Difference between revisions of "Beijing"
Revision as of 13:55, 2 April 2012
Beijing (北京 Běijīng) is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People's Republic of China, and also its second largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.
The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of the famous Forbidden City). Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis.
Beijing was host to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
Beijing has a total of 14 districts and 2 counties. In 2010, Xuanwu District was merged into Xicheng, and Chongwen District was merged into Dongcheng. Wikitravel continues to use the old districts.
Central districts and inner suburbs
The four central districts are located within or just beyond Ring Road Two. This is the location of the old walled city of Beijing and is where you will find most of the sights and also a good deal of sleeping, eating and drinking and entertainment options. The districts are:
The next four districts are also fairly close to the centre. They are often referred to as the inner suburbs. This is were you will find parts of the Western Hills, universities, Olympic venues, business and embassy areas, entertainment and bars as well as art districts. The districts are:
Rural Beijing and outer suburbs
The remaining ten districts and counties are quite far from the centre.
Beijing literally means Northern Capital, a role it has played many times in China's long history. Beijing's history dates back several thousand years but it first became notable in Chinese history after it was made the capital of the State of Yan under the name Yanjing. Yan was one of the major kingdoms of the Warring States Period, some 2,000 years ago. After the fall of Yan, during the later Han and Tang dynasties, the Beijing-area was a major prefecture of northern China.
In 938, Beijing was conquered by the Khitans and declared the capital of the Liao Dynasty. The Mongols seized the city in 1215. From 1264 Beijing served as the capital of a united China under Kublai Khan. His victorious Mongol forces renamed the city, Great Capital (大都). From there, Kublai and his decedents ruled their empire from a northern location closer to the Mongol homelands. During this period, the walled city was enlarged and many palaces and temples were built.
After the fall of the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty in 1368, the capital was initially moved to Nanjing. However, in 1403 the 3rd Ming emperor, Zhu Di, also known as Emperor Yongle, moved it back to Beijing and gave the city its present name. The Ming period was Beijing's golden era. The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and many other Beijing landmarks were built in this period. The capital developed into a huge city becoming the religious and cultural center of Asia.
In 1644, the Manchus overthrew the declining Ming dynasty and established China's last imperial line - the Qing. Despite the changing political climate, Beijing remained the capital. The Manchu imperial family moved into the Forbidden City and remained there until 1911. The Qing built both the Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace. These served as summer retreats for the emperors and their entourages. During the 19th century, Western countries established foreign legations in the Qianmen area south of the Forbidden City. These came under siege during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
The Qing dynasty fell in 1911. In the chaotic first years of Republican China, Beijing was beset by fighting warlords. Following the Northern Expedition, the Kuomintang moved the capital to Nanjing in 1928, and renamed Beijing as Beiping ("Northern Peace") to emphasize that it was no longer a capital. Beijing remained a center for education and culture throughout the Republican Era. When the Kuomintang was defeated by the Communists in 1949, the new government proclaimed a People's Republic with its capital at Beijing.
Recommended reading includes Peking - A Historical and Intimate Description of Its Chief Places of Interest, by Juliet Bredon (written in the 1930's (ISBN 0968045987 and Twilight in the Forbidden City by Reginald Fleming Johnston (ISBN 0968045952)
Beijing is characterised by its vastness and large distances between locations. Until recently, the city was almost entirely made up of hutongs with narrow lanes and single story buildings. Now, many of the hutongs have given way to broad boulevards and modern buildings, contributing to an airy, sprawling feel, in sharp contrast to cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Beijing is the political centre of the country with official buildings and embassy areas dominating the city. Beijing is also the historical and cultural centre of China with many historical buildings and sites - especially within Ring Road Two. The city has undergone rapid modernisation in recent years, with improvements of institutions, business environment and work conditions.
Given their city's historical, cultural and political heft, Beijingers are justifiably proud to be citizens of the capital. An attitude known as 大北京主义 or "Great Beijing-ism" is often used to describe their attitude toward people from other regions of China. They are often much more interested in politics and willing to talk about current events than people elsewhere in China. Beijingers also seem to focus on not losing face and often use humor in order to do so. However, many Chinese from other provinces find Beijingers very friendly and straightforward comparing with people from Shanghai especially.
Beijing has a monsoon-influenced continental climate with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. The best time to visit is in September and October, during the "Golden Autumn" (金秋). Spring is the season for dust storms and is otherwise warm and dry. Summer can be oppressively hot and the tourist crowds tend to be the largest as well; prevailing winds from the south trap pollutants (mountains lie to the north and west), making summer the worst season for air quality. Winter is cold and dry with infrequent, but beautiful, snow. Temperatures can easily fall below −10 °C in winter and or just as readily rise above 35 °C in summer as well.
Demographics and geography
Beijing has a population of 17.55 million people (30% migrants) living on 16,800 km2 distributed in 18 districts. The city borders Hebei Province to the north, west and south and Tianjin Municipality to the east.
Travel between Terminals 1 and 2 is via a long corridor with travelators. A fit person can make the route in about 10 minutes. A free shuttle bus runs between Terminal 2 and the new Terminal 3. It departs every ten minutes or so and the journey time is about 10 minutes. Terminal 3 is huge: it alone is bigger than all five of Heathrow (London)'s terminals. Additional time should be allocated when flying from here. Terminal 3 check-in closes 45 minutes before flights depart.
Facilities on arrival include ATMs and money changers. There also shared computer and wifi zone with power outlets to access Internet (need either to scan your ID/passport, either get a sms code by phone). Be aware that upon departure, porters may want ¥10 to wheel your bags 50 m to check-in and that most eating options are rather outrageously priced. Before you cross through security, if you want a bite to eat in the Terminal 1, there is a KFC which has lowered its prices a little, and in Terminal 2, there are 2 KFCs, and the restaurants in the basement have relatively low prices compared to what's above. A meal at any of these places should be around ¥20.
