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Typically if I’m traveling all the way to East Asia then I’d be traveling there for at least a week since it’s such a long flight from Europe. But when I was invited to experience and document the experience onboard Finnair’s new A350 XWB aircraft, I found myself flying from London to Beijing for just two days!
The main purpose of the trip was to write about Finnair’s Business Class experience and the inaugural A350 flight to Beijing. Thankfully being treated to the comfort of Business Class meant I wasn’t too tired and I arrived at my destination feeling rested enough to explore some of the things that Beijing has to offer. 2 days in Beijing isn’t a lot of time but it’s enough to see some of the main sights and visit the Great Wall of China.
I visited China in the middle of winter (January) and it’s one of the coldest places I’ve ever visited. My packing list included thermal underwear, a big puffy jacket, plenty of layers and some ski gloves for warmth. But the days were beautiful, with sunshine and clear blue skies.
I loved my time in Beijing; the food was excellent and the Great Wall of China is truly one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen.
If you find yourself short on time, here’s my suggested 2 day Beijing itinerary:
Day 1: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Xiushui Silk Street
You could probably spend all day at Summer Palace if you wanted to but since you’re short on time, half a day is plenty. The recommended amount of time to visit is 3 hours. The Summer Palace is the largest and most well preserved imperial garden in China and it’s located around 15km (35 minute drive) from the downtown area. It was a royal garden of the Qing dynasty and consists of beautiful lakes, pavilions, gardens and palaces.
Lunch at Donglaishun Hot-pot
When we arrived in Beijing the weather was absolutely freezing so I was happy to warm up inside a restaurant and try some hot pot. Donglaishun Hot Pot has over 1,000 years of history, and is famous for its Beijing style hot-pot. The restaurant is well-known for instant-boiled mutton, also known as Mongolian Fire Pot or dip-boil mutton. Traditionally, Chinese people have it at home during cold winter weather.
Eating hot pot is a communal affair and it’s perfect for those cold winter days. If you’re not familiar with hot pot, it basically involves cooking a selection of raw foods in a simmering pot of boiling soup stock. Plates of vegetables and thinly sliced meat are placed on a round rotating table and then the food is cooked in the centre of the table.
Visit Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square contains the monuments to the heroes of the revolution, the great hall of people, the National Museum of China, and the Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall (with Mao’s embalmed body). Tiananmen Square is within the top five largest city squares in the world (440,500 m2 or 109 acres). It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history.
The square is most remembered for the Tiananmen Square Massacre (also called June Fourth Incident) which took place in 1989. Starting in the spring of 1989 students began to hold protests in the square demanding political and economic reform. In the beginning the government issued warnings but no action, but in the last two weeks of May martial law was declared in Beijing and army troops were stationed around the city. The tanks, however, were unable to reach Tiananmen Square due to Beijing residents and protesters blocking their way. The protests culminated on June 4th, when tanks and troops armed with rifles advanced toward the square, opening fire on protesters and crushing anyone who tried to block their way.
Visit the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties delivered supreme orders for over 500 years. Built in the period 1406-1420 and listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987, the Forbidden City boasts over 9000 room-units with a building space of 150,000 square meters. It is the largest royal palace in the world. From 1420 to 1911, 24 Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties handled state affairs in this giant and mysterious palace.
Visit Xiushui Silk Street
There are plenty of Chinese traditional handicraft goods here, as well as clothing, silk, shoes and hats etc. There are no marked prices, so this is the place to test your bargaining skills. The vendors speak some English and often it’s possible to bargain down to half of the original price.
The clothing is trendy and labeled as famous brands, although visitors need to be careful of the fake brands. Browse and walk around the market first and then decide where to buy. Both Chinese yuan and US dollars are accepted here – just remember it’s impossible to get your money back once you’ve paid!
