So, our Around the World Without Flying Tour continues with a stopover of 3 days in Beijing. In this article, I’m going to tell you what Beijing attractions we visited while we were there. I’m also going to include some practical tips on getting around the city and dealing with the language barrier. Beijing is one of my favourite cities so I really hope you’ll enjoy this blog post and be inspired to visit yourself.
If you’re following our Around the World Without Flying then you’ll know that we arrived in Beijing after 7 days on the train from Moscow. We arrived in Beijing at 7 am on Saturday morning when it was far too early to check in to the Park Plaza Hotel. However, the concierge happily stored our bags so we were able to go out sightseeing in Beijing for the day. After 7 nights on the train, I wanted a hot bath but that had to wait.
Practical Tips for Sightseeing in Beijing
Beijing 3 Day Itinerary
- Forbidden City
- Jingshan Park
- Beihai Park
- Tiananmen Square
- Summer Palace
- Olympic Stadium
- Temple of Heaven
- Great Wall
A Sightseeing Base in Beijing
Firstly, a note about the hotel. If you’re going to make the most of Beijing then you need a good place to stay. We’ve stayed in the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing before and it’s our go-to hotel for staying in Beijing. It’s in a great location for exploring Beijing and also very comfortable. Only a minute walk from the nearest metro so you can zip around to anywhere very easily. You can also walk to the shopping areas from here so it’s ideal. Despite this, it’s in a really quiet area. Click here to check availability.
We upgraded to a Club room so that we could have free tea and coffee all day. Of course, it’s nice to have somewhere to relax after a busy day sightseeing. With this package, you also get a free happy hour between 5.30 pm and 7 pm. We went each evening and they really do give you unlimited, help yourself drinks. Wine, beer, soft drinks, also spirits. Very generous. You also get some snacks and even some hot meal choices. It’s not a huge selection but it was enough for us and we found it very relaxing to spend a few hours here in the evening. I definitely recommend getting the Clubroom for this. Oddly enough it was mainly English people up there so we can obviously spot a deal when we see one!
What if you don’t speak Mandarin Chinese?
One of the things that can be a problem when touring a country is when you don’t speak or even read the language. Whenever I go to a new country, I try to learn a few words of the language but I confess I don’t know much Mandarin Chinese. I did learn a few words, hello, thank you, the basics, but the pictorial language system is very hard to learn quickly.
Undoubtedly, the Beijing Olympics has helped us tourists out quite a lot with this. In order to help tourists get around the city, they added a lot of signs in Pinyin which, in case you don’t know, is a form of Chinese that uses Western characters. So this makes it a lot easier to read signs, particularly when using the metro.
Generally, we found that many of the Chinese people we came across in shops, tourist attractions, train stations etc, could speak English. Moreover, they are willing to help with sign language if necessary and were very patient with us. Since we were easily spotted as not Chinese, we got a lot of people calling out ‘hello’ in English to us. Especially the school children but also adults.
Queuing in China
Beijing is a busy place so wherever you go you will encounter crowds. With this in mind, here are a few tips for dealing with it.
Also, be aware that the Chinese do not have the same sense of personal space as some Western cultures. They’re not being rude when they stand really close to you in a queue. If you look around then you’ll see it is just how things work in China. It’s best if you learn to do the same while in China. If they spy a gap they are likely to jump into it and you’ll then lose your place. On the other hand, although they queue close there is no pushing and shoving. The Chinese live in a country with over a billion people and subsequently, they are used to being in crowds. Generally, they deal with it in a good-natured way while not giving up their own position.
Top Beijing Attractions
The Forbidden City
So, now let’s start looking at the different places to visit when you’re sightseeing in Beijing. Top of my list was the Forbidden City and so we headed there first. The Forbidden City is such an iconic place and it makes the perfect start to 3 days in Beijing.
The Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, is absolutely amazing. So much better in reality than anything the photos show you. We got there quite early before the ticket offices opened. Although the whole area was full of long queues they moved really quickly once they opened and we were soon inside. In fact, it was remarkably quiet inside. Especially in some of the side corridors.
