Beijing is a must visit city when in China. There are seriously so many wonderful things to see there and do there. It has been the capital of China off and on for thousands of years so this means it has tons of interesting history and significance for Chinese culture. We spent three and a half days in Beijing. 3 days in Beijing felt like enough time, but you could easily spend more. Here is how I recommend spending 3 days in Beijing.
Airbnb $67 a night
Airport pick up $20
We got in at 8 pm and we were picked up by our AirBnB host and went straight to the neighborhood where our hotel was. One of the coolest things about that was how wonderful our host was. He spoke English and we asked him about getting Peking duck while here. He stopped at a restaurant where he knew someone and brought us to the back to showed us how it's made. It was so cool on our first night to already feel like we had someone so kind showing us around! Plus, who doesn't love getting a private look into a restaurant!
Pro-tip: New to a city? Use AirBnB with an English-speaking host. Our host was so very helpful which was really important in a place like China where we had no knowledge of the language, city layout, or many of the customs. He offered car service in addition to hosting an Airbnb and picked us up from the airport and drove us around as a private coach two days later (more info on that later).
Day tour $80
One thing I always like to do on my first day in a new city or country is a day tour so I can get an understanding of the city. A day (or half day) tour helps you learn about the history, customs, laws, and overall structure of a new place. Our day tour was a private tour and only $80 (private tours in Europe or the US can cost you hundreds of dollars). We used Beijing Han Tang Tours (booked through Expedia.com). This was their essential Beijing tour where they advertised lots of history. This tour did not include the Summer Palace. We did this on purpose because we knew we had another day and could explore more on our own. It saved us money and gave us more time in Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Can you tell how excited we were? I was so happy to make it there after such a long flight and to get to enjoy the Forbidden City. The tour we used was a pretty decent one. Our guide was nice, easy to understand, and took us everywhere that was listed. What I will say is, be prepared for pieces of history to be left out a little bit, the government does control a lot of what is said and shared with people. We asked questions a few times and got vague answers for them when it came to politics, especially related to Chairman Mao and government censor ship. This seems like a given for some and a shock for others.
Pro-tip: You have to show your passport to get into historical places in China. Bring your passport with you everywhere.
Mao’s tomb free:
So this was something I was conflicted about doing because it is a dictator’s tomb in Tienanmen Square, but all politics aside, I feel like it was important to see to understand China’s culture and history. So we went. The tomb itself is huge. They sell flowers and many many people were buying them. They are fake flowers and I am pretty sure that they probably just reuse them each day. You have to stand in line for quite a while you walk through and see his body, people lay flowers and pray, then you walk out. That’s it. It was a very odd experience for us because we were confused how people were still so loyal to him, but this is not a question we need to answer. The visit was helpful because we understood the cultural significance of Mao better.
After our tour ended, we used public transit to walk the Hutongs located next to the Forbidden City. They were very cool and we loved seeing the old buildings.
We used public transit to get back to our hotel.
ProTip: The transportation in Beijing has signs in English which makes it easy to use. However, they have a color coded system that is confusing. We kept getting the red and green mixed up for directions – be careful!
Our AirBnB host (we owe him a lot for his help!) gave us a suggestion for hot pot near our apartment and we ate our first delicious dinner in Beijing! Adam didn't prepare very well for the trip because when we went he didn't even know how to use chopsticks. He was literally trying to pick up food and was unable to put it on his chopsticks. He thought he'd just be able to use a fork - NOPE. Bring your own fork if you can't use chopsticks, even better, learn to use chopsticks! The waitress was so sweet. She came by and would physically put the food on his chopsticks and hand him the chopsticks. Hilarious for me, but not as much for him. It was a long meal...
Pro-Tip: The Chinese are very friendly to Americans and willing to help. Not many people speak English, but are willing to help however they can. We loved the people we met and how welcoming they were to us!
Car service: $40 a piece
Beijing History Museum free
Summer Palace $12 with audio guide
Our AirBnB host offered car service on the side and we definitely took advantage of this because while the train was easy to take, walking was a lot already and we wanted to get to a lot of places. It saved us time and a private driver for a day was definitely an added perk for a non-western price! Plus, we were able to ask him questions about everywhere we were going – almost like a guide! It was great.
