Before I moved to Beijing in 2016 I used to be really, really nervous. I expected to experience major culture shock, apocalyptic air pollution and insane crowds. But the second I landed in China’s capital, I used to be like, What was I so afraid of?
Beijing is in contrast to anywhere I’ve ever been, and that’s an excellent thing. I’m not going to say that touring to Beijing is the simplest factor on the planet, as a result of China undoubtedly has its quirks and challenges, however it actually is a tremendous metropolis.
Simply take a look at this magnificence!
I started my time in Beijing identical to some other vacationer. I stayed for every week at a lodge near the Forbidden Metropolis and I explored the town armed with nothing more than my Lonely Planet.
After spending every week enjoying vacationer in Beijing, I was stunned by how straightforward it had been to navigate the town. But after dwelling there for 2 years, I now understand that there’s so much that first-timers miss out on. There are so many things I wish I might have recognized before I first touched down within the city. So for those who’re visiting the town for the primary time, listed here are a couple of useful hints and important Beijing travel ideas to aid you take advantage of out of your trip.
- 1 Get a VPN as a result of your favorite social media websites are banned in China
- 2 Keep within the hutongs, not close to the Forbidden metropolis
- 3 Beijing’s subway system is a lifesaver
- 4 Taxis may be troublesome to hail
- 5 The language barrier is actual… particularly at restaurants
- 6 Go on a food tour to get your bearings
- 7 Beijing has a air pollution drawback…however it’s not what you assume
- 8 Visit Beijing’s famous points of interest on the weekdays
- 9 The meals in Beijing is superb
- 10 Visit the Great Wall with a personal driver
- 11 The most effective time to go to Beijing is…
- 12 Helpful sites for first-time guests:
I already knew this before I touched down in Beijing as a result of I used to be shifting there. Nevertheless it surprises me what number of vacationers journey to China and don’t know concerning the Great Firewall. In a nutshell, websites like Google, Fb, Instagram, Twitter (and so many extra) are all banned in China. And sure, that goes for Google Maps and Gmail too!
So until you’ve got a VPN, you gained’t give you the option to access these websites throughout your trip. It’s not the top of the world, but when you’re relying on things like Fb messenger to talk with individuals on the bottom in China or again residence, you’re out of luck. At the very least, I recommend downloading WeChat (a very fashionable and unbanned messaging website in China). WhatsApp isn’t banned in China, nevertheless it’s iffy.
The VPN state of affairs in China is consistently fluctuating. But on the time of writing ExpressVPN is the one that works greatest for everyone I know. For a full guide on VPNs in China, click here.
Keep within the hutongs, not close to the Forbidden metropolis
That is another thing I want I might have recognized before I first visited Beijing. Like most tourists, I stayed near the Forbidden City. And while my lodge was great and within walking distance of iconic landmarks like Tiananmen Sq. and the Forbidden Metropolis, it wasn’t probably the most exciting area to stay. However as a result of I didn’t know any higher, I had no concept what I was missing out on!
Gulou and Andingmen are great locations to base your self. These areas are famous for their mazelike hutongs and historic points of interest just like the Drum and Bell Towers and the Lama Temple.
The hutongs are my favourite factor about Beijing.
The hutongs are undoubtedly the guts of Beijing. There are tons of quirky boutiques, hole-in-the-wall eating places and energetic bars to hold you entertained for days and days. It’s a simple place to base your self and you may all the time take the subway to get to most of Beijing’s vacationer points of interest, together with Tiananmen Sq. and the Forbidden Metropolis. Which brings me to my subsequent level…
Beijing’s subway system is a lifesaver
OK, OK for those who’ve adopted my blog for a when you’ll know that I continuously griped about taking the subway in Beijing. However that’s as a result of I had to commute 1-hour (every approach) from my out-of-town condominium to my workplace in downtown Beijing…throughout rush hour!
When you can, avoid taking the Beijing metro during rush hour (5-7pm throughout weekdays). But critically it’s not that dangerous. Just be ready to snuggle up together with your neighbors throughout rush hour. The Beijing subway has stops close to most main vacationer points of interest in Beijing. It’s low cost and it’s tremendous simple to use. So take benefit! Do observe that the subway does close ridiculously early for an enormous metropolis. It varies from line to line but most shut at 11 pm and open at 6 am. So plan accordingly so you don’t get stranded.
Taxis may be troublesome to hail
Most locals and expats use DiDi (China’s version of Uber) to order taxis. That’s a part of the rationale you’ll discover unoccupied taxis passing you by. Additionally, a lot of taxi drivers gained’t cease for foreigners on the street. Significantly, it’s a thing in Beijing. The other drawback is that, until you might have a Chinese checking account, you’ll be able to’t sign up for DiDi. When you’re in a touristy space like Gulou or Sanlitun you’ll discover a taxi ultimately, however depending on the time of day it can be a problem. I’ve been stranded in Gulou at 2 am so many occasions. That’s why I want taking the subway once I can. Oh did I mention there’s no Uber in China? As a result of there’s not.
The language barrier is actual… particularly at restaurants
In Beijing, individuals converse Mandarin and indicators and menus are principally in Chinese characters. It makes identifying businesses and ordering off of menus very challenging. To prime it off, lots of people don’t converse much English. When you’re going to a restaurant and the menu is all in Chinese, worry not. Beijing’s restaurateurs love image menus. This a minimum of provides you a common concept of what you’re ordering. There are also plenty of tourist and expat oriented eating places that provide English menus, so that you’ll discover lots to eat.
