Beijing gets a lot of bad press — pollution, pollution, pollution — with many tourists opting for its more glamorous sister, Shanghai. While Shanghai represents what China is trying to be, Beijing represents what it is: communist, cultured, and Karaoke loving!
I spent a lot of time in China for work, and having been to over ten cities up and down the country, Beijing remains my firm favorite, even if it is a little crazy at times.
Here are my top tips on how to make the most out of your time in China’s capital!
Do: Houhai Lake
The Houhai Lake is uniquely Beijing. Once a romantic spot, it’s now more of a lively evening meet-up. Wander around the lake on foot before enjoying the neighborhood’s restaurants and karaoke venues (try to be brave enough to have a go!). Alternatively, rent one of the pedalos or motor boats to get a different perspective of the surroundings. If renting a motor boat, look out for the problematic weeds in the water. We had to be rescued more than once from the middle of the lake!
Do: Great Wall of China
Yes, the Great Wall of China is out of town and it can take a bit of effort to get there, but it’s so worth it! For around 700 RMB (approx. 100 USD), you can actually hire a cab to drive you straight there in around 90 minutes, wait several hours while you enjoy the wall, then drive you back. However you choose to get there, remember to take plenty of water and snacks with you, and make sure you experience the bizarre but brilliant “ride” down the wall, which is a totally unique roller coaster.
Don’t: Be Put Off by Pollution
No, the air isn’t the cleanest, but Beijing is still a must-see. It has personality, history, and a certain Chinese charm that can’t be found elsewhere. It feels near to the center of power and is a much better reflection of what China really is.
Don’t: Just Visit the Lower Part of the Great Wall
Be sure to visit more than just the lower part of the Great Wall. Ask your taxi driver to take you further up, or make your own way via cable car. This takes you to the wall’s highest starting point, which connects to the most extensive network.
Don’t: Spend Too Much Time at the Forbidden Palace
It’s a labyrinth of similar palaces and rooms that can become quite overwhelming without a tour guide or explanation to put it into context and explain the stories behind it. Depending on the time of year, it can be as brutally hot as it is busy, and you may have to wrestle the crowds.