To make your independent travel experience as pain-free as possible, we’ve put together an example 3 day pre/post trip itinerary! The itinerary combines the best of China’s modern and ancient culture and takes you to world-renowned sites and local hidden gems! Hangout in Gulou’s hipster haunts, explore the grounds of the Summer Palace and spend a morning soaking up Beijing’s contemporary art scene. There’s something for everyone!
So without further ado, lets get started!
You’ve just arrived in Beijing. You’re probably pretty tired. You don’t want to be run off your feet today, you just want to get a taste for the city at your own leisurely pace. And you can be rest assured, that day one of our pre-trip itinerary will allow you to do just that. Start the day with a relaxed breakfast in your hostel, or grab a couple of baozi, steamed buns, on the hoof.
Take the metro or hop in a taxi to 798 – The home to Beijing’s contemporary art and culture scene. Housed in a vast East German-built factory complex, the 798 Art District is home to the largest concentration of contemporary art galleries in Beijing. Spend a couple of hours exploring the pedestrianised walkways lined with epic sculptures and dip into galleries to see photography, impressionism and pottery. If the jet lag is starting to set in, why not grab an espresso at one of the areas numerous coffee shops. (Most galleries are free!)
Feeling hungry? Take a seat at Mian, a noodle house tucked away amongst the Galleries of 798. The menu is limited, selling only a few noodle soup dishes but they’re all delicious and affordable! (13-15RMB) They even do free refills, but I doubt you’ll need them! The restaurant can be pretty tricky to find, but if you walk through the tunnel of the UCCA gallery and search for the character 麵 you’ll be rewarded!
Get ready to travel back in time. Head to Panjiayuan Market, the city’s largest and most popular second-hand flea market. Here you’ll find everything from porcelain and jade jewellery to calligraphy sets and old propaganda posters. Spend some time perusing the wares of the 3,000 dealers, and perhaps pick up a Chairman Mao statue or two!
End your first day in Beijing with some incredible views of the city at one of Beijing’s numerous rooftop bars. Check out these great options here.
One of the hippest neighbourhoods in Beijing, the hutongs surrounding Guloudongdajie and the Drum and Bell Tower are worth exploring. Not a skyscraper in sight, the tangle of backstreets and hidden alleyway’s in the hutongs of Gulou is where old Beijing meets new. Elderly men playing mahjong and sipping beer sit on tiny wooden stools just metres away from quirky bars, independent shops and cozy cafes.
Start your day with a stroll around the Yonghe Lama Temple, the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. Explore the magnificent halls, spin the prayer wheels, light some incense and gaze upon the world’s largest buddha, carved from a single piece of sandalwood.
Head on foot to Gulou East Street, Guloudong dajie, the epicentre of Gulou district, and the perfect base to explore the surrounding hutongs. If you need a little pick me up, go to Cafe Zarah to sip rejuvenating coffee in a cool and contemporary setting.
Spend some time exploring the quirky shops and eateries of Gulou East Street and the surrounding Hutongs. Observe the local residents going about their daily lives and battle the crowds on the once trendy and now touristy Nanluoguxiang shopping street.
For lunch, eat on the go and try as much street food as you can possibly manage. There is so much food on offer that there is sure to be something for everyone. If you are struggling with the language barrier, head to Mr Shi’s for a delicious bowl of fresh dumplings in a clean and tourist friendly environment.
Head East on Gulou East street to the Gulou itself – The Drum Tower. Traditionally the centre of the Chinese city, Beijing’s Drum and Bell Towers were first built in 1272. For hundreds of years, these towers kept Beijing on time, with the bell ringing in the morning and the drum at dusk. Marvel at these magnificent structures from the square below or climb to the top of one (or both!) for a small admission fee.
Finish off day two with a walk around Houhai Lake. In winter the lake freezes over and it is possible to walk and skate on the ice. See if you can spot the group of locals that plunge into the freezing lake all year round!
Fancy a drink after all that walking? Well there are plenty of awesome bars around Gulou to keep you busy! Try The Great Leap for a top quality craft beer brewed locally, pull up a stool in Mao Mao Cheng for an inventive cocktail in gaudy surroundings or listen to some laid back live music at Modernista. Want to make tonight a big one? Dance the night away in Dada to anything from Techno to Psytrance, or if that’s not your thing, head upstairs to Temple Bar to hear local bands with decent, well-priced drinks.
Enjoy some downtime before the long journey ahead on the final day of our Beijing itinerary. And what better way to spend your final day than roaming through the breathtaking grounds of the Summer Palace?
Have a lie in, you’ll probably fancy one after yesterday’s late night. Feeling hungry? Track down a Chinese-style breakfast pancake, jianbing – it is guaranteed to help ease your hangover! (not medically proven ) Then hop on the metro or hail a taxi to The Summer Palace!
Learn more about China’s awesome food from The Foodie’s Guide to China!
Spend the afternoon exploring the largest royal park in China. Wander around the stunning grounds, cross stone bridges, dip in and out of the grand halls and go boating on the lake.
Make sure to check out the impressive Marble Boat, first built in 1755, that sits stoic and motionless at the edge of the lake. Ironically the money that was used to restore the Summer Palace and the Marble Boat was originally meant to fund the expansion of the Chinese navy!
Now it is time to head back to your hostel, pack your bags and get an early night – you’ve got a long journey ahead!