Many people use taxicabs to reach town from the airport. Try to get the Chinese name in characters of your hotel so that you can let your taxi driver read where you want to go. It is important to do this as most drivers cannot read English and many are recent arrivals from the countryside who might not know the city well. A taxi from the airport should cost ¥70-120. You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus ¥10 toll for the airport expressway. Traffic jams are common. If you are moving during night, taxis are your sole option as earliest arrival time at airport is 6.30am by public transport (taking first subway ~5.30am depending on station and first airport express 6am/25y/~20-30mn to T3 or T2)
The Airport Express train to the airport opened in July 2008. The train runs in a one-way loop from T3 to T2/T1 then Sanyuanqiao (transfer to subway line 10) and Dongzhimen (lines 2, 13). A one-way fare is ¥25, and the trip takes about 20 minutes from Dongzhimen to T3, 30 min to T2. Don't take the train just to get from T3 and T2, as this will cost you the full ¥25; use the free shuttle bus instead.
A slightly cheaper way to get to the city centre is to take the airport shuttle (机场巴士 Jīchǎng Bāshì), ☎ +86 10 64594375 / 64594376, . Buses for each route leave every 10-30 minutes. There are several lines running to different locations throughout Beijing. The shuttle bus website also has a map available. ¥16 for a one-way trip.
A number of youth hostels and luxury hotels run their own complimentary shuttle buses services - ask the place where you are staying if they have one.
Nanyuan Airport (南苑机场 Nányuàn Jīchǎng, IATA: NAY) is a former military airfield 17 km to the south of Beijing, currently used only by army-linked low-cost operator China United (中国联合 Zhōngguó Liánhé) . China United currently fields daily flights to Harbin, Dalian, Sanya, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Wuxi. A shuttle bus to the Nanyuan Airport leaves Xidan Aviation Building (西单民航大厦 Xīdān Mínháng Dàshà) at 6:10AM, 7:00AM, 9:00AM, 11:00AM, 1:00PM, 2:00PM, 3:00PM. The first bus (6:10AM) might not be available every day. Be sure not to take a shuttle bus to Beijing Capital Airport. Check the shuttle bus direction written on it in chinese. The bus ticket price is ¥16.
Beijing has many railway stations. Most trains arrive at the central, West, South or North stations.
Since the Olympics in 2008, foreigners are allowed to rent vehicles while in China.
Beijing is the hub of several expressways heading in all directions. The following is a list of the expressways and their destinations:
11 China National Highways (国道 Guódào) also link into Beijing:
Long-distance buses from areas as far as Shanghai and the Mongolian border connect to Beijing. You can reach areas as far as Harbin or Xi'an on a single bus ride. Beijing has over 20 long distance bus stations, but what you need to do is go to the bus station located on the edge of the city in the direction you want to travel.
Most of the buses from the Long Distance Bus Stations will be regular or express buses, which take the expressways; cost from ¥200-600 per trip, have comfy seats, and most rides do not take more than 6-12 hours, but sleeper buses are also available. Sleeper buses, with bunk beds in rows, average about ¥100 per trip, but many go really slowly up hills, avoid expressways, stop at every city or town, provide "meals" which you have to pay extra for, take the potholed National roads to save money, and a bus ride can take up to 24 hours. The average speed is only 40 km/hr on the moderately fast sleeper buses, and the range could be from 25 to 60 km/hr. It may be a good authentic taste of how less wealthy Chinese people travel.
Long distance cyclist-tourists will find national road 109 is a pleasant way to enter or leave Beijing, though lots of work. It immediately enters steep hills on the edge of the city, but sees little traffic, is well maintained and passes though lovely landscape of farmland and forests. It's remarkable how close to Beijing you are, and how far it feels.
Though some residents of Beijing know conversational English, especially in the areas frequented by tourists or Haidian District's university cluster, one should not count on finding a taxi driver or passer-by who knows English well. Neither should a foreigner with minimal experience with the Chinese language put undue faith in his or her ability to pronounce Chinese place names so that a local can understand clearly. Before embarking on a trip around the city, it is best to print out the names of places you want to visit in Chinese characters, or get your hotel front desk staff to write them out for you. When going to specific addresses writing nearby intersections or basic directions can be helpful as well. Show the text to the taxi driver, or just ask for help on the street. In general, you will have a better chance of getting help in English if you address younger people, as many schools in China have expanded their English education in the last few years.
Crossing the road in China is an art and may be difficult for pedestrians unused to Beijing's particular driving styles. Before crossing, assume that none of the road users will give way to you, even if a policeman is present. Zebra crossings are redundant. Chinese drivers lean on the horn heavily and frequently play games of chicken with pedestrians and other vehicles. Should you hear a loud horn when crossing the road, always look around as there is probably a car right behind you or heading straight for you. Should you find several cars and bicycles veering towards you from different directions, do not try to run to safety; instead, stand still. For drivers and cyclists a stationary obstacle is easier to avoid. Also note that traffic light crossings have zebra stripes painted on the road, but you should only cross when the walk light is green. As with pedestrian crossings in many countries, there is strength in numbers. When a mass of people crosses together cars are more likely to stop or slow down.
The Beijing Subway  is a good way to quickly get around the city and is clearly marked in English for travelers. Long very limited, the network has expanded at a furious pace in recent years, with 9 lines now operational and another 9 to open by 2015. However, be warned that during rush hour trains can be extremely crowded. The subway system shuts down quite early (around 22:30), and opens again around 5AM.
The most useful lines are Line 1, which runs east to west and passes under Tianenmen Square and goes to many tourist sights; Line 2, which is a loop line following the old city wall and serves the Central and North train stations; and line 5 which runs north-south and also serves numerous tourist sights. Transfers between all lines are free.
Subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter G wrapped around a smaller letter B. Single tickets cost ¥2 and are only valid on the same day from the station they were purchased. Single-journey ticket machines are very simple to use; just press the numbers along the left side of the screen to choose how many tickets you want to buy, insert cash into the machine and press the green button then collect the ticket and change. The machine does not accept ¥1 bills but if you pay with a ¥10 or ¥20 bill you will be given a handful of coins which you can use for future journeys. You must pass your ticket through the turnstiles upon entering AND exiting the station, so make sure you don't lose it.
