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Posted On 08/12/2019 17:03:21
Trip Date 02/28/2011
Destinations | Cruises | China | Southeast Asia | Beijing | Tianjin | Beijing Tour Guide | What to See in Beijing | Beijing Guide | Best Sights in Beijing | Explore Asia
Our combined land and sea trip to Southeast Asia and China was one of our all time favorite
destinations (so far, at least). The culture and architecture in this part of the world is vastly different
from most other places which we have explored. Our three week trip started with several days in
Beijing. After making our way to the Tianjin Cruise Port, we boarded Princess
Cruise Line's Diamond Princess. We sailed around China and Southeast Asia with visits to Japan,
China, Vietnam, Thailand and finally Singapore. Starting our Asian odyssey in northern China in late
February, temperatures were cold. Reaching the equator at the end of our journey, temperatures were
nice and warm!
Sine we love DIY travel, we researched each of the ports before leaving home. Being our first time to
explore Asia, we felt that some would be better explored with either a private guide or on a small
group tour. We chose a private guide in Beijing and couldn't have been happier. With a list of our
must see sites, Beijing Tour Guide made additional recommendations and put together a three
day Beijing itinerary. We saw everything on our list . . . and then some!
If you are planning travel to China and want to see the best sights in Beijing, this post will help you
make decisions about what to see in Beijing. Written in the format of a three day itinerary, you'll be
able to determine how much time you'd like to spend at each site. This guide to Beijing is meant for
those who want to see and do as much as possible, so be prepared for an action packed three days!
Beijing Tour Guide
After reading lots of internet reviews, Stacy found Beijing Tour Guide. Based on the reviews, we felt that
their prices and services would be a great match for our three day visit. All of our preplanning
communication with Beijing Tour Guide was via
email (email@example.com). They were prompt with replies, made suggestions along the way, and
continually followed up.
Violet and Kong Lin were a young couple who spoke excellent English and were college
educated in Chinese history. The two of them traded-off during our time in Beijing so that at least one
of them was escorting us everywhere during the day time. Since we speak no Chinese, it was a great
decision to have a personal guide.
Kong Lin and Violet
Our air travel took us from Austin to Chicago, up and over to Tokyo, and then on to Beijing. (The word
"Beijing" means "north capital"; "Bei" means "north" and "jing" translates to "capital".) We arrived
very late at night, so it was nice to have Kong Lin greet us at the airport. After loading his car with
our luggage, he escorted us to our hotel. He even stood by to make sure we got checked in
successfully. Before he departed late in the evening, we all discussed our plan for the following day
making sure we were on the same page.
Hilton Beijing Wangfujing
We chose the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing for a couple of reasons. Probably the
biggest factor was hotel points that Stacy had accumulated from business travel. Secondly, the
Wangfujing area is near the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, shopping malls and restaurants.
Finally, the American hotel helped us feel more comfortable for our first trip to China since we did not
speak Chinese. With Stacy's Hilton status, we also had a complimentary breakfast included each
morning. The breakfast was a combination of many new to us Chinese foods as well as some
American items too.
Violet met us in the morning at our hotel just as promised. We had a very full day, including lunch
with Violet as our guide. Other than our optional rickshaw ride, transportation all entrance fees and
lunch were all included in our agreed upon tour price.
Tiananmen Square Flag Raising Ceremony
The Chinese flag is raised each morning and lowered each evening during a perfectly choreographed
ceremony. The daily events are timed with the rising and setting sun and are attended by thousands.
Guard Near Forbidden City
Our first full day in Beijing happened to coincide with the even more grand flag raising ceremony
occurring on the first day of each month. Since it required a very early wake-up, the two of us walked
on our own to Tiananmen Square to see the Flag Raising Ceremony. It is an
impressive spectacle where the Chinese military honor guards march with perfect rhythm and
synchronicity to raise the national flag.
Marching Honor Guard at Flag Raising
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven, a sacrificial altar, was built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. While
smaller than the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven is bigger than the Forbidden City. Today, you
can find historical tours of the Temple that include an hour long Tai Chi class!
Tai Chi at Temple of Heaven
Nearly everything in Chinese traditional life is symbolic in one way or another. The northernmost
building within the wall surrounding the Temple of Heaven sits at a higher level, is circular and
symbolizes the heavens. The southern building is square, symbolizing the earth.
