China's ancient capital, Beijing, is the ideal place to tick off historic experiences from your bucket list. Walk the Great Wall of China, visit Tiananmen Square and stroll through the Forbidden City. But alongside its famous old sights, Beijing is a modern destination, with innovative architecture like the arch-shaped CMG Headquarters. It's also home to people from every corner of China – meaning its dynamic food scene is as diverse as its residents.
Many Beijing hostels are set inside modern buildings, but you can get a unique glimpse of local life by staying in a hostel in one of the city's iconic hutong areas. These colourful neighbourhoods have narrow, labyrinth-like streets lined with old-style Chinese homes. Lots of these have courtyards where you can gather with other travellers, as well as modern perks like free Wi-Fi and air conditioning. You can also find several hostels in Beijing with en-suite bathrooms and female-only dorms.
For home comforts and lively nightlife, Sanlitun is a stylish neighbourhood that's famous for its upscale bars and restaurants. Gulou has become a cool hangout in recent years, with 24-hour restaurants, hole-in-the-wall bars and vintage shops. To be close to the big attractions like the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, look for hostels near Dashilan. This bustling area is a 20-minute walk south of Tiananmen Square and is packed with ancient buildings.
One of Beijing's most famous sights is Tiananmen Square – the site of the 1989 student protests and home to the mausoleum of Communist leader Mao Zedong. For a more traditional side of Chinese culture, you could catch a colourful Peking Opera at Zhengyici, one of Beijing's oldest wooden theatres. To walk part of the Great Wall of China, it's easiest to charter a car and driver, as it's just over an hour's drive from the city centre. The Olympic aquatics centre is ideal for a spot of exercise: it's now the Water Cube, a vast indoor water park complete with slides and rides.
Taxis in Beijing are great value for money and one of the best ways to get around. It's worth bringing a written note of your destination in Chinese. Traffic can also be quite busy, so to avoid the gridlock, head for the city's subway. The Airport Express (ABC) subway line goes straight from Dongzhimen station in the city centre to Beijing Capital International Airport and takes 20-30 minutes.