A city guide to Beijing

The Forbidden City & China's Northern Capital

The Chinese capital is the last of the country’s four great ancient capital cities and has been the political centre of China for over 800 years. Its name has changed several times with its most well-known former name, Peking; ‘Beijing’ means ‘Northern Capital’, setting it apart from Nanjing, the ‘Southern Capital’.

With a municipality population of over 21 million, Beijing’s size is still only third to Shanghai and Guangzhou in national rankings, but its citizens are supposedly among the friendliest in China. Around 4.4 million foreigners visit the capital every year, looking to explore the city's rich history and outstanding architecture.


Beijing statistics and geographical information

Beijing municipality is surrounded by Hebei province and Tianjin Municipality, located in the north-east of China. The city is roughly 120 kilometres from the coast and forms part of the Jingjinji metropolitan region. The Mongolian Plateau’s mountains surround the northern side of the city, while the northern Chinese plains frame the south.

Beijing population:

Beijing is the third most populous city in the world with a staggering 21 million people living in the Municipality. As of 2017, the Chinese government implemented population controls which has seen a slight decline in population by 20,000 between 2016 and 2017.

Beijing time zone:

China has a total of five time zones (Zhongyuan, Changbai, Kunlun, Longshu and Tibet). Beijing operates on China Standard Time which is approximately 8 hours ahead of the UK (GMT +8).

Approximate distance to neighbouring cities:

Beijing is well positioned near many major cities of neighbouring countries as well as through the Trans-Mongolian and Manchurian to Moscow:

Beijing to Tokyo, Japan: 2098km.

Beijing to Pyongyang, North Korea: 808km.

Beijing to Seoul, South Korea: 952km.

Beijing to Hong Kong: 1965km.

Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: 1167km

Beijing to Moscow, Russia: 5790km.

History of Beijing

Beijing can probably be said to be one of the oldest still existing places of organised human habitation in the world with fossils dating 230,000 to 250,000 years back. The first walled settlement in its place was Jicheng which acted as the capital of the city state Ji, built in the 11th century BC.

Imperial China: 2nd Century - 13th century

Jicheng became the prefectural capital (Zhou) of the state of Ji after the first emperor unified China. In the Three kingdoms period, (220-280AD) the area was held by Gongsun Zan, followed by Yuan Shao until it was taken by Cao Cao of the Wei kingdom. After this period, the city was demoted and the prefectural seat was placed in Zhuozhou instead and varied in importance to rival dynasties for many centuries. In 1213, Genghis Khan besieged the city and razed this to the ground two years later. In 1264, a new town was formed by Kublai Khan north-east of the ruins.

Ming dynasty 14th century - 18th century

In the early days of the Chinese Empire the region around Beijing was of regional importance and became a military centre. However, it was not until the Ming Dynasty (in the 14th century) that Beijing received capital status due to political difficulties in the southern capital of Nanjing. The Forbidden City and many other present day sights were built in the early 15th century. Li Zicheng's peasant army captured Beijing in 1644 which ended the Ming dynasty.

Modern China: 20th century - Present

 Modern Chinese history is inevitably tied to its capital city, be it the Republican era, the Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s, the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the 2008 Olympics. The city continues to expand at an exponential rate, with multiple rings roads being added from 1981 onward, and is now designated as the site for the 2020 Winter Olympics, making it the first city ever to host both Winter and Summer Olympics.

What to do in Beijing

There are few places in the world where the last 2,000 years of history are still as visible as they are in Beijing. Apart from the historical sights, temples, the over 100 museums and the Chinese gardens and parks are a popular attraction. Beijing also offers a vast amount of arts and culture activities and a particular highlight are the Peking Operas, a traditional form of Chinese theatre combining music, song, dance and acrobatics in one performance. There are also some attractions within the municipality that can be reached in a day trip, such as the tombs of the Ming Dynasty emperors and Great Wall of China. Despite Beijing’s reputation for bad smog there are a couple of nature reserves nearby, allowing for outdoor breaks.

Great Wall of China

China's most well-known tourist attraction, the Great Wall of China needs no introduction. Spanning over 13,000 miles, this man-made marvel was started as early as the 7th century BC and has been expanded on gradually with each successive dynasty. Visitors can enjoy spectacular views of Mongolia and China from many sections of the wall while taking a stroll across sections of this serpent-like pathway.

See our Beijing tours page for a full list of Great Wall tours.