Temple of Heaven
Inside the Temple of Heaven
The Temple is divided by two walls into inner and outer sections. The main buildings of the Temple lie
at the south and north ends of the middle axis line. From south to north, the most magnificent
buildings are The Circular Mound Altar, Imperial Vault of Heaven and Hall of
Prayer for Good Harvest. Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called The
Vermilion Steps Bridge.
National Centre for the Performing Arts
In three days, we knew that we did not have enough time to explore all that Beijing has to offer. We
did attempt, however, to get a peek at as much as possible. As we were nearby, we had an
opportunity to see the National Centre for the Performing Arts (or National Grand
Theatre for short), albeit in the distance. Commonly known as "The Giant Egg" due to its
shape, the building has three performance halls inside - opera, music and theatre.
The Giant Egg
Originally part of the Forbidden City, Beihai Park has over 1,000 years of history, but was only
open to the public in 1925. Hours could be spent exploring the huge beautiful park and superbly
preserved ancient gardens. Sitting on the highest point within the park is the White Dagoba.
The dome shaped structure was originally built in 1651 in honor of a visit from the fifth Dalai Lama.
White Dagoba at Beihai Park
While not nearly as spacious as Beihai Park, Jingshan Park was built just a few years later.
Today, the park probably has the best view of both the city of Beijing and the Forbidden City.
View From Jingshan Park
We were both fascinated and intrigued as we stood watching a Street Calligrapher in action.
With just water and a very long brush, he drew drew Chinese characters with amazing speed. No
matter how fast he was, the earliest lines of characters evaporated before the long continuous string
Jingshan Park Street Calligrapher
Lunch with the Locals
Violet recommended that we eat lunch together at a Chinese restaurant where the locals eat. Again, it
was very helpful having a personal guide who could communicate with the restaurant staff in Chinese
and with us in English!
Before leaving home, I made a cheat sheet with basic Chinese words written in pinyin
(phonetic Chinese using English letters). It would have taken much more effort to really learn Chinese
through pictographs, so this was a start. While at lunch, she noticed my sheet and thought is was
really amusing. We laughed about it together - but all agreed that it was better than nothing!
Discussing Pinyin Cheat Sheet
The Summer Palace
Located about 45 minutes outside of Beijing, the Summer Palace is where the Emperors and
Empresses used to go to escape Beijing's summertime heat. The Summer Palace is situated in an
attractively landscaped park that is three-quarters water.
Summer Palace Architecture
The natural landscape of hills, gardens and water is combined with lovely artificial features such as
pavilions, palaces, halls, bridges and temples. Together, these features of the park form a harmonious
Sitting at a higher elevation than Beijing, the park was rebuilt after being destroyed by European
troops in 1860. Imperial residences within the park are adorned with red columns and wood panels
painted with landscapes.
One of the park's most interesting features is the long covered corridor decorated with more than
8,000 images of flowers, birds and scenes - both mythological and historical. My favorites are the
landscape paintings inside the Hall of Regular Clouds.
Hall at the Summer Palace
Beijing's residential neighborhoods filled with courtyard style Chinese homes are called
Hutongs. The ancient alleyways where you can find this traditional architecture date back to
the days when Beijing was the capitol of the Yuan dynasty (1266-1368).
A Hutong Alley
Many of these homes were originally occupied by aristocrats. Following the Communist takeover in
1949, the aristocrats were pushed out and replaced with poor families. Unfortunately, many are being
demolished so that they can be replaced with today's more common architecture.
The Hutongs may feel intimidating to visitors who are used to Beijing's wider streets of the more
recent years. The locals, however, are very friendly. They'll often try to help you if you look lost. One
of the highlights of our day was visiting the home of a local resident. We were generously offered tea
and had the opportunity to learn firsthand about life in the Hutongs.
Tea in the Hutongs
Rickshaw Tour of The Hutongs
Before leaving home, Stacy had read about the popular Rickshaw Tours offered in the Hutongs
and it suddenly became a must do. This traditional method of public transportation relies on the
strength of the driver. After all, he is responsible for pedaling to transport the weight of himself and
his passengers. It was most definitely a fun way to explore the narrow streets of old Beijing.
Rickshaw Ride in the Hutong
Before returning to our hotel, we spent our remaining time touring some of the popular spots in the
Houhai Neighborhood. The neighborhood is known for its entertainment options including
restaurants, bars, shops and more. The beautiful Houhai Lake is the largest of three lakes in
the area. During the warmer months of the year you may find people enjoying boat rides. Ice skating
is quite popular on the lake during the winter and year round people just enjoy strolling around the
The Drum Tower and Bell Tower were built in the late 13th century. Both were used
as clocks in years gone by. The "heavenly" bell tower sounded during day time hours and the
"earthly" drum tower would beat during the night.
