Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, is one of the most populous cities in the world and the second largest city in China followed by Shanghai. It is the center of politics, culture and education. The capital is known for its many historic temples and tombs, magnificent palaces, lavish parks and gardens as well as notable walls and gates.
Beijing is located in Northern China and is mostly flat with only three hills within the city limits. It is also characterized by its vastness which makes for large distances between locations. The city is mostly made up of hutongs with single story building and narrow lanes and this capital city is surrounded by mountains along three sides. However, the city has undergone some modernization in the recent years where we can see improvements and giving way to broad boulevards and modern buildings. Similar to the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric ‘ring’ roads which are actually more rectangular in shape. These roads go around the city and just beyond lies one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, the Great Wall of China. If you’re visiting China for the first time, Beijing is a good jump off point to exploring the country.
Beijing has many sights and attractions that can interest any traveler. The first stop for every traveler would have to be the Forbidden City which is the Chinese imperial palace and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located in the center of the city and houses the Palace Museum which has a wide-ranging collection of artwork and artifacts. It is also the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government. Visitors to the site can only enter through the Meridian Gate (South Gate) and leave from the Gate of Divine Might. It is usually open from 8:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. It extends for another 30 minutes from April to October. Last tickets are usually sold an hour before and last entry is 50 minutes before closing. It is closed on Mondays except for statutory holidays and the summer holiday. Please refer to official websites for the updated fees, timetables and notices.
Another attraction to not miss would have to be the Great Wall of China. It is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tampered earth and other materials. It is at maximum 30 feet wide and was built along the eastern and western lines across the historical northern borders of China. It stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Lake in the west. Most the wall has now fallen under disrepair but some portions, especially to the north of Beijing where it is easily accessible to tourists, have been preserved and extensively renovated. Several sections of the wall is easily accessible from Beijing, we recommend that you refer to official websites or tour groups for the updated directions and timetables.
How to get around
Beijing can be challenging to get around but if you prepare, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying what the city has to offer. Before starting your day in the city, it is best to write and print out the names of places you want to visit in Chinese characters so you can easily show it to your taxi drivers or to people on the street. If you don’t know how to write in Chinese, have one of the hotel staff to write it down for you. It is also helpful to note down nearby intersections or basic directions in case your destination is not very familiar or popular.
The best way to get around Beijing is by taxi. It is more convenient and not too expensive for most travelers. However, it may be difficult to get one during rush hours. Another way to get around is by subway. The Beijing Subway is best for budget conscious travelers as they are relatively cheap and a quick way to get around. It is also helpful that they are clearly marked in English for foreign travelers. However, take not that trains during the rush hour can be very crowded. It also shuts down quite early, usually around 10:30 in the evening but opens up again around 5:00 in the morning.
Beijing also has a bus system which is cheap and convenient and serves the entire city. However, staff speak little English and signs and announcements are mostly in Chinese. It is recommended only for those travelers who can speak Mandarin but be fairly warned to keep your wits about you as buses can get fairly crowded and pickpockets may be present.
How to get to Beijing
Traveling to Beijing is easy as it is home to two airports. The city is largely served by Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) which is located in the suburban district of Shunyi and is approximately 26 kilometers from the central districts. It is considered to be the world’s second busiest airport and serves both domestic and international routes. It has three terminals divided among the different air carriers. Traveling between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 is accessible through a long corridor with travelators. This can be done usually in about 10 minutes. Going to Terminal 3, you can catch a free shuttle bus from Terminal 2 which also takes around 10 minutes. Take note that Terminal 3 is a huge building and is said to be bigger than all of five of London Heathrow’s terminals. So, make sure that you have enough time to get to your boarding gate.
Lesser known is the Nanyuan Airport which was a former military airport and is currently used only by China Eastern’s budget carrier, China United Airlines. It operates flights to major cities including Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Harbin, Sanya, Shanghai-Hongqiao and Wuxi. The airport is located approximately 13 kilometers from the Forbidden City and is a relatively small airport so it is advised that travelers not to arrive early as there is limited space to wait.
There are also train, bus and driving options for getting into Beijing. Beijing has many railway stations and most trains arrive at the Central, North, South, and West stations. While most stations serve domestic cities, you can find trains for Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar), Russia and North Korea from the Beijing Railway Station. If you’re driving into the city by car, Beijing is accessible by several expressways coming in from several directions. Long-distance buses are also available from Shanghai and the Mongolia border. The city has over 20 long distance bus stations. It is best to consult the proper authorities for the most updated maps, directions and time-tables.
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Airports near Beijing
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