If you plan on traveling a lot, pick up a Yīkātōng (一卡通 ) pre-paid card, which has a ¥20 refundable deposit. Swipe the card at the entrance turnstile and again upon exiting. The use of the pre-paid card does not reduce the subway fare although it does dramatically reduce bus fares, by 60%. The card's deposit can only be returned at a few stations, so passing it on to a friend may be easier than getting your deposit back. Stations that offer a refund clearly state "Yikatong refund" in the ticket booth; examples include Xizhimen and Haidianhuangzhuang (only near exits c/d).
If you are carrying luggage you must pass through the X-ray checks at the stations.
Try to avoid travelling in the rush hour as the stations and trains become very crowded - particularly try to avoid Line 1 & 2 as the old 1970s stations with their narrow passageways and open-edged platforms are not designed for the large numbers of passengers seen today.
Once known as a nation of bicycles, China today has an ever growing number of private car owners. It is estimated 1,200 more cars hit the streets in Beijing every day. As a result, nowadays you are guaranteed to see more bikes in the Netherlands than in Beijing. However, the infrastructure from its days as capital of the "Bicycle Kingdom" means exploring Beijing on a bike is excellent. The city is flat as a pancake and all major streets have bike lanes. Bicycling is often faster than traveling by car, taxi or bus because of the traffic congestion in the motorized traffic lanes.
Four-wheeled motorized traffic in Beijing usually observes traffic signals with the exception of making turns at red lights which is often done without slowing or deferring to pedestrians or bicyclists. Pedestrians, bicycles and all other vehicles (for example, motorized bicycles, mopeds and tricycles) generally do not observe traffic signals. Also, cars, trucks and buses do not defer to cyclists on the road so it is common for a vehicle to make a right turn from an inside lane across a bike lane with no concern for cyclists traveling in the bike lane. Sometimes a right-turning vehicle crossing a bike lane will sound its horn as a warning, but not always. Cyclists also need to be on the lookout for wrong-way traffic in the bike lanes, usually bicycles and tricycles but sometimes motor vehicles, too. Wrong-way traffic usually stays close to the curb so you move to the left to get by them, but not always. Bicycling Beijingers tend not to wear helmets, nor do they use lights at night. Few bikes even have rear reflectors. The moderate pace and sheer numbers of bicyclists in Beijing appears to make bike travel safer than it would be otherwise.
While you will see cyclists use many creative paths across wide, busy intersections in Beijing, the safest way for cyclists is to observe the traffic signals (there are often special signals for cyclists) and to make left turns in two steps as a pedestrian would. But if you spend any significant amount of time cycling in Beijing, you will probably start adopting more creative approaches. These can be learned by finding a local cyclist going your way and following him or her across the intersection.
Several professional bike rental companies, as well as major hotels and some hostels, rent bikes on an hourly basis. For those who need the security of a guide, a bike touring company like Bicycle Kingdom Rentals & Tours  would be a great way to go.
If you are staying more than a few days a reasonable bike can be bought for ¥200. Ensure that you have a good lock included in the price. The cheapest bikes are not worth the additional savings as you will get what you pay for. The cheapest bikes will start to deteriorate as soon as you begin to ride, so spend a little more and get a bike in the ¥300-400 range. Bike rentals may have good bikes, but you pay a high price and run the risk of the bike being stolen.
Beijing's bus system is cheap, convenient and covers the entire city—perfect for locals but, alas, difficult to use if you do not understand Chinese or Mandarin. The bus staffs speak little English, and only a few bus lines in the city center broadcast stop names in English. Bus stop signs are also entirely in Chinese. But should you speak Mandarin, have a healthy sense of adventure, and a fair bit of patience, a bus can get you almost anywhere, and often somewhere that you never intended to go. It is a great way to see parts of the city that tourists normally do not visit.
Most bus fares are relatively cheap, around ¥1, and if you get a public transportation card from a metro station (a card that acts as a debit card for the metro and buses) you can get a 60% discount on all fares.
Many shiny new buses arrived on the streets in preparation for the Olympics. Many buses now feature air-conditioning (heating in winter), TVs, a scrolling screen that displays stops in Chinese, and a broadcast system that announces stops. If you are having problems navigating the bus system, call the English-speaking operators at the Beijing Public Transportation Customer Helpline (96166).
Warning: Beijing buses can get very crowded so be prepared and keep an eye on your valuables. Indeed, the overhead speakers on more modern buses will announce a warning to this effect on the more crowded lines. Many pickpockets frequent buses and subways, so carry backpacks in the front, and try to put your valuables somewhere hard to access. Be aware of a scam offering bus rides to the Great Wall masquerading as the real bus service. Instead of directly driving to the Great Wall, you will instead be led to a series of tours to dilapidated theme parks, shops, museums, and other tourist traps before finally reaching the Great Wall near the end of the day.
Bus lines are numbered from 1-999. Buses under 300 serve the city center. Buses 300 and up run between the city center and more distant areas (such as beyond the Third Ring Road). Buses in the 900s connect Beijing with its "rural" districts (i.e., Changping, Yanqing, Shunyi, etc).
Full maps of the system are available only in Chinese. The Beijing Public Transport Co. website has information in English, but both the Chinese version and English Versions have a very helpful routing service with an interactive map. You can input your starting point and your ending point and see all the bus routes that will get you from A to B, look up a bus route by number, or input a place name and see all the routes that go stop there. Alternative places to look for bus routes are Google maps, Baidu, Edushi (click the bus flash icon) or Mapbar.
Fares and operating hours
Most buses with a line number under 200 run daily 5AM-11PM. Buses with a line number greater than 300 run 6AM-10PM. All buses with a line number in the 200s are night buses. Many routes get very crowded during rush hours (6:30AM-9AM and 5PM-9PM). On major holidays, there will be more frequent service on most city routes.
For passengers paying by cash: Lines 1-199 operate on a flat rate of ¥1 per journey. Lines 300-899 charge ¥1 for the first 12 km of each journey and ¥0.5 for each additional 5 km. Buses with air-conditioning (800-899) start at ¥2. The night buses (200-299) charge ¥2 per journey. Lines 900-999 charge according to the distance.
