A blend of old and new, Beijing offers excitement, unique sightseeing opportunities and layers of history. Hike the Great Wall, stand in the world’s largest inner-city square or marvel at the Forbidden City. If that’s all too much, dine on spicy Crayfish or mutton hotpot at one of the city’s many food markets
Catherine and I arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport in the early hours of a Saturday after flying the red eye from London. Catching the airport train to Dongzhimen on metro line 2 and then with a change at Jianguomen to subway line 1, we arrived at our hotel – Days Inn Forbidden City Hotel, which was a great place to anchor down for our time in the capital of China.
The staff were friendly, and the room was spacious. We picked it because it was in our mid-range price range and a short walk to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. As soon as we unpacked, we were off to the square.
Tiananmen square is the key historical centre of Beijing. With 400,00 square metres of hard surface, it is here where the former Communist party leader, Mao Zedong, started the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
With the famous red building and the giant statues of Mao it is a very impressive square. This wide-open space was surrounded by ex-soviet style buildings, housing government offices and the National Museum of China.
Luckily for us, after about 30 minutes of taking it in, the guards ushered everyone off for the day.
Crossing the road from a 20th century governance area, we entered a 15th century one – the Forbidden City. The city was home to the imperial household and constructed by Emperor Yongle in the early 15th century.
The forbidden city became accessible to the public in 1949 and boasts more than 800 buildings and nearly 10,000 rooms. The Hall of Supreme Harmony decorated with beautiful dragons was used to celebrate the Chinese emperor’s birthday. The Palace of Heavenly Purity was used as the emperors’ living area.
With a whopping 720,00 square metres covered, it can take you all day to walk around the grounds and still you would have things left over. Exiting the north side of the city, we were faced with Jingshan Park and a lookout point with great views over the Forbidden City.
Catherine and I decided to walk back to the hotel following the Tongzi river, which surrounds the city like a moat. Walking south down Wangfujing Street, we stumbled upon St Joseph’s Wangfujing Church. This Catholic church is one of the four Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing. It is in the Dongcheng District.
The Great Wall of China was the real pull for our visit, as we really wanted to see it. As both of us had played Tomb Raider 2 as kids, we both had the same feelings of wonder and amazement of this great wall.
Our guide picked us up in a private car early in the morning. We had lucked out as the rest of the people on the tour unfortunately got food poisoning the night before, so we basically had a private tour and were chauffer driven around all the places on the itinerary.
The first stop off was Dingling, one of 13 imperial tombs at Ming tombs in the Changping district, 45km north of Beijing. This is a mausoleum where the Wanli emperor is buried with his two empresses. This is a must as it is the only tomb of the Ming dynasty to have been opened to the public.
Next, was the Great Wall itself, via a Jade factory. After researching on where to walk on the wall, we chose Mutianyu where the wall is in good condition and has less people. There are many places to walk and see the wall. See our post here.
Badaling in Yanqing County is the most convenient entry point, situated 70 Kilometres from Beijing. Other places to explore the wall are Huanghuacheng, Jinshanking and Simatai. Each one is in a different condition and the number of tourists vary also, so you need to pick carefully which one caters for your needs.
After catching the cable car up to the wall, we stood and took it in. It was one of the best experiences we’ve had, and it really is like nothing else. As one of the top tourist destinations in the world to visit, the Great Wall is a stunning monument stretching 5,000 Kilometres across hilly terrain and dense woodland.
As far as the eyes can see, the wall just keeps going over the hills, in and out of places where a wall of this size shouldn’t be capable of being constructed. Catherine and I roamed around for a couple of hours and then slid back down to the carpark via the toboggan, where our guide and driver were waiting.
The tea shop on the way back was a nice add-on and then we asked our driver if we could be dropped off at the National Stadium (Birds Nest Stadium). After walking around this magnificent structure and heading to the Olympic Sports Centre station, we caught the metro to the Drum and Bell Tower on the subway line 8.
These amazing towers were very impressive structures. The Drum Tower (Gulou) is north of Di’anmen Street and sits opposite the Bell Tower. First construction began in 1272 and built for musical reasons. It was later used to announce the time and is now a worthwhile tourist attraction. The Bell Tower (Zhonglou) stands closely behind the Drum Tower. With panoramic views over Beijing it is worth the climb.
Before the modern era of high-rise buildings and glass skyscrapers, they both dominated the cities ancient skyline.
The day ended with a short walk to the Silver Ingot Bridge in the Shichahai, Xicheng District. This vibrant neighbourhood was unexpected and a joyful surprise. With cracking food and music bumping, this was a great place to watch the sun go down.
With a fiddly subway route home using lines 1, 5, 6, 8, we arrived at the hotel via Wangfujing food market.
Catching subway 1 and changing at Dongdan to line 5, we arrived at the Temple at
Heaven. This huge park was built in the 15th century, around the same time the Forbidden City was constructed. First, we headed south where the Round Altar sits. This three-tiered marble platform is a huge space and if you look north, you’ll have a view of the Prayer Hall.
Walking north through the park, we finally got to the Prayer Hall. A stone carved stairway leads up to the entrance of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, with its cylindrical blue-tilted roof. It was burnt to the ground in 1889 when it was hit by lightning.
The Hall of Abstinence was used by emperors for fasting and is an amazing building to this day. Walking out of the park and back onto the subway, we had realised we had seen something amazing.
The afternoon was spent at the Lama Temple, Dongcheng District. The artwork and the building of the temple itself combines Han Chinese and Tibetan styles. Building work started in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty.
Next, we jumped back on line 5 and headed back towards the hotel ending the day watching the troops parade up and down Tiananmen Square with the sun setting in the distance.
After a great breakfast, we checked out and walked to Tiananmen Square to caught the metro to Beijing West Station.
The ticket office was very helpful and after a little trouble finding our reservation, they managed to issue us with our tickets. I was super excited as we were about to catch the famous Chinese hi-speed rail to Xi’an.
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