Beijing is the capital city of China and is one of the most iconic cities in the country. It is well known for its history and many recent events like the 2008 Summer Olympics. If you are planning to travel to China then Beijing is a great place to see, there are lots of things to do in the city and surrounding areas. Here are a few notes about the city that may be helpful for your upcoming trip.
Before You Go
You will need a visa to enter China. The Chinese have several embassies located throughout the USA where you can apply for and get a Visa. This can be done in person, or you can hire a service to get your visa processed for you.
The current rate for a tourist visa is $140, if you use a service to process your application for you then you can expect to pay and additional $80-$300 depending on the type of visa you request and the processing time that you desire. If you request the cheapest option then it could take more than a week to get the visa processed.
Make sure that you have a passport that is valid for at least one year from the date you plan to enter China. You will also need supporting documents for your trip such as copies of airline ticket confirmations and hotel reservations. You will also need to send a passport-sized photo along with your application.
Getting To Beijing
The major airport in Beijing is Beijing Capital International Airport. (PEK) Daily international flights from all around the world arrive and depart daily.
Beijing has a great public transportation system. I found it easy to take the subway system and get close to anything that I wanted to see. Riding the subway is very efficient and pretty inexpensive.
Using a taxi is also pretty handy if you want to get somewhere specific quickly. Taxis cost more than subway travel, but it is not expensive. Most of the taxi drivers do not speak English, so you will want to have the address of the place you are headed written down in Chinese so you can show the driver. Your hotel concierge should be able to help you out with this. Make sure you get in a real cab with a meter. If you are not getting a metered fare then you may be getting ripped off.
You will have your choice of hundreds of hotels in the city. You should be able to find something in your budget as the prices range from very cheap to extremely expensive. Most of the worldwide hotel chains have at least one hotel in Beijing if you have a favorite company. I always recommend checking out recent traveler reviews on TripAdvisor to get a good idea about the quality of the hotel before booking.
Something that I really enjoyed in Beijing were the hotels that had an executive lounge on the top floor. If you purchase access to the executive lounge as part of your room rate then you can go up and enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks at several times of day. Make sure you ask your hotel if they have this option available, it may be worth it to upgrade.
Must See In Beijing
The Great Wall
Whether you can see it from space or not, The Great Wall is one of the most amazing man-made structures in the world. It stretches over 13,000 throughout the country, and Beijing is the closest major city to the most well preserved sections of wall. There are many sections of the wall that tourists can visit. Badaling and Muninayu are the two most popular sections of wall near Beijing. If you want to get out and enjoy some of the more remote sections of wall then head out to Jinshanling or Simatai. These parts of the wall are less visited by tourists, and you can do some awesome wall trekking in these parts. I found the Jinshanling section of wall to be amazing! It was totally worth the extra travel time getting there.
This is the seed of the current Chinese government. Tiananmen Square is located right in the middle of the city and is a must visit when in Beijing. You will see many government buildings and museums surrounding the huge square.
The Forbidden City
Right across the street from Tiananmen Square is the massive palace compound. Dating back to the 1400s, the Forbidden City was the home of Chinese emporers from the Ming and Qing dynasties until 1912. Visitors can access the Forbidden City for an entrance fee, and there are several different small museums inside of the walls that visitors can also visit for an additional charge. There are collections of ceramics, clocks, art, weapons and several other items that were used and owned by the emperors and their families throughout hundreds of years of ruling from the Forbidden City.
Walking around the city I was in awe of how many complexes and rooms there were within the walls. There are so many cool things to see in the Forbidden City. Plan to spend the whole day exploring this amazing palace and admiring the many collections.
The Olympic Village
Beijing hosted the summer olymlpics in 2008 and the impressive Olympic village is worth stopping by and checking out. The Birdsnest Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies as well as track and field events took place is easily recognizable. The Water Cube sits right next to the Birdsnest and is possibly even more iconic. The huge blue cube housed the swimming and diving events for the 2008 games. Along with the Olympic sized pool and diving complex, the cube houses a giant water park that is open to the public. At night the Water Cube lights up and is a pretty cool sight.
There are several other venues from the 2008 olympics that are still standing. I basically took a tour around the city by myself and exploring each of the many venues, although there are some that are not accessible to the public all the time, such as the basketball venue.
Check Out The architecture
Beijing has a lot of really cool modern and historic buildings. Walk around the city and you will see some impressive sturctures. The city is constantly growing and there are many new skyscrapers being built all the time. Some of them have unique design features and are definitely worth looking at.
Beijing has a wide variety of cuisines available. Peking duck is the dish that you have to try when going to Beijing, that’s where it’s from. There are a lot of restaurants that specialize in this delicacy.
There are also so many other types of Chinese food that is available all over the city. Everything from street food to five star cuisine. I really enjoyed the hot pot restarants. This is where a large pot of hot stock is placed in the middle of the table and the guests actually cook their own food. The raw ingredients are brought to the table, you place them in the stock pot and take them out when they’re done. It’s interactive and delicious eating! Think The Melting Pot Chinese edition.
If you want something more familiar, then there are a ton of American chain restaurants in Beijing. Mcdonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks are on seemingly every corner. Yes, I ate at a Pizza Hut there once, and made a late night drunken stop at Mcdonalds for some Big Macs. The Chinese food in Beijing is amazing, but sometimes you just want pizza or a burger.
***Don’t be surprised if your waiter hangs out at your table until you place your order. I was a little concerned the first couple of times this happened, but it seems to be common practice. I went to a few dinners with some locals and the same thing happened. I think they stay there to answer any questions that you may have about the menu. It’s not a bad practice, no more flagging the waiter down when you’re ready to order.***
Make sure you carry a phrase book with you to help decode some of the characters that are written on menus. Most restaurants do not have menus written in English unless you are in a touristy section or a hotel. I like hitting the places that have pictures in the menu so I can at least point at what I want, it makes ordering a little easier. Even if you have some trouble getting an order in, don’t worry, you will definitely not go hungry. I was always served great food even when I had no clue how to order, or what I was getting. You’ll figure it out.
I hope that some of this information helps if you are heading to Beijing sometime soon. It is a really cool place to visit.