A Brief Guide to a Three-Day Beijing Tour
Beijing is a traditional city, still maintaining centuries-old buildings, customs and lifestyles that have provided China with an identity that is one of the most unique in the world. Unlike Shanghai, there is no competitive aspiration to get facelifts and transition into a modern, skyscraper-clad metropolitan city, at least for now. That is what tourists would love about Beijing. The preservation of culture and a spectacle that showcases the ancient China during their sojourn.
The city is huge and has plenty to offer in terms of history, religion, delicacies, shopping and relaxation. Each tourist point is so huge that it is important to save a lot of energy if you are keen on absorbing all that is to see, savour and learn. One of the best examples would be the world famous Forbidden City itself. The hectares-long former kingdom needs a very well-planned visit in order to make sure you take a look at every nook and cranny of it without having to end up at a physiotherapist! Get a massage should you require it.
So, if you have 2-3 days in China’s capital city, you need to be very selective about the places you visit. A suggested itinerary is here:
Day 1 – Cultural Tour – Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven
If you are staying in a hotel located somewhere in central Beijing, these places may be within walking distance. I stayed at Jingtailong International Hotel, a four-star accommodation from where the Forbidden City is only 10-15 minutes’ walk.
Start with taking pictures in front of the people’s memorial at the famous Tiananmen Square and click more with Mao’s photo hung on Tiananmen, which is the gateway to the other gates and halls where emperors reigned for centuries till 1909.
One of the best ways to make your walk slow-paced and relaxed is to take a break on the verandahs on the eastern part of the gates and halls (where it is shady in the mornings) three to four times and take pictures of the architectural wonders from different angles. Continue your walk once you are happy viewing and clicking. If you are not sure of the names of the different gates and halls and their importance, it is quite easy to download the diagrams with details on the internet. I carried the printouts with me and it was smooth navigating myself from one entrance to another and identifying the gates and the halls.
After having finished the Forbidden City in about 2 hours, I headed toward the Temple of Heaven by taxi. Taxis are not expensive; just make sure your taxi driver uses a functioning metre. I never had any sort of problem with this during my entire China trip. Language can be a big problem at times, so it would be a good idea to carry pictures of the places you want to visit. Phrases and sentences written both in Mandarin and English would also be a big advantage to a hassle-free trip. I found the pictures more useful as sometimes the English words may not be the ones that most Chinese are familiar with. Do not expect people in Beijing to understand what Forbidden City is! It is Zǐjìnchéng for them.
The Temple of Heaven is not actually a temple. It was used only by the King and the royal family a few times in a year for private prayers. There is a bit of walking to be done along the long, long pathway to reach this cylindrical-shaped architectural marvel. This is the pathway used by the kings during their procession to the Temple in the ancient days.
You are not allowed inside the Temple, so if you end up here in the afternoon, you may have to jostle for space with the other tourists for glimpses of the inner parts and take photos. Be patient and wait for your turn to stand next to the railing which is the barrier between you and the inner sanctorum. And do not be surprised if someone elbows or pushes you for their own convenient views!
Day 2 – Light Adventure – Mutianyu Great Wall
There are three sections of the Great Wall close to Beijing to choose from. Badaling (the most scenic and the most crowded), Mutianyu and Jinshaling. I chose Mutianyu for a calmer atmosphere suitable for photography. Both Badaling and Mutianyu are an hour’s drive from Beijing while Jinshaling is much farther away. I wouldn’t recommend going here on your own as you will need to purchase tickets for the cable car by standing in a long queue. Hiring a private car till here itself can be quite expensive, forget about hiring taxi to and fro. I booked this tour on Viator and the representatives were very professional throughout the tour.
We made the journey here in an hour’s time and walked to the cable car station. The cable car ride took about 20 minutes one way. While up there, you could see sledders down below making their way to the Wall. Sledding is an alternative to cable car ride to go up and down.
Now was the real challenge. The history books once showed it to you. You saw more pictures of it on the internet. The social media made it all the more familiar to you. You are now seeing it and walking on it for the first time. I was half a fool to believe it was going to be simple and a pleasant experience. It was pleasant to stand on the steps and take pictures, however, as it became steeper and steeper, I felt like playing a tennis match on clay with Rafael Nadal. I gave it up after the third leg, that’s all I could make. After every leg there is a room which is probably used by the guards these days. These shelters used to be the Chinese military’s vantage points in the past.
Viator charges USD 65 per person for a half day trip. You will share the trip with a few other tourists. Lunch is normally arranged at the nearby Agricultural Farm Restaurant. It is a sumptuous meal consisting of Chinese and Western dishes. On the way back to your accommodation you are taken to some shopping places such as a Jade factory or a Chinese tea emporium. It gives you excellent opportunities to take a look at some of the finest products you can take home as souvenirs.
Day 3 – Shopping, Food and Relaxation
One of the best, wait, the best place to shop (if you’re looking for bargains and not-so-expensive items) in central Beijing is Wangfujing. Why not take a cycle rikshaw (tuk-tuk), go through the ancient hutongs, narrow streets (a roundabout way to go) and reach Wanfujing as I did? Just to see these, fast-dying ancient streets where the Chinese traditional life stays the same.
Wangfujing is a beautiful chaos with different kinds of shops and eateries lining up on all the sides. It is quite difficult to trace its entrance and exit. It has no proper entrance or exit and you could get inside it through any narrow street you come across after getting past the signboard ‘Wangfujing Street’.
Bargain as much as possible and get your carts filled with clothes and accessories. Side by side, gobble delicious Chinese snacks you may not find anywhere else. Grab a beer and relax at a cafe after your day of shopping. And, if you would like to extend your day well into the night, Wangfujing stays alive even past midnight.
Another option is to cut your shopping spree down to half a day and choose to explore some other attractions in Beijing. Families with children may find the Beijing zoo an interesting place in the afternoon. Or, getting into Beihai Park in the evening can be one of the coolest experiences in a city filled with pollution.