As one of the world’s great capitals, Beijing bowls me over with its sleek skyline, warm residents and ancient traditions. Beijing is a cool combination of 3,000 years of continuous history, right through to today with its modern skyscrapers and innovative architecture!
Where old meets new, magic happens!
Beijing was established over 3,000 years ago during the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty. When Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified China in 221 BC, Beijing became the strategic centre of northern China. From 221 BC to 1911, Beijing was an imperial capital – one of the longest reigns of any city in the world! Since the end of the Qing dynasty, at the beginning of the 20th Century, Beijing has grown into one of the greatest cities in the world! While the capital has mostly modernised, many traces of the country’s imperial history can be found around town at the Forbidden City which remains from the Ming Dynasty, and the Summer Palace built under the Qing Dynasty.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The currency used is the Yuan Renminbi (sometimes referred to as the ‘Chinese Yen’). About 9 Yuan Renminbi is equal to one British Pound, though the rate regularly fluctuates.
From Beijing Capital International Airport, heading into the city is a breeze! There are three different transport options; bus, taxi, or train. I usually take the train as it is quick, affordable and departs from both Terminal 2 and 3. There is a moving walkway between Terminal 1 and 2. The Norman Foster designed Terminal 3 is truly massive with an area of over 1 million square meters (10 million square feet) and is only second in size to Dubai’s new terminal. A one-way train journey will take roughly 20-minutes and costs as little as £3! Trains run between 6am and 11pm, and depart from the airport terminals every 10 minutes.
For a similar price, the airport shuttle bus departs the airport every 30-minutes and the journey to central Beijing takes roughly 1-hour (alighting at Beijing Railway Station). If you’d prefer to take a taxi, the ride will take around 40-minutes, and prices start around £15.
Beijing is huge. I mean, really, incredibly big! There are over 1,500 square miles to cover, and it can’t all be done on foot. Take this into account when planning the duration of your trip and budgeting transportation costs. I recommend purchasing a rechargeable Smart (Yikatong) Card and using the city’s bus and subway networks.
Here’s Another Pro Tip: Don’t drink the tap water. Water in China is treated with high levels of chloramines, so while your water may look safe to drink, it may upset your tummy.
This was a difficult task, but here’s a handful of my favourite attractions:
- The Forbidden City – This impressive palace complex dates back to 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. The palace showcases a mix of traditional Chinese architecture, while the Palace Museum houses over 1 million artefacts. Explore wider Tiananmen Square while you’re there.
I fell for the Forbidden City!
- Summer Palace – Yiheyuan is a magical arrangement of historical palaces and temples spread across 290 hectares of manicured gardens. Take a stroll around the lakes and admire this green oasis in the heart of the city.
Book a Wuhan-way ticket to the Great Wall!
- Great Wall of China – Of course, you’ll be eager to take a day trip to visit the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Wall can be explored from many places, but Badaling is a popular section located just under an hour out of the city.
- 798 Art District– If you enjoy hipster bars, independent art galleries, and trendy shopping areas head to the 798 Art District. An entire day could be spent exploring the decommissioned military factory buildings that make up the district!
- Ming Dynasty Tombs –This ancient system of emperor’s tombs sits north of Beijing and pairs well with a trip to the Great Wall of China. Collectively the tombs are known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty.
Narrowing Beijing’s best restaurants down to my favourites is no easy task, but I think you’ll be pleased with my choices:
No Peking at my duck!
- TRB Forbidden City – Contemporary decor, fine-dining, and exquisite European dishes are the defining factors. Guests tuck into French delights as they enjoy views over the Forbidden City.
- Taste of Dadong – While the suggestion of a chain restaurant might make the hairs on the back of your neck stand proud, Taste of Dadong isn’t your average chain. Headed up by acclaimed chef Dong Zhenxiang, guests enjoy family-friendly dining in a contemporary space. The Zhejiang Mian noodles and Peking Duck are a must.
- Bellagio Café – Again, Beijing is a paradox because its chain restaurants are great! Bellagio Café is incongruously my favourite Taiwanese restaurant in the world. With innovative ingredients, a casual atmosphere and convenient locations, Bellagio is a must-stop for me!
You won’t be short of options when it comes to evening entertainment in Beijing. Here are some of my favourite bars and nightclubs in the capital:
- Dada – This underground venue sets the scene for a night to remember as international DJ’s and local rock bands taking to the stage throughout the year. The best thing about Dada? You’ll never pay more than £6 to enter, regardless of who’s on stage!
Dada knows best!
- The Forbidden City Concert Hall – For a more sophisticated evening, visit this multi-purpose venue in Zhongshan Park. Musical performances are on most weeks of the year, and if you time it right, you might bag yourself a night at the opera.
- Janes + Hooch – For a contemporary, urban, drinking hole, check out this bar’s modern take on a vintage dive bar. Step out of your comfort zone and order the ‘New Fashioned’.
From boutique residences to spacious hotels, here are my top three accommodation options for Beijing:
- Cours et Pavillons – This charming hotel looks more like a traditional Chinese residence and perfectly blends boutique decor with ancient Chinese architecture. There are only seven rooms in total, so bookings should be made well in advance.
- The Peninsula Beijing – This 5-star hotel boasts cutting edge technology, Chinese craftsmanship, and contemporary art. All of which blend to provide a luxury stay in the heart of Beijing. The traditional service for which the Peninsula is known is definitely on offer!
- The Orchid – Made up of private courtyard residences, The Orchid offers a green oasis amidst the neighbourhoods surrounding Nanluoguxiang. There are ten contemporary rooms and a handful of boutique maisonettes.
Beijing is a fascinating city because of its unique blend of ancient and modern. Revel in its hospitality, energy and style!