Beijing, the capital of China, is often compared (and contrasted) to its great rival, Shanghai, the glitzy and glamorous metropolis and the country’s biggest city and a global financial hub. But the two couldn’t be more different. Beijing prides itself on thousand-year-old history and Shanghai is often labeled as a glittering tribute to modernity and the Western lifestyle. Both are interesting cities that in a way complement each other, offering you an opportunity to see the various sides of Chinese past, present, and future.
But if you only have time to visit one or the other, choose Beijing. It’s a fascinating city with a vibrant mix of history and modern day luxuries that in and of itself will shock and inspire the everyday traveler. It’s home to centuries-old traditions, numerous historical monuments, bustling city streets, traditional cuisine, and great nightlife.
Best Time to Visit Beijing
Unlike many other cities around the world that offer a unique travel experience any time of the year, Beijing isn’t very welcoming for the majority of the year. There are four distinct seasons in Beijing: windy spring, long hot summer, cool autumn, and long cold winter.
You don’t want to find yourself in Beijing in the winter, which goes from early November to late March. It is bone chilling cold, windy and incredibly unpleasant.
Don’t be fooled by the warm summers (from early June to mid-September), the weather is very hot and rainy and the smog makes the experience of visiting Beijing during this time of the year just as unpleasant as visiting in the heart of winter.
Without a doubt, the best time to visit Beijing is in the fall (September to early October) when the weather is reasonable (about 20-25°C) and rainfall is limited. Spring (April-May) can be another alternative.
For more info on weather in Beijing throughout the year, check out “Best Times to Visit Beijing” by US News Travel.
Top Things to Do in Beijing
Beijing has a plethora of sights and attractions to explore during your visit. Having served as the capital of China for more than 800 years, Beijing is home to some of the most important historical and cultural remains in the country.
The Great Wall of China, one of the most famous monuments in the world, is, of course, a must see in Beijing. You can visit different sections of the wall and enjoy a completely different experience at each one. To make the most of your visit, consider reading up on The Best 10 Sections/Parts of the Great Wall to Visit before you go.
Inside the city, the most important landmark is Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng District. It is the world’s largest public square that attracts visitors from all over the world. Comparable to the likes of Times Square in New York and Red Square in Moscow, Tiananmen Square can accommodate upwards of a million people and is surrounded by important landmarks like the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Qianmen Gate, and the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City, (also known as the Palace Museum) which housed 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties is the best preserved imperial palace in China and is one of the most important attraction to add to your itinerary. This massive complex sits on the northern edge of Tiananmen Square at the epicenter of Beijing.
Aside from the Palace Museum, there are more than 100 other museums in Beijing, although most are not visited by tourists. Among them are: National Museum in Dongcheng District, the Military Museum(in Haidian District, the Capital Museum in Xicheng District and the China Aviation Museum located in the Beijing/Northern Suburbs.
Locals and visitors alike also love to spend time visiting Beijing’s parks and green areas. The locals escape to these green oases not only to relax but also for sports, dancing, singing and general recreation. If you are looking to spot an authentic Tai Chi be sure to visit one of these parks in the early hours of the day. The Summer Palace located just 15km from central Beijing is said to be the best-preserved imperial garden in the world, but there are other parks also scattered around Beijing. Some of the best are Zhongshan Park in Xicheng District, Beihai Park in Xicheng District, Chaoyang Park in Chaoyang District, and Ritan Park in Chaoyang District.
One of the best ways to experience Beijing’s main attractions is to explore the city on a Free Walking Tour. The tours start at 5pm (April to September) and 4:30pm(October to March) every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday at Nanluoguxiang Subway Station.
But Beijing is not all about the historical sights and thousand-year-old landmarks. There is another side to the city, which is modern, vibrant and full of interesting things to discover.
