Things to Know Before You Go to Beijing

China’s capital is saturated with cultural color, proving how it can be dazzling at times and dizzying at others. For a visit that will help you cut through the blur, This City Knows compiles the basic things to know before you go to Beijing.

Woman in front of Chinese temple doors

Before you dive into the bustling streets and serene temples of China’s capital, there’s a whimsical thing to know before you go to Beijing: this city is no stranger to identity crises, having changed its name over 15 times throughout history. 

From its humble beginnings as Ji to the grandeur of Dadu under the Yuan Dynasty, and finally settling on Beijing in 1403, the city’s many names reflect its rich and tumultuous history. Each name mirrors a new chapter in its story, a living, breathing chronicle of China’s imperial, cultural, and modern aspirations. 

As you prepare for your journey, remember, you’re not just visiting a city; you’re stepping into the pages of history itself.

Planning Your Visit to Beijing

Crafting the blueprint for your journey to China’s storied capital requires a good grasp of the essential things to know before you go to Beijing. From picking the perfect season to selecting your temporary home base, every detail enriches your voyage.

When to Go and How Much to Bring

The ideal times to visit Beijing are during the spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) months. During these periods, the weather is comfortably mild, and the city showcases its scenic beauty, from the fragrant blossoms of cherry trees to the golden hues of autumn leaves. Of course, it still pays to be ready for rain, fog, or even snow during these months.

Celebrate the city’s vibrant festivals, such as the National Day Golden Week in October, but plan for larger crowds and higher prices. With that, budgeting for a Beijing visit can also vary. While entrance fees to major attractions are modest, dining and accommodation costs span a broad spectrum. Fortunately, street food and local markets can offer delicious fare at lower prices, while experiences like a Peking duck dinner at a high-end restaurant are always worth the splurge.

Where to Stay 

Selecting where to stay in Beijing can dramatically influence your experience, balancing between the city’s ancient heart and its pulsing modern beat:

The Great Wall of China

How to Get Around

Beijing’s extensive public transportation system, including its subway, buses, and a growing network of bike-share options, makes navigating the city both affordable and convenient. The subway is particularly efficient for reaching major sights, but taxis and ride-hailing apps like DiDi offer a comfortable alternative. 

Do note that English signage in the subway system and tourist areas aids navigation, though a translation app can also be handy for more complex routes or destinations outside the city center.

Culture and Interaction in Beijing

Engaging with Beijing’s rich cultural fabric and its people means understanding and respecting the things to know before you go to Beijing, from the nuances of local etiquette to the basics of communication.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Respect and harmony are pillars of Chinese social interaction. A slight nod or a handshake is customary when meeting someone. Remember to dress modestly when visiting temples and other sacred sites. Tipping is not traditionally expected in China, but it is appreciated in hotels and by tour guides. Offering a small gift or token of appreciation can also be a meaningful gesture in a business or formal social setting.

Language Tips

Mandarin Chinese is the predominant language, and learning a few key phrases can greatly enhance your visit. Basic greetings, expressions of thanks (xièxiè), and questions (Cè suǒ zài nǎlǐ? for “where is the bathroom?”) are helpful. While younger people and those in the tourism industry often speak some English, don’t rely on widespread fluency. Downloading a language translation app can be a lifesaver for directions, menus, and more complex interactions, making your stay in Beijing not just easier but also more engaging.

Woman enjoying authentic cuisine in Beijing

Exploring & Experiencing Beijing

Venturing through Beijing opens up a world where ancient history and modern development coexist in harmony. 

Discovering the things to know before you go to Beijing will surely guide you into a seamless journey to the heart of China.

Must-Visit Attractions

The Great Wall, stretching beyond horizons, is an unforgettable sight and a testament to human endeavor. Equally compelling, the Forbidden City, with its palatial grandeur, offers a glimpse into the lives of emperors’ past. For a tranquil retreat, the Summer Palace’s vast gardens and lakes provide a serene escape. Don’t miss the less crowded Mutianyu section of the Great Wall for a more intimate experience with this wonder of the world.

Beyond the iconic landmarks, delve into the artistic soul of Beijing at the 798 Art District. This former industrial complex has been transformed into a vibrant hub of contemporary art, galleries, and quirky cafés. One of the things to know before you go to Beijing is that its art scene is booming. Be sure to pack extra batteries, film rolls, and memory cards for your camera.

For a moment of zen, the Temple of Heaven, an architectural marvel and UNESCO World Heritage site, offers a peek into ancient Chinese rituals of spirituality and impressive Ming Dynasty design. With that, the Temple of Heaven is also a complex of several buildings, so do choose the right walking shoes on the day of your visit.

Each visit here not only connects you to Beijing’s artistic and spiritual dimensions but also offers a serene contrast to the city’s bustling streets. It makes for a quintessential part of understanding the breadth of experiences Beijing has to offer.

Food and Drink

Beijing’s culinary scene is absolutely a delicious exploration of flavors. Peking duck, with its crispy skin and succulent meat, is a must-try delicacy, best enjoyed at renowned spots like Quanjude. Of course, Peking duck preparation varies from place to place, so be sure to leave some room to try each one as much as you can. 

For adventurers, the Wangfujing Snack Street offers an array of local snacks, from savory to outright exotic. Vegetarian and international options are also increasingly available, catering to all dietary needs.

Tourists taking selfie at Forbidden City

Local Experiences

Dive into Beijing’s cultural heartbeat with a traditional tea ceremony or a Peking opera performance. Experiences like these can be booked through local tour operators, with costs varying depending on the exclusivity of the experience. 

Joining a hutong tour, for example, would cost about $30 and can already provide you an intimate look at Beijing’s traditional neighborhoods and a way to connect with the city’s living history. Hutong tours can vary widely in quality and focus, so it’s worth doing some research to find a tour that suits your interests and budget.

Staying Safe & Healthy in Beijing

While Beijing is a safe city for travelers, it’s always wise to stay vigilant in crowded places. Tap water is not recommended for drinking, but bottled water is cheap and widely available. No special vaccinations are also required for China, though routine vaccines should be up-to-date. Healthcare facilities in Beijing are of high quality, with international clinics available for travelers.

Get the Low-Down on Things to Know Before You Go to Beijing with This City Knows

Embarking on your Beijing adventure with things to know before you go to Beijing in mind means unlocking the full potential of this dynamic city. From its imperial relics to its culinary adventures, Beijing is a city that constantly reinvents itself and invites travelers to explore its depths.

Let This City Knows guide your exploration of Beijing. From historical marvels to contemporary wonders, we ensure your journey is as enriching as it is exhilarating. Plan your urban travels with us and step into the captivating story of Beijing, where every alley and palace tells a tale waiting to be discovered.

Patty O.
Author: Patty O.

A city girl through and through, Patty has always planned her adventures in and around urban areas. Through her travel writing, she aims to make a compelling case for the global city as a place of endless discovery and satisfaction. Her goal is to detail how urban exploration can fulfill the desires of anyone and everyone, from cultural and culinary adventurers to historical and supernatural enthusiasts.

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