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Welcome to Beijing


The capital of the People's Republic of China, Beijing (formerly Peking) is a very modern and exceedingly busy city (nearly 14 million people call it home) with high-rise buildings, international hotels and sprawling suburbs. The city is abuzz and bristling with cranes on the skyline as construction projects give rise to new skyscrapers and modernisation proceeds apace. However, Beijing also encompasses numerous attractions of cultural and historical interest, of which some, such as the Great Wall of China, the former Imperial Palace (known as the Forbidden City), the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and the remains of Peking Man at Zhoukoudian, are UNESCO-endorsed World Cultural Heritage Sites. Chinese history and culture fascinates Western visitors, and Beijing is a great place to start exploring it. The city abounds in palaces, temples, mansions, gardens and tombs that epitomise classical Chinese architecture. It also has roughly 120 museums and more than 100 public gardens.

The first port of call for most visitors is the Forbidden City, which lies at the heart of Beijing with the rest of the city radiating out from it in a grid pattern. For five centuries this massive palace complex with 9,999 rooms functioned as the administrative centre of the country and home to a succession of emperors, who lived in luxurious isolation, surrounded by courtiers and retainers. The Palace overlooks the infamous Tiananmen Square, site of so much Chinese history with political drama and dissent.

In preparing to host what they hoped were 'the best games in Olympic history', Beijing undertook many major renovations in 2008. Public transport was improved, environmental issues addressed and a general clean up of the city was ordered. The Chinese saw the games highlight its economic rise and emergence as a world power. Some of the infrastructure, such as the iconic 'Birds Nest' stadium, is still in use for different purposes, and contributes to Beijing's unique landscape.

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.

Eating Out

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.

Getting Around

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 English.

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.

Kids Attractions

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 Beijing.

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 Beijing Aquarium.

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 unrivalled.

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 them open.

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 gig guides.


Shopping in Beijing to find bargains and haggle for the best prices is an essential part of the experience of visiting the city.

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 of teas.

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 stark contrast.

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.

Beijing's prominent art district is home to 798 Space, an art gallery housed in a former electronics factory that built components for China's first atomic bomb and early satellites. Exhibiting the latest in contemporary Chinese art in its lofty space, 798 Space is a visual delight to any traveller. Besides the regular national and international exhibitions, there is also a film and video viewing area and a tempting gallery bookshop. The precinct itself is dotted with avant-garde statues, charming coffee shops and noodle bars, and a plethora of other wonderful art galleries to visit.

A place of tranquillity and grand imperial beauty, the Beihai Park in Beijing is a peaceful natural haven after a long morning of busy sightseeing. One of the oldest and most authentically preserved imperial gardens in China, the history of Beihai Park extends over 1,000 years to the ancient Liao dynasty , which ruled between 916 and 1125. Built up through five dynasties, the park is an emblem of olde worlde China and the ancient Chinese art of landscaped gardens with artificial hills, colourful pavilions and intricate temples, dominates. Kublai Khan lived in what is now the Round City of Beihai Park and the Tibetan style White Dagoba, built in 1651 on Jade Island (JiongHua), is a landmark for both Beihai Park and Beijing, having been constructed on the suggestion of a famous Tibetan Lama priest, NaomuHan.

Located within the Beijing Zoo, the Beijing Aquarium is the world's largest inland aquarium. It's an absolute must see with features such as an imaginative Amazon rainforest, complete with piranhas and pandas, as well as an exquisite shark aquarium where the very brave can plunge into the tank with these infamous predators. Families flock to see the dolphin shows at 11am and 3pm and a boat from the canal south of the aquarium runs to the Summer Palace, giving visitors the opportunity to sightsee while en route to the attraction.

The Beijing World Park features 100 miniature models of some of the world's most famous attractions from over 50 countries across the globe, and is designed to let visitors experience a trip around the world without ever having to leave Beijing. A great place for the kids to learn and enjoy naming the attractions as they stroll through the replicas, sight such as Egypt's Great Pyramids, France's Eiffel Tower, India's Taj Mahal and even New York City's Manhattan island, complete with Empire State Building and World Trade Center.

Although Chairman Mao Zedong requested to be cremated it was decided hours after his death in 1976, that he would be embalmed. Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death, it is said that after his death doctors reportedly pumped him so full of formaldehyde that his body swelled excessively. After draining the corpse and getting it back to a suitable state, they created a wax model of Mao Zedong, lest his body wouldn't recuperate. It is unknown today, which version of the Great Helmsman is on display at the Mausoleum at any given time. The Mausoleum itself was built in 1977, on the prior site of the Gate of China, the main gate of the Imperial City during the Ming and Qing dynasties. People visiting the Mausoleum line up for hundreds of feet, and visitors can hire flowers at the entrance.

Lying at the centre of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is the biggest and best preserved complex of ancient buildings in China, and the largest palace complex in the world. Construction of the palace complex began in 1407, and for 500 years this inner sanctum was off-limits to most of the world as the emperors lived in luxury, secluded from the masses, surrounded by their families, court officials, servants, eunuchs, concubines and other members of court. The Forbidden City and its centrepiece, the magnificent palace, have a permanent restoration squad, which continually works to keep the 800 buildings and 9,999 rooms inside the Forbidden City complex in top repair. The once Forbidden City is now open to all visitors.

The perfect place to take the kids on a rainy day, the huge indoor play area at Fundazzle features ball pools, trampolines, a two-storey jungle gym, a toddler area with cars, swings, seesaws and houses. On the weekends there are even arts and crafts classes and performances for the kids to enjoy.

