Hello, fellow travel lovers, and welcome to my 4-Day Beijing Itinerary! I’ll be splitting this itinerary into two posts, as it is just way too much content for one. This was hubby’s and my first time in China, and Beijing was the second stop on our six-week honeymoon around the world. On our honeymoon, it was a goal to cross off several of our bucket list items. I had wanted to see one of the new seven wonders of the world, so walking the Great Wall of China was mostly what prompted Beijing being added to our itinerary, and I’m so glad we went.
In Part One of the Beijing blog posts, I’ll be covering what we experienced over the first two days, including a serious case of jetlag, our enormous hotel, Tiananmen Square, an incredible garden called Zhongshan Park, tasty bites, transportation, security, and restrooms.
We were visiting in late April right after our wedding. Most likely, spring is the best time of year to witness the flowers in full glorious bloom, like we did. Although mid-day it was warm, we still carried light jackets around with us, as early morning and evening had a chill in the air.
For the second leg of our honeymoon, we were flying from London to Beijing. Our Aeroflot flight left London Heathrow Airport around 1:25pm with a two-hour stopover in Moscow, then onto Beijing. We crossed over several time zones on this journey, so the day was fully dedicated to travel. The London-to-Moscow flight takes about four hours, plus three hours were lost due to the time difference. Then the Moscow-to-Beijing flight takes about seven-and-a-half hours, plus we lost five hours due to the time difference. We arrived in Beijing around 9:00am the next day.
During our stopover in Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport, we were in Terminal F and used our Priority Pass to pop into the Classic Lounge. This lounge was more traditional in fashion with striped wallpaper, etched mirror art, elaborate drapery, leather seating, and darker mood lighting. There were a couple large rooms allowing many people to sit, which made this one of the larger lounges we visited. Overall, the lounge was cozy. There were food, beverages, and alcohol, but the food was nothing to write home about.
- Print out reservations for flights, hotels, and activities. With the language barrier, it made it easier to pull out the piece of paper and give that to the assisting local. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable giving someone my cellphone for them to look at.
We landed in Beijing, collected our luggage, then headed through the airport towards the taxi exit. This was one of our principal mistakes in Beijing. We’re New Yorkers, so we’re used to taxis, but this was an awful experience. It wasn’t a regulated system like in NYC. Several taxi companies persistently tried to get us to ride with them, and everyone quoted us different prices. The commonality was that they were all ridiculously high prices. There was also a clear language barrier. We walked back and forth from one line to the next and finally just settled on the first company we spoke with, because they quoted us the cheapest rate. We only had two small roller carry-ons and one large shared luggage, but the companies charged us more because we needed a bigger taxi for only two people. It was so frustrating and an unpleasant first impression of China. I recommend you avoid the taxi situation altogether and ride the train to your hotel. I’ll talk about trains later in this post.
Our hotel was the Jianguo Garden Hotel (17 Jianguo Men Nei Road Dongcheng District Beijing 100005 China). It was massive, with a spacious lobby, indoor swimming pool, and several restaurants inside. The lobby also smelled faintly like flowers and soap, not too strong while still being pleasant. Our room was a decent size, and the bed was comfortable. For the activities that we planned to do in Beijing, it was a prime location where we could walk to most things or effortlessly hop on a train to get to the farther away locations. For under $100 a night, I wouldn’t change anything about our selection.
After we checked into the hotel and unpacked our bags, we were famished. So we decided to have lunch at one of the conveniently located hotel lobby restaurants. After we paid and sat down, we realized it was a buffet. Whoops! Language barrier. We enjoyed an assortment of delicious buns, dumplings, soups, meats, and fish. Then we went back up to the hotel room and fell into food and time zone-induced coma. We literally “napped” the rest of the day away haha! I always love an overnight flight, because you can sleep on the plane, save money on a hotel for the night, and not waste the daytime flying. However, with such a big time jump, there was no saving our bodies from shutting down. We were still on London time, and it was technically 5:00am for us. Also, when flying from Moscow to Beijing, the plane was empty so hubby and I both got a row of three seats to ourselves! I opened up the trays and got some work done, so I didn’t sleep much on that second flight.
