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Beijing is a province level municipality incorporating Beijing, the political and cultural capital of China. It's history goes back several thousand years and has outlived many revolutions. Sometimes mad, often charming, and always busy, it's a city where you will find everything that's good and bad about China. Marvel at the Great Wall of China or the Forbidden City, then go shopping in a futuristic mall. Feel the insane pollution in your nostrils, but enjoy the madness of the central districts. Its flat and straight roads make travelling around straight forward if you have private transport. As this province has lots economical and touristic activity ground transportation service companies in Beijing are widely available. Quite a few of them can answer your group transport requests in English.
Beijing has excellent travel connections by air, rail, and road. Any Chinese city with an airport has flights arriving here, and a network of new high speed rail lines connect it to the major financial hubs like Shanghai. Wherever you are in China you're never more than two trains away from Beijing and long distance bus services head out in all directions. Those with six days to spare can even board a direct train to Beijing from Moscow. It's a journey that starts, continues, and ends, with vodka.
At one time the streets were the scene of millions of bicycles crossing each other and leaving no room for manoeuvre. The locals now drive cars, but with the same nerve jangling approach. Still, it stops the streets turning into a massive car park. Public transport was improved recently for the Olympics and the subway has English signs.
Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) has three terminals and is the busiest airport in Asia, and second busiest in the world. Located 32kms northeast of the city centre and a journey to the centre will take 30 – 60 minutes dependent on the traffic. Terminal 1 is relatively small and old fashioned and is used for domestic flights. Terminals 2 and 3 are spacious and space-aged, and you can expect an interior that really tries to show off.
A journey to downtown Beijing will cost around CNY80 – 120 (€10 – 15) and it's best to prebook to avoid the long queues for a taxi. Pre booking also ensures that the driver understands your destination as you will have an English speaking driver. Many taxi drivers don't speak English, and some even pretend not to understand so they can take you on a longer more expensive route. Arriving in China is always a culture shock, so it's good to know you can reach your hotel without any troubles. You can compare different companies and pre book your airport transfer using our tool below.
Beijing is a major railway hub and passengers arriving by train could be coming from anywhere. Even Moscow! To make things complicated there are four main railway stations, and long distance travellers could be arriving at central, west, south, or north stations. To add to the confusion most of the signs are in Chinese and the staff at the counters look blankly at you when you speak in English. However, just being in the stations is an experience. Lights flash everywhere, people run around shouting, and the stations are big enough to be their own city.
From south and west stations you can arrive on a train traveling at over 300kph. At this speed China whizzes past the window in a blur but the city of Beijing still goes on forever. The rocket shaped high speed trains hardly even touch the tracks. For those coming from Russia, Mongolia, or North Korea, you'll arrive at the central station.
Connecting everything in Beijing is a recently updated metro system, that has taken the monumental step of putting signs in English. So no more confusion about how to get from A to B. Although with so many Chinese all sounding the same the map does look complicated. And the Chinese are famous for creating Chinglish as their language doesn't literally translate into English. For example, “happy to come to eat the shop.”
With almost 20 million people Beijing is swarming with vehicles and the pollution does invade all your personal space. To minimise traffic the local authorities once introduced a scheme that let only cars with a registration plate starting in an even number enter on one day, and odd numbered plates enter on the next day. Rich people just bought two different registration plates.
Foreigners must get a Chinese driving license to drive here so virtually all visitors opt for a car with a driver. Plus, with so much going on outside the window it's best to just sit back and take it all in. You can expect the driver to speak English, which means you're halfway to your destination. The majority of taxi drivers don't understand English and frustrating moments trying to pronounce your destination are common. Is it Gonghuang? No, it's Gonghuuang. Car with driver companies and some taxi companies have translators available by radio for any misunderstanding. You can use our tool below to compare quotes and pre book your car with driver.
Beijing is not a city to gently explore. Your tour with private transport in a rented vehicle with driver around Beijing, in a city of over 20 million people getting around can be a frenzied experience, but there is always a random sign or sight to keep you entertained. Shops unsuccessfully translate their names to English, advertising themselves with bizarre Chinglish signs, while the worldwide reputation the Chinese have for taking photos of everything is astonishingly accurate. But you didn’t come to laugh at locals making the peace sign in photos; you came for some of the world’s stand out attractions.
Probably the most convenient way to see Beijing is with a rental car with driver. The rental company can help with an itinerary and sights like the Great Wall are out of the centre. It's also always nice to know your car is waiting when you're in the middle of such a hectic place. Here we give you some ideas of different sights.
Supposedly the only manmade object visible from space, estimates on the size of the original Great Wall of China range from 5500 – 13,000 miles. This is no narrow barrier. 20 metres thick and rising like a fortress the Great Wall does everything to justify its name. Around 1 hour north of Beijing there are four huge sections of the wall that have been neatly restored. Badaling is the most famous but can become hideously over-crowded as local and international tourists often turn it into the great wall of people. Mutianyu is just as impressive and far quieter. Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng, and Simatai, are further away and offer great views along as you avoid the summer monsoon rains. Each section is famed for its steps, and walking along the wall is akin to some form of torturous rock climbing, but an essential activity if you want to fully appreciate the scale of this monument.
No other world city has been a cultural capital for so long. All over Beijing you will find quaint temples and cute palaces. In another city they would be must see attractions, but in Beijing they’re dwarfed by the Forbidden City in Dongcheng district. Accessed by a giant staircase seemingly stretching to heaven, this was the home of the imperial court during the great Ming and Qing dynasties. For those who don’t know their Mings from their Songs and Tangs, that’s 1300 – 1900 AD. It really is a city, the walled compound home to 960 buildings, most with cute wooden roofs and odd decorate statues guarding the entrance. You should allow a full day for the Forbidden Palace as on every corner you’ll find another treasure. Also check out the nearby Lama Temple, the Temple of Heaven in Chongwen, and the Summer Palace in Haidian.
Remember the famous footage of the lone Chinese student risking his life by standing in front of a tank in protest. That was Tiananmen Square. The world’s largest city square is fortunately no longer occupied by military vehicles and home to student massacres. It’s surrounded by majestic buildings with ostentatious names, like the Great Hall of the People and the Monument to the People’s Martyrs. At every angle it impresses, regal buildings and ancient towers surrounding a huge open space that is a popular hang-out for locals. On one end you’ll find the mausoleum of Chairman Mao, which is open to visitors.
Some of Beijing’s historic districts have retained the manic charm of a different, much older China. Narrow streets are full of people smoking and selling vegetables, children run around, and strangers meet and greet. These hutongs, or ancient alleyways, can be found all over Beijing but the most popular for tourists are around Qianmen and Houhai. While huge expressway roads are taking over the rest of the city, the hutongs are where you’ll still find thousands of bicycles and life being lived out on the streets.
As China’s rise to world superpower continues their capital city has spawned huge shining business districts. Full of flashing lights and mammoth skyscrapers they don’t have the same charm as Beijing’s older sights. The 2008 Olympics did much to rebuild the city’s transport infrastructure and the iconic Birds Nest Stadium looks almost as impressive in real life as it did on television.
You can plan group travel in Beijing with our online quote request system and plot your entire route. For example, you can plot the entire route of the tour we describe above. Travel in Beijing province has never been easier: start today!
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