Beijing is an enormous municipality abundant in culture, history, beautiful landscapes, and fine cuisine.
The first sight is one of a sprawling city, dotted with towering buildings with only the giant, red Chinese characters atop to show visitors they have arrived in China. This is when it becomes important to look a little closer in order to find out what Beijing has to offer.
The real gems in this city are the low-rise, narrow alleyways known as hutongs, which give you an exciting glimpse into the local culture and history. Strolling into a hutong, with its grey brick walls and upturned ‘artichoke-leaf’ roofs, you disappear into the Beijing of old. The noisy city melts away and is replaced by sleepy seniors sitting and watching the world go by, people going about their daily business, and the curious and delicious smells of truly authentic restaurants. It is a view of old Beijing before modernization, and represents the continuation of a centuries-old lifestyle.
Just minutes away from the hutongs, China reveals itself again in all its giant grandeur. The expanse of Tiananmen Square feels vast after the confines of the hutongs. North of Tiananmen Square is the Forbidden City, the high-walled home of China’s Ming and Qing emperors. The Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and Jingshan Park all of these were refuges once exclusive to the emperors and their entourage.
The city itself is full of great sites but there is even more on offer outside the urban area. The Great Wall is the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of China and the many sections of the Wall accessible from downtown Beijing offer something for every traveler. Near the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs offer a fascinating insight into the history of the Ming dynasty. West of Beijing, the preserved village of Cuandixia offers an insight into traditional village culture, with village life going along much as it has since the Ming dynasty. Not only are these sites interesting in an anthropological sense, but also in a geographical one, with tremendous landscapes including mountains, valleys and forests used as natural barriers of defense.
Beijing is much more than a just a big capital city and we want to help you explore it with all your senses.
Ancient and modern collide in Beijing’s nightlife scene. The area around Houhai Lake and Nanluoguxiang is buzzing with hidden bars serving everything from craft beer to complex cocktails. You will never be short of choice on a night out in Beijing! If you prefer dinner and a show, the Chaoyang Acrobat Show and The Legend of Kung Fu are must-sees.
Beijing has a climate similar to Washington DC. It is cold in the winter with occasional snow. April, May and June are pleasant and there are flowering trees which can be especially picturesque in May. July and August, while still good, can be hot. September and October are again pleasant, green, and a popular time to visit. November is still nice with a fall feel in the air. December through March are winter months, a good time to go skating in Beijing's city parks.
Beijing is an essential inclusion on the itinerary of any visitor to China. In addition to all the sights in the city itself, there are several destinations within easy reach of Beijing that are perfect for people who have a surplus of time in Beijing but not enough time to travel to another major destination. Tianjin and Chengde are two lesser-known destinations that can be reached from Beijing in under half a day.
Tianjin is located about 140 kilometers southwest of Beijing and is reachable in 30 minutes via high-speed train from Beijing South Station. The city lies along the Hai River, which connects the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers via the Grand Canal.
Tianjin offers plenty of things to do. The Hai River, in particular, is the perfect place to appreciate the city’s fascinating blend of East and West (take in the surroundings from the Tianjin Eye, a 120-meter-tall Ferris wheel with great views over the river and the city).
Tianjin’s highlights include the Five Great Avenues, five parallel streets running east to west that include 230 buildings with architecture representing styles from Great Britain, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. This is a great place to relax with a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy some of Tianjin’s old architecture.
In addition to the remnants of Tianjin’s European past, you can also experience the city’s Chinese history at sites such as the Former Residence of Puyi, the last emperor of China, and the Shijia Mansion, which belonged to a rich local family.
Also located about an hour and a half from the city center is the Huangyaguan Great Wall, which is famous for its architecturally diverse watchtowers.
Three hours away from Beijing lies the pleasant city of Chengde, where Qing emperors used to escape to relax during the scorching summer days. This dreamy town is located on the banks of the Wulie River and is surrounded by green hills. Chengde has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
Chengde might be small compared to many Chinese cities but it is packed with interesting historical sites. Its role as a beloved destination of the emperors is thought to have begun in 1703 when the Kangxi Emperor selected it as his summer residence. However, the city really reached the height of its fortunes under the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1799).
In 1703, the Kangxi Emperor ordered the construction of a Summer Mountain Resort (think of the Summer Palace in Beijing but on a much grander scale). The Summer Mountain Resort was completed in 1790 and covered an area of 5,640,000 square meters, making it the biggest royal garden in the country - bigger than the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace combined! The Resort includes palace buildings and a range of different landscaped areas, designed to represent everything from mountains to grassland, all of which is surrounded by a 10,000-meter-long wall.
Outside the walls of the Summer Mountain Resort lies the Eight Outer Temples, each designed to embody a different aspect of Han and Tibetan religious culture. The most famous of the temples is the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, which is loosely based on the Potala Palace in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa (giving it the nickname “Mini Potala Palace).
Other interesting temples in Chengde include Xumi Fushou Temple, which was built to make the Panchen Lama feel at home during his visit in 1780, and Puning Temple, which holds a 22-meter high wooden statue of Guanyin, the biggest in the world.
Although Chengde is best-known as a summer resort (when the temperature really is up to 10 degrees cooler than Beijing), it is a great place to visit all year round, including in winter when the snow turns the hills white.