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Eurasian city-breaks: 48 hours in Beijing, China

Part three of our 6-part Eurasian city-break series will take you through a 48-hour journey of Beijing, China's iconic historic capital.

Situated at the tip of China’s North Plain, Beijing is one of the oldest cities in the world with a history stretching back over three millennia. Today, Beijing is the defacto capital of the Democratic Republic of China and is one of the most influential cities on the global political stage. Aside from its prominent political position, it is the nation’s cultural and educational centre with a total of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs, Summer Palace and one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations, the Great Wall of China.

Part three of our 6-part Eurasian city-break series will take you through a 48-hour journey of Beijing, exploring top tourist attractions and taking in the city’s spectacular history.

Why visit Beijing

Beijing is one of China’s four ancient capitals and is one of the oldest cities in the world. Despite rigorous urban development, the city has retained much of its past and the old and new coexist in perfect harmony. The city is the best place in China to learn about the nation’s cultural heritage and has plenty to entertain tourists from ornate palatial complexes, traditional tea-house theatres, and museums displaying rare Chinese artefacts to modern art galleries, splendid walks and cutting-edge restaurants. Beijing’s popularity as a tourist destination cannot be understated.

Best places to stay in Beijing

Street Map of Beijing
Street Map of Beijing

You will find plenty of hotels and hostels in Beijing city centre and most of these are in the Donghuamen Residential District, which is a short 15-minute walk East of the Forbidden Palace. If looking for hostels we recommend choosing somewhere in the Dashilan or Qianmen Residential Districts which are well-positioned South of the Forbidden Palace and North of the Temple of Heaven. It is around a 40-minute walk to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven from Dashilan District, however, regular buses run between these locations which will cut this time down to about 20-minutes.

48 hours in Beijing

City-breaks provide a snapshot of a city’s culture and trying to pack everything into 48 hours is difficult, if not impossible. Making a list of must-see attractions before you go is essential and ensures that you are maximising your time within the city. It is important to note the time taken to reach destinations and account for other factors such as hotel location, budget and travel distances as these will impact what you can fit in during your stay. Here, we have created our own draft 48-hour itinerary that includes some of the best things to do in Beijing:

Arriving in Beijing

Beijing Railway Station
Beijing Railway Station

After arriving in Beijing, you should first get a city map from an information kiosk as this will help you orientate yourself. We also recommend becoming familiar with popular bus routes and the Metro system which can help you avoid traffic at busy times.

Day one:

Morning: 7:00am – 12:00pm

Walking the Great Wall of China

Views from the Great Wall of China
Views from the Great Wall of China

Visiting the Great Wall of China is a great start to your city-break and is located on the outskirts of Beijing. There are several sections of the wall that remain well preserved and provide exceptional views however we recommend going North to the Mutianyu section first built in the 6th century that is approximately 43 miles from Beijing city centre. Tourists can choose to walk across the wall and its densely placed watchtowers or take a two-rider chairlift or four-rider gondola lift from the foothills to the wall level. More daring guests even have the chance to ride a personal wheeled toboggan down from the wall to the valley below on a winding metal track.

The Great Wall has varying opening hours dependent on the season and day of the week:

March 16th – November 15th

  • Weekdays: 07:30am – 18:00pm.
  • Weekends: 07:30am – 18:30pm.

November 16th – March 15th

  • 08:00am – 17:00pm.

Afternoon: 12:00pm – 17:00pm

Take in the splendour of the Summer Palace

the Tower of Buddhist Incense in the Summer Palace, Beijing
Tower of Buddhist Incense in the Summer Palace, Beijing

Just North of the city centre, the Summer Palace is ideally located on your route back from exploring the Great Wall. Before entering you will find a variety of cafes and places to eat including a popular Japanese fusion restaurant, Naoki which is ideally located on the Eastern edge of the palace grounds in the Aman resort. The restaurant is open for lunch between 12:00pm and 14:30pm and while expensive, offers a decent a la carte menu and high tea in a beautiful garden setting.

After lunch, visitors can take a stroll around the breath-taking palaces, lakes and gardens of the Summer Palace. Renowned as a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design, the site is dominated by Longevity Hill which has a sequence of beautifully constructed halls and pavilions overlooking Kunming Lake. Standing atop Longevity Hill, the Tower of Buddhist Incense is the tallest building in the complex and offers fantastic views of the lake and surrounding structures. The complex is open 06:30am until 18:00pm April to October and 07:00am to 19:00pm between November and March. Prices will also vary depending on season with standard entrance fees costing CNY30 April to October and CNY20 November to March.

Evening: 17:00pm – 01:00am

Experience traditional Peking Opera

Evening Theatre Performance in Beijing
Evening Theatre Performance in Beijing

After a busy day exploring the outer edges of the city, some light-entertainment at Beijing’s Liyuan theatre is the perfect way to spend the early evening. The theatre specialises in Peking Opera, a long-held tradition in China arising in the Qing dynasty and refined in the 19th century. Regarded as one of the cultural treasures of China, the opera is an art form that combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics to entertain guests. Performances start at 19:30pm daily and are usually full, therefore booking in advance is essential. Tickets can be picked up from around CNY130 (£14).

