Heading to China? In this massive country, it’s impossible to see it all on just one trip. Therefore, travelers tend to break up their trip and spend time in one city or several cities during one visit. (Which is great for Americans who now get a visa that lasts 10 years!)
When I went to China back in 2014, it was my first time there and I was so overwhelmed by all there was to see and do. I knew there were a few things I wanted to scratch off my bucket list, so it was no question where we would go on our first trip to China: Beijing.
Now, Beijing is a big city. With only four days to conquer it, (and during Chinese New Year), we had a lot of planning to do. After our trip, here are the places you definitely don’t want to miss. And, remember, going on a tour will help.
The Great Wall
You can’t go to Beijing-or China, rather-without seeing The Great Wall. Now, the Great Wall isn’t exactly located in Beijing. It’s about an hour from the center, and the best way to see it is, you guessed it: on a tour.
A tour of The Great Wall is easy to join once you get to the city, or you can schedule it beforehand. Most tours will take you to quite a few destinations. In addition to The Great Wall, we also saw the Ming Tombs, the Jade Factory, the Silk Factory, and ate a traditional Chinese lunch. The section of the Wall you’ll most likely see is the Badaling section, which is the most famous for tourists. If you can, try to see a different section of the wall (or spend a week hiking it!)
Tiananmen Square is at the center of the city and is as important today as it was many years ago. In ’89, it made headlines for the student-led demonstrations, and now it’s more or less a peaceful plaza where you can come and people watch. Come see the changing of the guards, or visit the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in the center of the square, which holds his embalmed corpse for all tourists to see. Though we didn’t do this on our visit to Beijing, it’s probably pretty cool to witness.
The Temple Markets
Two popular sights in Beijing are the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. At the Temple of Heaven is the famous Pearl Market, which is there all year round but especially busy with shoppers and tourists during the Chinese New Year. There are some awesome things you can buy here, like handmade lanterns, tea sets, little toys, and of course, pearls.
The Forbidden City
Never in my travels have I come upon something as mysterious and mesmerizing as The Forbidden City. Walking through here is like walking through a time machine. There are ancient buildings, laden with statues of dragons and other Chinese mythical creatures. There are also shops and small restaurants if you want to get a literal taste of authentic Chinese culture.
This is probably one of the most touristy streets in China, even for the Chinese. But, it’s definitely worth checking out and spending a decent amount of time here. The street is full of cool souvenir shops, awesome bookstores, and street food stalls. My favorite thing to try was a stick of strawberries covered in a sugary sauce that hardens over it.
Off the main street is another street called the Donghuamen Night Market, or “Snack Street.” It is not, I repeat, IT IS NOT for the faint of heart (or stomach). The stench will catch you as soon as you enter the street. There, you’ll see scorpions, bats, tarantulas, all on sticks, fried and ready to eat.
While I’m adventurous, you couldn’t have paid me a thousand bucks to eat that.
And, getting out of Beijing…
If you go to Beijing in the winter time like we did, there’s one place you must go: Harbin. Every year, they have the Ice Festival, and it’s absolutely spectacular. We tried to make it there, but got lost on the train and ended up somewhere far away from it. Don’t let this happen to you…go on a tour!
Hana LaRock is originally from New York, though has called other places around the world her home for the last two years. She currently lives in Mexico and freelance travel writer. When she’s not working, she enjoys writing, reading, spending time with her dog, and of course, traveling. You can find her at www.hanalarockwriting.com.