• Danik Bates

Beijing: first time itinerary to the Chinese capital

Updated: May 7

Beijing, the capital city of China, is flung out in the northeast of the country and is a place which is not to be missed by those visiting. I came to Beijing in the winter months, it was cold, not much snow so I was expecting to see crowds and crowds of people in the street, a high density of smog everywhere and a lot of people coming up to me to give me some problems (previous experience in other cities around Asia). I can tell you now that this isn’t the case (well, there were crowds and crowds of people but not what I was made to believe, the smog is there but wasn’t a problem when I went in the winter and I didn’t get hassled. Not once) and I had a very much stress-free trip. In doing so, I checked out a lot of places which I didn’t plan to do on a long weekend trip here and here are my favourite sites to check out in Beijing.

The Forbidden City


A visit to Beijing would need to include the Forbidden City which lays at the heart of the city and is easy to get to by subway with the two stations nearby, Tiananmen West and Tiananmen East. Inside the walls lies the former Chinese imperial palace which was used between the 15th and 20th centuries (basically from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty) and the building now houses the Palace Museum. Now listed as an UNESCO site because the Forbidden City has the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Also nearby is Tiananmen Square (the world’s largest public square) which is worth a walk around (however, I didn’t get the chance as the square was closed on my visit, so next time, I promise!).


Tian Tan Park


Located south-east of the centre of the city is the huge park known as Tian Tan which (despite the small entrance fee to pay to get into the park) is a great place to get away from the nearby busy streets. A great place to walk around and see all the plants and trees but the main place to hit up lies in the centre. There is the Temple of Heaven, a complex of religious buildings which in the past was visited by the Emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties and is now listed as an UNESCO site. My top advice is to check out the opening times for the Temple of Heaven but even if it's closed, the park is still a great place to get away from the urban sprawl.


Checking out the Yonghe Temple


Located in the Dongcheng district of Beijing (north-east of the city centre), is the amazing Yonghe Temple otherwise known as the Lama temple and there is also a monastery dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism. With its combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan styles in its design and a few hidden secrets, here is why I think visitors to Beijing should check out the Yonghe temple.

The temple is very easy to reach and isn’t far from the city centre. The easiest way is by the Beijing subway system and arriving at the nearby station known as Yonghegong on either lines 2 and 5 and then taking a short walk south to the temple which is located on the left hand side of Yonghegong street. A small fee is to be paid and there are notices on what to do and not to do which are kindly to be observed.


The main entrance is on the southern end of the complex and I had to walk northwards to reach the five main halls which make up the temple. Between the main halls are separated by small courtyards with one tree and a lot of incense burning in the air where people are lighting candle sticks and praying at entrances of the main hall.




The first hall I came across was the Hall of the Heavenly Kings which used to be the main entrance to the monastery. Standing in the heart of this hall is the Buddhist statue of the Maitreya and to the sides are statues of the Four Heavenly Kings. To be honest (as I am not a Buddhist), I just love the way the statues are designed, built and put into place within peaceful surroundings. Walking around I could feel the eyes of the statues looking at me, they were so real.


The second hall (which is also the main and largest building of the temple) is the Hall of Harmony and Peace. Here there is a statue of the Gautama Buddha (the Buddha of the Present) in the centre whilst to the left is another Maitreya Buddha statue (Buddha of the Future) and to the right is the Kasyapa Matanga (Buddha of the Past). These statues are otherwise known as the Buddhas of the Three Ages and are all made out of bronze.


Beyond that is the third hall and to be honest at the time, didn’t know what this hall was all about. After research, I found out that this was the Hall of Everlasting Protection and was the living quarters of Emperor Yongzheng when he was a prince. It was also here where his coffin was placed after his death. There is some information inside about this but even then I didn’t really truly understand. Also in the centre there is a statue of the Bhaisajya-Guru (The Buddha of Healing).


The fourth hall is the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (sounds like a sitcom for an American television series), this is the place for conducting religious ceremonies and reading scriptures. Another nice temple to look at but it is the final hall which blew my mind away.


The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses is something which I will take a lot of memories with me. The hall has a 18 metre tall statue (with an extra eight metres underground so the total height is 26m) of the Maitreya Buddha which is carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood and because of this has made it into the Guinness Book of Records. Seriously, this blew my mind away, this is one of the most beautiful statues I have come across on my travels and this is not to be missed.

The Yonghe Temple, like I said, is not to be missed. There is a lot of beautiful artwork and sculptures here and I totally recommend a visit here which can last up to two hours. It was also nice to get away from the busy streets and to walk inside this peaceful temple, to have a moment to myself, to refresh and reflect and take in the beauty of the Buddhist religion.


