Beijing is a super busy capital of the world’s most populous nation and a home to some of the most iconic tourist attractions. It’s a place where the borders between East and West, new and old, traditional and contemporary blur. Visiting this city is an experience you’re either going to love or hate.
The hustle and bustle of the big city
At first glance, it’s just as we pictured it – a fast-paced metropolis with the serious air pollution, the overwhelming crowds and the heavy traffic.
Expect to be surrounded by a lot (we mean a lot!) of people all the time, especially on the public transportation or at the famous sites. You’ll have to sacrifice your personal space, but don’t feel discouraged. Once you cut through all of that you will find also positive things about Beijing.
The easiest and relatively cheap way of getting around the city is to travel by metro. Just avoid it during the peak hours, unless you want to get squeezed onto a train. Since English isn’t that common, it’s good idea to carry a map. Additionally you can take a picture of the name of your destination in Chinese or ask the staff at your hostel to write it down for you. It will be useful when buying the tickets. In Beijing, they take the security very seriously and the bags are scanned at every train station and the large tourist spots. It takes some extra time, but taking in consideration the amount of the people it goes pretty smooth.
Beijing’s top attractions
Tiananmen Square is one of the biggest squares in the world. It’s also one of the most famous places in China, although the reasons vary depending on whom you ask. For almost all Chinese people, the first association is the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong on the 1st of October 1949. The people outside of China connect Tiananmen Square rather with a pro-democracy movement led by the college students in 1989 that ended in a massacre. Today, you see the soldiers marching through, the flags flying high and the tourists snapping pictures everywhere. On the square there is also the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong with his embalmed body available for public viewing.
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Forbidden City served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors and the ordinary people were not allowed in without permission, hence the name ‘Forbidden’ City. Since it became Palace Museum that is open to the public, you can (though not for free) explore and get lost in this beautiful maze of the colorful temples and shrines.
Not too far from Forbidden City, there is a park with the hill called Jingshan Park. The colorful wooden pagoda at the top of the hill offers a wonderful panorama on Forbidden City that really shows its size. The only big minus of the place is that the view draws lots of crowds so forget about the peaceful moments.
We’ve heard about lots of scams going on in Beijing. We saw these 2:
- While being in Jingshan Park it’s common that some ‘friendly’ students will approach you looking to practice their English. You can chat with them, but don’t accept their invitation for a drink otherwise it turns into an expensive scam.
- At Tiananmen Square, there will be many ‘kind’ people willing to help you to find the place where you can drop your bags or the camera (these items are not allowed when visiting the mausoleum). Politely decline their offer or just ignore them, it’s not worth the fuss and the talks about the tip for their ‘service’ afterwards.
Getting lost in the narrow laneways, known as Hutongs was one of our favorite experiences of Beijing. Unfortunately, the undergoing urban development is slowly killing the old charm of the city, replacing Hutongs with the new modern buildings. Again, you cannot really get away from the crowds, but strolling through this area is a great way to see how the locals really live. And if you’re up for some unhealthy snacks, this is a right place.
Great Wall of China
Beijing is a perfect base to explore the Great Wall of China. Whichever section of the wall you choose to visit, it’s an obvious must-see. For those short on time, Badaling is the best choice as you can easily reach it within an hour by the public transportation. Even though it’s hectic and full of the tourists and the hawkers, it’s a breathtaking experience. If you want to skip the crowds, continue walking to the second part of Badaling that is not connected with the cable car and you will find it empty. To get the most out of your visit, take the comfortable shoes.
For those who like people-watching, Beijing is a great spot. Here, you can see so many people practicing Tai Chi or dance aerobics just in the middle of the city. It seems that every corner has an adventure or simply something very strange going on. Check it out and feel free to join in!
Beijing is full of the places with delicious local dishes. We found the best food in the small local restaurants, which were full to the brim with Chinese people grabbing a quick bite or just hanging out with their friends and families. This kind of places are the best to visit if you want to experience the real Chinese food.
Overall, Beijing is not to be missed experience!