Dinner at Dadong
For dinner it’s time to try some Peking Duck! We ate at Dadong Restaurant which is located in the Dongcheng District. Named after its founder Dong Zhenxiang, the restaurant is often lauded by food critics as one of the best restaurants in Beijing serving Peking Duck! The duck is cooked using a spherical wood fired oven instead of the more traditional square oven.The restaurant has a modern interior and the duck is really succulent and delicious, with a nice crunchy skin. I love ordering Peking duck when I go to Chinese restaurants and it definitely tastes even better when in Beijing.
Dinner at Dadong was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life and I still think about that meal to this day. If only China wasn’t such a long flight! In addition to the Peking Duck we also tasted a number of other dishes including crispy sweet and sour fried fish. Even the salad was exquisite, decorated with flower petals and nuts. I’ll let the photos do the talking but please make sure you try this restaurant!
Day 2: Great Wall of China
Visit to Mutianyu Great Wall
Reserve the second day of your trip for visiting the Great Wall of China. Being a travel blogger I’ve seen a lot of attractions over the years and sometimes I think I’ve just been so spoiled that a lot of them don’t have that “wow” factor for me. But The Great Wall is something else.
The Great Wall is the most famous landmark of China and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s a symbol of China’s ancient civilization, and is one of the most incredible architectural wonders to ever exist.
Mutianyu Great Wall is one of the most popular sections of the Wall in China and is bestowed with beautiful scenery. Built by the Northern Qi Dynasty in (550–577), Mutianyu boasts 23 watchtowers, spaced out with one every hundred meters. It’s the longest and best-restored section, plus it’s less crowded than Badaling.
This section is open from 7.30am to 5.30pm all year round and the drive to get there takes about 1.5-2 hours from central Beijing.
When you arrive at the main tourist-center you’ll find the ticket office and a bunch of restaurants including Lakers, Carles and Burger King. Yes even the Great Wall of China has fast food restaurants. From the tourist center you take a 5-minute shuttle bus ride to the foot of the mountain, followed by a cable car that takes you up to the top.
The day we visited Mutianyu was really, really cold, especially since it was so early in the morning. I couldn’t feel my feet! However, once we’d taken the cable car up to the top of the mountain, The Great Wall itself was surprisingly warm. Even though we were so high up, the wall acted as a sort of sun trap and there was no wind that day. I was amazed at how quiet and peaceful it was!
It’s such an incredible thing to see The Great Wall stretching as far as the eye can see. To think that it spans a distance of 13,171 miles is just mind blowing. Once you’ve finished checking out the views, you can take the cable car back down, or if you want some excitement you can take a toboggan to the bottom!
The best time to visit Mutianyu is in the spring and autumn, when it’s not too hot or too cold. There’s no public transportation to get to Mutianyu so the best thing to do is book a private tour or small group tour. You could also book a driver or a taxi and get the driver to wait but remember to negotiate the price in advance.
Tip: Try to avoid national holidays, such as the May Day Holiday (from May 1st to 3rd), and National Day Holiday (from October 1st to 7th) when there will be lots of Chinese tourists.
798 Art Zone
If you have time in the afternoon then I’d recommend visiting 798 Art Zone, which is a collection of 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings that have been turned into creative spaces, art galleries, boutiques and cafes. This trendy complex is located in the Dashanzi area, to the northeast of central Beijing.
There’s no entrance fee to visit the 798 Art Zone but many of the galleries charge a small entrance fee to view their exhibits. When you’re done browsing all the art, visit the Ram Brewpub, a microbrewery serving a selection of domestic and imported beers.
Dinner at Country Kitchen
There are plenty of fantastic restaurants in Beijing but if you’re staying at The Rosewood Hotel (or close by) then try Country Kitchen, which is located inside the hotel and has been awarded a Michelin Star. The menu is a modern take on Northern Chinese cuisine and dishes include dumplings, roasted duck, wok fried fish and Mongolian leg of lamb.
