This article provides practical information for your visit to Beijing: things to do in Beijing on a budget, hotels in Beijing, and how to get around Beijing.
Beijing is the first stop of our month-long adventure in China. Really excited to be here, to visit the historical city and indulge in some Peking Duck! We spent three days in the Chinese capital and all these activities can be done in three days.
How to Get Around Beijing – Local Transportation
The Subway system in Beijing is efficient and easy to use, plus it is written in English which makes it super convenient. Cost is based on distance (expect 3-10 CNY – USD $0.50-1.50) and you can purchase your tickets at the individual machines with English instructions. Depending on the amount of traveling you intend to do, you can also purchase a prepaid card with 20 CNY (USD $3.25) deposit (which you can get back at specific stations). View our subway video here.
Riding the bus is another option in the city, however, most of the buses do not display English signs making it difficult to use for foreigners – and the staff, in my experience, spoke very little English. (a reason why I always take screenshots of where I wanted to go in Chinese to show it to the bus staff – tips for safe travel abroad here).
There are also many, many taxis in Beijing and the fares are quite reasonable. Expect starting rate of 15 CNY (USD $2.42). Official taxis have a license plate which starts with B. If you decide to go with a different vehicle claiming to take you to your destination, make sure you agree on a price before you sit down.
Where to Stay in Beijing – Budget accommodations and Hotels in Beijing
Qian Men Hostel – USD $26 for a double room, just a 5-min walk from Tiananmen Square, great location to all touristy activities, we were there in the winter and there was a heater in the room and private bath with hot water and towels.
Couchsurfing is also a great way to meet people and save on accommodation. We couchsurfed the rest of our trip.
What to do in Beijing – Sights and Activities in Beijing
Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City: Walk along the square and see many monuments around, you can also see the Chinese flag being raised in the morning and evening. After visiting the square (free entrance) you can visit Forbidden city, the world’s largest palace complex. Entrance fee varies between 40 and 60CNY (roughly USD $6.50-9.50) depending on the season.
Summer Palace: The largest royal palace in China. A beautiful garden and temple with stunning views. We spent half a day walking around the Palace. Entrance fee is 20-30 CNY (roughly USD $3.50-5) depending on the season, ticket price can be combined with these attractions.
Great Wall at Mutianyu: takes about half day to visit and explore. Bring some food and water with you and maybe enjoy a little picnic on the Wall. Entrance fee: 45 CNY (roughly USD $7.25). Which section of the Wall to visit: Mutianyu or Badaling? The most popular and better conserved section of the Great Wall is Badaling, but it is extremely crowded. If you prefer the less crowded option, but just as scenic (see photo below), I would opt for Mutianyu, it is worth the distance.
Temple of Heaven: complex of religious buildings located in south Beijing. Entrance fee: 30-35 CNY (roughly USD $5-5.50) depending on season.
Visit the Hutongs : Ancient alleyways with traditional Beijing architecture. Beautiful afternoon walks. No entrance fee.
Eat Peking Duck: Though you can find the dish in most restaurants in Beijing, it is better to find which restaurants is best to try this amazing dish! A very recommended restaurant for Peking Duck is Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant.
Getting there and away – From Beijing to Lanzhou by Train
Taking the train in China is an experience you won’t forget, especially if you have unreserved seating riding from Lanzhou to Dunhuang – a 14-hour ride (which was our case – see how our 28-hour train experience turned out: Part 1,2 & lastly, Part 3 ). My advice is to purchase your ticket in advance as much as possible so you can secure a seat for your travels. You can purchase your tickets directly at the train station or online for an extra fee. Most staff at train stations do not speak English so I would advise to have either a screenshot of the city you want to go to written in Chinese or ask you hotel to spell out the request on a piece of paper. Be patient, lines can be very long and staff pretty short.
From Beijing to Shanghai by Train: Depending on the type of train (high-speed or regular) the ride can cost between USD $48 to well over $100 for sleeper trains. Most trains depart from Beijing South Station though some still leave from Beijing Railway Station. The ride takes between 5 to 12 hours depending on the train.
Useful Tips : Be aware that China still bans Facebook and Google (Gmail included) so if you intended to keep in touch with friends and family, either use another service or have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) in place so it does not disturb your online activities.
What did you do in Beijing? Anything else that could be added to the list of must-dos? Share your travel experience with us! We love to hear from you.
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