Beijing Travel Guide
The 2008 Olympics
Maps of Beijing
2. Getting to Beijing
3. Getting around Beijing
4. What to do & to see in Beijing
The Forbidden City
The Temple of Heaven
The summer Palace
Tian’anmen Square & Hutong
Jingshan Park, Shichahai, and Tibetan Lama Temple (Northern Beijing)
Other places of interest in Beijing
5. What to do & to see around Beijing
North: The Ming Toms and Longqing Gorge
North: The Great Wall
West: The Western Hills
West: Zhoukoudian & Peking Man Site
East: The Qing Tombs
Chengde : Bishu Shanzhuang
7. Shopping in Beijing
8. Beijing Opera, Shows, and Nightlife
While Beijing’s modern appearance owes much to the Communist era and the recent influx of capitalist cash, its most impressive and inspiring monuments are recognition of its long imperial tradition. The scale of the city, with its population of 15 million, can initially be overwhelming, but even a short meander into one of Beijing’s remaining hutong districts brings you close to the realities of daily life and all of a sudden the city seems human again.
While the vast number of construction sites, flyovers and mirrored skyscrapers can come as a shock to those hoping for a view of the years when Beijing was the emperor’s seat, a visit to any one of the principal imperial sights (the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven or the Summer Palaces) easily remedies this.
However, the greatest of Beijing’s, if not the world’s, sights lies north of the city. The Great Wall never ceases to amaze and it’s worth spending a couple of days out of the city to fully appreciate its majesty.
If you have enough time and want more imperial splendor, the rugged countryside around the capital holds Ming and Qing tombs, while, farther afield, the Mountain Resort at Chengde was long a popular emperor’s haunt and has some wild scenery along with its subdued palaces and grand temples.
Beijing is a vast sprawling city, its grid-plan centered on imposing Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City, outside of which it is encircled by a series of numbered ringroads that form the city’s main traffic arteries.
The central city is divided into districts: west of Tian’anmen Square is Xicheng, to the east Dongcheng leads into Chaoyang, while to the south the Temple of Heaven lies in Chongwen and, west of here, Xuanwu contains the city’s Muslim quarter. In the far northwest Haidian has the old and new summer palaces and these days it’s also getting a reputation for a lively nightlife and restaurant scene.
Farther out from here, things become distinctly more rugged in the Western Hills, where you’ll find the Fragrant Hills and Badachu and, to the south, the temples of Jietai and Tanzhe
Although it’s perfectly feasible to get around and see all the sights by yourself, if you want to skip some of the hassle (and fun) of getting about, or have limited time, then there are plenty of agencies who arrange tours. All the major hotels have agencies, and hostels run budget versions of the same along with more adventurous trips, including hikes along the Great Wall.
Some hostel trips require a minimum number of passengers to operate, but during the summer months this is seldom a problem and, as many of the hostels operate joint tours, you should always be able to get to where you want to go, even if you have to wait a day or two. Most of these tours include transport and entry fees as well as an English-speaking guide. However, while these trips are inexpensive and convenient, they can be rushed and leave little room for independent exploration.
There are also companies that specialize in taking you places which are more difficult to stumble across by yourself and these can be worthwhile to escape the crowds, particularly for the hutong and trips out to the Great Wall.