Over the years, the palace has housed 24 emperors from both the Ming and Qing dynasties. In fact, there was an emperor in residence until 1924. The complex covers over 70 hectares and is roughly divided into the private royal area and also the more public area.
What to see
The Forbidden Palace comprises many different buildings and there are some marvellous treasures to view also. You can either follow one of the suggested routes and explore the palaces on your own or take a tour. You’ll find various boards with information in English so you can get a good overview of the palace this way. If you’re keen to find out more about the history of the Forbidden Palace then consider booking a guided tour. Click here to book a very reasonably priced and informative walking tour with an English-speaking guide.
I’m not going to give you a detailed, building by building description as there are so many. Indeed, it wouldn’t really help you anyway as it’s a place you really need to see for yourself to fully appreciate. However, to give you a taste here are a few of my favourite photos from our visit.
Forbidden City: Practical Information
The Forbidden City is open from 8.30 am to 5 pm every day except Mondays. In the off peak season it closes earlier at 4.30 pm.
The ticket office closes an hour before official closing. However,make sure you allow plenty of time to tour the site. It’s huge so you’ll need to allow 2-3 hours to really do it justice.
Tickets cost 60 Yuan (approx £7). If you visit between November and April then the price is reduced to 40 Yuan (£5).
If you prefer to purchase your tickets online before you go then you need to use an agency as foreigners cannot currently buy tickets online directly. However, you can easily purchase the tickets online by using this link.
Tiananmen East Station (Exit A) or Tiananmen West Station (Exit B). Both on Metro Line 1.
You will exit the Forbidden City on the opposite side of the Palace complex because they control the flow of visitors in this direction. This means you’re in the ideal location to walk across to Jingshan Park. Although it’s quite separate from the Forbidden City it makes sense to visit both on the same day. It’s a beautiful park and lovely to walk around. However, the main attraction is the hill. Actually, it’s an artificial hill although I’d never have known from looking at it.
You need to walk up quite a few steps to get to the top but I managed it so it can’t be too strenuous! It’s well worth it though. Not only is it a lovely walk through the trees and shrubs but just look at the view you get when you get to the top.
Jingshan Park: Practical Information
April to October: 6 am to 9 pm. November to March: 6.30 am to 8 pm.
Tickets cost 2 Yuan (approx 25p).
Shichahai Station on Metro Line 8.
One of the things that you quickly discover while you’re here is that Beijing has some beautiful outdoor spaces. During our 3 days in Beijing, we visited several lovely parks. Beihai Park is a short walk from the Forbidden City and it’s also a popular spot for leisure activities. We spent time walking along the many pathways around the lake and spent an enjoyable few hours here. There are some beautiful buildings and structures to admire as well as the natural environment.
At the entrance to the park, we found a small market area selling different snacks and cakes. We picked up croissants and biscuits along with some water before entering the ark and had a picnic lunch inside. Just a heads up, they were selling the croissants by the kilo so I got a surprised look when I asked for four. The lady serving quickly realised what I meant though so we didn’t buy a week’s supply of croissants. after all.
You can hire a boat and spend time on the lake also. I noticed that the locals do like to spend time on the water while in their parks and there are always plenty of boats available. We also got to chat with some of the local families. Since the children learn English at school they are very keen to practice! We didn’t see many other Westerners while we were in China so I guess they don’t get many opportunities to chat with native English speakers. We also got a lot of waves and cheery hellos as we wandered around the parks so we always felt very welcome.
Beihai Park: Practical Information
April to October: 6 am to 9 pm. November to March: 6.30 am to 8 pm.
Tickets cost 10 Yuan (approx £1). From November to March, admission is half price.
Beihai Bei Station (Exit B) on Metro Line 6.
Of course, you can’t go to Beijing without visiting Tiananmen Square. In fact, I doubt there are many people who haven’t heard of it. Right in the centre is this Monument to the People’s Heroes. The monument, which dominates the square, was erected during the early 1950s to commemorate those who fought in the various uprisings of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Great Hall of the People
Also located on Tiananmen Square is the Great Hall of the People. This is where the Chinese Congress sits and also where various political activities take place. It is possible to go inside and take a tour although we didn’t. The public is allowed inside when no political activities are in progress.
Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao
On the far side of Tiananmen Square is the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao. Indeed, this is where the coffin of Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China was laid.
It is also possible to go inside here and the hall is open from 8 am to 12 pm from Tuesday to Saturday. There is no charge but you need to show your passport to gain admission. You should also abide by a number of rules. No bags, cameras, bottles or drinks are allowed inside but there is a bag check available. Mobile phones must also be turned off. You must dress smartly, be quiet and behave respectfully once inside.
Outside the Mao Memorial Hall are several large clay statues which depict the Chinese Revolution. They’re actually pretty impressive and very detailed.
In the above photo of me in Tiananmen Square, you can see the Tiananmen Tower, also called the Gate of Heavenly Peace, in the background. This used to be the main gate of the Imperial Palace and ordinary people were not allowed through. Since 1987 however, we can all go through if we want to.
National Museum of China
This imposing building houses an extensive collection of exhibits chronicling Chinese history generally and more specifically, the Chinese Revolution. It has some simply stunning artefacts including a 1.7 million-year-old tooth. You can also see Chinese treasures such as jade, porcelain, pottery, paintings and more.
Tiananmen Square: Practical Information
Admission to the square, the National Museum and the Memorial Hall is free of charge. If you want to climb the Tiananmen Tower then it costs 15 Yuan (£1.50). Also, there may be a charge for special exhibitions at the museum.
A tour of the Great Hall of the People costs 30 Yuan (£3) and you will need your passport to buy a ticket.
The National Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day except Mondays.
Tiananmen Dong or Tiananmen Xi Stations on Metro Line 1. Qianmen Station (Exit A or B) on Metro Line 2.
You’ll find Beijing’s Summer Palace or Yiheyuan (in Pinyin) located just outside the downtown area. It is another really beautiful Royal park. I believe it’s one of the largest of its type in China so you can imagine that it takes quite a few hours to see. In fact, you could spend all day here. Take a picnic or pick up some instant noodles from one of the vendors for lunch.
We caught the metro to Beigongmen Station and entered the park near the staircase leading up to Longevity Hill. So our introduction to the Summer Palace was the climb up to the top. In fact, you don’t have to climb the hill to see the park but I didn’t realise that at the time.
It was a little hazy when we were there but you can still get a good view from the top. Also, the various buildings and structures on the way up are well worth seeing.
Around the lakes
Most of the Summer Palace area is actually quite flat. So when we walked down the other side of the hill we spent time exploring the pathways around the lakes. As I have noted already, Beijing has some truly beautiful parks. In my opinion, this is probably the best although they really are all lovely. The Summer Palace is also a UNESCO World Heritage site which reflects its cultural and historical significance.
The Summer Palace is a large park and if you want to see specific sights you might want to consult the map. We got a map when we bought our tickets although we tend to just wander and see what we find. You’ll also find information boards in English around the park which is useful.
Boats and Bridges
You can also take a boat ride along the canals and lakes from several piers around the main lakes. These were very popular although there are plenty of boats so you won’t have to wait too long.
You’ll find lots of different bridges which connect the pathways across the various canals and inlets. These are beautifully decorated and all different. Some have a pagoda on top as can be seen in the photo above. Others have intricate stonework designs.
Although there were quite a lot of people in the park there is so much space that it didn’t feel crowded around the lakes. Look at the tree-lined causeway in the photo above. Not another person in sight! It really is a gorgeous setting for a walk.
The Silk bridge in the photo above is particularly attractive. It was built for Emperor Qianlong an is open on all four sides specifically to assist sightseeing of the lakes.
Summer Palace: Practical Information
April to October: 6.30 am to 6 pm November to March: 7 am to 5 pm
Entrance Tickets to the park cost 30 Yuan (approx £3.50). Reduced to 20 Yuan between November and April.
Children under 1.2m tall are free.