Liyuan Theatre

The Liyuan theatre is the origin of Beijing Peking Opera and is located just South of Tienanmen Square. This theatre integrates Xuannan culture with the traditional Chinese cultural experience, to deliver a strikingly authentic performance that can be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Summer Palace

A collection of lakes, gardens and prestigious palaces located North-West of Beijing, the Summer Palace is perfect for tourists looking for a splash of opulence with a mix of scenery and traditional Chinese culture. The site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, and is considered a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.

Learn more about this spectacular location with our Summer Palace tour.

Where to eat in Beijing

Beijing offers a pleasing blend of traditional and experimental, with a variety of gourmet restaurants offering some of the best traditional Chinese dishes but also western cuisine in the world. Make sure to try some authentic Peking Roast Duck, one of the city’s major exports into the world as well as some Fulin Jiabing – traditional Chinese pancakes stuffed with a type of fungus. A visit to one of the traditional tea houses should also not be missed.


Juqi restaurant (also called Banbuqiao) has become a firm favourite of tourists visiting Beijing. Building a solid reputation for delivering high-quality traditional Chinese cuisine and one of the best Peking roast duck dishes in the city.

Moscow Restaurant

If you have travelled on the Trans-Manchurian from Moscow, you will be pleased to know that you are never too far away from Russia. Beijing is home to the Moscow Restaurant, specialising in variety of classic Russian food dishes. The restaurant is known for its opulent dining hall and resonates with Western tastes.

King's Joy

King's Joy specialises in vegetarian-friendly dishes which are otherwise difficult to come by in China. The restaurant has gained several best restaurant accolades over the last few years with aesthetically-pleasing culinary creations. The restaurant accompanies an elegant courtyard overlooking a bamboo grove.

Climate in Beijing

The weather in Beijing is determined by a monsoon-influenced, humid continental climate, meaning that winter can be extremely cold and dry, while the summer comes with an oppressive heat and humidity. Spring is dry, but it can bring sandstorms from the Gobi desert. The best time to travel is the short, but dry and warm autumn.

Weather in Beijing


Temperature rainfall

How to get to Beijing

Beijing Capital International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world and is only located about 20 kilometres, or a 40-minute-drive via the Airport Expressway to Beijing city centre. The Beijing Subway also connects to the airport. The airport connects Beijing to practically every city in China that can be reached by plane, but is also served by a number of European airlines, including British Airways.

Beijing is one of China’s major railroad hubs with ten lines connecting the city to other places. Tianjin, Shanghai and Guangzhou can all be reached via high-speed trains. It is also the last stop on the Trans-Manchurian Railway, connecting Beijing to Moscow.

Why you should visit Beijing

Beijing is the cultural, economic and political centre of China, Which has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The Beijing Capital International Airport has been the second busiest in the world when it comes to passenger traffic, making it a highly sought after destination for tourists.

The city is also known to be one of the oldest cities in the world decorated with opulent palaces, parks tombs and gates that are sure to entertain Chinese history enthusiasts. It is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Beijing is the perfect place for a first glimpse into one of the oldest living cultures in the world.

Beijing commonly asked questions

Here we have included a short list of questions we commonly get asked about Beijing along with a brief response. If you have any further questions, we recommend contacting us directly.

What is the best way to get around Beijing?

Many of Beijing’s major tourist attractions are within walking distance and so walking tours are often the best way to take in the city and its surroundings. The city also has an extensive underground metro system that helps you navigate between attractions in a fraction of the time.

Can I enter Beijing without a visa?

It is possible to enter Beijing visa-free for 72 hours on arrival without having to obtain a visa in advance if you are travelling on to a third country. After this period, foreign nationals are required to apply for a visa at a local Public Security Bureau.

See our Chinese visa FAQ page for more information about visa-free travel to Beijing and other cities in China.

Is Beijing expensive?

Like any major city, prices in Beijing are often more expensive than other areas of the country. However, when compared with capital cities such as London, Paris or Moscow, Beijing can be considered fairly affordable. You can expect to pay around 60-100 yuan for a standard meal which works out to around £10-11.

What is the pollution like in Beijing?

Pollution levels in Beijing, like much of China, have been exceptionally high over the last few decades in response to the country’s growing levels of industrial production. However, there has been significant progress to lower air pollution levels in the city, with the lowest levels of pollution recorded for Beijing in August 2019. The city is set to drop out to top 200 most polluted cities in the world by the end of 2019.