24 hours in Beijing? What to do?

Tips | 16.10.2019
A sprawling city of over 20 million people, Beijing is not the kind of place you can explore fully with just one day to spare. But, if you really only had 24 hours to see China's bustling capital city, what should you do? Wandering couple, The Travel Scribes, have given us their short-list of what to do when visiting the place formerly known as Peking.
Take a look at
Tiananmen Square. Inevitably you'll need to pass through the Square when going near the Forbidden City, and it's a must-visit on any Beijing itinerary. This remarkable square is one of the largest city squares in the world and is the centre of Beijing City, marking a long history. It has a number of places to visit including the Tiananmen Tower, the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People and Chairman Mao Zedong's Memorial Hall.
National Museum of China. Right off Tiananmen Square is the incredibly impressive National Museum complex. This massive museum is over 65,000 square metres big (yes – everything in China is big!) and is actually the second most visited art museum in the world, after Le Louvre. Get a free map as you enter so you can cherry pick what you'd like to see.
Stroll
The hutongs. These neighbourhoods epitomize old world Beijing, as you can see real, authentic Chinese life in action. The narrow streets or alleys are full of people going about their daily business, as well as some hidden gem restaurants. The most famous area is Yonghegong, where you can either take a walk or even rent a bicycle to meander through the area. If you've got time, this area also hosts the Lama Temple, one of the most beautiful lamaseries (this is a monastery for buddhist teachers) in China.
Wangfujing. This bustling shopping hub is not only where you'd buy international brands, but you can wander around and try the weird and wonderful food that China is well-known for. This commercial shopping area has all the big names you'd expect: Prada, Apple but also fast food chains like McDonalds. However, if you just wander one or two streets over, you'll find a buzzing snack street which has vendors selling spicy noodles, local delicacies and even cheap souvenirs.
Visit
The Forbidden City. You can't come to Beijing without seeing The Forbidden City. It is the world's largest palace complex covering 74 hectares (740 square metres) and boasting 1.8 million pieces of art across more than 900 buildings! Originally the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, it is now a massive museum. Keep in mind that it can get very full so get there early (book the morning ticket) and walk quickly to avoid the crowds!
Jingshan Park. Handily located right near the Forbidden City is this refreshing royal garden. It's perfect place to relax after the mania you'll find in the City but also offers 360-degree views of Beijing. Hike up Jingshan Hill to get the views or wander in the gardens to see people practising tai chi or lounging on the lawns.
Temple of Heaven. Constructed in the early 1400s, this complex was where the Ming and Qing emperors used to hold their Heaven Worship ceremonies. Over the years it was enlarged and eventually opened to the public back in 1988. Nowadays this 3-kilometre square (300 hectares) ground is a big tourist attraction but well worth a visit. You'll want to see the three main areas, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar.
Have a bite to eat at
Ghost Street. Named as such because it used to be the home of coffin stores, Ghost Street (which is actually called Gui Jie Street) is the heart of Beijing's food scene. It has hundreds of restaurants flanking it, offering you everything from spicy lobster to the very famous Peking Duck and even boiled frogs! You can't go wrong with most of the restaurants here, some of which are even open 24 hours if you need a late-night snack. The most famous is Xiaolin Hotpot which offers some of the best steaming hotpot in the city.
Lìqún Roast Duck Restaurant. If you're in Beijing you have to try the city's signature dish, Peking Duck. And there is no better place to try it than Lìqún. You'll be given delicious, golden brown duck slices that are crispy on the outside and delectably juicy on the inside alongside a plate of pancakes and side dishes like bean paste, cucumber and spring onion. Get your hands a little dirty by putting these ingredients together and tucking into this heavenly dish.
Tips
    • If you're heading to the Forbidden City, you must get your tickets far in advance since they sell out quite regularly. If you don't have a Chinese mobile number or ID, you'll need a local company to buy them on your behalf.
    • Carry your passport with you. Beijing often has spot checks and security cordons, plus you'll usually need to show your passport when entering any of the large attractions.
    • Make sure you have a translation app handy on your mobile phone. Most attractions and transport providers in Beijing have English signage but if you want to organize something or chat to a local, English is usually not supported, even in big hotels.
    • The best way to get around Beijing is on the metro or underground. It's very clean, efficient, runs every few minutes and all signage is in English. Plus it's very affordable with each ticket costing no more than 5 RMB (0.70 USD/0.55 GBP). Definitely download the free Metro Man app which will help you plan your journey.
    • Ridesharing companies like Uber and Grab don't operate in Beijing so if you want to use a taxi, either flag one down or download DiDi, the Chinese equivalent, to your phone. Try to do this before you arrive in China to ensure you can use it in English.
    • If you're staying in China longer than just 24 hours in Beijing, we highly recommend you download a VPN like ExpressVPN. The VPN will allow you to access social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram and is legal to use in China
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