Want to travel to Beijing? You can check so many travel bucket list items in one city – Great Wall of China! Forbidden City! Night markets! I brought in study-abroad-student-turned-expat Lee Yee to share her best Beijing travel tips!
I’ve come up with the perfect way to describe Beijing, culled over my collective one and a half years of living and loving it here. It is this (drumroll please): Beijing is addictive.
From the heart of the old city to the outermost ring-roads, Beijing is so vast that when you first get here it can be hard not to feel overwhelmed. The trick to enjoying your time in Beijing is to relax and not try to do everything at once. Here’s where to start:
Must do in Beijing
There are some awesome tours that can take you out to Simatai or Mutianyu which are the wilder sections of the Great Wall. While it probably won’t be the most comfortable night you spend, the view will be spectacular.
While in Beijing, do as Beijingers do. Grab some friends, the more the merrier. Head to the nearest karaoke place. It shouldn’t be too hard to find, just look for the neon signs that say ‘KTV’. Inside, you can rent private rooms, order food and drinks and sing your heart out!
Hit up East Shore Cafe for a night of jazz and cocktails or try No Name Bar if you just want to chill by the lakeside with a pot of tea –very classic Beijing!
Must go in Beijing
Until you actually see the Forbidden City, it’s hard to grasp how big it is in real life. Avoid the summertime crowds and visit in autumn when it’s cool.
One of my favorite places in Beijing, this old hutong is lined with vintage shops, funky bars and cozy little cafes. A perfect blend of old China and new Beijing, this area is great in the summer when the air feels festive, but my personal favorite is to visit on the rare winter days when Beijing gets some snow – its pure magic.
Xiushui, also known as the Silk Market, is the place to go for cheap clothes, electronics and jewelry. A word of caution: if you are morally against counterfeit goods, it’s best to avoid the Silk Market.
But if you have no problems with it, go crazy here because the prices are low and the quality is surprisingly high. If antiques and curios are more to your taste, head to Panjiayuan Market where you can find pick up Mao caps, faux-Qing dynasty porcelain and Tietan trinkets.
Must eat in Beijing
An import from the Szechuan province, hotpot has been a craze in Beijing for the past few years. Basically, it’s skewers of vegetables, mushrooms, fishballs and mystery meat dipped in boiling chilli broth.
My favorite is the kind they sell by the roadside in makeshift stalls. Once the sun goes down you’ll see these stalls spring up, surrounded by crowds of Beijingers sitting around eating and drinking. Ask for plenty of ma jiang – sesame seed sauce – to blunt the spiciness.
Okay, so yes, everyone who goes to Beijing eats Peking duck, but there’s a reason for it, I swear. Peking duck –which is basically a whole roasted duck sliced into thin pieces and dipped in sweet sauce – is good. A cliché, but a juicy, aromatic, oily, good-for-your-soul cliché.
Sold off the street piping hot, these are skewers of juicy lamb meat roasted over hot coals and doused with some peppery, spice-y powder the ingredients of which I have yet to decipher. Best enjoyed with a glass of cold beer.
Tips for travelers in Beijing
The jury’s out on this one. The accepted wisdom is to offer 20% of the stated price, but my personal policy is to decide what I think the item is worth and haggle accordingly. Save the walking-away charade for a last-ditch effort because if it backfires, you’ll have to go back the next day, hat in hand.
Navigating the subway.
word to the wise: 7 million Beijingers take the subway everyday. Crowded is an understatement. Other than that, the subway is a super cheap and easy way to travel. Tickets are only RMB 2 per journey, no matter how many times you hop lines!
Dealing with the dirt
Beijing is near the desert, which means it gets seriously dusty. Throw in all that sightseeing and crowded subway navigating and trust me when I say it’s a good idea to stash some wet wipes in your purse or backpack. Wipe down your face and hands when you’re feeling extra grimy and head back into the fray for more Beijing awesomeness.