Things to do in Beijing: A Beginners Guide
Written by Two Tall Travellers
Having lived in Beijing for two years, I can safely say that is an amazing destination to both live and holiday in, and there is so much to explore in the city. Beijing is one of the many Chinese megacities and one that you can’t miss on your next trip to China!
It often gets a bad rap in the media, but Beijing is full of fun things to do, fantastic places to eat and a unique culture that really needs to be experienced to be understood.
Of course, you’ll want to visit the Great Wall and eat scorpions on a stick, but there is so much more to Beijing, especially considering that no one actually eats scorpions – it’s a huge tourist trap!
Here are your beginners guide on things to do in Beijing
Best Time to Visit Beijing
Even if you love topping up your tan, or you revel in minus temperatures, I recommend that you avoid visiting Beijing in the summer months (June – August) and the winter months (December – February) as much as you can.
Summer is hot and sticky, and you’re surrounded by millions of people. It’s not ideal.
Winter, on the other hand, is dry and cold. Temperatures can drop really fast – we experienced -17C and couldn’t deal with it! Not only that, but winter is when the pollution gets really bad. Thick smog covers the whole capital, and you’ll just want to stay inside all day.
Spring and autumn are beautiful times of year to visit Beijing. The sun is shining and there are lots of gorgeous trees and flowers in bloom around the city. These are definitely the best times to go to Beijing!
Be mindful to avoid Chinese New Year (January/February time) and National Week (first week in October). Lots of places are closed at the New Year, and during National Week what seems like the whole country visits the capital so you won’t be able to see many of the sights in peace.
Getting Around Beijing
Travelling in Beijing really couldn’t be easier. Your best options are either to take a taxi, or get on the subway.
Flag down a cab and show the driver where you need to go. Either have a map up (you won’t be able to use Google Maps unless you have a VPN, remember) or the Chinese characters of your destination. Even better, ask your hotel to record a voice note with your hotel address on it because you might find that your driver won’t be able to read Chinese.
The subway system in Beijing really is great. Buy a card from a station and you’ll need to deposit 80RMB (around $12.50) that you can get back at the end of your trip if you haven’t spent it all. Once your card is loaded up and ready to go, tap it at the turnstile and take a look at the maps usually dotted around the stations.
Luckily, the train signs are all in Pinyin, which is the Romanised version of Mandarin. It means that you’ll be able to recognise stations easily, plus the colour coding system is really easy to use. If you see a subway station, you’ll see colours and numbers representing which lines run underneath – there’s not much chance of you ending up on the wrong train!
Queuing isn’t really a thing in Beijing though, so be prepared to be pushed and shoved every which way until the station guards decide there are enough people on the train!
There are some great apps to help you get around in Beijing too. Download the Explore Beijing subway app to help navigate where you want to go – it tells you how much your journey will and cost and how long it takes. You can also sign up with Didi (basically Uber) and your taxi will come to you rather than you flagging one down.
Things to do in Beijing
1. Visit the Great Wall of China
This is obviously something you’ll want to do when you visit Beijing. However, try and climb one of the less touristy sections if you want some good photos. Badaling is the most crowded, Jiankou is the wildest and Mutianyu is the most restored. You can even camp on the Great Wall if you are up for the challenge of finding somewhere decent to set up your tent! This is by far one of the best things to do in Beijing and should be at the top of your list of the places to visit in Beijing.
2. Visit the Summer Palace
The pretty parks, lakes and buildings surrounding the Summer Palace make it a worthwhile trip. You can watch a traditional Chinese theatre show or even rent a boat in the summer.
3. Take a Day Trip to the Mountains
Beijing may be a busy city, but it’s not far from some gorgeous scenic areas either. Jump on a bus and spend the day at one of the many nature parks surrounding Beijing, such as Shi Du.
4. Hou Hai Lakes
These famous lakes are a good place to enjoy drinks on a rooftop, go souvenir shopping and discover the historical hutongs. You can buy a lot of touristy items here, but the vibe is good and you can wander around on foot.
5. Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square
The Forbidden City is another must-see attractions if only to admire its sheer size and the work that went into building it. Get lost in the City’s maze of paths and rooms, and walk to over the road to Jingshan Park, climb to the top of the hill and take in a fantastic view of the whole city.
Tian’anmen Square is also somewhere you should visit, but apart from a couple of museums, there isn’t actually much to see.
6. Visit A Local Market
It’s often easy to get sucked into spending too much money on “authentic” Chinese gifts for friends and family back home, but an easy way to avoid this is to visit a market that the locals spend time in. Panjiayuan Antique Market, located on Line 10, is full of handmade art (you can watch some of the artists actually paint there and then), tiny trinkets and pretty jewellery. Don’t be afraid to bargain down, but don’t be offensive – these people still need to make a living!
Where to Stay In Beijing
When picking a hotel in Beijing, plan your location so that you’re quite close to everything. Taxis and subways are easy to use but they can be time-consuming if you’re trying to reach the other side of the city every day!
I would recommend staying in the east of Beijing (Chaoyang District) to be able to see everything easily. Being close to Line 1 and Line 10 is a good idea, as they give you good access to the city’s attractions, bars and restaurants. Try to stay within the 3rd ring road too.
AirBnb is a good option for rooms or apartments in Beijing – you can snag a cute little place nestled in the hutongs and really feel like you’re a local! Get your FREE credit here!
Where to Eat in Beijing
Sometimes, new food in a country is exciting. And sometimes, all you want is a pizza. Whatever kind of day you’re having, there are heaps of options for you in Beijing.
Try Peking Duck
Many restaurants in Beijing offer the true Peking Duck experience. Sit at a huge round table and order at least 10 different dishes, and prepare for the main attraction. Watch as an incredibly skilled chef wheels out the duck on a trolley and slices it up with incredible precision. Top your pancake with crispy duck, cucumber, spring onion and Hoisin sauce. Some people even add sugar and fruit like melon to their pancake. Eating Peking Duck is more of an activity than just a meal!
If you’re craving pizza, then head to Tube Station and make sure you go hungry. They offer a 32 inch pizza that you can split the toppings on, plus their Happy Hour is great!
Local BBQ Restaurants
The best Chinese food we have eaten came from the tiny little restaurants with plastic stools outside and no real sense of organisation. They will often have picture menus with terrible English translations. So take a flick through and just pick what looks good! It’s also handy to have an online translator to check exactly what kind of meat or vegetable you are eating. Some can be questionable!
I also highly recommend that you order chuan’r – small pieces of lamb on a skewer, seasoned with salt and cumin, barbecued on a fire on the side of the pavement. Honestly, I could live off these skewers forever and they are cheap to buy as well. Get a stack of 10 and demolish them!
You won’t find better service than here, and their steaks are equally are fantastic. Try the complimentary homemade ‘green tea’ – trust us when we say it’s powerful!
Mr Shi’s Dumplings
This is the place to be if you want to be adventurous with your dumplings. Try them fried, steamed, with cheese or with pork – you name it! They’re also reasonably priced and the restaurants sometimes offer a eat and drink all you can deal for 100RMB – amazing!
Don’t worry, if you have picky eaters then you will always find a McDonalds nearby too!
Beijing really is an awesome city, and one that we recommend spending at least five days in to get your bearings and to discover it’s friendly and quirky ways. It is a good place to start your trip to China, especially if you haven’t been to Asia before. You can immerse yourself as much as you want, or you can stick to the westernised parts until you feel more comfortable.
Go and visit Beijing, and fall in love with it like we did! There’s your full guide on the top things to do in Beijing. Tell us below if you have been before!
Authors: Jade and Kev loved Beijing so much that they lived and worked there for two years. They are currently on a road trip in Australia with a caravan, and have no plans to stop travelling anytime soon!