China is a world of its own. Home to the worlds largest population, extreme pollution and a world wonder, its like no other place you’ll visit. Deciding which part of China to visit can often be tricky. Beijing has certainly become one of the more popular destinations with its ever growing tourist industry. Nonetheless, it can be a very daunting place to visit, see here, so we have compiled this guide to Beijing to help you navigate your way around. Read on to discover all you need to know about the Great Wall at Mutianyu, the Forbidden City, Transport in Beijing and more…
Guide To Beijing, Getting Your Visa
Getting a visa is essential if you’re visiting Beijing for more than 72 hours. Suffice it to say, your china experience will start the moment you begin applying for entry. To minimise stress at the visa application centre, ensure you have the following:
- Your passport.
- A photograph with a plain white background.
- Printouts of your flight & accommodation itinerary.
- A photocopy of your passport info page.
- An application form completed in Black ink! (They are fussy about what shade of blue ink is used. To avoid rejection, use black ink).
This may seem obvious and trivial, but having the above in place before arriving will prevent a whole heap of stress and any unnecessary delay. There is a 3 day express service, however, the standard service only takes 4 days and costs roughly £150 for UK citizens.
If you’re travelling on to another destination before or after visiting Beijing, it may be worth considering a 72 hour stop off. China allows visa free entry for 72 hours. This option does however require your connecting flight to be no more than 72 hours after arrival.
A Brief Guide to Beijing: Busses, Trains And Getting Into Town
Having arrived and worked your way through the queues at Beijing’s PEK airport, you’ll want to get into town. The thing is, there is no real centre to Beijing, but for all practical purposes, Beijing Railway Station is a good reference point.
Beijing airport is about an hour from Beijing railway station. Once at arrivals, there are three main ways to get into town:
Bus: From the arrival hall, make your way to the bus information booth for tickets. An airport shuttle bus operates from bus stop 3 directly outside the main exit. The shuttle will take you to Beijing railway station for 24 Chinese Yuan in under an hour. Beijing railway station has its own subway station (on Line 2) which is a great way to get to your final destination. There are also numerous Taxi’s around the station. If you choose this option for your onward journey, be sure to agree a price first!
If you’re returning to the airport using the shuttle bus from Beijing Railway Station, note the following: Domestic flights operate from terminals 1 & 2 and may be referred to as Beijing Capital Airport. International flights operate from Terminal 3, and may be referred to as Beijing International airport. The shuttle bus stops at terminals 1 & 2 first before terminating at terminal 3.
Train: Alternativly, an airport shuttle train operates from the airport. The train terminates at Dongzhimen station, which also has a subway station (Line 2).
Taxi: Taxi prices vary depending on destination. However, you’ll probably find yourself being approached by taxi drivers offering extortionate prices at airport arrivals. If you haven’t already arranged and agreed a taxi prior to arrival, avoid this option where possible.
For long overlays at Beijing airport, there are rooms available to rent. A full days costs roughly $110, and rooms can be hired by the hour. The “hourly lounge” is located near gate E13.
A Brief Guide To Beijing: Using The Subway
The Subway is a really handy way to get around. Tickets are cheap, approx 3 Yuan per trip. Admittedly, there’s the usual confusion understanding which station is which. However, you can get a simplified English subway map from your hotel. Unfortunately, English speakers are hard to come by in Beijing, and the subway staff are no exception. You may need to employ a little trial and error with train direction.
The best thing is to take your time and read the signs carefully before hopping on a train. The on board train maps are electronic and quickly let you know which direction you are going in. If you go the wrong way, don’t stress, hop off at the next station and jump on the train on the opposite platform.
It’s also worth noting, there are security checks upon entering subway stations. Generally this doesn’t cause any delay. However, you may experience some queuing when travelling through busy stations during peak hours.
A Brief Guide To Beijing: Tiananmen Square & The Forbidden City
Two of the main attractions in Beijing are the infamous Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. Here are a few pointers when visiting these sites:
- Tiananmen Square is literally across the road from the Forbidden City Entrance. Its most logical to visit Tiananmen Square first.
- The closest subway station for both sites is Tiananmen East on line 1.
- There are security checks before entering both sites. Although they are mostly a gimmick, be prepared to “queue”.
- Make sure you have your passport or photo ID when entering the Forbidden city. You wont be able to purchase a ticket without it!
- It takes roughly 2 hours to walk through the Forbidden city.
- It’s a one way system. Once you enter, you’ll have to exit at the other end. There is however a bus that will get you back to Tiananmen East station for 15 Yuan.
