Beijing is a busy, big city that moves at a fast pace and is full of crowds and eccentric culture. As such, it is probably a good idea to do some research beforehand on the best areas to stay in Beijing and how to get around by public transport. More recently, tourists have started to avoid the city as it has ‘too much of everything’. However, I believe that Beijing is a very diverse capital that has ancient and modern culture mixed into everyday life, which makes it more eclectic and exciting.
While Beijing can be very overwhelming, especially for those visiting for the first time, keeping these tips in mind and this 3-day itinerary on hand will allow you to see the best of Beijing and make the most of it. While this itinerary only focuses on Beijing, there are several websites out there that offer 2-week itineraries for China in general.
You are going to start your journey in Beijing by visiting several of its traditional places in the city, such as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the iconic Mao Zedong Mausoleum and the historic Tiananmen Square. I have selected these four stops as they played a big part in the creation of Chinese culture and the city itself. You will also learn about the ancient and modern history that culminated in the former two. I advise that you wear comfortable and modest clothes as you are going to walk around a lot and visit very important (and sacred) sites.
The first stop on day 1 of this itinerary is the Forbidden City, which is a massive palace complex located in central Beijing. This palace complex is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List and is the largest palace complex in the world. It has more than 900 buildings that tell you the story of Chinese imperial rule and lifestyle. It is definitely one of the most magnificent stops in China.
Tiananmen Square was named after the Tiananmen Gates (Gate of Heavenly Peace) that separate the Forbidden City from the Square. This Square is one of the largest squares in the world and has several monuments and museums inside of it. Tiananmen Square is also a very iconic square that hosted a couple of significant events in Chinese history, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, also known as the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, is located a couple of minutes walk from Tiananmen Square. The memorial hall is the final resting place of Chinese leader Mao Zedong. You will be able to see the leader’s embalmed body lying in the main hall. You can also see several of Mao Zedong’s statues lying around as well as other items that used to belong to the leader. Make sure to wear suitable clothes and check the regulations before you visit.
The last stop of the day is located further away from the above sites, but it can still be easily reached by walking. The Temple of Heaven, built in 1420, was the main imperial religious building in the complex. It used to be visited by emperors who prayed for a good harvest and prosperity for the empire. The temple is also listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, like the Forbidden City, and is one of the most iconic temples in China/the world.
On the second day in Beijing, you will head out of the city and visit one of the greatest wonders of the world – the Great Wall of China. This wonder of the world is very easily accessible from Beijing. However, you should be prepared to leave very early in the morning.
During the day, you are going to travel to a less touristy and wilder part of the Great Wall of China. You will visit the little ancient Gubeikou, Jinshanling (the most beautiful part of the wall), Simatai (the only part that is lit at night) and the Gubei Water Town (where you will finish your day). Wear comfortable clothes and good shoes, and be prepared for an all-day walk and hike.
Gubeikou Town is located over 130 km northeast of downtown Beijing (depending on where you are staying in the city of course). You might be wondering how to get to the Great Wall of China in general. Well, the best way to reach this town is to drive. This section of the wall (Gubeikou) was first built in 556 and extended in 800. The last construction on it took place in 1567, and since then, no other renovations have taken place. This section of the wall is also the most original part of the Great Wall of China and is historically important as it was the main pass between the Chinese and Mongol territories. The wall was built mainly to protect China from the Mongol/Manchu invasions.
The Jinshanling Section of the Great Wall is the best part to visit as it is one of the most preserved areas and offers the most spectacular views of the mountains and the wall itself. This part of the wall is half restored and half untouched, which makes the hike even more fun. It takes about 5 hours to reach this section of the wall from Gubeikou. The greatest feature of this area is its 31 watchtowers that come in different shapes and sizes.
It will take about 3 hours to reach the Simatai section from Jinshanling. The Simatai section is very steep and narrow (some of the passages are only 40 cm wide) so you will have some fun hiking it. Also, it is the only section of the wall that is lit at night time. Wait till sunset and enjoy a great view of the mountains and the Great Wall of China.
Gubei Water Town is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing evening after a long day hike. This town is very quaint with its old traditional houses, narrow streets and river channels. Gubei Water Town is very tranquil and elegant. You can relax at one of its famous hotels/resorts, enjoy a scenic view of the Simatai lights or experience the local culture with great wine and liquor.
On your final day in Beijing, you are going to spend time in a Beijing suburb that is not too far from the city centre and is more peaceful and green. You are going to visit several traditional and modern places, such as the beautiful Buddhist Biyun Temple, a massive Beijing Botanical Garden, a park with ancient ruins, and the majestic imperial park known as the Summer Palace. You will be able to expand your knowledge of Chinese history and dive deep inside your thoughts as the majority of these places are less crowded from the other places in Beijing's centre. Again, wear modest clothes, comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk all day long.
The Biyun Temple, also known as the Temple of Azure Clouds, is a traditional Buddhist temple that has a distinctive Ming Dynasty interior. The temple is built on 6 different levels and is known for its majestic scenery. Also, it is the most beautiful temple in Beijing, but usually very overlooked by tourists due to its remote location.
Beijing Botanical Garden has more than 10 000 kinds of plants, including about 2000 types of trees. You will be able to find greenhouses, various Buddhist temples and shrines that fit nicely into the scenery. The garden is most famous for its Chinese rose garden, Chinese peony garden and the bamboo garden.
The Summer Palace is a huge imperial garden that is said to be the best preserved imperial garden in the world. Also, it is the largest garden in China. The Summer Palace used to be a ‘summer retreat’ for the imperial family so you will be able to see lots of pavilions, a lake, temples and various landscaped gardens. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yuanmingyuan Park, also known as the Old Summer Palace, is another huge park with ruins from the old Summer Palace that was destroyed during the Second Opium War. The park has lovely passages with thick wood that run through the ruins and gorgeous lotus flower gardens. It is a highly recommended place for a relaxing evening stroll.
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