Planning your summer trip to Beijing may feel like its own decathlon, but with this gold-medal itinerary from IgoUgo’s experienced China travelers, you’ll be able to cheer on your team while experiencing Beijing at its best.
1. Consider alternate (and sometimes cheaper!) routes to Beijing
Add a second destination to your China vacation: fly from the US to Shanghai, Tianjin, or Nanjing, and after visiting, hop a domestic flight or train to Beijing. Or, while you’re en route, attend one of the events taking place in those secondary cities.
Theophilus says: “Tianjin is modern, but you can still find the old China. It is also a brilliant starting point for trips to other places as it is located at a railway junction. From Tianjin, you can get almost anywhere in China. And Tianjin is much cheaper than Beijing.”
Sakura says: “Our second-class journey from Tianjin to Beijing was comfortable. I was writing about my trip during this short trip, since the train ran very smoothly. It arrived at Beijing Station on time, so our wonderful train trip was over rather quickly.”
ElyseMc says: “On Friday morning, we took the 9:45am China Eastern flight from Nanjing to Beijing. After the 1.5-hour flight, we got in to the Beijing airport, gathered our luggage, and met the hotel car.”
Quan says: “Soft-sleeper tickets make train travel feel almost luxurious. In Beijing, you get to wait in a plush waiting room, complete with large, leather armchairs. And soft-sleeper ticket holders are allowed to reach the platform a few minutes, and sometimes tens of minutes, before the general stampede, thus making the boarding process pleasant.”
2. Choose a hotel located in a hutong neighborhood
These traditional communities, with their winding streets and neighborly atmosphere, are the perfect antidotes to a day spent among the hordes at stadiums and major tourist sights.
AsianPersuasion recommends the Red Lantern House: “This place was fabulous! Right in the middle of a hutong, this guesthouse had a real homey feel. It’s run by three brothers and every evening they sit in the common area listening to their older bother play the erhu, the Chinese version of the violin. The youngest brother collects red paper lanterns and every night he lights them, along with regular oil lamps, and it creates the most amazing glow that just draws you in. I really wished I could have stayed there longer.”
midtownmjd’s pick is the Far East International Youth Hostel: “I would recommend this hotel-like hostel to anyone. The hostel’s rooms, amenities, and service were enhanced by its location in a traditional, centrally located hutong. Just a 20-minute walk from Tiananmen Square, its small alleyways and community feel seemed far away from the massive plaza and tourist hub.”
3. Avoid crowded hotels altogether with a homestay
Connect with a host family for the most authentic experience around—you might even make friends for life.
explorer2928 says: “I'm writing this to inspire those who are looking to experience not only the regular tourist activities in Beijing but also the more cultural aspect of the city. I was on a homestay program for about a week over Christmas and it was definitely a very memorable trip. I was very fortunate to be introduced to this lovely family by a friend who signs up for homestay programs frequently when he travels.”
4. Embrace the capital’s public transportation
It’s safe, fast, easy, and cheap—and a window into daily life in China’s capital.
Elisabeth28 says: “Buses go almost everywhere in Beijing, with fares ranging from 1 yuan for short journeys to 5 or 6 yuan for long rides on more comfortable buses. Though it may not appear so at first, the bus system is highly organized: each stop has a name and is marked by signs giving the numbers and routes of all buses that stop there.”
AsianPersuasion says: “Use the bus, metro, or do what the Chinese do and get a bike. I enjoyed using the metro. It costs almost nothing and a trained monkey can figure it out in a day.”
5. Pack a sense of adventure—and your own tissues
Beijing is never boring, including when it’s time for a bathroom break.
sheric says: “Chinese public toilets are an experience. They are the traditional squat toilet, and as we found, there is not any toilet paper available. We knew this before we left home, so I invested in an eight-pack of Kleenex travel packs. When traveling around Beijing, we always made sure we had at least one pack with us before we left the hotel in the morning.”
Sakura says: “The greatest worry about the trip to China for women is the toilet situation. When I heard they have no doors, I felt scared to visit China. But I didn't encounter the toilet without a door in my trip. It was mostly because I was very careful to choose the place.”
kwasiak says: “There seemed to be more Western-style toilets at tourists sites in Beijing than I remember from 2 years ago. For a Western toilet, pop into the handicap stall if there is one. Be sure to have tissue with you at all times, as very few bathrooms have any, whether they’re Western- or Eastern-style.”
6. Get a proper introduction to the city at the Temple of Heaven
Marvel at the complex’s Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in person, before you start seeing it on every postcard and T-shirt for the rest of your stay.
phileasfogg says: “Tiantan was the first sight we visited in Beijing, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction to the city. With its cool green environs (the temple spreads out across a large park) and its finely painted and lacquered buildings, you’d expect Tiantan to be besieged by tourists. Thankfully, it isn’t.”