For passengers paying by the new pre-paid Smart Card: Lines 1-499 operate on a flat rate of ¥0.40 per journey. Lines 500-899 get 60% off the cash price. There are also 3-day, 7-day and 15-day passes available for travellers. There is no return ticket or day ticket.
Minibuses are very common in the countryside outside the urban areas. Privately operated, most trips cost less than ¥10 per short journey and only a little more for longer journeys.
Taxis are the preferred choice for getting around, as they are convenient and are relatively inexpensive for travellers from developed countries. The only downsides are that Beijing's congested traffic often results in long jams, and taxi drivers are often recent arrivals from the countryside who do not know the city well. Additionally, most drivers cannot recognize place names written in English, so it pays to have the Chinese characters for the location ready in advance. Vehicles used as taxis include the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra, Volkswagen Santana and Jetta (the old model, designed in the 1980s), and Citroëns manufactured in China. These taxis are dark red, or yellow top with dark blue bottom, or painted with new colours (see picture). Luxurious black executive cars (usually Audis) can also be found, usually waiting outside hotels.
In the more remote places of Beijing, you might not be able to find any official taxis. However, in these places there will most likely be plenty of unofficial taxis. These might be difficult to recognise for travellers, but the drivers will address you if you look like you are searching for a taxi. Remember to negotiate the fare before you go. Local people usually pay a bit less for the unofficial taxis than for the official ones, but the asking price for travellers will often be much higher.
Fares and meters
Taxis charge a starting fee of ¥10, and an additional ¥2/km after the first 3 km. Taxi meters keep running when the speed is slower than 12 km/hr or when waiting for green lights; 5 min of waiting time equals 1 km running. Outside of rush hour, an average trip through the city costs around ¥20-25, and a cross-town journey about ¥50 (for example, from the city center to the northern side of the Fourth Ring Road). Since Spring 2011, there is a ¥2 gas surcharge on all trips. Note that this surcharge is not displayed on the meter, so if the meter says ¥18 the price is ¥20.
If the taxi driver "forgets" to switch the taxi meter on, remind him by politely asking them to run the meter and gesturing at the meter box (请打表 qǐng dǎbiǎo), though most can understand "meter please", and all can understand a simple point at the meter. At the end, it is a good idea to ask for a receipt (发票 fā piào) also while gesturing to the meter and making a writing motion. Having a receipt is handy in case you want to make a complaint later or for business reimbursement purposes, and since the receipt has the cab number, you stand a greater chance of getting your possessions back if you forget anything in the taxi.
If you want a tour around Beijing and its vicinities, you can ask your hotel to hire a cab for one day or several days. It usually costs ¥400-600 per day, depending on where you go. You can also ask just about any driver to perform this service as most are more than willing to do so. If you have Chinese-speaking assistance, then bargain down the cost. No matter the cost, the taxi is yours for the day and will wait for you at various destinations.
Communicating with the drivers can be a problem, as most do not speak English. You can ask that your hotel write your destination on a card to give to the driver. Make sure to take the hotel's card (and a map) that lists the hotel's address in Chinese. This can be a 'get out of jail free' card if you get lost and need to get back via taxi. A regular city map with streets and sights in Chinese will also help.
As elsewhere in the world it is really hard to find a taxi when it rains. Most of them refuse to take passengers and, besides, many will try to rise their fares. Although it seems unreasonable (triple to five times the normal fare), sometimes it is better to take their offers than to wait for another cab.
Avoiding scams and fakes
All official taxis have license plates beginning with the letter "B", as in "京B". "Black cabs" may look like taxis but their license plates will start with letters other than B. It's nearly impossible to hail a black cab on the streets; they generally hang out around tourist sights like the Great Wall and the Summer Palace or around subway stops. Black cabs will charge you a higher fee for the journey, unless you are a good bargainer, know where you are going, and know what the right fare should be. Sometimes they drop foreign tourists in wrong places. In some extreme cases, the driver may even take them to the countryside and rob them. If you find you hired a fake taxi and are overcharged, don't argue if you are alone, pay the driver and remember the car's license plate number, then call police later.
To avoid being taken advantage of, it is a good idea to know the rough direction, cost, and distance of your destination. You can easily find this out from asking locals before calling a cab. Verify these values with the taxicab driver to show them that you are in the know, and are probably too much trouble to cheat. Keep track of the direction of travel with a compass and/or the sun. If the cab goes in the wrong direction for a long distance, verify the location with the taxi driver. For scamming drivers, that is usually enough for them to go back on the right track (without ever acknowledging that they were trying to cheat you). Honest drivers will explain why they are going that way. In addition, sometimes a cab driver might tell you an extravagant price to get somewhere and tell you the meter is broken.
There are several "makeshift taxis" running around Beijing including a seat fixed up to the back of an electric scooter. These guys will scam you big time if you don't negotiate a clear fare beforehand. Upon arriving your destination, for a 2 minute ride, the driver will demand 300 yuan and will be very belligerent if you don't pay it.
Keep in mind that central Beijing can be off limits at certain times, forcing cabs to reroute. And some roads forbid left turns (with big road signs) either at certain hours or all the time, so the driver might make a detour.
Driving in Beijing can be quite complicated, language difficulties included, coupled with seemingly perpetual traffic jams. Many hotels, however, rent cars that come with drivers, for those who can afford it, up to ¥1000 per day. Nevertheless, public transport will get you to most of the main tourist sites, and you should use them as your primary mode of transport.
You are not permitted to drive a car using the driver license issued by countries other than China. Even Hong Kong and Macau licenses are considered to be foreign and are not accepted. But for short visa holders (< 3 months), it is possible to get a provisional driver's license at the PEK airport or the transportation police stations in the city in minutes. You need to provide your passport as well as your foreign driver's license, and do a small examination(just to confirm you don't have physical or visual disability that effect the driving security), then you can get the provisional driver's license in minutes. With this license, you can legally drive cars in China. Ask any information desk at the airport for the direction of applying such a provisional driver's license.
At the arrival hall(maybe domestic only) of T2, PEK airport, you can find the counters of many car rental companies, but their English is usually not good. You had better contact them in advance by phone.
