A travel guide and LOTS of history of the beautiful, historic capital of China: Beijing; brought to you by China Mike. Visit Beijing for an unforgettable adventure. Discover the best hotels, restaurants and things to do with this highly curated Beijing Travel Guide.
As one of the six ancient cities in China, Beijing has been the heart and soul of politics throughout its long history and consequently there is an unparalleled wealth of discovery to delight and intrigue travelers as they explore the city’s ancient past and exciting modern development.
Now it has become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with about 140 million Chinese tourists and 4.4 million international visitors in a year.
Overview of Beijing, China
Beijing is the ultimate must-see for the first-time visitor to China. Beijing (meaning “Northern Capital”) is the political, cultural, and geographical heart of China. In fact, for hundreds of years, the Chinese have literally believed that Beijing sits at the center of the Universe– with the emperor’s throne in the Forbidden City as the absolute center.
The country’s name is literally translated as “Middle Kingdom” (very Lord of the Ring-ish if you ask me). Even today, the entire country — which spans five international time zones — uses only one time zone: Beijing Time.
If nothing else, you’ll travel to Beijing to hit two of the country’s premier tourist attractions: the Forbidden City and the nearby Great Wall of China. Of course, there’s plenty more to see and do in this pulsating metropolis of 15 million.
And although Beijing — along with Shanghai and Hong Kong— are relatively expensive, even budget travelers will be happy to find cheap hostels, plentiful street food, and an efficient underground metro system. Not surprisingly, the capital city also caters to the luxury traveler…and everyone in between.
Attractions in Beijing
Beijing itself has a vast offering of unique sightseeing opportunities and things to do. It is home to some of the country’s best-known tourist attractions, and we’ve included some of our favorites below. This is just a few of our favorites, but there are so many more than this!
- Temple of Heaven
- Beijing Zoo
- Yonghe Temple
Best Places to Stay in Beijing
Did you know there are more than 7,000 hotels in Beijing? Figuring out where to stay and how to choose a suitable area can be rather challenging, especially for first-time travelers. Generally, hotels should be chosen based on the convenience of the location, attractions you want to visit, and your budget.
It’s pretty common that most tourists choose to stay near the city center Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City area and the Wangfujing area. However, this is also the most expensive area. When it comes to prices of hotels in Beijing, the average price of a five-star hotel ranges from $100 to $320 while a comfortable budget hotel costs from $60 to $180.
Our suggestion would be to look into the Hutong areas such as Houhai and Drum Tower, which are cheaper in price and have a charming city characteristic to them.
Here is our list of Best Beijing Hotels. We understand this article is a little out-dated but most of these hotels do still exist and are wonderful.
Maps of Beijing
To help you along the way, we’ve linked several Maps of Beijing for you. We hope you’ll find this collection of Beijing Subway and Metro System Maps along with general maps to be helpful as you plan your trip to Beijing.
Best Food & Restaurants in Beijing
This is probably the most talked about thing when traveling to Beijing. THE FOOD. It is all truly so unique and packed with flavor. Below we’ll give you some insight on what to eat while in Beijing. This list has the top Beijing dishes and snacks and recommended restaurants and areas to find them in.
List of Foods to try while in Beijing
- Peking Duck (most popular)
- Shuàn Yángròu (instant boiled mutton)
- Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings)
- Jing Jiang Rou Si (shredded pork in Beijing sauce)
- Zhajiang Mian (noodles with soybean paste)
- Dragon’s beard candy
- Aiwowo (sweet rice balls)
More Info & History
While present-day Beijing was first established as a capital during the Warring States Period (473-221BC), the city’s pre-eminence really started around the 13th century, when the Mongols swarmed in from the north to kick some ass and take names. And kick ass they did. Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, took over and made the city his capital in 1272.
During that time the city grew to become crazy rich, due mostly to its pole position as the starting point of the Silk Road. When Marco Polo stopped by for a visit, he described, “over a thousand carts loaded with silk” rolling in on a daily basis.
Eventually, the Mongols were kicked out in 1368, paving the way for the Ming emperor Yongle (Zhu Di) to make his mark on Beijing. He not only built version 1.0 of two of Beijing’s most impressive monuments—the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven—he also established the city’s symmetrical square-rectangle grid layout (laid out according to feng shui principles) that survives today.
During his impressive (but cruel) reign, the legendary Ming emperor also commissioned a number of epic naval expeditions. With a huge fleet of an estimated 200-300 ships carrying some 30,000 men (mostly soldiers), admiral Zheng He sailed thousands of miles away to explore Asia and Africa. The largest treasure ships were approximately the size of a football field—almost six times longer than Columbus’ largest ship, the Santa Maria.
The city reached its peak under the Qing Dynasty during the first half of the 18th century, when they built the legendary Summer Palace — the world’s largest and most impressive royal garden, with 200 pavilions, temples and palaces. The dynasty (China’s last ruling dynasty) collapsed in 1911, eventually making way to establish a republic in China.
After winning the civil war against the Nationalist Party in 1949, Mao Zedong and the Communists established Beijing as the country’s capital. At the time, the city was in a pathetically neglectful state. In their zest to break free of the old, they destroyed much of old Beijing.
Heavily influenced by the Soviets, they transformed Beijing into a concrete jungle of high-rise housing blocks, in addition to the massive Tiananmen Square and monumental administrative buildings nearby. Because of course, nothing says inspiring, timeless beauty like Soviet-style architecture.
Out with the old, in with the new
One result of this obsession with putting on a modern face — combined with out-of-control real estate development — is that Beijing’s old charm is being replaced by high-rises and shopping malls. Critics (and especially those who live there) have rallied to save the culturally historic hutongs (traditional neighborhoods–many several centuries old) from extinction. The city government finally realized their tourist appeal and today some are designated as protected areas.
So take a break from the traffic, crowds, and fast food joints. Rent a bike or stroll around the winding, narrow alleys to get an intimate feel of daily life in old Beijing. Look at those kids playing! Are those chickens I hear in that courtyard? What kind of game are those old dudes playing? Hey, where the hell am I?
A Modern, Vibrant City
The bottom line is that Beijing is a fascinating city that offers something for everyone, from the history buff and the shopaholic to the foodie and the all-night partier. I hope that this Beijing Travel Guide gave you some insight on this very interesting city and it inspired you to want to travel to Beijing!