Where to Stay in Beijing
I stayed at the Rosewood Hotel in Beijing, which is a gorgeous 5-star hotel featuring seven restaurants, a bar, fitness studio, pool and spa. The hotel’s 283 luxurious rooms and suites are amongst the largest in the city, featuring natural finishes, subtle Oriental aesthetics, spacious bathrooms and walk-in closets.
You’ll find the hotel in Beijing’s Central Business District, directly across from the iconic CCTV Tower.
NUO Hotel Beijing
If you’d like to stay close to the 798 Art District, NUO Hotel Beijing is a great option. The hotel features 39 guest rooms and suites, five restaurants and bars, a spa, fitness facilities and a 1,600-square metre ballroom. Inside the lobby you’ll find plenty of contemporary Chinese art, including ten 2.24-metre tall porcelain vases and a 5.03-metre tall sculpture entitled “Le Shan”. Rooms feature Ming style furniture, 300-thread-count bed linens and goose down bedding.
Fairmont Beijing Hotel
The Fairmont Beijing looks truly stunning from the outside, with a beautiful rose gold façade that shines bright both day and night.
Within the hotel you’ll find two restaurants – Lunar 8 and The Cut – plus a champagne bar and lobby bar. The 222 rooms and suites are decorated in warm tones and feature 55-inch LED TVs plus Le Labo bathroom amenities.
If you want to relax and unwind after a day of exploring, you can take a swim in the indoor pool or book a treatment in the hotel’s multi-level spa, which offers stunning views of Beijing.
Weather and Climate in Beijing
Beijing experiences cold, sunny winters and hot, rainy summers.
The winter months from November to February are freezing but dry and mostly clear with sunny skies. Although it was very cold when I visited in January, I loved that all my photos featured bright blue skies and the visibility at the Great Wall of China was great. If you pack accordingly, the winter isn’t a bad time to go.
In these months the average daily temperature is usually below 45°F, or 7.2°C. The coldest month is January, when there’s an average low of 18°F (7.8°C) and high of 35°F (1.7°C)
The hottest months in Beijing are from
Practical Tips for Beijing
When I traveled to Beijing I went fairly unprepared. I took my laptop and totally forgot about many websites being blocked there. Since I was only in Beijing for two days it didn’t matter too much but don’t make the mistake I did. Here are some things you’ll need.
Make sure you download a VPN (Virtual Private Network) since many Western websites are banned and blocked in China. If you want to post pictures to social media networks, answer your emails and visit your favorite websites, then you’ll want to download a VPN such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN. VPNs work by allowing you to have access to servers around the world, so you can trick the system and effectively look like you’re surfing the web in another location.
Download WeChat and Alipay
If you plan to stay in China longer then you might want to consider downloading WeChat and Alipay. WeChat is basically the Chinese equivalent of Whatsapp and is used for messaging and calling. Meanwhile Alipay is a payment provider that’s widely accepted in China and can be linked to non-Chinese bank cards.
Getting to Beijing
International flights arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) or Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX). I recommend using Google Flights to search for flights to Beijing. Prices vary widely on this route but the cheapest time to travel seems to be in June.
How to Get Around Beijing
Traffic in Beijing can be a nightmare and the city is so massive that it’s impossible to tackle on foot. The best way to get around Beijing is by taking the subway since it’s cheap, modern and efficient. Once you’re at your destination you can get around the neighborhood on foot. The subway system is fairly easy to navigate and there are signs in English, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost.
Taxis are the most comfortable option but Beijing’s roads can get congested and it can be difficult to catch a taxi in rush hour. That being said, Beijing’s taxis are metered and fares are affordable, plus they’re easy to hail from the street. If you do plan to take taxis, make sure you have the name of your hotel written in Chinese in case the driver doesn’t speak any English.
A Final Word…
To me it was worth flying all that way even if I had only 2 days in Beijing. My experience walking on the Great Wall of China is something I’ll never forget and it’s one of the greatest things I’ve seen in my lifetime. If you want to cover more of Beijing I’d suggest spending 3 to 5 days there but with this Beijing 2-day itinerary you’ll get to see some of the main attractions.