Here is an incomplete list of car rental companies serving at the PEK airport:
The daily rate of smaller economic cars is about ¥200 to ¥300. You need to deposit around ¥3000 (possible by using CUP/VISA/MasterCard credit card).
See also Driving in China.
See the Districts articles for individual listings.
The centre of the city and most important landmark is Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng District. This is the world's largest public square and a must see for all visitors from abroad and from elsewhere in China. The square is surrounded by grand buildings including the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Qianmen Gate and the Forbidden City. It is also home to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the Monument to the People's Martyrs and was also the site of the infamous massacre of student activists by the Peoples Liberation Army in 1989.
The National Stadium or Bird's Nest in Chaoyang District is a new major landmark and the symbol of the 2008 Olympic Games. Two contemporary buildings in Chaoyang District are remarkable landmarks: the CCTV Building (sometimes called The Underpants or Bird Legs by locals) and the World Trade Center Tower III. Both are outstanding examples of contemporary architecture.
There are also a number of remarkable remains from the medieval city including the Ming Dynasty City Wall Site Park (the only remains of the city wall) in Chongwen District, the Drum and Bell Towers in Dongcheng District, and Qianmen in Chongwen District.
Palaces, temples and parks
The city's many green oases are a wonderful break from walking along the never ending boulevards and narrow hutongs. Locals similarly flock to Beijing's palaces, temples and parks whenever they have time. The green areas are not only used for relaxing but also for sports, dancing, singing and general recreation.
The most important palace, bar none, is the Forbidden city (故宫博物院) in Dongcheng District. The Forbidden City was home to the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Unlike many other historical sights, the Forbidden City was relatively untouched during the cultural revolution due to the timely intervention of premier Zhou Enlai, who sent a battalion of his troops to guard the palace from the over-zealous Red Guards. The Temple of Heaven (天坛) in Chongwen District is the symbol of Beijing and is surrounded by a lively park typically packed with hordes of local people drinking tea, practicing calligraphy or tai-chi or just watching the world go by. The Yonghegong (Lama Temple) (雍和宫) in Dongcheng District is one of the most important and beautiful temples in the country.
Other parks are scattered around Beijing. Some of the best are Zhongshan Park (中山公园) in Xicheng District, Beihai Park (北海公园) in Xicheng District, Chaoyang Park (朝阳公园) in Chaoyang District and Ritan Park (日坛公园) in Chaoyang District. The Beijing Zoo (北京动物园) in Xicheng District is famous for its traditional landscaping and giant pandas, however like many zoos, the conditions for the animals have been questioned.
Haidian District is home to the Summer palace (颐和园), the ruins of the Old Summer Palace (圆明园), Fragrant Hills (香山), and the Beijing Botanical Garden (北京植物园). All are quite close together and worth a visit.
Museums and galleries
The museums in Beijing are generally not yet up to the standard seen in cities such as Paris, Rome and New York. However the city contains one of the largest and most well known museums in Asia, the Palace Museum also known as the Forbidden City. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. China's government is determined to change the backward perception of its museums and has invested heavily in their development. It has also made most of them (not the Forbidden City) free to visit. However, for some museums tickets must be reserved three days in advance.
One of the most well-known museums in Beijing is the National Museum (国家博物馆) in Dongcheng District, which was closed for renovation from 2007 to March 2011. The Military Museum (军事博物馆) in Haidian District has long been a favorite with domestic and foreign tourists. The Capital Museum (首都博物馆) in Xicheng District is a new high profile museum with historical and art exhibitions. The China Aviation Museum (中国民航博物馆) located in the Beijing/Northern Suburbs is surprisingly good and hosts 200+ rare and unique Chinese (mostly Russian) aircraft. Finally, a number of restored former residences of famous Beijingers, especially in Xicheng District, give a good insight into daily life in former times.
The contemporary art scene in Beijing is booming and a large number of artists exhibit and sell their art in galleries around the city. The galleries are concentrated in a number of art districts, including the oldest and easiest accessible, but also increasingly commercial and mainstream, Dashanzi Art District in Chaoyang District. (Bus Line 401 - departing from Dongzhimen or San Yuan Qiao)Other newer and perhaps more cutting edge art districts include Caochangdi in Chaoyang District and Songzhuan Artist's Village in Tongzhou District.
The language of Beijing is Mandarin Chinese. Standard Mandarin itself was the administrative language of the Ming and Qing dynasties and was based mainly on the Beijing dialect. For language students this makes studying in Beijing an excellent chance to learn the language in a relatively pure form. That being said, Beijing dialect contains nasal "er" sounds at the end of many words. Hence the ubiquitous lamb kabobs (羊肉串 yáng ròu chuàn) become "yáng ròu chuànr". In addition, the Beijing dialect consists of many local slangs which have not been incorporated into standard Mandarin. Beijing taxi drivers are famously chatty and will gladly engage students of the language offering excellent chances to practice the language and get a feel for the changes in the city and country from an "Old Beijinger".
English is spoken by staff at the main tourist attractions, as well as at major hotels. Otherwise, English speakers are not common, so always get your hotel's business card to show the taxi driver in case you get lost. Likewise, have staff at your hotel write down the names of any tourist attraction you plan to visit in Chinese, so locals can point you out in the right direction.
See the Districts articles for individual listings.
Walks and rides
Theaters and concert halls
National Centre for the Performing Arts in Xicheng District was finalised in 2007 and finally gave Beijing a modern theater complex covering opera, music and theater. This is worth a visit even if you do not go to a performance.
The Beijing Opera is considered the most famous of all the traditional opera performed around China. This kind of opera is nothing like western opera with costumes, singing style, music and spectator reactions being distinctly Chinese. The plot is usually quite simple, so you might be able to understand some of what happens even if you do not understand the language. Some of the best places to watch Beijing Opera are found in Xuanwu District including Huguang Huguang Theatre and Lao She Teahouse. There are also a number in Dongcheng District including Chang'an Grand Theatre.
Acrobatics shows are also worth a visit if you want to see some traditional Chinese entertainment. Some of the best shows are found in Tianqiao Acrobatics Theatre in Xuanwu District and in Chaoyang Theatre in Chaoyang District.
