports Center
Take Subway Line 5 to the south exit of Huixin West Street (惠新西街) and transfer to Line 10 to Beitucheng Station (北土城). Then transfer to Line 8 to get to the Olympic Forest Park. The park is very large and the air is fresh. The hills, water, squares, forest and sculptures are quite beautiful. When leaving the park, walk to the Olympic venue area. Here, you can leisurely visit the Bird’s Nest (鸟巢), the Water Cube (水立方), the National Indoor Stadium (国家体育馆) and the National Conference Centre (国家会议中心). It is said that the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube are more beautiful at night than in the daytime, so maybe plan on coming back later in the evening. Afterward, go to the Sunken Plaza (下沉广场) to have a rest and dinner. There is also an underground studio for entertainment. At the Sunken Plaza Station, you can take Subway Line 8 and then Line 5 to go back to the hotel.
The Fifth Day: National Theatre to watch Beijing opera.
The National Theatre and the Great Hall of the People are on opposite sides of the same road. They are a great place to visit if there are too many tourists crowding other tourist destinations. Here, you can thoroughly experience the charm of Beijing opera, which is the quintessence of Chinese culture. There are several classic programs to enjoy, such as All I Desire (凤还巢). After enjoying the opera, walk 50 meters to Tiananmen West Station to take the subway back to your hotel.
- Beijing often suffers from strong wind and sunshine, so it is recommended to wear sunglasses and a hat when touring the sights in order to feel more comfortable.
- When going to the Olympic Sports Center, bear in mind that the Bird’s Nest closes earlier than the Water Cube, so try to visit it earlier in the day.
- As a world cultural heritage sight, the Summer Palace is really worth a visit. It was the highlight of the Chinese royal gardens in ancient times. Kunming Lake (昆明湖), Wanshou Hill (万寿山), the Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁), the Long Corridor (长廊), the Seventeen-Arch Bridge (十七孔桥), the Bronze Ox (铜牛), Nanhu Island (南湖岛) and the big opera stage (大戏台) are some of the sights within the palace, and they are quite impressive. Apart from the sites, the green bamboo along the pathways and the quiet bamboo forest will give you an absolutely serene feeling, which is often hard to be had in such a large city.
- If you go to Beijing in October or November, don’t miss the beautiful maple leaves on Fragrant Hill (香山公园)in the western suburbs. The environment and air here is also very enjoyable. To get there, take the subway to Beigongmen Station (北宫门) and then transfer to a bus for the final leg of the trip toward Fragrant Hill.
These are several guidelines based on the travel notes and the author's personal experiences. Hope they can help you to have a good time in Beijing!
A travel story about traveling around Beijing and Tianjin can give you more useful suggestions. Click here to read.
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I updated this article on February 20, 2014
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