Planning your first ever trip to Beijing and not really sure where to start? Don’t worry, I’m here to help! First things first, you should really read my guide on 21 things to know before you visit Beijing, then work your way through this guide to discover my tips on where to stay, things to do, when to visit, what to pack and must-try food! Beijing was an unexpectedly wonderful place, full of wonderful pockets of history and culture just waiting to be discovered. I hope these tips help you plan your own amazing adventure to beautiful Beijing.
Must-know tips for visiting China
If this is your first time visiting China, there are a couple of things you need to know before you set off:
- You’re going to need a visa! Make sure you research the visa requirements and leave plenty of time to apply and get everything back
- If you don’t speak Chinese, it pays to have key phrases screenshotted to your phone (characters and pinyin)
- It also pays to have the business card or address and phone number for your hotel on your phone (characters and pinyin)
- We found the people to be really lovely, friendly and helpful
- The pollution wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we thought it was going to be
- It can be a little tricky for vegetarians, gluten-free and vegans, but it’s not impossible! I would recommend packing a stash of snacks.
- You may find people staring at you, especially if you have blonde or red hair
- If you want to be able to access social media, you’re going to need a VPN! Instagram, Facebook etc are all banned in China.
How to get to Beijing Central from Beijing Airport
By the time we got to Beijing we’d already visited a few other places in China and realised the easiest way for us to get around was by taxi. You can take the train from the airport, but after fudging around at airports and lugging all our bags and camera gear around with us, we couldn’t be bothered catching a train. We joined the airport taxi queue and got one pretty quickly. While we were in China we didn’t encounter any dodgy drivers trying to scam us, not that it doesn’t happen, it just didn’t happen to us.
You will definitely need the name and address of your hotel to show the driver unless you speak Chinese. I’d recommend screenshotting the address and keeping it on your phone (make sure you have the Chinese characters and the hotel’s phone number). You should be prepared to encounter some pretty bad traffic if you’ll be travelling during peak hour times.
Best time to visit
We visited in June/July and fully expected to encounter grey skies and bad smog from the pollution, instead, we were treated to gorgeous long, sunny days and blue skies. Everything I’d heard about China was how badly polluted it was, which I did see in Guangzhou, but didn’t encounter in Beijing. I loved the weather and temperature during our visit, it was warm enough to wear either jeans, a dress or skirt but not feel steaming hot or too cool in the evenings.
Where to stay in Beijing
We wanted to get out of the touristy areas and stay somewhere with a bit of soul, which is how found ourselves staying at the Nostalgia Hotel Temple of Heaven. The hotel is located in the hutongs, which are these amazing, winding little streets where the locals live. I cannot recommend this place enough! It’s by no means a 5-star super-resort, but it offers affordable accommodation, really cool, comfortable rooms and a unique Beijing experience. We loved stepping outside the hotel each day and exploring the local area, wandering the hutongs, meeting locals and finding so many amazing places to eat.
The rooms at Nostalgia Hotel are ‘nostalgia-themed,’ which means they’re decked out with some really unique, traditional items and just cool bits and pieces to look at. Our room was quite small, but it was honestly fine for the two of us and all our gear. The breakfast each day was yummy and offered some great options. We also loved the hotel’s location, as it was nice and close for us to pick up food on the street, find spots to eat, go wandering and exploring and visit all the things we wanted to see like the Guijie Food Street, Drum Bell Tower and Temple of Earth. Seriously, if you’re looking for a good recommendation on where to stay, I can’t recommend this spot highly enough – it was just so nice to experience Beijing properly, not just stay in a hotel that could be anywhere in the world (if that makes sense?!)
Pro Tip: If you do decide to stay here, make sure you book the right hotel. I can’t quite figure it out, but there appear to be two. One has rooms that look kind of fancy, the others have rooms that look more ‘nostalgic’. The link I’ve put in above goes to the hotel’s Booking.com page, use the photos there as a guide, so if you book another way, you know you’re booking the right place.
Best things to see and do in Beijing
Need some inspiration on what to see and do in Beijing? Here are a few tips to get you started…
- If you want to visit the Great Wall, be sure to read this guide on getting from Beijing to the Great Wall
- Make sure you visit the Temple of Heaven and explore the beautiful surrounding gardens
- For great views and to see more of Beijing’s nature, check out my favourite park, Jingshan Park
- Get to Tiananmen Square early to beat (some) of the crowds and be sure to pack a snack if you tend to get snacky (me)
- We loved visiting the Drum Bell Towers and exploring the Forbidden City
- There are some great parks and green spaces around Beijing, so be sure to check them out to see a different side of the city
- If you don’t end up staying there, I’d still recommend you head to the Hutongs at some point just to check them out and explore (this guide is great)
- Discover the beauty of the Yonghegong Lama Temple (no, not those llamas)
Where to eat and must-try food
I love food. Like, really really love food! Based on that information, here are my picks on where to get some great grub in Beijing:
- Be sure to eat at least one meal at Mr Shi’s Dumplings, the food here is so yummy and they have great options for vegetarians
- Grab a bowl of incredible noodles at Old Beijing zhajiang noodle King
- Vegetarians might like to head over to Pure Lotus for a veggie feast
- For the very best roast duck, head directly to Dadong Roast Duck
- Grab some yummy dumplings, with an eco-friendly edge, at Green Bites Dumpling Bar (YASSSS!)
- Head to Haidilao Hotpot for hand-pulled noodles and delicious hotpot
- Get stuck into amazing home-style cooking at Mama de Weidao
What to pack
Great news! I’ve already written that – check out this detailed guide: What to pack for a trip to China
Useful travel resources for your trip to China!
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Agoda – one of our go-to sites for booking hotels
Skyscanner – our go-to for booking flights
RentalCars.com – a great search engine for renting a car
Booking.com – another of our go-to sites for booking hotels
TourRadar – a great search engine for booking tours
Uber – our go to ground transport option