The Forbidden city opening hours and prices are as follows:
Peak Season: Standard admission 60 Yuan. Senior ticket 30 Yuan. Student 20 Yuan.
Off Season: Standard admission 40 Yuan. Senior ticket 20 Yuan. Student 20 Yuan.
Peak Season (April 1 – October 31) ticket office hours 0830-1600. Last entry 1610, closing time 1700.
Off Season (Nov 1 – March 31) ticket office hours 0830-1530. Last entry 1540, closing time 1630.
A Brief Guide To Beijing: The Great Wall
Lets face it. The Great Wall of China is on most of our bucket lists, and it’s probably your primary reason for visiting Beijing as a tourist. As the wall is some 5,500 miles long, you’ll need to pick a segment to hike. While Badaling is the most popular, it’s probably not the best. Lots of companies operate daily tours to the wall, and Badaling is where most of them end up. If a tour is what your after, you’ll find many available online, at your hotel and around the city.
The Great Wall Of Mutianyu…
However, if you’re looking for a more serene, less touristy experience, going solo at Mutianyu is a great idea.
Mutianyu is one and a half to two hours from Beijing. A private taxi will cost in the region of 900-1000 Yuan return. It is however possible to get there on much more of a budget!
A Brief Guide To Beijing, Getting There…
If you want to experience public transport and save a few Yuan along the way, here’s how to get to Mutianyu.
From Beijing’s Dongzhimen subway station (Line 2), take exit B. (Dongzhimen is the station that connects with the airport shuttle).
Once you exit the station, you want to get to the bus garage. It wont be immediately obvious as it’s a few minutes walk down the street. From here, you’ll want the 916 bus which will cost a mere 12 Yuan. It is worth noting, you’ll probably be approached by what initially looks like a member of staff. Don’t be fooled, they will try to trick you into getting another bus for a few hundred Yuan. It’s a very well reported scam.
Once you board the 916, there are two options. Either get off at the town of Huairou where you can pick up a taxi directly to the Mutianyu ticket office for a negotiable price depending on season and number of passengers. Alternatively, you can stay on the bus and change for the H23 bus to the wall. It is however important to note the following:
You may be subject to another scam while at Dongzhimen bus garage. If you find yourself being told to change at Huairou, chances are it’s a set up. It’s absolutely fine to change at huairou for a taxi/minibus, however, if you wish to continue to change for the H23 be aware, you many be summoned off the bus before your time. It is common for informers to call ahead alerting drivers at Huairou of your arrival. If you find a strange man boarding the bus telling you to change for the great wall, be prepared to turn him away. Unless of course you’d rather get a taxi the remainder of the way for a reasonable price. Dont however take the first price he quote, it’s negotiable!
A Brief Guide To Beijing, Walking The Wall…
Congratulations, you’re almost there, just a couple more steps. At the ticket office you’ll need to purchase tickets for yet another bus and a cable car. This shouldn’t cost you more than 150 Yuan (at the time of writing).
From the ticket office there is a short walk to the bus station through a small retail village. The shuttle bus between the ticket office and cable car runs every 20 minutes, and the ride takes roughly 10 minutes.
A cable car will transport you to the upper platform at watchtower 14. There are 20 watchtowers open to the public at the Mutianyu section. Once on the wall from the upper cable car platform, you’ll have a choice of walking east or west (left or right). It is however usually recommended to turn left. Admittedly there are some very steep segments here, so good walking shoes and plenty of water is recommended!
Note: People typically spend between 2-4 hours wandering along this segment of the wall, so plan your time.
A Brief Note On Pollution And Your Health
Your probably aware of China’s pollution problem, but its worth taking seriously. As your flight arrives into Beijing, you’ll likely notice a blanket of smog overshadowing the city. Upon disembarking the plane, there is an overwhelming stench and foul taste in the air!
China is the worlds largest recipient of waste. One third of rubbish collected by British local authorities is shipped back to China. While most waste is recycled, polluting the rivers in the process, 20% is burned, polluting the air.
It’s no surprise then, that many of the locals choose to wear face masks. As uncomfortable as it is, its highly recommended to use one.
A Brief Guide To Beijing: Using The Internet
China is a highly regulated place, and that includes the internet. Facebook, Google, YouTube and hundreds of other online platforms are blocked in China. There is however a solution! All you need to do is download and run a VPN on your device. its cheap and easy to set up. The best one to use is Express VPN.