Beijing is a great place for shopping, from street markets to small boutiques and high-end shopping malls, there is something here for everyone. Follow a fashion designer’s favorite shopping route by exploring CNN Travel’s Beijing’s Best Shopping Areas or Huffington Post’s guide to Ten Best Places to Clothes Shop in Beijing.
But one of the best things to do in Beijing is to get lost in a “Hutong”, Beijing’s ancient alleyways, where you can find traditional architecture and get a chance to witness the daily life of locals.
If you are looking for other cool things to do in Beijing, check out Matador Network’s 6 Unusual Things To Do in Beijing or take to heart Time Out’s Checklist to Beijing’s 50 Best Things To Do and see how many of these quirky Beijing must do’s you can cross off the list during your visit.
Where to Stay in Beijing
Deciding on the best area to stay in Beijing can be tough as a lot of the city’s attractions are spread out. Staying in the city center definitely helps and some say the east side of the center is a bit easier than the west side if you want to be in close proximity to sights, shopping, and entertainment options.
The other good options are Wanfujing, Nanluoguxiang, Houhai or Qianmen
It’s easy to find amazing luxury hotels in Beijing that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Here is a list of just some of the 20 Best Beijing Hotels, including top hotel brands like the Hyatt, Shangri-la, Raffles along with the more budget friendly options like the Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Kapok, and Peking Yard.
There are also lots of great boutique hotels in Beijing, like these Top 10 Boutique Hotels in Beijing, like the Orchid Hotel or the Yi House Art Hotel.
If hostels are your accommodation of choice, Beijing won’t disappoint. Time Out Beijing has a great list of Beijing’s Top Hostels, most of which are centrally located, clean, and offer friendly service at good prices.
Airbnb is an excellent option for those looking for a more local experience in Beijing. With over 300 accommodation options to choose from, you are bound to find a home you love for your stay in China’s capital. Private rooms start at just $10/night and you can easily find a nicely decorated apartment in the heart of the city for just $30/night.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and get $35 off your first stay.
Where to Eat & Drink in Beijing
Chinese food in Beijing is nothing like the Chinese food you might’ve tried back home. Here you’ll find restaurants that specialize in cuisine from all over China, from Sichuan, Hunan, Guangzhou, Tibet, Yunnan, Xinjiang, and more.
These are some of the Most Popular Beijing Dishes You Should Try while in Beijing, along with the best restaurants that serve these delicious finds. Don’t miss an opportunity to sample Beijing’s famous Peking Duck at one of these Top 10 Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing.
If you are looking to sample some of Beijing’s best, check out CNN Travel’s 20 Best Beijing Restaurants, a list that features renowned hotspots like Capital M, Duck de Chine, and one of Beijing’s longest-lived fine dining institutions, Aria,
For brunch, head to one of these Beijing’s Best Brunch Places that offer everything from delicious hangover meals to indulgent weekend splurges.
For Beijing’s best street food follow this beginner’s guide to the quintessential street food dishes of the capital and be sure to try Jianbing, Beijing’s most famous breakfast food and Roujiamo, Slow-cooked pork belly sandwich. Alternatively, refer to Guardian’s Guide, Where to find the best Beijing street food.
When it comes to Beijing nightlife, the options can be quite overwhelming. From amazing international-standard bars to cocktail lounges, clubs, plays, ballets and live music, the city has it all. But as Lauren Johnson points out in her article on USA Today, once the party once the party really gets started the group always ends up at one of these amazing clubs. For more options, check out Time Out’s Best Guide to bars, DJs, and nightlife in Beijing.
How Much Time Do You Need in Beijing
The majority of visitors stay in Beijing for 3-5 days, just enough time to cover most of the attractions in the city and venture out to the Great Wall. Tour companies suggest that 3 days should be the minimum, but you can easily linger for much longer.
Here are a few itineraries to help you plan out your stay in China’s capital:
- Beijing In Three (Long) Days
- Three Days in Beijing
- 4-Day Grand Beijing Travel
- 7-day self-guided travel itinerary to Beijing