Drama plays has had a slow start in Beijing and is still not as widespread as you might expect for a city like Beijing, and you will most likely not be able to find many Western plays. However, some good places for contemporary Chinese plays do exist including Capital Theatre in Dongcheng District and Century Theater in Chaoyang District.
Classical music has got a much stronger foothold in Beijing than drama plays. Some of the best places to go are the National Centre for the Performing Arts and the Century Theater both mentioned above as well as Beijing Concert Hall in Xicheng District.
Beijing is the center of higher learning in China. In fact, Beijing University and Tsinghua University have been consistently ranked among the top universities in the world in recent times. As such it attracts the top talents from across China and is the destination for thousands of foreign scholars each year. Most of the universities are clustered in Haidian District in the northwestern part of the city. Nearly all of the universities in Beijing accept foreign students. Most foreign students are on Chinese language programs which can last from a few weeks to a couple of years. If you have a sufficient HSK level  you can enroll in programs to study other subjects.
Most of the international business offices are in Guomao, Dawang, around the Eastern 3rd Ring Road, Chaoyangmen. The Central Business District (CBD) is centered around Guomao. Many technology companies have offices in Haidian.
Like all of China, finding a job teaching English in Beijing is relatively easy for native speakers. In fact, if you are of European descent some employers may assume that you are already qualified enough to teach English to Chinese students. However, more prestigious employers (especially universities and high-end language schools) will generally require an English teaching qualification and a Bachelor's degree (normally in any discipline, although sometimes specifically in English/linguistics).
Be aware: There has been explosive growth in the English teaching industry in recent years. This has brought the expected attendant problems with unregulated schools failing to deliver on their contracts with teaching staff. Before the Olympics it was common for teachers in Beijing to get by with business (F) visas and working as outside contractors for the schools. Similarly some teachers worked on tourist (L) visas. However, there was a government crackdown on this illegal practice in the run-up to the Olympics. To ensure your employer runs a licit operation, you are strongly advised to check with existing teachers before signing a teaching contract with an unknown school. All reputable schools will assist in securing a work (Z) visa and a Foreign Expert Permit for their teachers.
See also: Teaching English.
See the Districts articles for individual listings.
Throughout nearly all markets in Beijing, haggling is essential. Especially when browsing through large, "touristy" shopping areas for common items, do not put it beneath your dignity to start bargaining at 15% of the vendor's initial asking price. In fact, in the most "touristy" markets final prices can often be as low as 15%-20% of the initial asking price, and "removing a zero" isn't a bad entry point in the bargaining process. After spending some time haggling, never hesitate to threaten walking away, as this is often the quickest way to see a vendor lower his or her prices to a reasonable level. Buying in bulk or in groups may also lower the price. Beware that if you start your bargaining at too low of a price, such as 50% off the asking price, the vendor may just immediately give up on trying to sell the item to you. How high or low the vendor sets the asking price depends on the customer, the vendor, the product's popularity, and even the time of day. Vendors also tend to target visible minorities more, such as Caucasians or people of African descent.
The are a number of interesting markets around Beijing where you can find all kind of cheap (and often fake) stuff. Some of the most popular places are Xizhimen in Xicheng District, Silk Street or Panjiayuan in Chaoyang District and Hong Qiao Market in Chongwen District.
As an alternative to the markets you can go to some of the shopping areas lined with shops. This includes Nanluoguoxiang in Dongcheng District and Qianmen Dajie Pedestrian Street, Dashilan and Liulichang in Xuanwu District.
If you are looking for traditional Chinese food shops try Yinhehua Vegetarian in Dongcheng District, Daoxiangcun, Liubiju or The Tea Street in Xuanwu District and Chongwenmen Food Market in Chongwen District.
Visiting hotel shops and department stores is not the most characterful shopping in China, but worth a look. While generally significantly more expensive, they are less likely to sell truly low quality goods. The old style of Chinese retailing is gradually being transformed by shops with a better design sense and souvenir items are getting better each year. Silk clothing, table settings and so on and other spots around town, are worth a look, as are porcelain, specialty tea and other traditional items. Some of the most popular areas for this kind of shopping are Wangfujing and The Malls at Oriental Plaza both in Dongcheng District as well as Xidan in Xicheng District.
The carpet business is strong in Beijing and you will find all manner of stores selling silk carpets and other varieties.
See the Districts articles for individual listings.
The best way to eat well and cheaply in Beijing is to enter one of the ubiquitous restaurants where the locals are eating and pick a few different dishes from the menu. Truth be told, anyone familiar with Western currency and prices will find Beijing a very inexpensive city for food, especially considering that tipping is not practiced in China.
Some of the cheapest and most delicious meals can be had on the streets. Savory pancakes (煎饼果子 Jiānbĭng guŏzi) are one of the most popular street snacks, eaten from morning till night with most carts operating during the morning commute and then opening again at night for the after-club crowds and night-owls. This delicious pancake is cooked with an egg on a griddle, a fried dough crisp is added, and the whole thing is drizzled in scallions and a savory sauce. Hot sauce is optional. Diehard fans often go on a quest for the best cart in the city. This treat should only cost ¥2.50, with an extra egg ¥3.
Lamb kebabs (羊肉串儿 yángròu chuànr) and other kebabs are grilled on makeshift stands all around Beijing, from the late afternoon to late at night. Wangfujing has a "snack street" selling such mundane fare like lamb, chicken, and beef as well as multiple styles of noodle dishes, such as Sichuan style rice noodles, but the brave can also sample silkworm, scorpion, and various organs all skewered on a stick and grilled to order.
A winter specialty, candied haw berries (冰糖葫芦 bīngtáng húlu) are dipped in molten sugar which is left to harden in the cold and sold on a stick. You can also find variations with oranges, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, or dipped in crumbled peanuts as well as sugar. This sweet snack can also sometimes be found in the spring and the summer, but the haw berries are often from last season's crop.
The most famous street for food in Beijing is probably Guijie (簋街/鬼街 Guǐjiē), see Dongcheng District for further detail.
