Why & How To Plan A Trip To China’s Capital: Beijing

Here are some key FAQs that may offer a curated intro to this fascinating city.

Temple of Heaven
UNSPLASH Jordan Heath

Welcome to the capital of China! Since local Chinese often refer to the entire country as the shape of a chicken, Beijing 北京 is located where the chicken’s heart would be. It’s a metaphor of what the city has historically and continues to symbolize in this powerful nation. Since 8 centuries ago, Beijing has been the center of political power in China. Without visiting the home of emperors, you won’t truly understand the core of sordid Chinese history and its political climate. Before you see the numerous gardens, imperial palaces, and the Great Wall, here are key FAQs that may offer a curated intro to this fascinating city.

How many days should you stay there for?

Beijing (19 million people) may not be as populous as Shanghai (22 million people), but it is the most ancient and historical. Since the days of dynasties, emperors have viewed Beijing as a strategic location to defend their territories. With so many palaces and a day trip to the Great Wall, at least 5 days are needed to truly take in the city. One week would be perfect to enjoy both the traditional and modern parts of Beijing.

When is the best time to visit?

Summers are hot with expected rainfalls, while winter months are freezing cold, so the best times to go are during spring and autumn.

Do you need a visa for a layover?

Not if your transit is less than 72 hours. Any longer, you’ll need a visa. The standard is a one-month visa.

How to get there?

You can either fly, drive, or ride the train or boat into Beijing, but for most international travelers, you’ll most likely fly into Beijing Capital International Airport 北京首都國際機場. For domestic low-cost airlines, you’ll probably fly into 南苑機場 where you can take the taxi to reach city center. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Flying – Beijing Capital Airport is a 20-minute car ride from city center. Once at the airport, you can take the taxi for USD $10-17 to your hotel. The Airport Express Train costs USD $3.60 one-way to reach both Sanyuanqiao Station 三元橋 and Dongzhimen Station 東直門 which takes 20-30 minutes. There are Airport Shuttles 機場巴士 that cost USD $2.30 one-way to reach various stations throughout Beijing, and leaves every 10-30 minutes.

Train – Only if you’re coming in from Mongolia, Hong Kong, North Korea, Russia, Tibet and Vietnam.

Driving & motorbikes – Only if you’re coming in from other cities in China. But you’ll need a permit which requires months of preparation prior to your trip.

Boat – Arrive in Tianjin, then take a 30-minute train ride to reach Beijing.

Bus – Perfect for budget travelers coming in from other cities in China.

How do you get around the city?

There are different and convenient ways to get around Beijing, ask your hotel for the best ways to reach the landmarks on your list. Riding the subway is highly recommended, and see 7 Ways To Protect Yourself While Battling Air Pollution In China to fight that crazy air quality. Here’s the lowdown on local transportation:

Subway – Running from 5 a.m. – 11 p.m., Beijing subway is the best way to get around which will save time too.

Walking – Cars, even the police, won’t help traffic regulations. So be sure to pay attention when you cross the streets. Expect lots of push ‘n shoves, so beware.

Taxi – You may find yourself stuck in traffic jams, but the fares are cheap compared to other countries. Follow your Google Map to track whether the driver is taking a longer route for unnecessary higher fare. Fees start at ¥13.

Bicycle – This is a fun way to get around the city since Beijing is flat and easy to bike through, but watch out for cars and traffic – it can be alarming. Wear a mask to protect yourself from pollution. You can rent your bike at the hotel on an hourly basis.

Rickshaw – If you decide to do this, make sure to negotiate fares before getting on. There are often scams, though it’s a fun way to see the city.

Car & motorbike – This is not recommended if you’re not familiar with driving regulations in China. A wrong move can ruin your entire experience. If you want to rent one from your hotel, it’ll come with a driver, which can be ¥1,000 (USD $145) a day.

Bus – This is what locals use, and can be confusing for foreigners since it’s mostly in Mandarin. Though the price is cheap at ¥2 (USD $0.30.)

How should you budget your trip?

Budget backpackers: USD $40/day can get you by with hostels, food at local restaurants, metro tickets.

Standard explorers: USD $40-120/day can cover your mid-range hotel room and local restaurants, taxis and entrance fees at famous sites.

Luxurious jetsetters: USD $120+/day will get you a nice 5-star hotel, eating at fab restaurants, shopping, going out at night and guided tours if you choose to.

What’s the tipping situation?

In general, you don’t need to tip at restaurants, bars or at taxis. But at fancier restaurants, there will be a service charge included on your bill. It’s recommended to tip porters at nicer hotels, ¥5 will suffice.

Is the city safe?

Yes. For a massive city, there’s not much danger or crime targeting travelers. If anything happens, contact the Public Security Bureau 公安局 for help. But beware of scammers with regards to riding rickshaws and taxis. Also, keep an eye on your belongings to prevent pickpockets.

What’s the hygiene situation?

Beijing has improved its health safety specifically for visitors in recent decades. But expect “squatties” (our very own nickname for toilets on the ground) in toilets, and always prepare your own packets of tissue. Look for department stores and hotels to use nicer WCs (there will still be squatties, but less stinky!)

Is English enough to get around?

Yes. Since Beijing is a huge tourist hub, street signs, directions will have English translation. Menus may come with English writing at times, but most people in the service industry will do their best to assist foreigners. It’s highly recommended to learn a few words in Mandarin: shie shie 謝謝 = thank you, ni hao ma 你好嗎 = how are you? duey bu chi 對不起 = I’m sorry.

Wendy Hung


As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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