We have survived our first week in China and we are already starting to feel (a little) like locals! Primarily because every moment we haven’t been in training, we have been gallivanting around this ancient, sprawling city. From many of my previous posts, you may have gathered that I am a huge proponent of getting off the beaten path and discovering new places on your own. Exploring China for yourself is no exception! In just one week, we have seen the major highlights and found some hidden gems. Read on, my fellow intrepid travelers, to find a sample itinerary for a visit to Beijing, China!
Arrive in China and get acquainted with the area where you will be staying. You will probably be exhausted (the jetlag is pretty serious), but if you are eager to get out and see the city, plenty of options await! But first, a note on…
I think we should discuss how you are going to actually get to all these incredible places. If you don’t speak Chinese, guiding yourself around China may seem daunting, but I have found it to be pretty feasible (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t always have the best sense of direction). Beijing is a large city with many different neighborhoods. Yet, while it is one of China’s oldest cities, it has a comprehensive subway system that feels similar to New York City’s. The subway system is intuitive, inexpensive, and written in both Chinese and English (yay!), so it is really just a matter of reading the map. And unlike good ol' fend-for-yourself NYC, there are attendants on hand at all times to assist you with your tickets and directions. They don’t speak much English, but they are happy to help when the ticket machine won’t take your yuan! Taxis are also a cheap option, but beware the Beijing traffic (not to mention the no-holds-barred driving style) and make sure the driver (who most likely won't speak English) has turned on the meter.
COST: About 3-7 RMB each way (less than $1USD)
Once you have figured out the subway system, head over to Wangfujing Street to visit the night market. Here you will see a variety of interesting “delicacies” while mixing with locals. You can pick up a few touristy trinkets along the way, if that’s your thing. Nearby, you can experience Peking Duck in the city that originated the now-famous dish.
Wake up early (I promise, it will be early—like 4am early because your body is still wondering what the heck is going on) and hop on the subway to head towards the Summer Palace for the 6:30am opening, before the crowds arrive. Prepare to spend at least half a day here, as the palace is vast with winding paths through forested areas.
If you have yet to succumb to the effects of jet lag, grab a taxi and head over to the Beijing Olympic Stadium, host of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Walk around on your own, or buy a ticket to see the Bird’s Nest, which I highly recommend. Throughout the evening, you can walk into the stadium yourself and watch a light display set to inspiring music. A lovely way to end the evening! The stadium is connected to a mall with plenty of food options if you need a quick bite to eat at the end of the night.
Entrance to Summer Palace: 30RMB (about $4USD)
Entrance for Olympic Bird’s Nest: 80RMB (about $11USD)
Today, you should head off to the historic Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Both are easily navigable by foot (though prepare to do a lot of walking!). We chose to guide ourselves, but you can pay for a guided tour if you choose. Otherwise, it is free to walk around both locations! You can also take time to visit the National Museum of China (it was closed while we were there, but I’ve heard it’s pretty cool).
Once you have worn yourself out from walking, you’ll probably be ready to eat! Chinese food is delicious, and we ate our fair share of noodles and rice. But sometimes, you might want a meal that feels a little more like home. For all my millenials out there (or anyone who likes a good drink at a cool bar), we found an awesome hole in the wall local bar called Mao Mao Chong that serves great cocktails and pretty good pizza. The vibe is definitely cool and you will find locals and expats alike.
Forbidden City Entrance: Free
Mao Mao Chong: 50-65RMB/drink and 50-70RMB/pizza (about $7-10USD each)
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA. You didn’t think I would forget about this beauty, did you? Ok, let’s state the obvious—you absolutely cannot go to Beijing without visiting the Great Wall of China (which, we were a little crestfallen to learn, cannot actually be seen from outer space—but it is still pretty legit!). The Badaling section of the Great Wall is probably the one you recognize from photographs—it is beautifully restored and one of the most popular parts to visit. However, with over 5,000 miles of wall to discover, we decided to go a different route (pun definitely intended). Wild Great Wall is an agency that facilitates guided and self-guided tours on wild sections of the wall. Ricky, the co-founder of the company, was very responsive via email and will answer any questions you have. He helped us select a challenging, remote section of the Great Wall, where we could enjoy unrestored beauty and far fewer crowds. The tour includes transportation to and from your hotel and entrance fees. We gathered twelve adventurous people from our training group to join us, which meant the price per person was less than 300RMB (about $40USD). You can view the itinerary we followed here.
Great Wall self guided hike: 300RMB ($40USD)
And with that, you will conclude your whirlwind 4-day trip to Beijing! If you have a little more time, I would recommend spreading out your activities, and possibly discovering some more of your own! This itinerary is by no means exhaustive, but will allow you to experience the best of Beijing with a little sprinkle of local flair.
Our next adventure will take us on a high speed bullet train to Shanghai, where we will settle into our lives as expats. Stay tuned for more sample itineraries, inspirational photography, and some journal entries about our experiences from a personal perspective. Thanks for following along and happy travels!