1. Have a calculator with you at all times. Invaluable when shopping and bargaining. Never accept the first price.
2. Learn the subway system, we learned that it’s way faster than navigating through Beijing’s rather dense traffic. Plus, it’s so cheap. Only 2RMB (or 0.30 US) to ride the subway virtually anywhere in the city. At first we were worried that we would not know where to get off, etc. We had no problems, all stops are marked in English and easy to figure out.
3. KFC and Macdonalds are the best places to use the washrooms. The public washrooms often do not have toilet paper, the toilets are squat style and they also make you pay to use them.
4. Which brings me to my next point, always and I mean ALWAYS have toilet paper in your purse. Never assume that the bathrooms will have them.
5. You absolutely do not need to hire a guide for the Forbidden City or Great Wall or anywhere else for that matter. My friends who went to Beijing 2 months before us, thought they should have a guide to take them to the Great Wall and paid the equivalent of $200 US/couple (there was another American couple who had paid the same amount travelling in the van with them) to be driven to the Wall and back. The guide did not share any information that they could not have read in a guidebook themselves. They also had to pay for the guide’s lunch, admission and lift tickets. We managed to do our roundtrip to Great Wall with the freedom of having a driver waiting for us when we were ready to take the bus back to Beijing for less than $20 US for the two of us! (see my Great Wall Mutianyu report for details on how we arranged that). We are not Chinese and do not speak Chinese, we were absolutely fine without a guide.