Michael and Stacie closed their China tour down with 3 days in Beijing. Not Stacie’s favorite city, but sounds like the gateway to some pretty interesting and iconic experiences. Their day at an unrestored portion of The Great Wall alone makes me want to grab my group and go.
We arrived in Beijing to close out Michael’s tour of China and for me to get in a few vacation days. We had three days to explore and a list of sites to see. Once again I used the US News & World Report Travel Guide to plan our outings…
The Great Wall of China is a MUST GO! I remember learning about it in school, but I was not prepared for the vastness of it. Standing on the wall, looking off in either direction seeing the next watch towers, understanding the structure stretches on for nearly 5,000 miles, and that much of it was built over 500 years ago; it puts a lot in perspective.
Because the Great Wall is about 90 miles outside of Beijing (or more depending on where you are going), we opted for a tour that we booked on Viator. It was a private tour, so it was just Michael, me and our guide. Instead of opting for one of the more touristy destinations, we chose to hike an unrestored portion of the wall and I am glad that we did. We only saw two other groups, a very different experience from the Badaling or Mutianyu sections of the wall which are literally wall to wall with people – pun intended.
We booked the tour just a few days before we arrived in Beijing so we could make sure the weather would be amenable to being outdoors. We choose a day that was forecasted to be 70 degrees with clear skies. The tour guide met us at the hotel at 8 am and we set off on our adventure, a 3-4 hour hike from Huanghuacheng to Xishuiyu on the Great Wall followed by an authentic Chinese lunch in the nearby village.
After about a 90 minute drive, we arrived in a small town and headed out on foot to reach the trailhead with a view of the wall at the top of the hill in the distance. I’m glad we had a guide with us; we never would’ve found the trail on our own. We hiked up a narrow path with a pretty steep hill to get to the wall. Once there we found breathtaking views and a trail that clearly had endured the trials of time. The ancient bricks had been grown over with brush and grass, though there was a well worn path to follow in either direction.
The hike lasted about 3 hours, water and Snickers bars were provided. We ended on a restored portion of the wall, which had a paved path back out to the town. While we no longer had to worry about tripping over the uneven surface, we now had to contend with the piles of trash that too many tourists seem to leave everywhere. This was definitely a time when we were happy to have taken the road less travelled.
Additional MUST SEE spots in Beijing include…
Tiananmen Square, this large open space is surrounded by key monuments including the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. It was amazing to stand in the middle of this square as my brain reviewed all of the history that is commemorated in this place as well as the historical events that occurred here.
The Forbidden City is found just north of Tiananmen Square. Michael has always been drawn to the forbidden so a trip here was not optional. This was truly a site to behold. The massive complex was originally built from 1406-1420, though it has been rebuilt several times due to fires. The 980 buildings that make up the palace complex sit on over 180 acres. This was the home for emperors and their households and served as the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government for almost 500 years.
Peking Duck is required eating while in Beijing. This dish originated in Beijing over 500 years ago. We chose Made in China for our Peking Duck, though there are many, many good restaurant options for this tasty meal. At Made in China the duck is carved table side. The crispy skin is served with fine sugar for dipping, while the chunks of meat are wrapped into a pancake with shallot, sliced cucumber and a delicious sweet soybean paste. Please note, your duck order needs to be place two hours in advance of your meal at this establishment, so be sure to place your order when you make your reservation.
Other places to Go (if you have extra time)…
Jingshan Park is a small park located just north of the Forbidden City. Though quite a few flights of stairs were required, the climb was worth it to see the impressive views of the palace grounds that we had just toured. The entrance to the park is right across the street after exiting the Palace Museum.
We went from here to Beihai Park. The park, of over 170 acres, was first built in the 11th century. This was a quiet, peaceful garden to walk through after all of the activity (and crowds) at the Forbidden City. We arrived late in the day and many of the internal buildings were already closed, but we did enjoy our stroll through the grounds.
China is inherently CROWDED (over a billion people!) and the definition of personal space is very different from ours. This may leave you wanting to visit a place that offers a respite from the crowds. Beihai Park provided that for us.
We also visited the Temple of Heaven Park. This beautiful garden and UNESCO World Heritage Site was just a quick subway ride away from our hotel. (Again, the subway is very simple to navigate and very inexpensive.) Do purchase a “through ticket” which allows access to all of the buildings in the park, most of which were first constructed in the early 1400s.
The Lama Temple contains a copious collection of statues of the Buddha. My favorite was the awe-inspiring 18 meter tall statue carved from a single piece of white sandalwood. Hard to fathom the amount of work and care that went into it’s carving. Unfortunately, picture taking was limited as the temple is still an active place of worship. So, you’ll just have to go see the buddhas for yourself…
Three days in Beijing provided the right amount time to see the sites we wanted to see. Though I’m sure there are many people would want more time to explore the Summer Palace, the Olympic Park or the National Museum of China, these were not on our agenda. There are probably others who would be happy to spend just two days here seeing the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall and then adding the extra days in Shanghai or Chengdu or Hong Kong.
Beijing is not my favorite city in China, the temperatures are cooler and the air is smoggier than other parts of the country. But, a visit to the capital city and a trip to the Great Wall are essential to any tour of China. So… Grab Your Group and GO to CHINA! (and stop in Beijing while you’re there).
Please Note: unlike other cities in China, while in Beijing you will be repeatedly asked to show your passport. Be sure to carry it with you when you are out site seeing for the day. It was required for entry to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Our Day by Day Agenda
Day ONE: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, Beihai Park. We explored all on foot from the hotel. It was a lot of walking, but totally doable.
Day TWO: The Great Wall of China
Day THREE: Temple of Heaven Park, Lama Temple. Subway required for these, just as easy to navigate as in Shanghai. Just press the yellow button in the bottom corner for English.