When we woke up from our nap, it was about 9:00pm. We definitely had not anticipated sleeping that long. We were groggy, but we got up, got dressed, and went out on an adventure to find dinner. Most places were closed because it was already late at night. We found a mom-and-pop restaurant called “Old Beijing Steamed Stuffed Bun” in English a few blocks away and decided to eat there. Thank goodness for photos on the menu, because nothing was in English nor did they speak English. We ordered what looked like a wonton soup and a chow mein. They were absolutely delightful, and the total was $4 USD for both of us to eat!! With full bellies, we strolled back to our hotel. We explored a little more along the way, but it was drizzling, so we didn’t stay out too long. Then we went to bed so we could seize the day tomorrow.
- Build in jetlag time. We were pretty flexible with our Beijing schedule because we knew as our first stop in Asia we would suffer with jetlag. Don’t feel sullen about a nap, just schedule it in.
We woke up early, officially on China time and not exhausted from jetlag. We left the hotel and headed towards a local bakery called Holiland that we had seen while exploring the night before. We enjoyed a delectable pastry breakfast including bread with red bean paste, an orange marmalade bun, a hotdog bun, and an egg crème pie. Mmm! Seating was limited, so we went outside and ate in the nearby park. Holiland is a definite MUST for your dining in Beijing! You’ll see we ate there a number of times, as we loved it so much.
The next adventure for the day was our first subway ride in China. We are subway pros, because we live in NYC and public transit is a way of life for us. However, after our Beijing subway experience, we learned that subways in China are far superior to NYC (we would later learn that the same could be said about Hong Kong and Japan—the subways in Asia are fantastic). We entered the subway at the park where we had stopped to eat breakfast. There was an airport-style bag check and walk-through metal detector machine before you can enter to purchase tickets. For our first time buying tickets at a machine, we couldn’t find the English button (spoiler alert, there WAS a button and we found it the next time we rode). Hubby can speak Japanese and also read a little, and the characters are similar to Chinese, so thankfully we successfully navigated through the computer kiosk to buy two tickets for where we needed to go haha! If you don’t speak or read the Chinese language, then just try harder to find the “English” button than hubby and I did lol. Other than that, the signs underground were in Chinese and English. All announcements played in Chinese, followed by the English translation. We rode the train for two stops before we reached our destination. Overall, a very easy system once you figure out how to purchase a ticket. We found subways in China to be safer, cleaner, more on time, and accommodating for multiple languages than the trains in New York.
When we exited the station at Tiananmen East stop, we were escorted into more security lines. This time, all locals were showing their IDs and we had to present our passports with Chinese visa proof. Good thing we brought them around with us! Had we not packed them in our day bags, we wouldn’t have been allowed through to our attraction. It was random luck, because we would normally keep them secure in the hotel safe. From that moment on, hubby and I decided to securely carry our passports on us while exploring Asian cities for the remaining five weeks. We went again through bag check and metal detectors and then were able to walk through to Tiananmen Square.
Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world. It’s massive. The center has monuments and statues surrounded by intricate garden work, then the exterior consists of museums and government buildings. A sight to behold. We walked around to see the Monument to the People’s Heroes, Reliefs in Monument, Workers Statue, and Tiananmen Tower. If you have the time, you could experience some of the surrounding museums and buildings like The National Museum of China, The Great Hall of the People, and Mao Zedong Memorial Hall too.
Across the street, north from Tiananmen Square, you can walk through the underground passageway that leads you to the entrance of Zhongshan Park (or “Central Park” in English). Entry fee was 10 Chinese Yuan (CNY), or about $1.58 USD, per person to enter. This is an absolute must-see in Beijing. The gardens were really spectacular and some of the most beautiful that I had ever had the pleasure to experience. We captured dozens of stunning shots. The primary flowers were tulips of all varieties and colors, with waterways, bridges, and traditional buildings mixed in. We easily spent two hours walking through the property, taking photos, and admiring the scenery. We also purchased a couple of unique souvenirs at the gift shop.
I would recommend packing snacks or a lunch. There were plenty of shaded spots with benches and tables where groups had picnics. They did have a café towards the back of the park, but the only food they sold were hot dogs on a stick (no bun) and corn on the cob on a stick. We were trying to play it safe with our digestive systems and waited till we left the park to find a restaurant.
This park is where I experienced my very first crouching bathroom, an experience I later learned is unavoidable in China. Most outdoor spaces with public toilets and even some restaurant toilets are in this style. If prepared, you can avoid the culture shock. Each stall has a door that you can lock, a hole in the ground, a flushing system, and a garbage pail. There are some tiles that show you where to place your feet. You crouch down and “go” in the hole. There is usually no toilet paper in the stall. Some bathrooms have a communal paper dispenser to grab your paper before you enter your stall, some have an attendant that charges you for paper, or you can bring your own. Some bathrooms have a bucket of water with a scoop or a water hose you can use to wash yourself with if you don’t have paper. If you are a Westerner (like myself) and are used to the dry feeling afterward, carry a tissue or toilet paper with you. Almost all bathrooms in China had signs that said to not flush the toilet paper, as it clogs the pipes. There is a small trash pail that you are supposed to put the soiled toilet paper into. Not all restrooms have soap, so definitely always carry around hand sanitizer.