The Qing Temple is home to the Ancient Bell Museum (Gu Zhong Bowuguan) and is a must see for travellers en route to the Summer Palace. The temple, originally known as 'Awakened Life Temple', apparently wasn't experiencing enough 'awakening' and a 47-ton bell, with a height of 22.7 feet (6.9m) was transported to the temple on ice sleds in 1743. The bell is inscribed with Buddhist Mantras on both the inside and outside of the body and features over 227,000 characters in all. The bell was often chosen by the emperors to pray for rain and blessings for the people of China and was one of three projects that Emperor Yongle in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) commanded after re-establishing Beijing as the capital; the other two were the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. The bell is considered as an auspicious article in the Chinese tradition and nowadays it is rung 108 times to begin the celebrations at grand ceremonies.

Several sections of the Great Wall of China, a man-made phenomenon that has become a symbol of Chinese civilisation, can be viewed in the Beijing area. In Yanqing county in northwest Beijing is the 600-year-old Badaling Fortification, representative of the Ming dynasty sections of the Great Wall. Other sections can be seen at Jinshanling, Mutianyu and Simatai. The Great Wall, stretching 4,000 miles (6,350km) long, was built in stages from the 7th century BC onwards, snaking its way across the mountains and valleys of five provinces in northern China as a mammoth defence bulwark against the neighbouring Manchurian and Mongolian peoples.

This amusement park, which opened in 2006, is a fantastic place to spend the day with the little ones. Featuring 40 rides, such as the Energy Collector, Trojan Horse and the Crystal Wing Rollercoaster, and IMAX Theatre and even a shopping centre, kids of all ages will have a screaming good time at the Happy Valley Amusement Park. Happy Valley gets very crowded on the weekends, with queues of up to 3 hours for rides.

Milu Park is a large public park located in Beijing is the perfect place to take the kids for a picnic for the day. With plenty of open space to run around, Milu Park is also an ecological research centre and serves as natural park for Beijing's animals. Milu deer, which nearly became extinct in the 1800s and which the park is named after are one of the park's best attractions and kids will love trying to spot these creatures.

The fascinating Sony ExploraScience museum is an interactive educational centre encouraging children to take an interest in science. The museum features live science shows and interactive educational exhibits combined with Sony's latest digital technology. The museum is divided into four themed sections, covering illusion, refraction, light and sounds. All small enquiring minds will love a trip to the Sony ExploraScience.

The magnificent Summer Palace in northwest Beijing at Kunming Lake was built in 1750 by the Emperor Qianlong, and continued to be an imperial residence until the Empress Dowager Cixi died in 1908. The palace and stunning gardens are open to visitors, who enter through the East Palace gate, pass through a grand courtyard into the Hall of Benevolent Longevity, the Hall of Jade Ripples, and the Hall of Joyful Longevity. Empress Cixi's private theatre in the Garden of Moral Harmony is a must-see, as is the long corridor that skirts Kunming Lake's northern shoreline to reach the marble boat, an elaborate two-storey structure of finely carved stone and stained glass.

Also known as The Bird's Nest due to its appearance, this colossal stadium was the hub of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, hosting all of the track and field events as well the opening and closing ceremonies. The unique-looking steel support structures framing the stadium, weigh in at 110, 000 tons (99,790kg), making the stadium the largest steel structure in the world. The stadium has reopened as a tourist attraction, and the public can tour the facilities, or visit the ski resort now housed inside.

For more than 20 years, Beijing's Underground City, a bomb shelter just beneath the ancient capital's downtown area built in case of nuclear attack, has been virtually forgotten by Beijing locals, despite being infamous amongst foreigners since its official opening in 2000. A sign near the entrance announces this rarely visited attraction a 'human fairyland and underground paradise'. Aside from some rather odd recent additions, the Underground City features factories, stores, guesthouses, restaurants, hospitals, schools, theatres, reading-rooms, a roller-skating rink and many other curious features. Built from 1969 to 1979 by more than 300,000 local citizens including school children, The tunnels were initially built to accommodate all of Beijing's six million inhabitants upon completion. Winding for over 18 miles (30km) and covering an area of 85 square kilometers from eight to eighteen meters under the surface, the underground City includes more than 1,000 anti-air raid structures.

The famous square at the heart of Beijing, recently renovated, is still not much to look at, but it attracts curious tourists simply because it was the scene of so many historic events and is the largest city square in the world. In the ancient imperial days it was a gathering place and the site of government offices, but more modern history, particularly the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators, has made it a site of great political significance. Major rallies took place in the square during the Cultural Revolution when Mao Tse Tung reviewed military parades up to a million strong. The square is surrounded by several monuments, some ancient and some modern, including the former gates to the Forbidden City, the Gate of Heavenly Peace and Qianmen (the front gate); the Chinese Revolution Museum; and the Mao Mausoleum where China's former leader lays preserved in state.

About 25 miles (40km) south of Beijing in the Fangshan District is the Zhoukoudian Cave, source of the largest collection of Homo erectus fossils from any single site in the world. The fossils recovered from Zhoukoudian represent about forty individuals. Most famous of these remains is a cranium element commonly known as the 'Peking Man', the world's earliest fire-using primitive man who lived between 200,000 and 700,000 years ago. German anatomist Franz Weidenreich studied the Peking Man remains in the 1930s and recognised 12 anatomical features that he believed Peking Man shared with modern Chinese, a milestone in the study of paleoanthropology. Visitors to the Zhoukoudian site on Dragon Bone Hill can view a comprehensive seven-room exhibition of fossils and artefacts depicting human evolution and the lifestyle of primitive man. Visitors can also enter the cave where the Peking Man cranium and other Homo erectus remains were found.

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