Go on a food tour to get your bearings
Happening Lost Plate’s Hutong Meals Tour was one in every of my favorite things that I did in Beijing. I favored the fact that their excursions concentrate on family-run, off-the-beaten-path eating places and that they take delight in giving historical and cultural information about Beijing’s native meals scene. I also appreciated the concept I’d be shuttled around the hutongs in tuk-tuks and provided with limitless amounts of free beer.
Photograph courtesy of Misplaced Plate.
I’m usually not a fan of excursions but this one is nicely value it. Through the tour, we took our tuk-tuk to six very local, very hidden eating places. There was cook-it-yourself Beijing barbecue, handmade noodles with probably the most delicious sesame sauce ever, selfmade flatbreads crammed with eggs, veggies (and pork for the non-vegetarians) and a delicious (and barely alcoholic) conventional dessert. To prime it off, we wrapped up the night time with a pint of craft beer at an area brewery. This tour is a good way for newcomers to sample Beijing’s superb food…and get just a little tipsy while doing so.
Beijing has a air pollution drawback…however it’s not what you assume
Beijing is polluted, however not on a regular basis. There are days when the air pollution is so dangerous you can barely see throughout the road. That is when Beijing’s infamous “airpocalypse” headlines unfold like wildfire everywhere in the international information. And it’s these sensational headlines that scare individuals off of visiting this unimaginable metropolis. The truth is that nowadays are few and much between. They undoubtedly do exist though. And they are brutal.
There are also days when the skies are so crystal clear and blue that you simply’d by no means know the town had a pollution drawback. Many vacationers get fortunate and see nothing but blue skies throughout their trips.
One of many clearest days I ever skilled in Beijing.
However more often than not, the air quality is unhealthy but bearable. Until you’ve lived in a polluted place you won’t even know that that haze outdoors is actually pollution; you may assume it’s fog or overcast skies.
See how the sky is white? The skies aren’t gloomy; they’re polluted. Though it’s not all that obvious to the untrained eye. That is an instance of a mean polluted day in Beijing.
The air pollution does tend to get worse within the winter when the region burns large amounts of coal for heating. But really, it’s unattainable to time your journey to Beijing based mostly on air pollution. You just get what you get. And truthfully don’t be too paranoid. You’re only there for a number of days. It’s individuals who reside in Beijing who’ve to fear about well being issues. You’re going to be fantastic. Although do put on a mask in case you have lung issues.
Visit Beijing’s famous points of interest on the weekdays
That point I by chance visited a park during a cherry blossom pageant, probably the most crowded day of the yr.
Beijing is a metropolis of over 21 million individuals, so the crowds could be intense. In case you have the prospect undoubtedly go to the preferred points of interest – just like the Lama Temple, Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden Metropolis, the Great Wall – throughout a weekday. Relying on the time of yr, there’ll still be crowds however it’s far more bearable.
The meals in Beijing is superb
The meals in Beijing is one thing special. Should you’re American, like me, you is perhaps anticipating issues like chow mein, orange hen and the like. That sort of “Chinese food” is totally American and doesn’t exist in China. However that’s not a nasty factor.
What’s great about Beijing is that it’s residence to individuals from all corners of China, which suggests the meals is super different and authentic. Yow will discover spicy Sichuan, traditional Cantonese and (my favorite) Yunnanese throughout the town. But there’s a lot more than that to choose from. Also, be sure that to attempt a jianbing (principally a crepe full of egg, lettuce, spices and a crispy cracker). You’ll find food carts serving jianbing everywhere.
Visit the Great Wall with a personal driver
Likelihood is you’re going to visit the Nice Wall during your trip to Beijing. However assume twice about booking a tour. It’s means higher to go on your own. I do know it sounds costly to rent a driver nevertheless it’s truly not, especially when you have a small group. Plus, it provides you the choice of visiting extra distant and less crowded areas of the Wall.
Most tours will take you to the Badaling and Mutianyu sections of the Wall. These are both restored areas of the Great Wall and since they are the simplest to access from Beijing, they’re by far probably the most crowded. As an alternative, I opted to rent a driver for roughly $100 for 3 individuals and go to the unrestored Gubeikou part of the Great Wall, situated two hours from downtown Beijing. It was by far my favorite Beijing expertise. I hired a driver via Beijing Personal Driver. Whereas the driving force didn’t converse English, the supervisor of the corporate did, so we managed just positive.
The most effective time to go to Beijing is…
For my part, one of the best time to visit in Beijing is within the spring and in the fall when the climate is delicate and the air quality is (often) at its greatest. Plus, within the spring the town is full of cherry blossoms and within the autumn the yellow ginko timber burst with colour. That being stated, Beijing is an excellent city to go to at any time of yr.
Spring in Beijing is the most effective!
Just know that Beijing’s weather varies wildly. The summer time may be oppressively scorching and the winter could be bitterly cold. Just do your research and pack accordingly. Should you’re visiting through the winter make sure that to deliver a puffy coat. It’s the heavy winds that make things bone-chillingly chilly!
Freezing in February however still having enjoyable exploring the town.
Helpful sites for first-time guests:
For those who actually need to be in the find out about what’s happening around city, then flick through a few of the most popular expat-oriented web sites and magazines: That’s Beijing (the place I labored!), The Beijinger and TimeOut Beijing are all great assets.
On all of these sites, you will discover great guides on what to explore within the metropolis, study new restaurants to eat at, and find great occasions which might be happening in the metropolis. From craft beer festivals to wild parties to reside music to instructional strolling tours, there’s all the time one thing enjoyable happening in Beijing.
I’m positive I’ve left so much off this listing. Have you ever ever been to Beijing? Do you’ve got any Beijing journey ideas you’d like to add?