Information & Facts
The city of Beijing falls in the monsoon region, experiencing
hot, wet summers and cold, dry winters. There are four very
distinct seasons, with a wide temperature variation between winter
(down to well below freezing) and summer, when the mercury hits the
high spots. During the height of summer, July and August, Beijing
is subject to sudden evening downpours of rain, so an umbrella
comes in handy. Spring and autumn are relatively short seasons.
Spring, between February and April, is characterised by warm and
windy conditions. Autumn, between August and October, is regarded
as the best season to visit because it brings blue skies,
pleasantly mild temperatures and slight humidity.
The large number of local dishes in Beijing has made for some of
the longest menus in the world. While diners ponder over
traditionally cooked meals or new takes on old favourites, eating
out in Beijing will be like nowhere else in the world. From
ingredients meant for royalty in Imperial Cuisine or more
'mysterious' fillings in a street-side soup, food preparation in
Beijing adheres to old traditions reflecting culinary styles from
all over China.
Chinese food in Beijing differs dramatically from the fare in
Chinese restaurants worldwide. Beijing's famous Peking roast duck
is the star attraction with several restaurants devoted entirely to
it. For a chance to sample many different kinds of local food,
visit one of the 'snack streets', like Donghuamen Snack Night
Market, Guanganmen Snack Street, or Gui Street, all with dozens of
vendors plying their specialties.
Migrants have infused the city's cuisine with new cultures and
tastes, reflected in the blossoming choices in Beijing restaurants.
This includes western fine dining as many of Beijing's top hotels
now recruit top internationally trained chefs and international
style restaurants open to enjoy success on their own.
More expensive restaurants in Beijing will generally accept
credit cards, but street vendors and takeaways will expect cash.
While hotel restaurants will sometimes include a 15% service
charge, tipping is not expected in Beijing.
The subway is a great way to get around in Beijing. Though it
can be very crowded at peak commuter hours, the service is
comprehensive and efficient. Line 1 and Line 5 can be used to
access many tourist attractions. The subway shuts down at midnight
and starts again at 5pm. Be aware that if you are carrying luggage
you will need to go through x-rays. You can buy a prepaid card
(Yîkâtông) that allows you to travel on subways and buses. The fare
is the same for the subway, but reduced for buses. The Beijing bus
system is comprehensive, but confusing for foreigners as most of
the signs are in Mandarin. Most buses operate from 5am to 11pm.
There are many taxis available, both official and unofficial.
They charge a base fee of around 10 yuan, and there is a surcharge
of one yuan on each trip. Tourists will generally pay more than
locals, but if you feel you've been cheated, ask for a receipt to
make a complaint with. All official taxis have license plates that
begin with the letter B. It is a good idea to have your destination
written in Mandarin to show the driver, as most do not speak
Driving in Beijing is a complicated and sometimes frightening
process, with few English signs and non-stop traffic jams in the
city. Visitors are not permitted to drive in Beijing without a
Chinese driver's license, which you can get at the airport or
transportation police stations.
Cycling is also a good alternative with numerous bicycle rentals
around the city, and well-defined bike lanes, bike parks and the
company of millions of other cyclists, especially at rush hour. It
may look intimidating, but can be the best way to get around for
the more adventurous traveller. For the Olympics in 2008, 50,000
brand new bicycles were made available and can now be rented at
outlets close to subway stations, commercial districts, Olympic
venues, hotels and office buildings.
Steeped in a mystical and fascinating history, Beijing may not,
at first glance, seem suitable for travel with children. But look
past the ancient buildings and temples, and you'll find more than
enough activities and attractions while on holiday with kids in
The Summer Palace is a good place to start sightseeing with the
kids. With magnificent gardens open to visitors, children will have
plenty of space to run around. The Happy Valley Amusement Park
never fails to entertain and thrill the whole family as moms can
wander around the shopping centre while the kids are at play. Milu
Park ranks as one of the best places to enjoy a picnic outdoors and
do a little milu deer spotting, while spectacular sealife awaits at
On rainy or very hot and humid days, take the kids to Le Cool,
an indoor ice skating rink, or to one of the many indoor
playgrounds around the city, such as Fundazzle. It's a great way to
tire them out so you can either pop them in their stroller and
carry on with your own sightseeing, or, amidst all the excitement
of being in a new city, put them to bed.
The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but there are
hundreds of local dialects.
