Just traveling in China without a tour is tip enough to have an indie experience in Beijing, but if you follow these tips, you can get the most out of your trip.
- Experience the vast differences that are evident all throughout China – from bland, Soviet style communist buildings to bomb shelters to extravagant temples – Beijing has it all.
- In a concrete jungle like Beijing, it’s nice to see a little green. Luckily Beijing has green space to complement the chaos of the rest of the city:
- The Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a park filled with locals.
- Most museums in Beijing, with the exception of the Forbidden Palace, are free. You may have to reserve tickets up to three days in advance, so do your research.
- If you’re into art, check out some cutting edge districts in Chaoyang and Tongzhou.
- If you plan to see the Great Wall (and why wouldn’t you?), head to the Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng and Simatai sections as they are far less crowded, though a bit further outside of Beijing.
Read: 14 Fabulous Things to do in Beijing.
Why you should add Beijing to your RTW travel list
- Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, “the Forbidden City,” 2-minute noodles – it’s all here
- Experience the city as it changes into a modern marketplace and society
- Not only explore Beijing, but use it as your starting point for all of China
- Experience the old colliding with the new
- Visit one of the world’s great wonders – The Great Wall of China
- Food! The food is incredible, and don’t be afraid of the street food, as its the most authentic.
Read: Top Places to See in Beijing.
Why you should not add Beijing to your RTW travel list
- Traveling in China can be extremely challenging and frustrating, so it’s not for the novice traveler.
- The pollution can be unbearable at times.
- If you don’t know what you’re doing, Beijing can become really expensive really quickly.
Read: Old Beijing & New Beijing: A Guide to Both Sides of the Capital.
As host to the 2008 Summer Olympics Beijing is exploding with construction and
activity. China’s capital city of over 13 million is on the fast track toward
Western modernization (for better or for worse) and nothing will stand in its
way. Cars and more cars as well as MTV and marketing slogans are now everywhere
and designer stores and mobile phones are suddenly as common as they are in most
of Europe. But there is still plenty of the old Beijing to see as thousands of
years of history don’t get wiped away quickly.
Read: Beijing: Even Better Than the Real Thing.
What To Do
The massive Forbidden City is probably Beijing’s most famous attraction
and is a must for every visitor. This enormous cluster of ancient buildings is
the best place to see China of old and see up close how things were run during
the 500 years when the rest of the world was locked outside the Forbidden City’s
Tianenmen Square is not just home to a famous protest, it’s the world’s
largest public square and is in the heart of Beijing. It’s filled with kite-flying
locals and tourists alike and it’s fascinating to see this stone square
that was once home to parades of one million people.
The most often visited section of the Great Wall of China is nearby and tours
from Beijing are very popular. You can’t come to China without having a
look at the wall, but scams are somewhat common from unscrupulous drivers and
tour operators so take caution and book with an operator that looks legit.
Read: Bargaining: Chinese Style, Beijing, China.
You’ll want to book
a flight into the rapidly expanding Beijing Capital International Airport.
Being a major airport in a capital city there is much competition so good deals
are often available if you are on the lookout for them. Taxis are fairly cheap
and the ride isn’t too far into the city center, but there are airport
shuttles available that go to certain hotel districts.
Where To Stay
Foreign visitors used to be restricted to staying only in high-priced “official”
hotels, but things are changing quickly. It’s now possible for Westerners
to book into a wide variety of hostels
in Beijing as well as hotels
in Beijing in all price ranges. As with anywhere, the better and cheaper
places tend to fill up in advance so plan ahead.