Beijing, a city of 22 million people, the most touristic city in China is often the entry point for tourists.
As tons of people, we also arrived to the Beijing international airport to start our visit to China. From the first moment, we felt the sheer size of the place. The airport itself is vast. See the detailed information on how to clear immigration and get to the city center.
After clearing the immigration, we needed to sort several things before we could go to our hotel. Firstly, the money exchange. We found the bank at the departures part of the airport (find more details here). We were lucky that we managed to get to the bank before its closing time – 5 pm and we didn’t need to lose time on changing the next day. Another issue to sort was finding the metro station and getting the Yikatong card and charging it sufficiently for several days (more details about transport here).
From the train we could see the crazy traffic of the city. It was the evening rush hour and we were happy not to be stuck in a car to enter the city center. Two metro line changes later, we finally got to our hotel in Hutongs. My number one advice to anyone visiting Beijing is to find accommodation near metro, unless they want to lose lots of time and money on taxis and/or buses. We were happy to find someone at the hotel, who spoke a bit of English and prepared for our sightseeing. Here is the possible 4-day itinerary based on our experience.
Day 1 – Visit Tiananmen square, Forbidden City, Jingshan park and Wangfujing road
Tiananmen square, the place you have seen in numerous photos and heard a lot of, is currently the world’s largest square. It can fit about a million people at one time. We headed there on our first morning in Beijing very early in the morning. As we got out of the metro station – Qianmen, we saw the hugest number of people we have ever seen at one time. And it was an ordinary day, not even a weekend. First, we didn’t understand, what all these people were queuing for, but then we realized it was to enter the mausoleum. The queue was snaking around the whole square. I would assume, it would take these people about 3 hours to get inside. That’s some dedication.
To enter the square, you have to go through security check and show your passport. Actually, the passport is needed in several places, including to enter Forbidden City, so don’t forget to bring it with.
We decided to bypass the queues, as we were not planning to visit the mausoleum. Walking around square, we saw the huge celebratory signs, dedicated to the 70th anniversary since founding the Republic. We could hardly see any foreign tourists among the numerous Chinese visitors here. I can only imagine what it would be like during the national holidays.
If you want to see the flag raising ceremony, come here at sunrise, while the ceremony for lowering the flag is at sunset. We didn’t really manage these exact times.
If you are planning to visit the National museum of China, it is located east of the square. We didn’t visit any such museums, while in China, as all places we visited were museums themselves and we wanted to see everything in its glory. Next time, I do plan to go to the museums as well.
From the Tiananmen square, we headed to the Forbidden City. The route for visiting the Forbidden city is north to South. Find the step-by-step guide to visiting the Forbidden City here.
We spent basically the whole day in the City, wondering around the many buildings and taking in its grandeur.
You will finish your visit in the North side of the City. After exiting the Gate of Divine Prowess, it would be rather difficult to find any transport to leave the area. The nearest metro stations are quite a long walk away and figuring out the routes of the buses is really complicated, as there is no English information online or on the spot.
I suggest heading up the Jingshan park hill. For this, you will have to cross the street. You will find the underground passage on your left after exiting the city. The Jingshan park tickets cost 2 yuans and the climb of over 300 stairs is definitely worth it.
The climb is not very difficult. My mom managed to slowly go up. If you have limited mobility, keep in mind to take the stairs, which you see immediately after entering the park on your right side. They are the stairs with easier steps. The other routes seemed far more difficult to climb with higher and uneven steps.
At the top of the hill, you will find the Wanchun Pavilion, a beautiful building, which offers wonderful views over the Forbidden city.
The place is very crowded immediately before and during the sunset, as most people visit after visiting the palaces. So if you have more time in Beijing, you can come here at another time to enjoy less crowded park.
Here, you will also find a sign on the floor pointing out the “Central Point of Beijing”.
After visiting the viewpoint, it was already dark, when we came down. So we didn’t continue our sightseeing for the day. If you are here in summer or have more time, head to the Beihai park next. It is closeby, 15 minutes walking distance and definitely is worth a visit. You can leave the area through the Beihai North metro station.
We walked to the Wangfujing road from here to find food and see the famous street. This is a pedestrian road, where you find a number of malls, restaurants and the stalls outside. In the evening, we didn’t find as many people, as we expected. We entered one of the malls to find the restaurants called Grandma’s. we were not disappointed in it. The restaurant chain originated in Hangzhou, so they offer food from this region. This branch (as I believe other branches) is very popular, so we had to wait about half an hour. You will get a number and a menu to choose your food, while waiting. This was a good thing, as we took a lot of time, understanding what we would eat. The menu was in English though, but not being used to Chinese food, it was still confusing 😊 We were still happy with our choices. Oh, yes, the plastic forks we brought along helped for sure.
The famous Donghuamen Night Market, which was located south of the Wangfujing street, apparently closed some time ago. Actually, neither side of the Wangfujing street was lively during the evening hours, as we expected from what we read before. We don’t know if it was not the right day, or if the area is no longer the heart for the night markets.
Day 2 – Visit Temple of Heaven and Mutyaniu Great Wall
After getting used to the local transport and seeing some of the major sites on the first day, we decided to head to the Great Wall on day 2. We had an option of either going in the morning (which would give us no time left to visit any other sites after coming back) or go in the afternoon (in this case, the drive back would already be at night and we would lose less daytime). We opted for the afternoon.
