• Claire

The Ultimate Guide to Beijing | Great Wall of China, Forbidden City + more!

Updated: Apr 20, 2019

Beijing is one of the oldest cities in the world with a rich history and many temples, parks, gardens and UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore - like the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and the Great Wall of China. Beijing is also home to a whopping 22 million people - that's close to the entire population of Australia in one city!



I spent 4 days in Beijing in June 2017 as part of a 3 week backpacking trip to China. You can watch the montage video of China trip here or read my full blog post on my China backpacking itinerary here!


When I visited Beijing it was the middle of summer and super hot - like 35-40 degrees every day. I found Beijing to be super safe, really clean and easy to get around. Surprisingly, despite the city's huge population, we never encountered mass crowds. You can see in my photos that there were never that many people around - maybe the heat was keeping everyone indoors!


We flew from the Gold Coast airport to Beijing via Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia - I got the one way flight on sale for under $300. We flew into Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) which is located 35km NE of the city centre.



Where to Stay


While we were in Beijing we stayed at 365 Inn hostel which was in an awesome location right in the centre of Beijing - it was close to the Qianmen subway station and walking distance to Tiannamen Square / Forbidden City and $24 per night (the most expensive of all our hostels in China).


The Qianmen district where our hostel was located


Getting Around


Beijing is super clean and actually pretty easy to get around. We relied on the subway which was cheap and simple to use and was connected to most of the attractions we visited. Many people also cycle and many places offer daily bike hire but it was way too hot for that when we were there!


Bikes are a super popular mode of transport in Beijing!

Beijing Subway Map


Where to Eat


As a vegetarian, eating out in China as a whole was a real struggle. I wish I could recommend exotic and authentic restaurants but for our whole time in Beijing we ate at the same place for every lunch and dinner - a vegetarian restaurant called Vegetiger. It was the only vegetarian restaurant we found while in China and it also happened to be in walking distance from our hostel!


Dinner at Vegetiger


Things to Do


We found that 4 days was the perfect amount of time to see everything we wanted to see in Beijing. We found the following 7 attractions the top things to do in Beijing:


  • Forbidden City / Tienammen Square

  • Great Wall of China

  • Beihai Park

  • Summer Palace

  • Walking tour of the historic Hutongs

  • Beijing National Stadium

  • The Temple of Heaven


Forbidden City / Tienammen Square


Tienammen Square is the largest city square in the world, able to accommodate 1,000,000 people at one time. It was the site of several important events in Chinese history and contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.


The Forbidden City is located to the north of Tienammen Square through the Gate of Heavenly Peace and is a massive palace complex which served as the home of Chinese emperors for almost 500 years. Its 72 hectares are a declared World Heritage Site - you could easily spend a day or two exploring everything the Forbidden City and Tienammen Square have to offer.


Tienammen Square

Gate of Heavenly Peace

Gate of Heavenly Peace

Gardens in the Forbidden City


Great Wall of China


You can't visit Beijing and not go to the Great Wall of China - one of the new 7 wonders of the world. The two most visited sections of the Great Wall are Badaling and Mutianyu. Badaling is know to be more spectacular but insanely crowded. I went to the Mutianyu section - it was absolutely incredible and really not crowded at all for it being peak season.


We joined a tour from our hostel to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall for around $50. It included bus transport, lunch and an entrance ticket. It is also easy to reach by public transport from downtown Beijing. Once arriving you able to choose to hike 4000 steps or take the chairlift or gondola up from the foothills to the level of the wall - we chose the chairlift!


The Mutianyu Great Wall is really spectacular and well preserved. We hiked all the way up to the top watch tower for an insane view over the Great Wall.


Tickets for the Great Wall

Cable car up to the Great Wall

First glimpse of the Great Wall of China!

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China


Beihai Park


Beihai Park is an inner city former imperial garden turned public park first built in the 11th century. It was really quite incredible to find a peaceful oasis in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. We hopped in a row boat and took a ride around the lake!


Beihai Park

Beihai Park

Beihai Park

Beihai Park

Beihai Park


Summer Palace


The Summer Palace is only 15 kms from downtown Beijing and is the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China. It was originally used as a luxurious garden for royal families and then as the residence of royals from the Qing Dynasty.


You can take a boat ride on the Kunming Lake and explore the many temples in the complex.


Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Hutongs


In the past, Beijing was composed of hundreds of narrow alleys (hutongs) home to traditional housing (siheyuans). Nowadays urban Beijing is full of sky scrapers and expressways. Some of the city's historic hutongs still remain and offer an insight into life in ancient Beijing.


We followed this self-guided walking tour from Lonely Planet to explore the hutongs of Nanluogu Xiang.


Exploring the ancient streets / alleyways of Beijing

Exploring the ancient streets / alleyways of Beijing

Found a popsicle to cool us down!


Olympic Stadium


Beijing's National Stadium (known as the Bird's Nest) was built for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The stadium is home to many international and domestic sporting events and in the winter months the stadium turns into the largest ski resort in urban Beijing.


Beijing's Bird Nest Stadium


The Temple of Heaven


The Temple of Heaven is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of an imperial complex of religious buildings used by emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is surrounded by 660 acres of parklands - when I was there it absolutely poured with rain!

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven


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From Beijing we caught a bullet train and went onto explore Xi'an and southern Chinese provinces. You can read about the rest of my China trip here.