To end the night, you will find a variety of bars, nightclubs and places open late for food. Great Leap Brewing is a well-known microbrewery in the city and is considered the best place to get a beer. The bar is open between 17:00pm-01:00am Sunday to Thursday and 17:00pm to 02:00am Friday to Saturday.

Day two:

Morning: 08:00am - 12:00pm

Uncover the mysteries of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City, Beijing

After a good night’s sleep, you should feel energized for another action-packed day in Beijing! We recommend taking an early-morning stroll over to Tiananmen Square which should be free from the busy tourists that flock to the area of the course of the day. This is the perfect place to grab a coffee and light-breakfast at one of the many cafes surrounding the square.

After a spot of breakfast, head over to the entrance of the Forbidden City. This palace complex is one of China’s most famous World Heritage Sites, attracting over 16 million tourists annually and was the former Chinese Imperial Palace between the Ming and end of the Qing dynasties (1420 – 1912). It served as the home of the emperors and was a ceremonial centre of the Chinese government over this period. The complex now houses the imperial collections of unique artefacts from the Qing and Ming dynasties and consists of over 980 buildings, with some of the best-preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. The Forbidden City is open from 08:30am until 17:00pm April to October, and 08:30am until 16:30pm November to March. Prices will also vary depending on season, costing CNY60 between April and October compared to CNY40 November to March.

Afternoon: 12:00pm – 18:00pm

Stop for tea at an authentic Chinese tea house

After a busy morning exploring the mysteries of the Forbidden City, a trip to a traditional Chinese teahouse is a perfect way to start the afternoon. Located in the South-West corner of Tiananmen Square, Laoshe teahouse is a great place to relax and while there are many teahouses in Beijing, Laoshe is the most famous. The building fully embodies Chinese culture from it’s architectural style and interior design to the performances and traditional snacks that are intrinsic to the heritage of Beijing. The teahouse is open late every evening (23:00pm) and has daily performances which you can book online. If you are looking to book a performance, we recommend booking in advance as this is often busy.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing
Temple of Heaven, Beijing

After a welcome tea break, you can continue to the Temple of Heaven which is South of Tiananmen Square and another of Beijing’s World Heritage destinations. The temple is an imperial complex made up of religious buildings and was visited by the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors for annual ceremonies of prayer. It is one of the most dramatic Chinese architectural examples in the city and is a popular destination for tourists. The temple is open to 17:00 or 17:30pm depending on the season you go and will cost between CNY28 – 34 for a combo ticket.

Antique shopping is a favourite activity of many tourists visiting Beijing and Panjiayuan Antiques Market is known as the best place to go for rare and unusual trinkets. It is located around 20-25 minutes to the East of the Temple of Heaven by taxi and is perfect when looking for gifts for people back home. The centre is open from 08:30 until 18:00 daily.

Evening: 18:00pm – 05:00am

Discover Beijing’s bustling nightlife

There are plenty of places to eat and drink in the centre of Beijing however Black Sesame Kitchen is a great place to go if you are looking for a more interactive experience. The cooking school/ restaurant offers classes on how to cook some of China’s most famous foods first-hand. While classes are available throughout the day, we recommend combining your class with an evening meal. Guests can choose a deluxe Wine a Dine package which includes a dumpling lesson starting at 18:00pm followed by a 10-course Chinese set menu with two imported wine pairings. The menu includes a wide range of options as well as vegetarian and gluten-free alternatives on request. As with most restaurants around the Forbidden City, you will often need to book in advance to avoid missing out!

Located just east of Black Sesame Kitchen in Beijing’s popular Dongzhimen Residential District, where you will find the best nightlife the city has to offer. Mix Club is a favourite hip-hop and dance club attracting tourists and locals alike. The club has a stylish interior split over two floors and attracts high-profile DJs from around the world. The club is open from 20:30pm until the early hours and is the perfect way to end an evening. If you are looking for something unique, we recommend heading towards the north of the district to the Tiki Bungalow. Beijing’s only authentic Tiki bar offers some of the best classic cocktails and exciting flavour combinations that do not fail to disappoint.

Closing tips and good-to-knows

  • Most attractions in Beijing are seasonal (November-March or March-November), therefore opening times and price will vary depending on the season you go in.
  • Traffic can get busy in Beijing and the Metro is often the best way to get around the city. Tourists looking to explore the centre should make use of Metro Line 2 which encircles the Forbidden City.
  • Beijing attracts a huge number of tourists throughout the year, so we recommend booking popular restaurants in advance.
  • Downloading the WeChat app can be invaluable, and it is possible to make reservations and bookings at major attractions such as the Laoshe teahouse directly using this app.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing
Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Book your trip to Beijing with Real Russia!

We hope you enjoyed our third instalment of our Eurasian city-breaks series. If you have been inspired to book your own trip to Beijing, we can help you along the way! Real Russia can arrange anything from trains and visas to tours personally tailored to you.

See our full list of Beijing excursions.

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