Beijing is absolutely huge. It is the second most populated city in the world. Yet it is possible to see the best of this city in four days, though a longer trip would be much better to do this bustling, history-packed city justice. Keep reading to find out how you can see the essentials of Beijing in four days.
Day One: Forbidden City
Start your trip to Beijing at its most historic site, the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is the ancient imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It lies in the centre of the city, so is a great place to start your trip, as well as being one of Beijing’s most well known tourist attractions. It is basically loads of interconnected halls with various long, flowery names separated by various courtyards and gardens. Get there early to beat the queues as it is a popular site even in off-season. Enter through Tiananman Square to see the site of not only the daily flag raises, but also the tragedy of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. From Tiananmen Square, go into the heart of Old Beijing and begin exploring the various extravagant courtyards and halls of the Imperial City. It is a large place, so three to four hours will be plenty of time to see the main parts of the Forbidden City without burning out of energy on the first day.
Once you’ve left the Forbidden City, head down of one Beijing’s hutongs for a bite to eat. The hutongs are the residential and commercial streets that make up Old Beijing, and are a great place to grab some street food and see some of Beijing’s cultural history en route. There are plenty of options for food-to-go, as well as restaurants to sit down and eat. If it’s a nice day, why not grab some snacks and head to head to one of the parks for the afternoon.
Spend the afternoon resting your weary feet in Beihai or Jingshan Parks. Jingshan Park is a former imperial park directly opposite the Forbidden City, and has a great view of the Imperial City from the highest hill in Beijing, on which one of the park’s pavilions is built. Beihai Park, next to Jingshan Park, is also a former imperial park, containing plenty of small palaces and temples to keep the history-lover occupied, or take a boat ride on the lake. Both parks are great for watching the locals go about their days. Don’t be surprised if you see them playing chess or even practising tai chi in the shade of the trees.
If you’re a spice lover, for dinner sample some of Beijing’s Sichuan cuisine. Head to one of the restaurants along Ghost Street and order the dishes like tapas, so to be shared among a group. I’d recommend ordering some lamb skewers, a few veg side dishes (the cauliflower, cucumber, broccoli and green bean dishes are all great choices) and a dry pit chicken dish to share.
Day Two: Wall of China
On the second day of your trip, tackle China’s most famous landmark and one of the world wonders – The Great Wall of China. There are various bits of the wall you can visit but I would recommend going to Mutianyu, as it’s one of the most intact parts of the wall so you can get a better grasp of what it looked like in its heyday, while also being less crowded so you can actually take decent photos.
It’s important to make a day of it, so set off early in the morning, taking the subway to Dongzhimen station so you can transfer to the bus. Catch the 916 Express bus that will take about 60-70 minutes. Get off at Beidajie (North Street) in the Huairou District, cross the road to the opposite bus stop and transfer to a H23 bus to Mutianyu, which will take another 50 minutes. Because it’s a fairly long drive I’d recommend bringing breakfast with you, as well as water to keep you hydrated.
Get off at the Mutianyu Roundabout, and make a mental note of where you got off. Once at the Mutianyu site, buy your tickets at the Tourist Service Building. They will ask you how you will want to go up to the wall, I would highly recommend going up on the cable car and down on the toboggan slide (it’s so much fun going down!), although this means buying two separate tickets but it is well worth it. You also need to buy a ticket for the Ferry Shuttle Bus that will take you to a drop off point 600m away from the cable car.
Once at the wall, it’s likely you’ll spend the majority of the day exploring its great length and taking photos of the amazing views. Make sure you wear clothes that are comfortable to walk in, and bring suncream and plenty of water, as once you’re up there, you’ll be up there for the day. The Mutianyu site does have its fair share of restaurants to choose from but bringing supplies for a picnic on the wall is probably more enjoyable (and cheaper).
After your long day exploring a wonder of the ancient world, head back to Beijing for Peking Duck for dinner, a Beijing speciality. This gorgeously sweet meat comes with pancakes, sliced cucumber and onion as well as hoisin sauce, all the usual trimmings, but don’t be surprised when your waiter also brings you a small bowl of sugar. Dip the slices of duck or duck skin into the sugar, then place it into your mouth until the sugar melts, it is heaven.
Read more on Beijing’s food scene in Top Foods To Try In Beijing.
