Three Days in Beijing

[pullquote align=”left”]Beijing is a city of contrasts: traditional vs. modern, gazillionaires vs. penniless. When you arrive in China, you will almost certainly be surprised. China is never what is expected, and Beijing is sure to overwhelm, delight, and shock at the same time.[/pullquote]

After living in Beijing for 2 years, with visitors coming and going much of the time, I was able to help my friends see the best of Beijing in 3 days without breaking the bank. Anyone can do this, even if you don’t speak Chinese and even if you’re a “cautious adventurist” like me.

First, some important stuff to know:

1. Public transportation, especially the subway, is really easy to navigate. Most tourist attractions are within a 5-10 minute walk from a station. It is the cheapest, fastest, and most hassle free way to get around. Transport passes can be purchased at most subway stations, and 35 RMB on your pass should be more than enough to cover bus and subway fare for 3 days.

2. Beijing is a safe city, but there are still lots of scammers who make their livings quite well by absconding with foreigners’ funds. It is impossible for a westerner to blend in here, so be aware. The 99.99% of people who approach you to ask you to tea, to look at their art exhibit, or to be your personal tour guide may have another motive.

3. Use the language. Try, try, try to at least say “hello”, “thank you”, and “goodbye” in Chinese. Chinese people know that their language is one of the most difficult to learn and speak well, but they love it when you try. Westerners are still a curiosity, but it can be to your advantage. Sometimes you can get perks just for being a recognizable foreigner. On more than one occasion, I have been given the additional “friend discount,” been personally escorted to my destination when lost, and been offered drinks/food on the house—all because I tried to use the words I did know.

4. ATMs are safe to use here. The fee is minimal, and it is more convenient than waiting in line at a bank that is able to exchange (not all banks are).

Day One:

Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Jingshan Park.

Tiananmen is a huge square in the middle of the city. It is an experience just to go to see how controlled it is, all the plain clothes officers masquerading as tourists, all the cameras, and security. It’s a wonderful place to people watch and see Chinese tour groups in matching hats from other provinces visiting the capitol for the first time. Flanking Tiananmen on either side, the Chinese Communist Party’s headquarters, the Great Hall of the People, will be to your west and the world’s largest museum, The Chinese National History Museum, will be to the east. Mao’s tomb is located in the southern part of the Square, and you will recognize it for the long lines of mostly Chinese tourists waiting to pay their respects.

The Forbidden City

[pullquote align=”left”]The Forbidden City, at the northern end of Tiananmen, is really impressive. The sheer number and size of rooms is amazing.  It was the personal home of not only the emperors, but also of thousands of guards, consorts, and government officials. [/pullquote]At strategic locations throughout the Forbidden City, you will see huge urns that used to be full of water to fight the destructive fires that would break out. This is a wonderful place for taking photos, and in the 5 times I’ve gone, I have gotten lost and found new places I had never seen or a different perspective for another photograph. Sinophiles and ancient architecture lovers will enjoy an afternoon of wandering and soaking in the scale and beauty of the place. While some may say you’re paying admission for a long walk through sparsely furnished buildings, I firmly believe though that if you come to Beijing and don’t go to the Forbidden City, you’ll regret it because you’ll get hassled back home by people who can’t believe you didn’t go. So just go. Be impressed by the interesting roof tiles and decorations, all the building details, and the massive courtyards.

There are numerous ticket windows for other attractions on the way to the Forbidden City, but don’t be fooled.  These are not tickets for the Forbidden City. Signs direct the way to the real ticket windows at the end. Admission will be 60RMB during peak season and 30RMB in off-season.

After your walk through the Forbidden City, at the North Gate, you will see the entrance to Jingshan Park across the street.  Admission is 2RMB. Climb to the top of the hill for a neat bird’s-eye view of the Forbidden City and Beijing. Hopefully, it will be clear weather for you to get a good view overlooking the Forbidden City with Beijing’s modern skyscrapers looming in the background.

When I do this day with people, I like to eat a big breakfast before heading out, buy a snack if I need one later, and then save myself for an early dinner. Your feet will probably need a break, and you will be tired. Top off the day with a Peking duck dinner before resting up for the next day. I like Quangjude Roast Duck Restaurant by the Silk Market. It’s rare to have to wait for a table because it is a big restaurant, and by the end of the day, you will just want to eat an excellent meal and rest your feet. The service is also good, and no matter how busy it is, a carver will still come to your table to carve the duck in front of you and give Peking duck eating lessons. If you’re not too tired on your way out, walk through the Silk Market and see what they have to offer. The crowds aren’t as bad at the end of the day.

Day Two:

Summer Palace and Acrobat Show and Wangfujing Night Market

The Summer Palace is a great place to bring a book and have a picnic. Take the boats on the lake, walk across the 17 Arch Bridge for a fantastic view of the temple on the hill, or just sit on the benches in the long Painted Corridor and enjoy the breeze.

In the afternoon, take the subway back to Hujialuo.  Granted, it is on the other side of the city, but you can get tickets for the acrobat show that plays in the late afternoon or in the early evening at the Chaoyand Theatre. Then go to the Wangfujing Night Market, and if the tasties they offer there don’t strike your fancy, there are plenty of cheap but delicious restaurants in the area.

Day Three:

Great Wall

It’s best to leave early on the day you’re going to the Great Wall. You can take a bus or hire a private driver or a taxi. I like to go with a driver, and if you have friends in Beijing, they probably know someone with a car looking to make some extra money.

There are many different spots to visit, but my favorite part to take visitors is the Mutianyu section of the Wall. It’s not too crowded and touristy, like Badaling. Although the path leading to the Wall is full of kitschy paraphernalia to woo and entice the foreigners, don’t be fooled. You can get all the gifts you want in the city for much less.

Bring a picnic lunch, so you can saunter along the Wall and enjoy some spectacular views.

Go back to the Dongzhimen area, and eat dinner at the best Xingjiang restaurant in Beijing, Crescent Moon, in Dongsiliutiao Alley. My husband and I love this place, and the staff knows us so well that we don’t even have to order anymore. I highly recommend the homemade yogurt, which is a tasty dip for the chuan’r (roasted lamb skewers) or is delicious eaten by itself.

Beijing in 3 days can be done. And while the things I mentioned are by no means the only things to do, it’s good for travelers who are blowing through Beijing on their way somewhere else or have a long weekend to spend.  Happy travels!

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  • Adan Callaghan

    My wife and I followed essentially this same itinerary. It can be done! Be prepared for a lot of walking but that’s part of travel in China. We also loved the Crescent Moon restaurant. Its hard to find but really worth it. The beauty and views from Jingshan Park are worth the extra walk after the Forbidden City.