Day 1 - Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Beijing was originally a walled city, although little remains of this today. What little remains, is Tiananmen Square, is the focal point of the Chinese capital and is a good place to begin exploring the city upon first entering the city centre.
Located in the heart of the city centre, this is the largest public square in the world (you’ll be lucky if the other side is in your vision) and it is said that it can hold up to one million people. While it has seen many tragedies in the past, most recently in 1989 when thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rioted and nearly 10,000 people were either killed or injured. But to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic it got a complete once over and now is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
After exploring the square, and before you head north, some of the attractions within the square include Great Hall of People, the Museum of the Revolution and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall.
Listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, the Forbidden City was once home of the Imperial Family and was the seat of supreme for over five centuries. Beginning at the south entrance (just at Tiananmen Square) you should leave between two to three hours to fully explore the complex. It is packed with courtyards, gardens and palaces to discover.
If you want to see what the Chinese capital has to offer in terms of nightlife, northeast of Tiananmen Square on Sanlitun (Lu) Street, or as others call it, Bar Street. This is where you will find the best selection of hotspots.
Day 2 - The Great Wall
Would you visit Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower? Of course not. New York without gracing Times Square with your presence – preposterous idea! Beijing’s ‘must-see’ is the Great Wall which lies just north of this imperial city. Also listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1987), even though it extends over thousands of miles throughout China, it is said that the best preserved sections of the wall are close to Beijing.
The section which is closest to Beijing is known as Badaling. Due to its proximity to the Chinese capital it is the busiest section of the 3,000 long wall (it is the only manmade structure visible from space) but the views from atop are every bit as breathtaking as at some of the more remote parts.
Various tour companies operate day tours from Beijing to Badaling, but if you really wish to visit more remote parts of the Great Wall, you can also visit Mutianyu, a part of the wall which requires more energy for the walk, or Simatai which is 100km from Beijing but far less crowded. Check with tour operators and shop around.
Day 3 - Shopping and teahouses
To see a more modern side of Beijing Wangfujing Street just east of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City is the city’s flagship shopping street and, even though many of the shops goods are quite expensive, it is worth visiting just for the atmosphere. Beware of students trying to coax you to their studios to show you their artwork – they are very persistent and leaving without buying something from them is very difficult. Just the other side of the Forbidden City is the Xidan area, also packed with a horde of shops, department stores and restaurants also.
If you are looking to actually spend some money but don’t want to burn too big a hole in your pocket in the process, Sanlitun Street has some small clothes stalls and some selling counterfeit CDs and DVDs also.
One of the more interesting aspects of Beijing’s nightlife are the city’s teahouses, which are actually traditional theatres. Staging performances such as magic shows and story-telling, attend one and you will experience the more cultured side to the city.