We spent a grand total of eight days in Beijing. We realized after the breakneck pace of the first few days of our stay that we should start to space out all the excitement to one sight a day. I think by the end we were pretty over old Peking. But, if you’re looking to travel to Beijing during the tourist season or just popping through to catch the best tourist attractions on summer vacation, I have a few tips of Beijing travel advice that might make your trip a little easier.
1. Get centrally located. While this seems like a no-brainer, it’s really important because Beijing is so large and most of the must-see spots are located in the center of the city including Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven as well as many other sites. There are a number of really reasonably priced hostels like the Red Lantern that are actually relatively short distances to the spots.
2. Depending on your length of stay, get a smart card. You’ll be taking public transportation all of the time. All the subway stops were a flat rate, but with a ton of other tourists and Beijingers around it can take a long time just to get your tickets. It’s not too expensive to get one, either. It’s a 20 RMB deposit and then you add money from there. It makes things go smoother when you’re navigating the circuitous, lengthy subway terminals, you get a 60% discount when riding the bus, AND you can turn it back in at certain subway stations to get your deposit back when you’re done! CHA-CHING!($u$).
3. Add an extra hour for travel time if you have to change to a different metro line to reach your destination. I’ve never experienced quite a large subway system like Beijing’s before, but 9/10 transfer stations have you walking a country mile to get to the next train. It feels a lot like walking to different terminals in an airport.
4. Be prepared both mentally and physically for crowds. Before I moved to China, I thought I knew what it was like to be crowded. I thought “There’s no way it could be worse than the Red Line on the Washington, DC metro during rush hour.” Oh to be that naïve, once more. It turns out I didn’t know what a crowded subway, bus, hallway, park, train, or really just any room you want to exist in could be or was actually like. Everyone always says China has a lot people. Sweet heavens is this ever true. Overcrowding is nightmarish in the dead of that blistering summer heat.This goes for a lot of cities in China, but doubly so Beijing. Many of the experiences we had like the Summer Palace, which had around 300 thousand people visiting by the team we were leaving early the day that we were there, and 400 thousand the day before. Things can seem far less magical if you aren’t mentally prepared to see the sights you want stuffed with a whole gaggle of camera-toting, electric-fan-hat wearing sightseers.
5.Lastly, if you’re getting burnt out on seeing the sights, I recommend taking a nice stroll through Nan Luo Gu Xiang near Houhai lake. You can walk through the hutongs and find all sorts of neat little shops, even some that aren’t completely aimed at tourists! After walking around you’ll realize that almost all of the bars feature the same crooning one man/woman with a guitar to pop songs. It’s charming in that weird China sort of way.
Keep these little tips in mind when heading into the Middle Kingdom’s ever-expanding capital city. You’ll have at least a marginally more enjoyable time. I promise.