7. Seek out your Great Wall
There are many segments to choose from, but the right one for you depends on the type of traveler you are.
John Lamb says: “Badaling is the most popular section of the Great Wall and the one that most tour buses go to. Because of this, it’s also the most crowded section of the Wall. However, it is also majestically restored and looks beautiful crawling over the hills like a snake.”
nmagann says: “Most of the Si Ma Tai towers were very well preserved with all the walls and roof completely intact. The views were indescribable. It seemed unfathomable that the high peaks you saw in the distance driving up would be the same ones
under your feet a little later. It feels like being on top of the
world. The terrain itself is very rugged and continually changing.”
sarah7 says: “Mu Tian Yu
was a great choice for our family to visit. A short hour’s drive from
Beijing, you see an aspect of Chinese highway travel that may shock
many visitors. This trip also allows you to see the outer city and
experience how others might live.”
8. Enjoy at least one Peking Duck meal
The tradition involved in preparing the dish is fascinating, and the end result is delectable.
Mutt is among the IgoUgo travelers who swear by Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant: “This tiny little family-run eatery in an old courtyard house in a rundown hutong in a forgotten district of the capital is undoubtedly the most authentic place to taste the city’s signature dish.”
phileasfogg is in the camp praising Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant:
“Pile pieces of duck and spring onion onto the pancake, roll it up,
and—heaven! It was very basic and delicious. The duck was crisp,
gloriously juicy (though obviously oozing with calories!), and was
perfectly complemented by the sweet-sour flavour of the sauce and the
crisp pungency of the spring onions. The pieces of skin, thick and
crisp, were pure melt-in-the-mouth.”
9. Take a breather from the city at the Summer Palace
Despite Beijing’s traffic and factory-emission curbs during the 2008
Olympics, it’s summer in the city: Beijing will be hot and smoggy.
Escape the heat at the nearby Summer Palace.
says: “Beautiful buildings with dazzling decoration, sensational
statues of mythical animals, fine frescoes, sensational scenery, and
wonderful wildlife are all part of a visit to The Summer Palace. It’s an absolute must.”
10. Shop where the locals shop
Ttchotchkes abound, vendors hassle, and yuan confuse. Minimize
souvenir stress—and maximize souvenir style—at the locals’ favorite
AsianPersuasion joins other IgoUgo members in recommending Pan Jia Yuan Antique Market:
“This place is IT! For real, honest prices and a wonderful selection of
goods, this is the place to go. The vendors carry a variety of
antiques, beads, chops, brushes, scrolls, lacquer ware, wood work,
jade, pottery, statuary, and Mao memorabilia...the list goes on and on!”
11. Save some energy for Beijing by night
Nightlife is wild in Beijing; head to areas like Houhai or Sanlitun
to see and be seen while executing floor-shaking dance moves, or visit
Tiananmen Square for a different kind of spectacle.
says: “My two friends were over from England, so it was a cultural
imperative that I show them not just the regulation sights such as the
Forbidden City and Great Wall, but also the bright lights of Beijing by
night. The obvious area to do this was, of course, Sanlitun. Despite
the demolition of the famed bar street in 2005, the area remains home
to much of the Chinese capital’s best nightlife.”
says: “Tiananmen Square is huge. This is where, on October 1, 1949, Mao
declared the founding of the People's Republic of China, so this is a
very important place to the Chinese. The square itself is not much to
look at, but the Gate of Heavenly Peace is very impressive. At night it
is lit up and very beautiful.”
12. Eat street food at the night markets
You came to the Olympics for an adventure, and that includes adventures in eating.
says: “Surrender to the subversive and voyeuristic thrill of Beijing
street food. Given a strong stomach, you can eat everything in the sky
but the clouds, everything in the earth but the rocks, and everything
in the ocean but the waves. And apparently they can all be served
skewered on a stick.”
13. Pamper yourself with the most affordable massages and haircuts of your life
Salons are ubiquitous; just follow locals to one that catches your eye.
says: “When deciding where to eat, travelers often abide by the adage,
‘If a restaurant looks busy, it's probably a safe (and good) place to
eat.’ I decided to apply this rule in finding a place to get my hair
cut. Incidentally, there definitely wasn't a shortage of hair salons;
there were about eight per block! The hairdresser I chose ended up
doing a great job, but that's not even the best part. The whole
experience only cost me US$2!”
14. Get comfortable with lost translations
Even at major sites, English translations don’t necessarily abound.
But when they do appear, you’ll no doubt find reason to smile.
says: “I quickly developed an eye for amusing details of English
translations of Chinese signs and messages. My initiation to this
phenomenon came on the Shanghai subway. From then on, I kept my eyes
open for more gems, and when I decided to sample some local candy, I
came across a bag of something that looked like slimy-sticky petals. On
it was a very intense romantic poem in which a woman proclaimed her
affection for her lover ‘from the bottom of my heat.’”