Go shopping on Wangfujing Street


To the east of the Forbidden City is one of the busiest shopping streets in Asia, Wangfujing Street. There are loads of department stores and a shopping mall here as well as restaurants ranging from local cuisine to western junk food but it’s also here the quirky tea shops can be found to purchase tea (of course).

Go on a tour to the Great Wall


Beijing isn’t far from one of the sections of the Great Wall and there are numerous tour companies which take visitors to see one of the world’s largest landmarks. I was quite fortunate to get a tour to Mutianyu village, which is one of the popular places to get a good glimpse of the wall. For more information on my visit to the Great Wall, please check out my post here.

Hotel recommendation - Prime Hotel Beijing


Located at the north end of Beijing’s Wangfujing Street, famous for its huge department stores, this five star hotel is the perfect place to stay whilst checking out China’s capital city. Prime Hotel is one of the best hotels in the area and at affordable prices, I just had to check it out.


On arrival I was greeted by staff in a huge and spacious lobby with a water fountain at the heart. Check in here was swift and the staff did speak basic English for the international visitor. Also in the lobby is the best place to relax and have a hot drink or even a beer at the bar where the waitresses are very eager to serve visitors' needs.


Away from the beers, I had a room on the fifth floor and elevators are very swift to get me to the level. Security level is high here and the hotel is kitted out with high tech security features from door locks to safes. I booked a superior room for my one night stay before heading back to Europe and I was in for a treat. With a huge king size bed which was very comfortable with large pillows, I was really made to feel at home. There was plenty of floor space (which is good for me to sort out my luggage items before a long haul flight), television to watch (all digital but everything in Chinese and sometimes the odd international news channel to the usual mini-bar, plenty of wardrobe space, iron, ironing board plus a computer for interneting).

The bathroom was amazing, I totally loved the decor and the marble used. There were the usual free toiletries plus extras like condoms (but for a small fee of course). The shower was refreshing, in fact I could use the word, AWESOME! Never a shower felt so good with Beijing’s air pollution problems. Really felt refreshed and ready to rock the world after a soapy wash.


The breakfast was quite good and catered for western visitors and those from home. There are the usual hot and cold buffets providing cereals, hot food, cold meats to a chef who will make visitors omelettes on the spot (and they are very yummy).


Another reason I stayed here is that I was a five minute walk from the nearest subway station (Dongsi - on lines 5 & 6) but also the Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square is about a twenty minute walk from the hotel (at the other end of the shopping street), there is plenty of eating out options around here and across the road is the National Art Museum of China. Also the hotel is located (as I call it), the Northern Side of the City, so getting to the airport or even the Great Wall of China by taxi is good (but not at peak times).


I had a really fantastic stay here at Prime Hotel and felt totally refreshed and ready for the long haul flight back to Europe. The staff were ever so friendly and had everything I needed or expected from a five star hotel. It’s not a question of IF I return to Beijing, it's WHEN, and when I do, I would certainly stay here again. Just to note, I booked my stay with booking.com but reservations can be taken on their official website.


Some advice before you visit Beijing (China in general)


  1. Take a toilet roll. Most places I found didn’t have them in a lot of the bathrooms

  2. Before arriving in China, make sure you have a VPN on your laptop or cellphone device so you access sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google.

  3. The currency is the Chinese Yuan. Just chucking that in there.

  4. Eat the Peking Duck, a specialty from this city.

  5. Don’t visit Beijing during Chinese New Year. It's mental! And traveling around is crazy. Check the calendar online before booking any trip to the city or anywhere else in China which involves planes, trains, buses and cars.

Transport


Beijing has two airports, Beijing Capital International (PEK) which I used and had to use a taxi to and from the centre of the city due to my flights being night flights and the newly built Beijing Daxing International airport (PKX).


The subway I used many times is one of the best I have used in the world. Very modern and new, the subway stations are huge, clearly marked in Chinese and English and simple to use. Planning to do a few journeys? Then go to the ticket counter and ask for a transportation card. After paying a deposit, the card can be topped up easily and also means you don’t have to wait to queue up for tickets when there are lots of people about. The transportation card can also be used on local buses (which I never did) and the price of a journey is 50% less than that of a subway journey.

Afterthought


Seriously, I only did a few days in Beijing but I can’t wait to get back to the city, actually do the main sights (by checking opening times and tickets in advance, this is vital to make a visit run smoothly). The places I have mentioned are a must if visiting for the first time in the city. There is so much to do here, so I can’t wait to get back and see what the city has to offer. I found the locals very welcoming, sometimes curious and in broken English, willing to ask questions. For me personally, I found Beijing more laid back than other cities I have checked out in China.

Has anyone who has read this post been to Beijing before? What would you recommend? I would love to see your thoughts in the comments below.


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