Donghuamen Street had countless shops and restaurants. We found lunch at Beijing Dawanju Restaurant. We ordered a ramen soup and a beef and kale to share. Chinese chopsticks are larger and rounder than the sushi chopsticks we use in America. Took a few extra tries for me to successfully pick up a piece of slippery, sauced-up kale haha! Lunch was tasty for finding this place on the fly.
We continued down the road until (Wangfujing Street and Donghuamen Street) and came across a massive intersection where all four corners were shopping malls. We entered one of the malls by the Apple store. This mall was six stories high, with additional levels underground. We only completely walked through five floors before I caved to stop for an ice cream. We were so physically exhausted after the mall, that we walked back to our hotel for a short nap.
We kept things simple for dinner and ate at the same mom-and-pop restaurant as Day 1. We got two totally different dishes so we could experience new foods. I got pork dumplings and my hubby got a vegan peanut sauce lo mein. Again, dinner was scrumptious and cheap. We found that restaurants off the beaten path, where locals would eat, were more affordable than those in touristy areas. After dinner, we went back to the hotel to relax and watched TV on the only English station we could find. We learned Will and Kate had their baby, and we missed the London celebrations by two days. It may seem weird, but we actually put on the world news every night to stay connected, as there is no Facebook and Instagram in China (they are blocked).
- We prefer to walk around more than taking underground public transit, because you discover a great deal more while up on the streets, but it is a necessary adventure to ride the subway in Beijing at least once.
- The trains in China are exceptionally clean! Very unlike NYC. How do they keep it so immaculate, you ask? There is a 500 CNY (about $75 USD) fine if you are found eating or drinking during your commute! Hubby and I did not know about this rule and did eat on a train on Day 1. We saw people staring at us but had assumed it was because we looked foreign. The next day, I saw the sign about the fine. Ends up those locals were probably looking at us because they don’t normally see people eating on the trains. Thank goodness we didn’t get caught! Best practice is to not eat and drink on the public transit in China.
- Stow your passport inside your bag or inner jacket in a secure pocket. Never leave passports with only one zipper of defense.
- Discuss a train separation plan before your trip. Even a group of people experienced with subways could get separated on the platform. Some platforms have wall barriers between the platform and the train, and most train doors automatically close. Hubby and I had agreed that if we were ever separated, the person on the train would get off one stop later and wait at the next station. Then the person who missed the train would get on the next train and meet the first person. Decide these things in advance, because not everyone has cellphone signal overseas and those overages would be astronomical, plus you may not even have cell signal underground to get in touch. We had one close call where hubby almost missed the train. His body was halfway in the car and the doors closed on him, which caused a bruise. The Chinese subways are not playing around with automatic doors to keep the train running on time (very different from NYC).
- Military soldiers are everywhere. They walk around in uniform or are stationed at security and metal detector checkpoints to enter transit or attractions. We didn’t spend lengthy amounts of time in security lines, but if your schedule is tight then add in buffer time for security. Another funny security instance was how we were being observed by an officer as we ate breakfast in the park on Day 1. Even though they were watching us, I felt safe while walking around. Just always be respectful. Never break any laws or litter, and you should be fine.
- Had we planned our day better, we would have known that the Palace Museum at the center of town and other museums are all closed on Mondays. Wanting to always maximize our time, we were initially a little bummed when we learned that we had to visit this area of town twice during our short trip. In hindsight, you really do need two days to see all of this area of town anyway (and have neither day be a Monday). There are two large parks, and the area by the palace is massive.
Wow, what an exhausting and yet incredible first two days in Beijing! It’s worth noting again that you will be jetlagged, so account for a day of recuperating. Don’t plan activities on your first day. If you can even stay awake, you’ll be a zombie and miserable. We’ve done several international trips before, but this was the worst case of jetlag we ever experienced. Although jetlagged, we had an awesome time during our first two days in Beijing, and the final two days get even more jam-packed full of activities. Keep an eye out for the next Amarvelous Honeymoon blog post that will cover Part Two of this Four-Day Beijing Itinerary!
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