Drum Tower aligned with Bell Tower
Opium Street, also referred to as Tobacco Pipe Street, got its name for the commonly
found smoking accessories sold. (The shape of the street is also said to resemble a tobacco pipe.)
The quaint and charming alley, Nanluoguxiang Street is actually a famous Hutong. While the
alley's unique architecture remains, today the street is packed with restaurants, bars and retail shops.
The Yin Bar, a rooftop bar in the Emperor Hotel, was the perfect ending to our day.
The bar's sweeping views of the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park and more allowed us to see from above
some of what we toured during our day with Violet and what's to come in the days ahead.
View of Forbidden City from Yin Bar at Emperor Hotel
Beijing Night Market
We spent the evening exploring the Wangfujing area surrounding our hotel on our own. Following
dinner in the Beijing apm Shopping mall, we roamed the streets but spent most of our time
exploring the Donghuamen Night Market. The market, which closed in mid 2016, was filled
with food stalls, many of which were unlike any that we'd seen anywhere before. A variety of Chinese
"delicacies" including seafood, crickets, scorpions, lizards and other insects were offered on a stick for
Donghuamen Night Market
Our second day was spent with Kong Lin, and we were again met in the morning at our hotel and
returned back in the evening. We spent the better part of the day exploring some of the sites further
away from central Beijing.
The Great Wall of China
Although the drive from central Beijing is close to 1 1/2 hours, the time spent traveling to the
Great Wall at Mutianyu was well worth it. Despite the hundreds of tour buses in Beijing every
day, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is not as crowded as the closer Badaling or Juyongguan
The Great Wall at Mutianyu
Located among the orchards and pines in the mountains north of Beijing, the Great Wall of China was
constructed and reconstructed at Mutianyu to keep out the nomadic tribes to the north. The
positioning of the Great Wall along the ridge line and the adjoining walls are recognition of the
importance of this high ground.
Mutianyu Great Wall
The 5.4 kilometer (3.4 mile) section of the wall at Mutianyu allows you to explore for more than an
hour. The design of this section of the wall has some rather unique features:
There are valleys on both sides of the wall plus 22 watchtowers (more than normally expected in a
similar sized wall section).
The Zheng Guan Tai Gate stands with three connected watchtowers.
The center tower rises above the flanking structures.
While each tower has its own gate, it is quite unusual for the main watchtower gate to be located
on the east side of the building.
Great Wall Watchtower
There are several options for getting from the parking lot to the top of the wall and back down. Those
who want to get some exercise can hike from either the north or south entrance. Access via a fully
enclosed cable car is available from the north entrance. From the south entrance, a ride on an open
air chairlift is an option for those who are a little more adventurous.
The Great Wall Chair Lift
Those who choose to ride the chairlift from the south entrance can return down via either chairlift or
by toboggan. We both had a blast on our rides down the winding metal track on the wheeled
toboggans. If you decide to go this route, do be careful when rounding the corners as the toboggans
can tip easily!
Toboggan Descent from Top of Great Wall
Be prepared for the Chinese warriors who will likely approach as you are heading back to the parking
lot. We couldn't resist tipping them for a ridiculous photo as I was "held hostage"!
"Taken Prisoner" at the Great Wall
So that we could try something a little different for our last lunch, Kong Lin took us out to a restaurant
serving traditional Chinese dumplings. We placed Kong Lin in charge of ordering a variety of
dumplings for the three of us to share along with a large bottle of Chinese beer for anyone wanting
Beijing Olympic Park
Heading back toward Beijing, we made a stop at the Beijing Olympic Park, home of the 2008
Beijing Olympic Games. Although we didn't have the time to tour each of the venues, it was fun to
see those that we remembered from watching the Olympics on television.
The National Stadium is a futuristic stadium resembling a bird nest. It is especially beautiful
at night when the lighting system is activated. The stadium, more commonly known as the Bird's
Nest, was home to the track and field events. The building is expected to host both opening and
closing events at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games as well.
Bird's Nest at Beijing Olympic Park
The National Aquatics Center is another "out of this world" looking structure. The building
appears to look as if it is covered with "pillows" that resemble soap bubbles. The building,
affectionately known as The Water Cube, hosted Olympic swimming and diving events. If you
have the opportunity, visit in the evening when the LED lighting system turns the cube into a
shimmering kaleidoscope of colors.