You can also buy a combo ticket for 60 Yuan which includes entry to the Dehe Garden, Tower of Buddhist Incense, Wenchang Hall, Suzhou Street and Danning Hall. Or you can buy tickets to these individually.
Beigongmen Station (Exit D) on Line 4. Bagou Station on Line 10. Xiyuan (Exit C2) on lines 4 and 16.
You might have heard it referred to as the Bird’s Nest. This striking stadium was the main location for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. It’s also a popular tourist attraction. In 2022 the stadium will once again take centre stage as the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.
Olympic Stadium: Practical Information
Viewing the Stadium
You can go and look at the stadium for free. At the current time it is closed although it may re-open for tours later in the year.
Aoti Zhongxin (Olympic Sports Center) Station (Exit B2) on Metro Line 1.
Temple of Heaven
Before we visited the Temple of Heaven during our 3 days in Beijing, I thought it was just one temple. In fact, it’s a whole complex of temples, altars and other buildings together with some extensive parkland. It covers 2,700,000 square meters and surprisingly is larger than the Forbidden City. So do allow plenty of time to fully explore it. Here are some of the highlights to see when you visit.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
This is the first place we came across as we entered the Temple of Heaven. Here, the emperors would pray for good harvests. Built during the Ming Dynasty it’s nearly 600 years old.
Inside, you can see rows of cows. All part of the symbolic call for good harvests and plentiful food for everyone. It’s very unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rows of cows inside a temple in this way before. It’s certainly a very beautiful building both inside and out.
Imperial Vault of Heaven
The Imperial Vault of Heaven is south of the Hall of Good Harvests. It’s another round and ornately decorated building. Inside it’s beautifully decorated and very colourfull. Nearby is the Echo Wall, which as the name suggests is a long curved wall which facilitates sound waves.
Circular Mound Altar
This ornate tiered construction is a sacrificial altar. You can walk up the steps through each tier and see the central altar stone where offerings were made. It is enclosed with walls and so has various gates to allow access.
In the photo above you can see one of the gates leading from the altar. This one leads back towards the main complex. The emperor would have entered through one gate, officials through the large central gate and others through the other gate. Quite a formal process.
Here you can see Paul stood at the very centre of the Circular Mound Altar. This is the Heaven Heart Stone. Paul’s testing the echo effect of standing on this spot. During sacrifices, the official would stand here to speak to the people so he needed to be heard.
Seventy Year Old Door
This is rather interesting door has a curious name. Seventy Year Old Door. It’s not the door that is seventy years old, however. In fact, it’s much older than that. In 1779, Emperor Qiang was 70 years. His advisors worried that the walk to the rituals at the was too long for such an old man. So they built this door. The Emperor didn’t want younger rulers to get lazy do he decreed that only those over 70 years of age could use it. Thus, the name. In fact, no other emperors lived to 70 so he was the only one who used it. Quite a cool story!
Ancient Trees at the Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven has some really fascinating trees. Some of these are what is called Ancient Trees. They’re not just old, they are historically and culturally significant trees. Although most of them are also quite old. This Juniper tree attracts many crowds and is a popular sight in the park. Indeed, it’s over 500 years old. When you get up close you can see the knarled and interwoven growth on the trunk. I must admit, it’s quite moving to stand so close to something that has lived so long.
These huge stones were laid here by Emperor Jianjing and are pacifying stones. Originally there were seven as the name implies but if you look carefully you’ll see that there are actually eight. That’s because an extra stone was added when Manchuria became part of China. They symbolise unity and togetherness across the country.
Temple of Heaven: Practical Information
April to October: 6 am to 10 pm November to March: 6.30 am to 10 pm
April to October: 8 am to 5.30 pm November to March: 8 am to 5 pm
Entrance Tickets to the park cost 15 Yuan (approx £1.75). Reduced to 10 Yuan between November and April.
Entrance to the temples is extra so buy a combo ticket for 34 Yuan (approx £4) to gain access to these also. Reduced to 28 Yuan between November and April.