The currency used in China is the Renminbi Yuan (CNY). The Yuan
is divided into 10 chiao/jiao or 100 fen. Make sure you exchange
your leftover Yuan before returning home because this currency can
be exchanged only within China's borders. Travellers cheques,
preferably in US Dollars, and foreign cash can be exchanged in
cities at the Bank of China. Banks are closed weekends. The larger
hotels and the special 'Friendship Stores' designed for foreigners
will accept most western currencies for purchases. Major credit
cards are accepted in the main cities at various establishments,
but outside the major cities acceptance is limited. ATMs are scarce
outside the main cities.
Neon lights are a staple of Beijing nightlife, with a
predictable swarm of DJ dance clubs and karaoke bars lighting up
most corners of the downtown districts. This is encouraging as not
too long ago there wasn't much nightlife in Beijing at all. The
city is just beginning to create modern discos and chic bars more
favoured by foreigners. Beijing's nightlife still doesn't compare
to cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai for pure debauchery, but its
cultural offerings and diversity of entertainment are
Except for novelty fun, most hotel venues and their cookie
cutter disco decorations and beats should be avoided. Some unique
areas popular with expats are Hou Hai Bar Area, a picturesque
lakeside nightlife hub, and Sanlitun Pub Street in the Embassy Area
of Chaoyang District, an favourite for western music like rock, hip
hop and jazz.
There still isn't too much crossover between western and Chinese
clientèle but it can be interesting to soak in some Chinese karaoke
and liquor at local haunts. Most venues stay open until the early
morning, although most people in Beijing go to sleep before many of
There are a host of Chinese art shows to enjoy if late night
booze joints don't sound enticing. These include Chinese opera,
dancing and theatre most nights of the week. Many visitors enjoy
seeing kung-fu demonstrations and acrobatic shows. The Laoshe Tea
House and the Tianqiao (Overbridge) Area are great places to
explore traditional Chinese performances.
A note of caution: it is advisable to research and plan your
night out rather than leave matters to spontaneous choice as one
might do in other cities. Be very cautious of allowing taxi drivers
or helpful locals guiding you to an off-the-beaten track bar or
club - these are often designed to fleece visitors of money.
Grab a copy of Timeout Beijing for updated event listings and
Shopping in Beijing to find bargains and haggle for the best
prices is an essential part of the experience of visiting the
Walking and bargaining in the countless markets in Xiu Shui Jie
Shopping Mall or the Xiu Shui Market will no doubt build up an
appetite, but luckily there is plenty of food at these stalls for
shoppers to refuel. Popular buys include fake designer labels,
clothing and bags. Bargaining is an essential skill and an expected
part of the transaction, but remember to keep a smile.
The main shopping area is around Wangfujing Dajie, where a
number of department stores can be found, including the Beijing
Department Store. The Xidan area offers wonderful big department
stores selling fixed-price goods including electronic equipment.
The Hong Qiao Market is a popular indoor market in the south
central area of Beijing where bargaining is expected. Here buyers
can haggle for goods such as cheap no-name or fake brand
electronics, sunglasses, batteries, watches and jewellery.
Panjiayuan Collectors Market is an outdoor market with a good
array of arts and crafts from all over China, including popular
Beijing souvenirs like jade bracelets, cloisonné and lacquerware,
silk, calligraphy, porcelain, and vintage Cultural Revolution books
and posters. Beijing Tea Street is the best place to find anything
associated with tea, including tables, tea sets, and a wide variety
Liulichang in the south of Beijing is a great place for Chinese
antiques. Buyers should be aware that authentic antiques over 100
years old display a red wax seal. An export licence must be issued
in order to take these out of the country.
Avoid shopping trips on evenings and weekends, as the crowds can
be overwhelming. Shops in Beijing are open daily from 9am to 8pm
and there is no sales tax.
Previously in Beijing, the city's most interesting attractions
related to the spectacular history of China's capital city. These
wonderful examples of ancient innovations and well-preserved
glimpses into millennia of Chinese history are still there, but the
city is no longer only viewed as a virtual museum.
Now eye-catching structures and modern architectural wonders are
among the city's most visited attractions including the National
Stadium, better known as the Bird's Nest, and the National Grand
Theatre, known as the Eggshell. It is no surprise many believe the
modern attractions detract from the city's old, but many enjoy the
Yet, of course, the iconic historic Beijing sites remain the
most popular. The Great Wall of China is the city's most famous
attraction, only rivalled by the well-preserved Forbidden City at
the heart of Beijing. More recent history can be seen at the
infamous Tiananmen Square or the Chairman Mao Mausoleum. A walk
through some of the world's most ancient to most modern attractions
makes Beijing eternally captivating.
Local time is GMT +8.