Beijing is a melting pot of global power, ancient culture, and modern energy. Initially easily perceived as quite traditional and even slightly stiff, you’ll quickly discover that Beijing has much to offer in terms of culture, art, nature, entertainment, and nightlife, not to mention food and shopping. Beijing simply provides the best of both worlds: a glimpse into the magnificent past and present of one of the world’s power centers, with all the contemporary luxuries and modern comforts of an exciting global megacity.
When to Go
Beijing typically sees freezing winters and scorching summers. Spring and autumn, however, are quite comfortable and dry. Particularly April through May and September through October are considered the best months to visit, but try to avoid the first week of October, as it marks the annual national holiday celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China. During this time, many locals travel to their hometowns, leaving shops and restaurants closed, and Chinese domestic tourists flock to see the capital, causing famous sites to be overly crowded even by Chinese standards.
As the capital of China, Beijing offers a wide variety of festivals throughout the year. The two major holidays are Chinese New Year in January and February, and the National Day Holiday in the first week of October. Although visiting during these festivals may be an amazing cultural experience, they are by far the busiest periods in terms of domestic travel, making getting around and visiting famous sites potentially uncomfortable or even difficult. For something different, plan your visit for May to witness the Huangyaguan Great Wall Marathon or for September when Beijing’s art district celebrates the annual 798 Art Festival.
What to Eat
Beijing offers an incredible range of food options from simple and affordable home-cooked style establishments, to world-renowned fine dining options. But make sure not to leave town without having Peking Duck. It’s an unexpected flavor in the midst of other local dishes, but a wonderful experience for the taste buds and certainly worth trying. The beautifully roasted duck is cut to pieces and served by the chef for guests to wrap in paper-thin pancakes together with sliced vegetables and sauce. Expert tip: Lightly dip the crispy skin in sugar before eating. Some restaurants also serve the dish with crushed peanuts added to the sauce, which elevates flavors to a whole new level.
Souvenir to Take Home
Many visitors travel to Beijing with one major activity in mind: shopping. Tailoring clothes is common and affordable, and so is buying everything from pearls and eyeglasses to luggage and leather goods. For something different, head over to the Panjiayuan Antique Market (also known as Panjiayuan Flea Market), where shops sell a wide range of second-hand items, paintings, statues, ceramics, jewelry, and souvenirs—some mass-produced and some perhaps of real value. Make sure to bargain hard and don’t believe every seller who claims their products to be authentic antiques. The best time for a visit is on weekends during early morning.
Sustainable Travel Tip
Avoid Beijing’s infamous traffic jams and save hours of your precious time by taking the subway. The Beijing metro is cheap, convenient, and easy to use even for foreigners, although rush hour can get extremely crowded. China is also a frontrunner in dockless bike sharing, which will be evident to travelers by the endless amount of shared bikes lining the streets. Although biking is one of the best and fastest ways of getting around in Beijing, local bike sharing services are not too easily accessible to visitors. Most hotels do offer bikes to their guests, and bike rental companies are also available.
For a special view of one of Beijing’s most iconic landmarks, the Forbidden City, head over to Jingshan Park across the street from the north entrance to the Palace Museum. Climb to the top of the hill and you’ll find yourself on the highest point in central Beijing with a spectacular view of the Forbidden City.