Though many people explore Beijing as a stopover, we think one week in Beijing offers so much more. The capital of China is mostly visited due to its proximity to the Great wall of China, but we found ourselves immersed in history and beautiful cultural sites of this grand city.
As first timers, we thought it would be overwhelming to arrive to such a congested and populated city. However, getting around wasn’t too hard despite the language barrier we faced.
Our one week in Beijing allowed us to visit sites listed on UNESCO, we got to roam around enormous parks, and simply got lost in the interesting streets of Beijing.
If you are thinking of visiting Beijing in one week or even as a short stopover, check out the things to do during your visit there.
Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
Starting with the obvious! It would be crazy to visit Beijing and not head to the Wall of China to cross this world wonder off your bucket list. We decided to visit the Mutianyu section because it’s less crowded than Badaling. We got many shots on our camera without people in them since people are well spread out. Look how lovely it looks during Autumn! Getting there can be done by bus, private taxi, or tour.
Known also as the Palace Museum, Forbidden City served as the home to 24 emperors since the Ming and Qing dynasty from 1420-1912. The architecture of this place is what we most loved about it. With gold and blue details, and red rooftops, we were left loving the beautiful structures. In fact, this place became a UNESCO site because of its significance in Chinese architecture and culture. You will need comfortable shoes because this place is enormous! Just outside, you will find it surrounded by a moat and vendors lining the street just across Jingshan Park. You will cross from the South end to the North leading you out to Jingshan Park.
Tiananmen Square is in the center of Beijing, just in front of Forbidden City. Both can be done together. It has the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the National Museum of China, and Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
The north exit of the Forbidden City leads you to Jingshan Park. We recommend making a stop and climbing “Prospect Hill” to get a beautiful view of Forbidden City from above. Exploring the gardens while snacking away on a bench and enjoying the view is a great way to enjoy peace at Jingshan Park. You’ll need that break after walking so much at Forbidden City.
When we finished walking through Jinshang Park, we wandered to the eastside exit to walk and just get lost in the city. In only minutes, we found ourselves lost in Yuanjing Hutongs. Hutongs are alleyways of old homes and shops that date all the way back. Only a few remain, and they are a perfect place to wander and to get small bites to eat. We found all types of breads, peanuts, dried foods, and seafood being sold.
Beihai Park was never planned. We ended up here after walking the Yuanjing Hutongs. It’s a former imperial park located in Northern Beijing. It’s another beautiful garden with palaces, temples, and a lake.
Temple of Heaven
This was one of our favorite spots in Beijing. Temple of Heaven is made up of religious temples where prayer ceremonies to heaven took place annually, specifically at the Taoist temple by the Ming and Qing dynasties. Also a UNESCO site because of its architecture, you’ll find every spot to be beautiful, including the peaceful gardens. You’ll even find people practicing Tai Chi and you can join in if you’d like.
The Summer Palace
Despite being a huge city with many buildings and cars, Beijing holds some beautiful lakes, gardens, and palaces. The Summer Palace is another UNESCO site found in Beijing because of its gorgeous gardens that were once visited by the Qing Dynasty. The main attraction is Longevity Hill which you’ll ascend only to find a breathtaking view of the city. The backside of the hill is Kunming Lake. You’ll want to walk the premises to enjoy this beauty. If you get tired, you can take a shortcut back on a small boat.
We also ended up on this street by accident one evening, but turns out it’s quite popular. Dashilar is only a few minutes from Tiananmen Square. It’s a business street with hundreds of vendors on some streets and an outdoor mall on the main street. The items here are cheap and it’s fun to walk around seeing all the little trinkets.
We’ll be honest. The one and only reason we came to this zoo was to see Pandas so we could send pictures to our niece. We were hesitant to visit, but I couldn’t resist seeing these beautiful mammals and they did not disappoint. The zoo began in 1906 since the Qing dynasty and is one of the oldest in China. We were more impressed with the Chinese gardens inside which were beautiful. Despite having many visitors, you could sit on a bench to enjoy a peaceful moment.
Taikoo Li Sanlitun
Formerly known as Sanlitun Village, Taikoo Li Sanlitun is a popular shopping area with many stores including fashion brands. We didn’t get to stop here but we did see how busy the are gets when we passed by.