Early morning, by 8am we were already at the Temple of Heaven. I do suggest to get here as early as possible, if you can. The gates open at 6am. See the detailed guide and route for visiting the Temple of Heaven here.
By midday, we headed to the Mutyaniu section of the Great Wall. I chose this part after a long deliberation. See the main options you have here.
We chose to take MuBus. See the details on visiting the Mutyaniu section, transport, tickets and routes.
After coming back, we headed to the Sanlitun area to enjoy the Peking duck. We were already closeby after coming back by MuBus to the spot it took us from – Dongsishitiao. This was one of the things I wanted to try when in Beijing. We went to the Jingzun restaurant for that. Well, Peking duck wasn’t my favourate food, it was too greasy for my taste and the sweet sauces aren’t my thing, but at least, we tried it 😀
Day 3 – Visit Beijing Zoo and Summer Palace
Before heading to Summer Palace, which would take most of our day, we decided on a short visit to the Zoo. I do know that Beijing zoo is not the best spot to see pandas, but we didn’t have enough time to go to Chengdu, so this was the option we had.
The zoo is really easy to get to. It is on the same line, the Summer Palace is, that’s why we decided to combine visiting these two places in one day. The metro stop is called Beijing Zoo station, exit D is just next to the Zoo.
The section, where you find Giant pandas, is close to the entrance on the right side. That was our main aim and we watched the pandas go about their lives. Of course, the conditions of the zoo in general aren’t that great, but this zoo is quite well-maintained.
After walking around a bit, we headed back to the metro to go to the Summer Palace. We entered from the North gate, which is several minutes away from the Beigongmen station exit D.
If you end your visit at the East Gate, it is about 10-minute walk to the Xiyuan metro station. Nearby the station you will find the starry street shopping area with a number of cafes and restaurants. I do recommend the Green Tea restaurant. It has beautiful atmosphere and good food and isn’t too expensive. We came here in the evening at about 7pm and had to wait for our table for about half an hour, but we were used to this in Beijing and it was worth the wait. You will also get a menu meanwhile, so that when you get inside, you already know what to order.
Day 4 – Visit Hutongs, Beihai park, Houhai lake, Bell and Drum tower, Llama Temple
This was our last day in Beijing and after seeing all the major sites the previous days, this day was mostly dedicated to visiting parks and hutongs.
We started our day very early by going to the hutongs. This map may help to get oriented:
We got off at the Beihai North metro station and headed towards the hutongs. It was very early in the morning and very quiet, only after a while we encountered the tuktuks.
So the area we walked around first was north of Beihai park, we marveled at the old houses, the Prince Kung Mansion and other mansions in the area. You can visit them from 8am, so choose, which one are you interested in. At about 9am the area got very crowded already.
After this, we headed to Beihai park. This was a really lovely park with a lot of locals attending dance classes, children playing. It was wonderful to see. Spend as much time as you like and can, you won’t be bored. The lake has great views. You will also find the golden fishpond.
When we left the park, we headed to the Hou Hai lake. Next to the lake, a lot of shops and cafes are being renovated and I believe soon there will be nice outside seating area.
Through this road we ended up close to the Bell tower.
The Beijing Bell and Drum towers, as those of other cities served a specific purpose in the old times. The bell was rung to inform the population of the dawn, while the drum beat meant the sunset. If you did or are planning to visit the Xi’An Bell and drum towers, you may give this a miss, as the latter are the best preserved and biggest of their kind. If not, do visit them in Beijing.
After this, we ended up at the Shichahai metro station. The thing is that the hutongs continue towards the East from here and you can wonder around as much as you like, but having limited time we took metro to the Llama temple.
The temple is located near the metro called Yonghegong station and it is nearest to Exit F. Keep in mind that the entrance and exit to the temple complex is at the South side and the gates at the north side are closed. This was inconvenient to us, as we exited metro from the north side, so best is to exit from exit F.
The area of the Llama temple complex is much bigger than we anticipated to see, here is the map to give you an idea.
The ticket costs 25 yuans. This is the functioning budhist temple, which allows you to observe the local practices. Be respectful to the praying people you will see everywhere. You can even get the incense at the entrance for free, if you want to participate in the prayer, but we didn’t do this.
You start from visiting the smaller statues and work your way to bigger ones.
In the center of the complex is the Hall of Harmony and Peace, where you will find three golden buddhas.
By the end of your visit you will end up at the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness, which houses thousands on buddhas located on many levels and the biggest sandalwood buddha statue in the world. This Buddha is carved from the single piece of wood. It is 18 m tall with 8m underground (so 26m overall). It was included in the Guinness Book.It is impossible to take a proper photo of this statue, as you can see from my unsuccessful attempts 🙂
Confucius Temple is located very close to the Llama temple and you can visit it too. Given that it’s less popular with toutists, you will find it much quieter.
From here you can head to the Qianmen street and walk around the closed street and its side streets with its numerous shops and restaurants.
What else to do in Beijing
If you have more time or more days, there are a number of other things you can do in and around Beijing. You could visit:
- 798 Art zone,
- National museum of China,
- Old summer palace,
- Olympic park area,
- Botanical garden, etc.