Beijing Roast Duck is a famous Beijing specialty served at many restaurants, but there are quite a few restaurants dedicated to the art of roasting the perfect duck. Expect to pay around ¥40 per whole duck at budget-range establishments, and ¥160-200 at high-end restaurants. Beijing duck (北京烤鸭 Bĕijīng kăoyā) is served with thin pancakes, plum sauce (甜面酱 tiánmiàn jiàng)，and slivers of scallions and cucumbers. You dip the duck in the sauce and roll it up in the pancake with a few slivers of scallions and/or cucumbers. The end result is a mouthwatering combination of the cool crunchiness of the cucumber, the sharpness of the scallions, and the rich flavors of the duck.
Beijing is also known for its mutton hotpot (涮羊肉 shuàn yáng ròu), which originally came from the Manchu people and emphasizes mutton over other meats. Like variations of hotpot (general name 火锅 huŏ guō) from elsewhere in China and Japan, hotpot is a cook-it-yourself affair in a steaming pot in the center of the table. Unlike Sichuan hotpot, mutton hotpot features a savory, non-spicy broth. If that's not exciting enough for you, you can also request a spicy broth (be aware that this is flaming red, filled with peppers, and not for the weak!). To play it safe and satisfy everyone, you can request a ying-yang (阴阳 yīnyáng) pot divided down the middle, with spicy broth on one side and regular broth on the other. Raw ingredients are purchased by the plate, including other types of meat and seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, and tofu, so it's also perfectly possible to have vegetarian hotpot. A dipping sauce, usually sesame, is served as well; you can add chilis, garlic, cilantro, etc, to customize your own sauce. While "raw" sounds dangerous, boiling the meat yourself is the best way to ensure that more risky meats like pork are fully cooked and free of germs. In the city center, hotpot can run as much as ¥40-50 per person, but on the outskirts it can be found for as little as ¥10-25. Low-budget types may reuse the spices or cooking broth from previous guests, although it has been boiling for several hours.
For vegetarians, Beijing's first pure vegetarian buffet restaurant is located a Confucius Temple, see Dongcheng District for further detail.
Origus has numerous locations throughout Beijing, and offers an all-you-can-eat pizza/pasta buffet for ¥39, including soft drinks and dessert bar. If you're in the mood for Texan fare, head for the Tim's Texas BBQ near the Jianguomen subway station. They'll happily provide you with your favourite American food and drink. Tony Roma's has a location in Wangfujing (in the Oriental Plaza). Korean restaurants are also very common in Beijing. A frequent meal is the grill-it-yourself barbeque, including beef, chicken, and seafood items as well as some vegetables including greens and potatoes.
All luxury hotels have at least one restaurant, which can be of any cuisine they believe their guests will enjoy. You will find French, Italian, American, and Chinese restaurants in most hotels. Restaurants that serve abalone and sharkfin are considered the most expensive restaurants in the city. Expect to pay upwards of ¥800 for a "cheap" meal at one of these restaurants, much more if splurging.
Tea, tea, and more tea! Some shops are in malls and others are stand-alone establishments. Whatever their location, always ask the price before ordering or else brace yourself for the most expensive egg-sized cup of tea in the world. You can experience different styles of tea ceremonies and tea tastings at tea houses especially in the Qianmen area south of Tiananmen Square. These can range widely in quality and price. Some tea houses are really tourist traps whose main goal is to milk you of your money (See warning box). You can get a free tea demonstration at most Tenrenfu tea houses which are located throughout the city and at some malls. A private room or a quiet back table in a tea house with mid-range tea for two should cost ¥100-200. After an afternoon in such shops the remaining tea is yours to take home. Once tea is ordered, the table is yours for as long as you like.
As a tea-loving country and grower of much of the world's tea, coffee is not as easy to find but a taste for it--along with more expats dotted throughout Beijing--has seen more emerging middle class and students drinking it. For example, the city alone has 50 Starbucks locations. Most are situated around shopping malls and in commercial districts of the city. Other international chains such as Lavazza also have locations around Beijing. Coffee of varying qualities is also available in the ubiquitous Taiwanese style coffee shops such as Shangdao Coffee. These are usually located on the second floor of buildings and often times offer Blue Mountain Coffee, making places like Starbucks seem a real bargain. Most coffee shops will offer wireless. Baristas in non-chain coffee shops may not be educated on how to make generally accepted espresso drinks, like lattes and cappuccinos. Espressos, alone, usually taste better and are more consistent.
Chinese beer can be quite good. The most preferred beer in China is Tsingtao (青岛 Qīngdǎo) which can cost ¥10-20 in a restaurant, or ¥2-4, depending on size, from a street vendor, but in Beijing, the city's homebrew is Yanjing beer (燕京 Yànjīng), and has a dominating presence in the city (Yanjing being the city's name from its time 2,000 years ago as capital of the state of Yan). Beer mostly comes in large bottles and has 3.1%-3.6 alcohol content. Both Yanjing and Qingdao come in standard (普通 pǔtōng) and pure (纯生 chúnshēng) varieties; the difference mainly seems to be price. Beijing Beer (北京啤酒 Běijīng Píjiǔ）is the probably the third most popular brand. Craft beers are also making an appearance in Beijing, with specialty beers found in various German-themed restaurants throughout the city, as well as Beijing's first dedicated microbrewery, Great Leap Brewing (大跃), located in East Beijing's charming hutongs.
Great Wall is the most popular local brand of grape wine. Wine made in China does not have a great reputation, though this is changing. Giving wine as a gift is not a common custom in most places in China and most people will not be accustomed to wine etiquette or appreciation (white wine is often mixed with Sprite). Imported red wines are usually of a better quality and can be found in big supermarkets, import good stores, and some restaurants.
The most common hard liquor is baijiu (白酒 báijiǔ), made from distilled grain (usually sorghum) spirits. It comes in a variety of brands and generally for very cheap prices (¥8 for a small bottle) and should be avoided if you want to have a clear mind for your travels on the next day. The most famous local brand is called Erguotou (二锅头 Èrguōtóu), which has 54% alcohol content. It should be noted that the local Erguotou is sold in gallon containers, often on the same shelf as water and with a similar price-range and indistinguishable colour. Care must be made not to confuse the two. Maotai (茅台 Máotái), the national liquor, is one of the more expensive brands, and costs about as much as an imported bottle of whiskey--but likely more. A large selection of imported liquor can be found at most bars.
