Asia – the dream of backpackers and solo travellers. However, the long flights of up to 20 hours may deter some…or do they? In June Hainan Airlines will begin non-stop to Beijing in a landmark move for making China more accessible for Irish people. What was once a dream for many people will now be an easily reachable destination. Today I’d like to show you some of the amazing things that you can sample in Beijing, what you should keep in mind when staying in China – and all the things you just have to see. Here are the best tips for travelling to Beijing- and don’t worry I’ve tried them out for myself!
Your Guide to Checking out this Amazing City!
How do you get into Beijing? | How do you get around Beijing? | What are the best Sights in Beijing?
Before You Leave | Travelling to Beijing
How do you get into Beijing?
Make sure you get a visa!
In order to spend some time in Beijing to need to get a visa. This will require filling out a few application forms in advance. If you’re planning on only stopping over for a few days you need a transit visa. For anything longer you’ll need whats called a China Travel Visa (L). It’s not too complicated to get all you really need to do is make sure your passport is valid and fill out the appropriate form. You can all the information over at the travel guide China website.
In terms of the transit Visa, it’s free and obtained upon arrival. It’s important that you already have your tickets for the onward flight and you’re not planning to stay in Beijing longer than 3 days. For example, if you’ve booked an open-jaw flight to Bangkok via Beijing, your time in the city will count as a transit stay.
Beijing Airport Tips
However, you should be patient when you’re at Beijing’s airport – the Chinese authorities will be very strict when checking passports and tickets. I have a worthwhile tip to make sure you can enjoy your trip without too much hassle – it’s best to book your hotel in advance and give the name and address of the place you’re staying at upon arrival. Foreigners are required to report back to the authorities every 24 hours, but if you’ve booked a hotel you won’t have to worry about that.
How do you get around Beijing?
Once you’ve gotten past all of the border controls you can get to the city centre very cheaply with the airport shuttle. Since the Olympic Games in 2008, most of the signs and announcements in the subway system are also in English so you’ll have no problems trying to get to your destination. A single journey costs a measly €0.20. You’ll also ge the chance to observe the first Chinese habits (such as how they queue for the subway) and acclimatise yourself to them.
I can tell you now – the first time I was in Beijing it was a proper culture shock! This place makes any European city look totally insignificant – it’s full to the brim, noisy, constantly on the move and you’ll find markets and street kitchens on every corner with foreign and unknown spices and dishes. But don’t be scared! You’ll soon get used to these new experiences and learn they’re actually really good fun. There’s so much to see and discover here that you’ll have no idea where to start.
What are the best sights in Beijing?
If you only have one full day in Beijing and you’re heading off to continue your adventure around the world the next day, I definitely recommend visiting the famous Forbidden City. Seeing this former imperial palace is an absolute must for anyone visiting Beijing. You can also visit Tiananmen Square, the largest square in the world, which is just behind the Forbidden City, and it’s a place that’s steeped in history. Since Beijing has a great subway system (and the brave ones among you could also travel by bus), you’ll be able to quickly reach all of the important points of the city. A ride on a rickshaw, which you’ll often see standing next to sights, is something I’d advise against doing, as they all too often turn out to be a typical and expensive tourist trap.
The Forbidden City
You can consider whether or not you want to pay around €22-€37 for a personal, guided tour around the Forbidden City, or you can go off by yourself with an audio guide which you can hire for a reasonable price. There’s a €6 entry fee. You should definitely give yourself at least 2 hours when looking around the palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because with all the halls, palaces and gardens it’s just huge! If your feet aren’t hurting yet I recommend following the way through the enormous Meridian Gate to Tiananmen Gate, the gateway to a square of the same name famous for the giant portrait of Mao Zedong.
Here’s another small tip for you – I recommend bring your passport with you at all times, because in large cities in China you’ll more than likely get stopped by the police at least a few times which can lead to long waiting times when things get crowded. It’s also not uncommon to have your bag checked at train stations and public spaces. With a bit of patience, your passport on and a nice smile you should get through most checks quickly and without hassle.
In the centre of Tiananmen Square is the Mao Mausoleum. If the long waiting times (up to 2 hours!) don’t put you off, you can pay a visit to the revered founder of the state, or you can wander around the gigantic square, observe the Monument to the People’s Heroes and admire the Great Hall of the People.
My small insiders’ tip, saved best for rainy days, is the National Museum of China, which stands on the edge of the square and is the largest museum in the world. It’s an impressive building, and the best thing about it is you’ll be able to get free entry when you show your passport. With all the changing exhibitions spread across several floors, the majority with English descriptions, time will simply fly by and you’ll get a great look at the history and culture of China. You should allow at least 3 hours to view the whole museum.
And before heading off again – visit a Karaoke Bar!
After spending the day sightseeing and exploring the city, you can have a good time at one of the bars and discos in Beihai Park. European capitals can’t compete with the party mile on the banks of the Houhai Lake. Something that’s really fun in particular is a visit to a karaoke show. The Chinese love karaoke – even if it’s a massive cliché! And another thing – if you want to be posting holiday pictures on Facebook you’ve got to be a little creative – Facebook and other forms of social media are banned in China because of the state censorship and can’t be visited directly.
The Great Wall of China
And before you head off again, you shouldn’t miss the true landmark of China during your stay in Beijing – the Great Wall of China. With a day trip which you can either plan yourself or with the help of a travel agent you’ll have the opportunity to traverse a section of the 6,700km long wall. Keep in mind however that an excursion can take up to a whole day, so an organised and guided tour for people new to China can often save time and stress! There are guided tours from around €30, and most of the time this will include the journey there and back, entry fees (around €3.70 for the wall), a guide and even catering. To me, it’s a worthwhile investment and an unforgettable trip!
A Final Few Tips for Beijing
During your last evening in Beijing, you should definitely go to Wangfujing Street. This pedestrianised shopping mile doesn’t just get shopaholics’ hearts racing, it’s also got fantastic street food from famous noodle and rice dishes to even octopus and bees. If you’ve recovered from the sensory overload you should definitely give it a try! This street has a real flair for it – Asia at its purest!
Travelling to Beijing
This article should help you optimise your short stay in Beijing. Of course, it goes without saying that even after going there 10 times you still probably won’t have seen everything the city has to offer. Beijing is always worth visiting! Make sure you keep it tuned to Holidayguru.ie for all the best deals, you never know where you might end up! :)
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