Everything we did this day was worth a visit. After our first day with a tour guide, we felt comfortable seeing things on our own as we already know the history of many different things. The museum also had some descriptions in English.
Pro-Tip: We found museums all over China didn't put dates on artifacts, instead they said which dynasty is was created during. English is also written below the Chinese characters. There is little history on the artifact except the dynasty. Knowing when the different dynasties were will help you understand artifacts you see.
Summer Palace $12 with audio guide
The Summer Palace was really fun to visit. The audio guide gave us tons of info and we were glad we didn’t do the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace on the same day because they both involve a ton of walking. The Summer Palace was my favorite thing we did in Beijing because it was just so beautiful! We walked so many stairs in the Summer Palace that my legs were sore the next day. It was no joke! With the pollution and heat, we found it to be a challenge. Bring water!
Olympic Village and Night Market free, Peking Duck $15
Elizabeth arrived as we were finished the Summer Palace (another reason having the driver for the day was great, he picked her up at the airport, included in the fee for the day). We went right to the Olympic Village.
From there we went to a crazy night market that definitely seemed more like a spot for tourists but was fun none the less. The night market had insects, animal parts not commonly eaten in the US and basically everything you could think of on a stick. The reason I say it seemed more like a spot for tourists is because not many people were buying anything - they were mostly taking pictures. Still fun to see!
We then went to dinner with our Airbnb host for Peking duck! We were happy to invite him and have him with us to learn about this famous Chinese food. It was delicious and the restaurant was so nice!
Pro-tip: You can get Peking duck so many different places, ask a local where to go to eat. You will find the best food this way!
Great Wall $80 tour
No trip to Beijing is complete without seeing the Great Wall. As I was researching, I found 5 different sections that are popular to visit from Beijing. In pictures, the Great Wall is often covered in thousands of people. Knowing this, I wanted to make sure we did not end up with 1 million people on a commercial part of the Great Wall. I looked up different sections and found the Mutianyu section. It is one of the best preserved section of the Great Wall and way less crowded in general than the more well known sections such as the Badaling section. I've got a whole post on why I think you should visit this section of the Great Wall. Check out my full list of reasons to you should visit the Mutianyu section here.
We actually did this out of order and didn't technically visit the very next day. See my full itinerary here to see how we did it.
Full disclosure – I lost my train ticket we needed to get from Shanghai back to Beijing. We had to get new ones for later in the day. It was a huge fiasco as none of the workers spoke English and I wasn’t sure what to do. Well, thankfully ATMs exist and we got tickets for the next trip. Not so thankfully, we missed our full day tour and had to rush to get to the Great Wall. We got there just an hour before it closed and made it up in time. Thankfully…This means we had just enough time to get up there.
Pro-tip: We found buying train tickets to be very hard to buy in China unless you already know Chinese. Buy them ahead of time (and don't lose them). Yes, they will be a little more expensive, but the time and stress you will save is worth it. I used China highlights for our tickets. They were professional, responsive to emails, and answered our questions.
We used Mutianyu Great Wall Tours. The tour was great, however, we were late so we did not do everything listed on the tour. I also want to point out that our guide after getting back to the US has tried to contact us, tag us in posts, or write on our photos many times about things other than our tour. He is trying to be friendly, but this is a little off-putting for those of us who like to keep our social media more regulated.
We ended up being essentially alone, that’s right ALONE on the Great Wall. We felt like the luckiest humans. This is where research pays off and finding the right tour guide was essential. This section was just as amazing (at least from photos I’ve seen), as the other sections and we missed the crowds. Worth it!
Note: We did visit the zoo while we were here. I do not recommend going to the zoo. We found many animals to be in inadequate conditions. We also saw tons of signs that said do not feed the animals and yet people were still feeding them with no enforcement of the rules.
Want to book an AirBnB for the first time? I've got a code for $40 off your first booking! Check it out here!
Find more tips and tricks for travel in China here.
Find my full 8 day itinerary here.
Been to Beijing? What do you think? What did you visit that I haven’t?