Eat Street Food
Hutongs are where we tried different foods, but we are rather picky with our food and have trouble trying new ones. Many people love Chinese food and experimenting, so if you are one, enjoy! There are many options. The popular food is duck.
Restaurant service is different though. Your food may arrive all at once or in parts. Sometimes one person will get their meal while the other waits much longer.
Also, skip tap water. We found bottled water to be quite cheap.
Some places will serve hot boiling water with your food and you’ll wonder why. We found out it’s quite normal and one of the preferred drinks. It’s drank to help the digestive system.
How to Get Around
Ride the Metro
The best way to get around Beijing is the Metro. It’s quick, cheap, and easy to understand. Because the Olympics were once held here, everything has English translation making it easy to get around. If you ride during rush hour, expect to be packed inside like sardines!
Ride a Rickshaw
This is a popular tourist transportation because it allows you to see the streets of Beijing at a slower pace. It’s pricier than taxi, but taking it once or twice is a perfect way to enjoy the city.
Take a Taxi
We never found one taxi driver who spoke English, so make sure you have the place you want to go to written down, preferably in Chinese. A translation app can help with this. Check that they have the meter turned one and expect a lot of traffic, especially at rush hour. If you don’t want to get ripped of like we did upon airport arrival, go to the official taxi stand which will charge way less. Trust us on this! We got charged double what it should have been. You can also hire a taxi for the day like we did to get to the Wall of China. Many people do it and prices are reasonable.
Important Things to know before visiting:
Great Firewall of China
China has a Great Firewall in the country, meaning it regulates the internet and blocks selected foreign websites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more. Google will not work when you connect to WiFi, so we did some of our research on a different search engine. It’s www.baidu.com. Luckily, with our T-mobile free roaming, we were able to use our favorite sites because T-Mobile acts like a VPN, bypassing the Great Firewall. However, if you don’t have T-Mobile, you can download an app or install a VPN on your phone or device before arriving to China. A VPN will give you access your favorite sites.
Most countries must apply for a visa beforehand because they don’t give them on arrival. And they’re not cheap and take some work. You must have a letter of invitation from a relative or a detailed itinerary of your hotel stay, with return or outbound flights. However, certain countries can visit visa free for 72 hours making Beijing a great stop over city. Check your visa requirements before visiting!
English is not commonly spoken, and that’s perfectly fine. Just be aware that communicating can be a bit difficult. In our entire week, we only found one receptionist who spoke it a little. Bring a language app and learn a few key words. Google translate helped us immensely!
Cash is King, No Tipping, and Yes Haggling
Although some places do accept card, cash will be your best bet when getting around. The only currency accepted is the yuan, known as RMB or quai. Also, they don’t expect tip nor do they practice it. No need to do it. When it comes to saving money, you can practice your haggling skills outside of boutiques and chain stores.
The City has Pollution
Pollution is serious in Beijing and in larger cities in China. No joke! We were there on the first warning of the Fall Season with pollution considered highly dangerous that day, way above safety levels. Even the sun could be clearly seen without squinting because the pollution created an effect. We even got a headache. So, if you are sensitive to air pollution, wear a mask like the locals do and check the air quality each day.
Squat toilets might be new for you like it was for us. This might be a culture shock to some, but it’s not that bad. Just make sure to carry toilet paper or tissue because most toilets will not have any. Also, pack the hand sanitizer.
Driving in China
You are brave if you rent a car and drive in Beijing. There are no rules. None. It’s like red lights don’t exist nor driving side. It’s chaotic, but for some odd reason we never felt scared our drivers would crash badly. There is too much traffic for the taxi drivers to ever gain real speed.
Spitting is the norm. You’ll see it happen a lot and you’ll see the spit on the floor, pretty much anywhere.
Personal space means something completely different. Life is rushed, so expect pushes and shoves, and don’t expect many lines because you’ll be skipped.
Some Chinese will be excited to see tourists, especially Chinese tourists from smaller villages. They’ll want to take pictures with you if you look different.
Chinese are helpful and kind. But you do need to ask for help first if you need it. So, don’t be shy.
How would you spend one week in Beijing?
What places would you visit? Or is there something that should be added to this list? Let us know in the comments!
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