Updated: May 15
A whistle stop tour of Beijing is no mean feat. The city is the historical epicentre of China and home to the most iconic sites of its Imperial past: The Great Wall, Imperial Palace, Summer Gardens and the Temple of Heaven. With so much history to devour and delicious food to try, here are a few snippets from my 72 hours exploring this great city!
The Great Wall of China
Of course this is #1 on the list. It would be a crime to travel to Beijing and not check out one of the seven wonders of the modern world!
This was an incredibly surreal experience and definitely a tick off my bucket list. The Wall is over 6,000km long and has 10 sections to visit at varying distances from the heart of Beijing. With our guide we drove around 2hours outside of Beijing early in the morning to the Jinshanling section of the Wall. Renowned for being the most beautiful and secluded section it did not disappoint! We had the Wall to ourselves (check out my mum in the pic above!) and spent a couple of hours soaking up the panoramic views and learning about its history.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
This image of Tiananmen Square is an iconic one and after studying the rise of Mao at school and University, it was a place I was desperate to see for myself.
During my visit in October 2019 China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. This momentous occasion brought in thousands of Chinese tourists who had flocked to the Forbidden City to pay their respects to the great leader Chairman Mao and snap a few family photos (see pic I captured below). Unfortunately due to the queues (up to 6hours!!) we weren't able to visit Mao's embalmed body which is in the mausoleum in the south of the square, but if you have time you can see it (for free) between 8am-12.00. The square also contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum of China.
The Forbidden City
Located to the north of Tiananmen Sq, the Forbidden City yields a well preserved insight into the lives of the Ming and Qing Dynasties; displaying their imperial treasures. The enormous structure consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 surviving buildings with 8,886 rooms! Be sure to leave yourself a couple of hours to leisurely explore the ornate palaces and beautifully kept gardens.
The Summer Palace
After you've finished in the Forbidden city hop over to this UNESCO World Heritage site to explore the beautiful imperial gardens and lakes of the Qing Dynasty. The 717 hectares of lavish gardens are the most prestigious and well preserved in China. A great place for photography or painting, it is a provides a peaceful escape from the hubbub of Beijing city centre.
Eat Peking duck!
Of course this is everywhere in Beijing and something you have to try! We all love duck pancakes from our local Chinese take-away so it was an absolute treat to try the real thing. With over 600 years of history Peking duck is an imperial dish that was known as 'Food for the Emperor'. Previously confined within the palace walls this dish can now be found all over Beijing.
We went to 'Quanjude Roast Duck' (on Wanfujing street) which is 149 years old and the most famous Beijing peking duck restaurant! We ordered a set menu and watched as the chef carved a whole duck in front of us! This place was definitely worth a visit but be prepared to queue.
Make sure to check out some other traditional Chinese dishes too: hot pots, soup dumplings, bao buns and anything from the street vendors you'll pass.
Apps to download:
Because of China's firewall it is important to note that most of your apps will be inaccessible during your visit. Here are a few apps I found useful and suggest downloading before your trip:
VPN (virtual private network): An app you'll have to buy but it should allow you to go on Google (don't rely on this though, it was a bit dodgy for me).
Maps.me: download the map of Beijing in advanced. Once you've done this it can be used without internet. It has thousands of recommendations: where to eat, what to do, public transport etc and allows you to save routes, destinations and directions - very useful.
Google Translate: navigating your way around Beijing is slightly trickier without a firm grasp of Mandarin. Very few people, other than tour guides, speak English. This app offers voice and text translations into more than 50 languages and doesn't require internet connection. The newest version includes an image translation option too, so you can translate text by pointing your camera to it.
The main sites of Beijing are possible to do in 72hours however it is very full on and tiering as most of the sites require half day tours to visit. Whilst this is doable, I would recommend allowing yourself 4 or 5 days to leisurely explore the city's rich history and ancient streets.
PSA: believe it or not the traffic in Beijing is horrendous! If possible try walk, cycle or use the subway to navigate your way around this city.