National Aquatics Center
Yongue Lama Temple
Located in Beijing's northeast corner lies an elegant and ancient temple known as the Yongue
Lama Temple. ("Lama" is the honored title of a Buddhist spiritual leader.) Today, it is China's
largest and most perfectly preserved lamasery. The building was built in 1694 as home to a prince. It
wasn't until fifty years later that is was designated as a lamasery.
Entrance to Yongue Lama Temple
The temple is a fairly large complex with several gates and halls each with countless Buddhas and
other figures. The largest of the statues is at the far back of the temple. Entering the room requires
all visitors to remove their shoes, and photos are not permitted inside. The 26 meter tall Buddha
figure fills the The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses nearly to the ceiling.
Yongue Lama Temple
Yongue Lama Temple
Temple of Confucius
Just west of the Yongue Lama Temple is the much quieter Temple of Confucius. It is here
where for over 600 years people paid their respects to Confucius, considered the greatest thinker in
ancient China. Originally built in 1302, it is the second largest temple built in his recognition.
There are four courtyards and nearly 300 rooms within the temple grounds which are now shaded with
tall cypress trees. The 198 stone tablets with the names inscribed of over 51,000 Jinshi are located in
the front courtyard. These Jinshi are the advanced scholars who successfully passed the three day
One of the main buildings of the adjacent (and even less popular) Imperial College is also
worth a visit. You'll find richly decorated halls and a surrounding moat offering beautiful reflections.
Reach the college through the first gate on the left after entering through the main entrance to the
Temple of Confucius.
Dinner at DaDong Restaurant
While out and about with Kong Lin, we asked for a recommendation for a nice place for dinner for our
last evening in Beijing. He recommended DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant which was within
walking distance of our hotel. We decided upon a time, and Kong Lin even called to make reservations
for our meal.
The Peking Duck for which the restaurant is famous is more than just a meal - it is an
elaborate experience. In traditional fashion, the waiter slices the duck table side. Once each plate is
artistically and symbolically arranged, each diner is presented with their meal.
DaDong Duck Presentation
We spent the morning of our final day in Beijing with Violet learning about two of the most important
landmarks in Beijing. After our final two tours, we returned to our hotel to complete our last
minute packing. With Kong Lin driving and Violet riding shotgun, we enjoyed getting to know the two
of them even better during our two hour drive to the Port of Tianjin.
The large public square located in the center of Beijing and in front of the Forbidden City is the
renowned Tiananmen Square. It is the world's largest public square and is the location where
the founding of the People's Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949. A must see for visitors, the
square is surrounded by grand buildings. In the center of the square is the Monument to
the People's Heroes and the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao where his mausoleum is
Tiananmen Square with Forbidden City Backdrop
Monument to the People's Heroes
The most important palace in Beijing is, without a doubt, the Forbidden City. Home to the
Imperial Court during both the Ming and Qing Dynasties, commoners were forbidden to enter without
permission from the emperor. Unlike many historical sites, the Forbidden City was relatively
untouched during the cultural revolution. The over zealous Red Guards were stopped by the troops
sent by the Premier to intervene.
The Forbidden City
Inside the Forbidden City Walls
As the largest imperial palace in the world, the Forbidden City has nearly 1,000 buildings and over
8,500 rooms. It is next to impossible for most visitors to see all parts of the city which are currently
open to the public. We spent several hours admiring the traditional Chinese architecture while
roaming through numerous buildings, alleys and museums.
An Imperial Pagoda
Guard Lion inside the Forbidden City
The Imperial Stairs
With Violet as our guide, we also learned some history and even a little about Chinese customs. The
row of beasts adorning an edge of a pagoda's roof indicate the rank of the occupants. The Emperor's
Palace is the highest rank.
Highest Imperial Roof Status
Cruising China and Southeast Asia
While our visit to Beijing ended once we left the company of Violet and Kong Lin at the Port of
Tianjin, our vacation was just beginning. Our great southeast Asian odyssey next took us to
Nagasaki, Japan. Our upcoming post titled 13 Sites to See in Nagasaki in One Day will give
you an overview of all that we were able to pack in to our limited time. In addition to text and photos,
we will even include information on which tram stops will give you easiest access to each site.
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In your opinion, what are the most important sites that someone visiting Beijing for the first time
should strive to include in their itinerary?
Created On 01/07/2019 17:03:16
Updated On 08/23/2019 16:26:02
Scheduled On 07/31/2019 17:03:21
Posted On 08/12/2019 17:03:21
Last Editor Stacy