3 DAYS IN BEIJING
DAY 1 – A Glimpse of Beijing
Have an early start and head out to Tiananmen Square, the main square of Beijing, surrounded by all the important government buildings. This is a great place for people watching, as it is always filled with tourists from all around China.
Attractions in this square include the National Museum of China, the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao and the Congress. Read more about Tiananmen Square.
Mind you that queues are long, specially to see Mao, and attractions around the square are only open in the morning, so unless you have many days in the city, choose wisely what you want to see. Our suggestion would be to skip them all and go straight to the Forbidden City.
Take your time wandering around all the Gates and Halls of the old Palace. If you have limited time, keep to the main axis which runs from South to North in order of importance. You can have a snack or two in the café inside the museum. More on Forbidden City.
You will exit the Forbidden City through the North Gate. If you have time to spare, you can cross the street and head to Jingshan Park. Walk up the hill to the small temple to get nice views of the Forbidden City’s rooftops.
After that, exit the park and find your way to the Hutongs. You can either walk (if you still got the energy!) or take a tuk-tuk. There are plenty of tuk-tuks waiting at the gates of Jingshan Park and the Forbidden City, offering a tour of the hutongs. Make sure you arrange a price beforehand (using hand gestures) and show them exactly where you want to go (yes, we were a little scared the first time we did this).
The most touristic hutong is Nanluoguxiang, which has become a commercial destination for both foreigners and Chinese. While the main street is an attraction itself, a detour into the transversal alleyways is a must if you want to catch a glimpse into a more traditional hutong life.
If after all the walking and wandering you still have some energy left, hop on the subway towards Sanlitun, a very modern and hip area containing many international stores, restaurants and bars. It is a great place to do some shopping and end the day with a good dinner.
DAY 2 – Wonder of the World
Dedicate one full day to the Great Wall. This is one of the most breathtaking places in the world.
As everything in China, the Great Wall is huge and has many sections.
The most touristic ones are Badaling and Mutianyu. They are the best preserved, have good facilities, easy transportation to and from the city, and astounding views. For all these reasons they are always crammed.
If you are an adventure seeker, there are other areas which are popular but less touristy. These are Jinshanling and Simatai. Getting there on your own is a bit trickier and the Wall is not preserved, but it guarantees a much less crowded scenery.
There are also wilder sections of the Wall which we were not really interested in as they are for experienced hikers and some even officially banned to tourists.
Make sure to take water and some snacks. There are places to eat around the entrance, but not on the Wall.
On the way back to Beijing, you can stop at the Olympic Park to enjoy the famous designs of the Bird’s Nest (or National Stadium) and the Water Cube (or Aquatics Centre). If you’re a sports fan, you can access each of the attractions, but check their opening times.
DAY 3 – Chinese Architecture
Another early morning and head straight to the Summer Palace, a gigantic garden with a lake, many halls and galleries and a Pagoda-style tower overlooking from the top of the hill. The place is very big, but the main attractions are all situated in the North area.
After exiting the palace, hop back on the subway and go straight to the Lama Temple, a former royal palace that was later converted to a “lamasery” (a Buddhist monastery), with very beautiful traditional Chinese architecture.
In the afternoon, go to the Temple of Heaven, an ancient complex of imperial buildings dedicated to the Heaven worship. There are three main temples, all equally worth a visit, though the biggest
one is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
In the evening you can wander around Dazhalan Hutong, which is another commercial alleyway filled with markets and restaurants. Not as crowded as other touristic hutongs, it is a great place to have dinner and buy souvenirs.
Here are some other attractions you can add to your itinerary.
- Beijing Zoo – to see the Pandas!
- 798 Art District – old military buildings transformed into a modern art zone.
- Chaoyang District – financial area with modern buildings, the CCTV Building is an interesting sight.