If you’ve only got a couple of (full) days in Beijing, here are the top sights to see and a suggested itinerary, complete with public transport routes, pictures and prices!
Stick around the centre of Beijing on your first day to visit the main sights – most within easy walking distance of each other.
8:00 Temple of Heaven (天坛) – 30 RMB
Get there when it opens to make the most of the day and if you’re brave join in with the local morning exercises!
The Temple of Heaven is set in a lovely park which is worth a visit in itself to immerse yourself in Chinese culture (think grannies square dancing and impromptu Chinese opera performances). There are several buildings within the park but the main highlight is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (pictured).
9:30 Bus/ metro to Tiananmen Square – 4 RMB
The buses in Beijing are fantastic and super cheap, but beware of overcrowding! From the Temple of Heaven:
South gate: bus 53, 120
West gate: bus 2, 53, 72, 120
North gate: bus 72, 110
Alternatively, for a more comfortable ride take metro line 5 from the east gate then transfer to line 1. Get a transport card to make the most of the public transport routes around the city at a slight discount, or simply pay in cash each time. In Beijing, all buses and the metro have announcements in both English and Mandarin.
10:00 Tiananmen Square (天安门) – free!
Most famous for the fatal protests in 1989, Tiananmen Square is a focal point for history and politics in Beijing. Keep an eye out for the Monument to the People’s Heroes at the South of the square near Mao’s Mausoleum. If you have spare time, visit the National Museum which takes up most of the east side of the square.
10:30 Forbidden City (故宫) – 60 RMB
Probably the number one sight in Beijing, the Forbidden City was the ancient palace of the Chinese emperors. It is absolutely huge and you could easily spend all day exploring all the halls and museums, but if you’re pressed for time take the faster route through the centre of the palace and miss out the side wings. Some tour groups can make it through in under 1.5 hours, but do take a few more moments to admire the incredible architecture.
13:30 Lunch – approx. 50 RMB
Head away from the exit of the Forbidden City and find a small local restaurant to enjoy local delicacies such as noodles, fried potatoes or shredded pork with rice. Top tip: restaurants serving traditional Beijing food often have the phrase 老北京 in their names. Although smaller local restaurants may not have English menus, they will often have picture menus if you don’t understand Chinese.
14:30 Jingshan Park (景山公园) – 10 RMB
This is a lovely park for an afternoon stroll, and like the Temple of Heaven is used by many locals for socialising, dancing, singing and exercising. Don’t forget to climb up to the southern-most pagodas for a stunning view over the Forbidden City and central Beijing.
16:00 Hutong District (胡同) – free!
The Hutong District, located just northeast of the Forbidden City, contains literally hundreds of small narrow streets and old-style courtyard family homes. The local council has done a bit to improve the roads and make it more accessible – so although some areas have clearly been done up from the tourists, if you head further in by bike or foot you can catch glimpses of traditional Beijing life. If you’re still feeling a bit peckish, try out local snacks such as dumplings at one of the many street stalls or family restaurants.
18:00 Peking Duck (北京烤鸭) – approx. 100 RMB
Probably the most famous Beijing dish, Peking Duck is served in restaurants all over the city. However, I would particularly recommend the Da Dong Duck Restaurant (大董烤鸭) in the Nanxincang Business Building (南新仓商务大厦) just outside the DongSiShiTiao (东四十条) metro station. This restaurant feels very upmarket but a whole roast ruck (feeds around three people) comes in at under 200 RMB, and they will carve it artistically in front of you. Additional sides of vegetables, bread or soup are also very good value.
There are a huge number of budget hotels and hostels in Beijing, and I would recommend booking.com for having a very comprehensive list of budget options with no cancellation fee. If you’re here for a very limited length of time you should prioritise having a central location in order to reduce transport times each morning and evening, and make sure you will be close to a metro station or plenty of bus routes.
Head out of town to visit the unmissable great wall and stunning summer palace during your second day in Beijing. If you have an extra day, spread these two sights over two days to make the most of them.
8:00 Bus to Mutianyu Great Wall – approx. 20 RMB
Make your way to Dongzhimen (东直门) metro station. From there, take bus 916 to Huairou then transfer to bus h23/ h24/ h35/ h36 to Mutianyu. Alternatively, take tourist bus 6 from Xuanwumen (宣武门), Dongsishitiao (东四十条) or Andingmen (安定门).
9:30 Mutianyu Great Wall (慕田峪长城) – 85 RMB
One of the more restored sections of the great wall with convenient public transport from Beijing, Mutianyu is highly recommended if you are short of time. The Great Wall is such an iconic image of China but actually is split into many sections, generally spanning east to west across the country. Built to keep out invading Mongols, interestingly it never actually saw real combat, and despite common myth it is not in fact observable from space.
12:30 Transport to Summer Palace – approx. 50 RMB
Return by any bus route above, then take a taxi to the Summer Palace. In 2017, a metro line to the Summer Palace is due to open which will make this journey easily possible by public transport. Since today you’re on a tight schedule, bring a packed lunch to eat on the bus.
14:00 Summer Palace (颐和园) – 50 RMB
The Summer Palace was the emperor’s family’s escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and while today it is often quite crowded with tourists it still has a very relaxed atmosphere. The palace itself, although small, is a delight to explore – but the main highlight is the beautiful lake and its surroundings. You could easily spend a whole day exploring the area, but if pressed for time start at the East gate to first visit the main palace complex then wander along the edge of the lake to the North or South gates, from where you can easily catch buses or taxis back to the centre of town.
Although you could easily spend a week seeing the sights in Beijing, the highlights can be seen in just two or three days if you plan your trip well. This suggested itinerary is just a guide – you can easily customise it, check out the Beijing section of this website for inspiration! Note, prices, opening times and public transport routes are subject to change.