If you’ve been reading this blog for some time now, you would know that China is a place that bears a lot of significance for me. While most people headed to Thailand, Vietnam, or other “easier” countries to travel around, I opted to land right smack in the middle of it all during my very first backpacking trip. I arrived in Beijing with no phone, no electronics, and virtually no idea what I wanted to see and do. You see, this was during my pre-blogging days where I would just roll with the punches and go wherever the wind takes me. While that’s still generally my travel style, my partner, Anna generally keeps me a bit more organized.
Beijing is a melting pot of culture and modernism and is a destination that most people go to before venturing off to exploring the rest of China. Apart from being the capital city, it is also home to some of the most iconic sights and attractions, making it an ideal must-visit stop. To help you avoid countless hours of wandering around and figuring out the best things to do in Beijing, here is a complete 3-day Beijing itinerary, taking you through the best places in the area.
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Beijing Itinerary: Day 1
Wander around the Hutongs
While most people tend to jump straight in and head to the main attractions, I recommend leisurely wandering around and exploring the local areas. Get lost amidst the narrow alleyways known as hutongs as you immerse yourself in the real Beijing. These traditional alleyways and courtyard homes is an area of the city where time stood still, with no inkling of change or modernism. If you want to wander around the area with a local guide, we recommend checking out the guys over at The China Guide who run local hutong tours in a local rickshaw. If you want to do it yourself, heading to the Nanluoguxiang area is a great starting point for your exploration. For lunch, venture to a local restaurant (ideally with no English menu). While traveling in Asia, one of our best tips for finding a good place to eat is to see where all the locals go. Whenever a place is full of locals, you know you’re in good hands.
The Forbidden City
Right after lunch, head on over to the Forbidden City which is located right across Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City which is now known as the Palace Museum of Beijing. Back then, it was the home to 24 emperors and was considered as a fortress with moats, watchtowers, and other palatial-like structures. I suggest buying an audio guide as soon as you enter in order to truly understand the significance of each area. The guides are usually GPS enabled, taking you through the entire layout of the city. The Forbidden City was off-limits to the outside world for over 500 years, forbidding anyone to come in or leave without the emperor’s permission which definitely adds another layer of intrigue to this alluring place. If you want information on how to book your tickets for the Forbidden City online, you can check out this blog post about it. A trip to the Forbidden City is definitely a huge part of every Beijing Itinerary.
How to Get Here: Subway to Tiānānmén Xī or Tiānānmén Dōng station
Admission: Price varies depending on which parts you want to visit.
Opening Times: 8:30-5:00 (4:00 pm is the last admission)
What to Bring: Water, sunblock, identification (when entering attractions or buying tickets)
After you’ve finished exploring and walking around the Forbidden City, head on over to the famous Tiananmen Square which is one of the largest public squares in the world. While the square is often overshadowed by the nearby beautiful Forbidden City, it is still a place that has tons of cultural and political significance. Walk around it, observing the people around you, as you make your way around the attractions within the square itself. A few of the popular attractions to visit are the National Museum of China, Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
How to Get Here: Subway to Tiānānmén Xī or Tiānānmén Dōng station
Opening Times: 5:00-10:00
Depending on what time you finish your exploration of the two areas, you can either opt to head back to your hotel for dinner/drinks or if it’s still relatively early, you can head towards Jingshan Park which boasts of pretty epic views of the two places. Although there is a minimal admission fee, if you make it before dark, the views are pretty stellar.
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Beijing Itinerary: Day 2
The Great Wall of China
Exploring the Great Wall of China is definitely one of the main highlights of going to Beijing and deciding which part of the wall to see it from is pretty important. For those that didn’t know, the Great Wall of China is HUGE, sprawling over 21,196 kilometers across barren deserts, mountains, plateaus, and grasslands. In fact, it stretches along multiple provinces which makes the decision even harder. Do you go for convenience and see it in the closest areas in the city or do you venture further out for a chance to catch it as it’s real and raw beauty? The two popular choices are seeing The Great Wall at Mutianyu or at Jinshanling. If you want a complete breakdown of all the places to go to, which ones to avoid, and which ones have good hiking trails, check out our complete Great Wall of China guide. Otherwise, we strongly suggest exploring the Jinshanling part of the wall.
While most people recommend visiting Mutianyu, the entire experience just seems a bit too manicured and polished for my liking. Souvenir stands, rides and attractions, and an impeccably clean area. If you want to see the Great Wall of China that is a lot more rugged, we recommend heading out to Jinshanling which features semi-restored walls and beautiful hilly landscapes. From here, you can hike a section of the wall until you reach Si Ma Tai (warning: it gets pretty steep!)
Dinner: Dimsum and Peking Duck
After a full day of ancient wall exploration, you’re most definitely going to be pretty hungry. As I am a sucker for anything related to food, I recommend setting out on a quest in search of the best dim sum and pecking duck place in the city. After all, what’s a better addition to your Beijing itinerary than filling it with good food? TimeOut has done a pretty good job rounding up the best in the list, so most definitely check it out if you’re feeling like dining on some Xiao Long Bao, Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (Xia Jiao), or Shao Mai.
As for Peking duck, Da Dong Restaurant is pretty famous (and delicious). If you don’t mind the price tag, this is a great place to go. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something cheaper, you can head to Deyuan which is a no-frills local favorite.
Beijing Itinerary: Day 3
On the very last day of your trip to Beijing, a visit to the Summer Palace is a must. This 290-acre park is full to the brim with cultural and historic landmarks, tea houses, shops, temples, pavilions, and bridges. You can easily spend half a day exploring and walking around this park-like area as you take in the sights around you. The Summer Palace is also known as the Museum of Royal Gardens, giving you a quick insight to the many outdoor sights and attractions that this place boasts of. It used to be the resort/palace for the imperial family during the Qing Dynasty, whose main attractions are Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake.
From the main area of Beijing, a trip to the Summer Palace is no longer than a 35-minute subway ride across its many entrances.
How to Get Here: Subway Line 4: get off at Beigongmen or Subway Line 16: get off at Xiyuan. Alternatively, you can also take the public bus but the subway is definitely more time efficient.
Opening Times: 8:30-17:00
Temple of Heaven
After the Summer Palace, if you’re not parked out, consider visiting the Temple of Heaven which was built in 1420. This place is the largest building for religious worship and was visited by emperors from the Qing and Ming dynasty.
Eat Street Food
Last but not least, end your trip by heading to the famous Wangfujing Snack Street where you can find all sorts of deep-fried creepy crawlies. From fried scorpions, starfish to a variety of beetles and insects, this place has you covered. Although the place is very touristy, it is still pretty fun. If you’re looking for a fun night out, you can also head to Houhai Bar Street which is an area sprinkled with street food stalls, bars, shops, and restaurants.
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Wrapping Things Up
Overall, Beijing is a pretty large city to travel around, with so many things to see and do. Believe me, although you’ve seen the highlights of the city in three days, you’ve only scratched the surface of what it can offer.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on places to visit in China, you can also check out our full post on it, featuring the famous rainbow mountains of Zhangye Danxia Landform or the Avatar mountains in Zhangjiajie. Trust me when I say that China is a place full of so many incredible destinations. So whatever happened to the bright-eyed kid that cluelessly landed in Beijing? I spent the next month and a half traveling across the region, eating exotic food, and seeing some pretty amazing cultural sights. Not too bad for someone who didn’t plan ahead, hey?
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