Day Three: Drum Tower and Lama Temple
Start your day by getting to Nanluoguxiang Subway Station and leaving by Exit A and head down Nanluoguxiang alley. This is a long street made up of old and new architecture with various nearby hutongs. It is a great place to get your breakfast as there are lots of shops selling different types of food, I’d recommend trying some of the Moon, or Red Bean Cakes.
Make your way from Nanluoguxiang through the hutongs to the Drum and Bell Tower. These two towers standing opposite each other were the city’s ancient timekeepers for thousands of years, ringing out across the city to announce different parts of the day. Before modern times, these two towers dominated the skyline of Old Beijing and still offer panoramic views of Beijing, so are well worth the climb up their steep steps for the view!
After having left the Drum and Bell Towers, head to the nearby hutongs and alleyways for a bite to eat. There are plenty of restaurants hidden down these winding streets so go exploring! Once refreshed, start making your way to the Lama Temple.
The Lama Temple or the Yonghe Temple is a monastery of Tibetan Buddhist monks (or lamas). The lamas can still be seen moving around the temples today as it is still an active place of worship. It is a peaceful and tranquil place, full of beautifully ornate temples in vibrant colours. The Lama Temple was one of my favourite buildings in Beijing and I actually preferred it to the Forbidden City. It is worth taking your time here as there is a lot to take in, and the quiet from the hustle and bustle of the city outside is too good to not take advantage of. The best part of the whole monastery is the 18m tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha, which is so awe-inspiringly huge that it left me with my head back as far as it could go and mouth wide open. It’s gigantic! Unfortunately you can’t take photos of it, so you’ll just have to take my word on this one.
At the end of the day, why not try some of Beijing’s Zhájiàng noodles, a wheat noodle dish with vegetables and minced-pork in a smoky soybean paste sauce that is a classic Beijing delicacy.
Day Four: Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace
If you’re up early enough and near the hutongs, why not start your day by buying freshly made dumplings for breakfast from one of the street sellers, or some of the city’s variety of golden-toasted flatbreads. Although many of the places selling food along these winding streets look a little bit dodgy, the food is amazing and well worth sampling.
After an freshly baked breakfast, head to the Summer Palace by getting off at Beigongmen station and leave by Exit D, the North Palace Gate is 3 minutes away. The Summer Palace was an imperial garden for the royal family to retreat to as well as a place to entertain, later becoming the main residence of royal members in the end of the Qing Dynasty. Taken up mainly by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, this huge royal park is an archetype of royal Chinese gardens with its combination of natural beauty, its vibrant and exquisite architecture and man-made landscaping. It is a great day out on a sunny day, as the park is serene – if you can ignore all the tourists everywhere.
Once you’ve taken your fill of the park, it’s time to go for a spot of lunch. There are two options here: either you could have brought a picnic to have in the Summer Palace, or you can got to a Hot Pot restaurant. You’ll find a good Hot Pot restaurant on the top floor of the Hualian Wanliu Shopping Centre, which you can either get to by taking the subway from Beigongmen to Bagou, or you can hail a taxi from outside the North Palace Gate to get you there.
Once you’ve filled up on some Hot Pot deliciousness, head back to Bagou and take the subway to Yuanmingyuan Park Station and leave by Exit B to get to the south entrance of the Old Summer Palace. In comparison to the Summer Palace, the Old Summer Palace or the Ruins of the Yuanmingyuan, is a mixture of classic Chinese scenery and western architecture. Like the Summer Palace, the Old Summer Palace was a pleasure garden for the Chinese emperors to use for their leisure, and demonstrates some of the most beautiful Chinese landscaping. It is also much quieter than the Summer Palace, so it gives you a better chance to enjoy some of China’s most beautiful gardens in peace.
For your last night in Beijing, why not head out to see an acrobatics show, with plenty of cheap tickets available if you purchase last minute as well as more pricier options. If you’re still wanting to sample some of Beijing’s cuisine, you could also brave Wanfujing Street for some unusual eats including fried scorpions and starfish. This is a great place for a spot of last minute souvenir shopping as well as see a little bit of the modern city of Beijing. There are plenty of restaurants in this neck of the woods for you to take your pick of to end your trip on a high.
Want to more Beijing? Keep your eyes peeled for more blogs coming soon!