An Audio Guide Tour is available for 40 Yuan but you must leave a 100 Yuan deposit (refundable on return).
Tiantan Dongmen Station (Exit A) on Line 5.
The Great Wall
Ok, not strictly in Beijing but you really should make time in your Beijing Sightseeing itinerary for a trip to the Great Wall. We travelled there and back by train and I’ll give you all the details of how to do that towards the end of this section.
You can visit several different sections of the wall but the easiest to reach by public transport is at Badaling. Now, this can get busy. It’s a very popular section of the wall and if you’re looking for somewhere quiet you might like to try one of the other areas.
Take the Cable Car to the top
The wall itself is extensively restored at Badaling so you do get a great idea of how imposing it would have been in its day. Walking along it is an amazing experience. As you can see in the photo below, although it was busy, there was still plenty of room to walk comfortably and take in the views. This was a Sunday so I’m sure it’s quieter during the week.
We took the cable car to the top section. This meant we could walk back down to the station. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, the wall isn’t straight down. It goes up and down as it hugs the contours of the landscape. It is incredibly steep in places and was quite hard work but we did enjoy it.
General Qi Jiguang
This stone statue is in the courtyard area where we came down off the wall. I think it is General Qi Jiguang. He was a Chinese general who was involved in reinforcing the wall during the Ming Dynasty.
At the lower entrance or exit (if you’re walking down) of the wall, there are shops and restaurants. You can also find toilets here. It’s quite a touristy commercialised area so you can get your souvenirs or stock up on water and snacks. Just a note on language here. We found that most of the sellers spoke English related to their shops. So they could understand if you asked for water, coke etc. Which is very handy.
Getting to the Great Wall by Train
We took the train from Beijing North Station to Badaling. It was a really fun experience although the train is popular with the locals and does get busy. When you arrive at the station you may have to queue to get in the waiting room. You’ll see the queue outside the main door and you need to show your ticket to be allowed in. We used the same Beijing smartcard that we bought for using the metro. It costs 6 Yuan (about 70p) each way to Badaling so make sure you put enough credit on your card before you get in the queue.
At Beijing North Station look for entrance S2. It is to the left of the main entrance doors and has a sign on it so you can’t miss it. You should arrive at least 30 minutes beforehand. In fact, if you travel on the weekend as we did then arrive even earlier. The final destination station for the Badaling train is Yanqing.
Once in the waiting room, there is some limited seating but mainly there is a standing crowd. As soon as the doors open the crowd will surge forward and people run for the train. It is quite chaotic but we just kept walking quickly towards the front of the train and eventually found empty seats.
Look out for views of the wall
The journey to Badaling takes just over an hour and for the last 20 minutes or so you get some fantastic views of the wall as it stretches across the mountains.
On arrival at Badaling just follow the crowd. Everyone is going to the wall. About halfway up you will see a large sign for the Cable car. We took this. It costs 80 Yuan (£8) so it’s not a cheap option but it is fun. You also have to pay 45 Yuan (£5) entrance fee. The Great Wall is very much a tourist spot in this regard but worth it. If you want to save your money then just keep walking up the hill and you will come to the lower part of the wall.
Returning to Beijing by Train
Firstly, there are not as many trains as you might expect. Be sure to check the timetable as we waited for 2 hours at the station for the next return train! Because of the infrequent trains, crowds at this station can be huge and your chance of getting a seat on the return train is low particularly at weekends.
Here’s what we did. We took the next train to Yanqing, the destination station for the train from Beijing. It’s only a few minutes up the line and cost us 50p on our smartcard. From there we got on the Beijing train and got some seats. The train was pretty full when it left Yanqing. So when it arrived at Badaling there weren’t many seats left for the huge crowd that wanted to get on. After a long day climbing the steps on the wall, we were very happy that we didn’t have to stand all the way back to Beijing.
For detailed information on taking the train to Badaling head over to Seat61. Mark is an absolute guru on everything to do with trains. I followed the instructions on his page for making this journey so just want to share. He also has details of the current temporary change of departure station from Beijing due to maintenance.