Places to drink
See the Districts articles for individual listings.
Most of Beijing's bars are located in one of the bar clusters around the city. A few years back, the only one was Sanlitun, but almost every year the last few years have seen a new area emerge. The most important areas are:
See the Districts articles for individual listings.
Foreign visitors were once restricted to staying in high-priced official hotels. Tour groups tend to use these hotels but do so at rates far below those published. In general, restrictions on where foreigners can stay have become less and less frequently enforced. Hostels and western-style travel hotels are almost universally open to foreign guests. The lowest end Chinese accommodations - Zhaodaisuo (招待所) - are generally inaccessible to the foreign community. However, for those determined to get a bargain, you may be able to get a room if you speak Chinese. Many of the hostels are located in Dongcheng District and Xuanwu District. Discounted rates start around ¥30 for dorms and just below ¥200 for doubles in the cheapest hostels.
There are a large number of three and four star mid-range hotels throughout the city and in all districts. The listed rates for these kind of hotels are often in the range of ¥500-1,000 but you can often get a discount of around 50%.
Some 'expensive' hotels are in the city centre, especially in Dongcheng District, and on the eastern 3rd Ring Road in Chaoyang District, however by Western standards these hotels are still relatively cheap. In the outlying areas, especially out by the Great Wall, are some country club type resorts as well as some unique, one-of-a-kind, hotels. For the most expensive hotels, the listed rates start at around ¥4,000, but are often discounted to a level around ¥1,500. There is also a "line" of budget hostel, south of Qian Men in Beijing/Chongwen, big street on right: Leo hostel, 365 Inn, split in 2 / take left, Jing Yi shi hostel, train booking office, street on the left to Leo courtyard, Far east hostel.
Despite its size, Beijing is a very safe city, and violent crime is extremely rare. However, tourists are often preyed upon by cheats and touts, who attempt to pull a number of scams on tourists. Be especially cautious in the inner city, around Tiananmen Square, and on the tourist-crowded routes to the Great Wall.
That being said, fear of scams have led many travelers to be overly dismissive of Chinese people who approach them. Many Chinese are tourists in their capital for the first time as well and they are genuinely curious about foreigners and may just want to practice their English and get a picture with you. Being asked to have your picture taken is very common and there are no known scams associated with this. Be friendly but don't feel pressured to go somewhere you hadn't planned on going in the first place. If you are outside the tourist areas than your chances of being scammed drop dramatically. Chinese people are usually very friendly to travelers and expats.
But there are some common scams to be aware of.
Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100's and 50's. A few tips for identifying counterfeit bills:
Traffic can be crazy in Beijing, and reckless driving is fairly normal. People honk all the time. Honking is not usually considered rude. It is simply another way to indicate that the driver is there. Be prepared for drivers to violate traffic laws even to the extent of going in reverse on highways to back up to a missed exit or driving on a sidewalk. Also expect occasional road debris (a piece of wood or torn out tire) to be laying in the roadway. Pedestrians should be very careful crossing the street people will generally stop for you, but they will honk. Keep an eye on the locals and cross with them — there is strength in numbers.
Free emergency telephone numbers:
Remember these three telephone numbers, and they are valid in almost entire mainland China.
You can get a free map from Beijing tourist information office (near most touristic places).
Air pollution has traditionally been a big problem in Beijing like any other big city in China. Car exhaust, coal burning, and dust storms from the Gobi desert combine to make some of the worst city air on the planet. Winter is the worst time as the cold air creates an inversion layer and traps the pollution in the city. A white surgical face mask may help with the occasional dust storms. In 2007, the air quality had improved considerably as a result of stringent measures put in place before the Olympics. However, with the Olympics now gone and more and more cars on the streets, servere bouts of smog are still commonplace.
For general health and food advice see the main China article.
Many available: One south of Qianmen subway station, hours 8.30am-6pm.
Outside of western/travellers place, only Starbucks cofee seems to have free wifi, not McDo / Dicos / KFC.
Laundry is very expensive to be done in Beijing, both at the hotels and at Laundry service shops since they both charge by piece. The best alternative found up to date is the Jing Quan laundry service located at the Beijing University where you can have a full machine of clothes washed for around 10RMB. It is located next to several dormitories in the southwest corner of Peking University. Simply enter the campus at the southwest gate and then walk east in a straight line. Friendly Peking University students you'll encounter while holding your sack of laundry will be glad to point you in the right direction to Jing Quan; it's about a 5 minute pleasant stroll away from the southwest gate. It's especially convenient if you're going to the Summer Palace as it's a nice stop along the way.
If you intend to take the Trans-Siberian-Railway to Mongolia you can take a overnight sleeper bus from e.g. Muxiyuan Long Distance Bus Station (木樨园长途客运站) to Inner Mongolia Erlian (二连) which costs 180Yuan. Note that bus tickets can only be purchased at day of departure. We followed these instructions to cross the border from Erlian (二连) to Zamyn Uud (扎门乌德):
"2) Crossing the border by bus
Buses from Erlian to Zamyn-Uud leave from Erlian bus station on the corner of Chaha’er Street and Youyi Lu near to the Mongolian Consulate. At the time of writing, there is a bus at 13:30 and at least one more later in the afternoon around 15:00. Taking the 13:30 bus should give you enough time to get on the 17:35 Zamyn-Uud to Ulaanbaatar train. This, however, is subject to tickets being available when you arrive in Zamyn-Uud, which, if you arrive in the afternoon, may be unlikely.
The process when taking the bus is pretty much the same as when taking the jeep, only since more people have to get off the bus, go through immigration, and get back on the bus again, it takes a little longer. That said, you should be able to get from Erlian to Zamyn-Uud in around two hours.
The price is Y40 plus the same Y5 exit tax."
Just 4 hours by train or bus and 2 hour by car, visit the former imperial retreat of Chengde (256 km northeast of Beijing).