It is impossible to see everything Beijing has to offer, especially if you only have a few days. So it’s worth focusing on a few highlights to make sure you get the most out of your short stay in Beijing. Here is an example itinerary for a stay of two to three days:
Day 1: Half day
Chances are you are pretty knackered after arriving in Beijing and checking into your hotel. So ease yourself into your Beijing adventure, by exploring your neighbourhood and finding your bearings, such as the nearest subway station.
Afternoon: Confucius Temple and / or Lama Temple
If you’re up for it, head to Confucius Temple in Guozijian Street, where people have worshiped the greatest Chinese philosopher for many centuries. If you’ve got time for one more, hope across the road to Yonghegong Temple, or Lama Temple, the biggest temple of Tibetan Buddhism in Beijing.
Along the way, try one of Beijing’s most popular street snack, Tang Hulu – Chinese haw fruits covered in a hard sugar coating, basically the Chinese version of a toffee apple.
Evening: Olympic Park
To finish your first day, head to Olympic Park, the famous site of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The park is best visited at night, when the buildings are spectacularly illuminated.
Day 2: Full day
Morning: Summer Palace
Start early the next day to visit the Summer Palace, a huge imperial complex of palatial buildings and parkland in the northwest of the city. You can either opt for a park only ticket and enjoy a wander around the landscaped gardens and along the shores of Kunming Lake. Alternatively, if you’d like to spend more time, you can visit some of the palace buildings and special exhibition.
Outside the park you can grab a Jianbing, a kind of crepe, topped with different fillings and sources, as well as a crispy cracker. Generally eaten for breakfast, a Jianbing makes a great street food snack.
Afternoon: Tian’anmen Square and Forbidden City
In the afternoon, head to the infamous Tian’anmen Square and join the queues to catch a glimpse of Mao Zedong’s body, which is displayed in the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. From there you can head past the People’s Monument, through the Chairman Mao gate to the Imperial Palace. Also referred to as the Forbidden City, this huge complex encompasses several ceremonial halls, imperial living quarters and an imperial garden. With over 800 buildings in total, it is easy to get lost in this one of a kind palace.
For dinner, treat yourself to some original Peking Duck, Beijings signature dish of crispy duck and pancakes, which is offered in restaurants throughout the city.
Day 3: Full day
Morning: Great Wall of China
The next morning, head to the Great Wall of China – ideally with a pre-booked driver and guide. The Mutianyu part of the wall is popular with non-Chinese tourists and families, and is around 1.5 hours driver from Beijing. The wall here has been restored and you can walk from post to post over several kilometres and enjoy the stunning views. There is also a chair lift, cable car and toboggan ride, for extra fun.
Stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants around the entrance, the dumplings are delicious!
Afternoon: Tiantan Park and Temple of Heaven
After your excursion to the Wall, head back to Beijing for a trip to Tiantan Park south of the centre. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the centre of the Temple of Heaven is one of the most iconic buildings of Beijings cityscape. Spend some time wandering the leafy park surrounding the temple and watching retired Beijings revel in card and chess games, dance classes or sports.
Enjoy a final night in Beijing or head to the train station to catch an overnight train to your next destination.
Not sure where to head from Beijing? X’ian, home of the Terracotta Warriors, is an approx. 12 hour overnight train journey away and well worth a visit. If you want to know more, have a look at my full itinerary review.