My first day exploring Beijing started off amazingly. If you checked my recommended itinerary for day 1, then you already know I visited some of the most remarkable landmarks of China’s great capital. It was a very intense and exhausting day but I got the chance to see many beautiful places, as well as learn so many interesting facts about China’s millennial history and traditions. It was great and I didn’t know it back then, but the best part was yet to come!
Here’s where I recommend you go for the remaining 3 days of your Beijing trip!
Day 2: The Great Wall of China
(Admission fee ¥40 + Shuttle Bus round-trip ¥15 + one of the following options:
Cable car: one way ¥100, round-trip ¥120 / Chairlift & Toboggan: ¥120 / Descent by Toboggan: ¥100)
Reserve a full day for a magical trip to one of the new seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China.
There are many locations that you could reach from Beijing.
My hotel staff recommended Mutianyu, one of the restored parts of the wall which is a bit more difficult to reach by public transport and, as a result, less crowded than the more famous Badaling.
How to reach Mutianyu
I did some research online and it seems that getting there by public transport is quite complicated and might turn stressful ( I read many stories online of naive tourists who were scammed and ended up wasting a lot of precious time), so I suggest you hire a taxi for the day (it’s a bit expensive, I know, but at least you can enjoy the day without any worries of being scammed or on how to get back). Most hotels arrange this kind of day trips for you, so try to ask them and see what offers they have.
Our driver brought us to the area and waited for us until we had had enough of walking up and down the wall. He then brought us back in town. All this for about ¥1000 (about $150) but a public taxi would cost much less, approximately ¥600 for a return trip (or even less!)
Once at Mutianyu, you can reach the wall through a cable car or a chairlift. We opted for the second one, as it also included the option of coming down with a super fun toboggan ride.
Great Wall Impressions
There are no words that can describe how I felt once on top of this majestic wonder.
The Great Wall is ABSOLUTELY stunning and spectacular! The view from the top is amazing. And we were really lucky too! Not only was it a lovely sunny day, but the place was also almost deserted and we could enjoy our time there at peace and with no rush.
The first thing we did was climbing up to the north tower (tower 1), then we walked back and started walking in the other direction, stopping every few minutes to take photos and videos!
What I loved the most? Looking far into the horizon. The only thing you can see in the distance is a stretch of mountain ranges. The landscape is so beautiful and peaceful. Since there weren’t many visitors, the only sounds we could hear were the tweets of the birds and the sound of our steps.
Thinking of how huge the wall is, I couldn’t help but wonder how big and diverse China is! Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to visit more of this beautiful country this time, but China is definitely a place I plan to go back to for more than 4 days!
When you’re satisfied with all the pictures you have taken and think that you’ve seen enough of this beautiful place (even though I don’t think you could ever have enough of such a mesmerizing landscape), it’s time for the TOBOGGAN RIDE! Descending the mountain like this was so much fun! And you can also have a picture taken of you, that you can but for just ¥30.
What to do next?
Once you’re back at the parking lot area, you can find all sorts of restaurants to chill at after the climb, and where you can have a taste of Chinese cuisine. There are also plenty of souvenir shops where you can find nice gifts to bring back home. Prices are not fixed and you can haggle, or I should probably say you must haggle if you don’t want to get ripped off.
Going back to Beijing will take around 2 hours and a half by car. Once back in the city, you can enjoy the rest of your day walking around, or going to some markets for some shopping. By the time you’re back to the city, it’ll probably be past the last entry time for most of the attractions. Instead of rushing back to find out that you can’t see much anyway, just take your time at the Great Wall and then, just go shopping in Wangfujing Street or walk around some of the most characteristic Hutong (traditional alleys) near Shichahai station.
Taste the famous Peking Duck!
And if you’re hungry and would like to try some of Beijing’s local delicacies for dinner, check out Siji Minfu restaurant (Address: 32 Dengshikou W St, DongDan, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100006). The specialty of the house is the famous Peking Roast Duck! When you order this dish, it comes with paper-thin pancakes, some vegetables, and sauces. If you’re not familiar with how you should eat it, just like I was, ask one of the waiters to show you! It’s better to ask for help rather than not being able to enjoy this delicious dish the right way!
Day 3: Summer Palace
(Admission to the park: ￥10 / Through pass – highly recommend if your intention is to access the main attractions:￥50)
On the third day of your trip, visit the astonishing Summer Palace. Located in the northwest part of Beijing, the area is easily accessible by subway (get off at Beigongmen station and walk towards the North Gate).
The complex covers a vast area which includes palaces, pavilions, beautiful gardens and a lovely lake. While locals would say you only need a couple of hours to visit it, the palace is worth visiting for an entire day, especially if you’re one of those people who like to take their time and enjoy the moment with no rush. I’d also recommend a longer visit if you want to take a walk and chill in the park surrounding Lake Kunming. By doing so you will be able to observe the main attractions from different angles and perspectives and take as many pictures as you like.
North Gate and Suzhou Street
We started off our visit from the North Gate. Right after crossing the gate, take a look at Suzhou Street, a riverside walk filled with souvenir shops, that was designed to resemble the banks of Jiangsu Canal in Suzhou city. Vendors welcome visitors in traditional clothing. This is an interesting scenery which completely differs from anything else you can find in the park.
Walk up the Four Great Regions to reach the back of Longevity Hill, the park’s main attraction. Four Great Regions is a complex of halls and temples where the traditional Tibetan lamasery architecture mixes with Chinese style. The buildings starkly contrast with the rest of the architecture, resulting in a very interesting view.
Once at the top of the hill, you’ll encounter the highest building in the palace, the Sea of Wisdom. This is a Buddhist temple whose green and yellow facade is adorned with many small Buddha statues.
Now you can decide whether to explore the rest of Longevity Hill from the top downwards or go back down the other side and start the visit from the bottom area upwards. We decided to choose the second option as we thought it could be more interesting to climb up the steep stairs that access the complex. So we walked down the hill following a nice path surrounded only by trees and reached the gate that gives access to the buildings on the hill.
Climbing up, you will come across several halls and pavilions, such as the Baoyun Bronze Pavilion, a complex built entirely in bronze.
The most famous (and to me stunning) attraction within the premises of the Summer Palace is the Tower of Buddhist Incense. This is a three-tiered tower which overlooks Lake Kunming.
The panorama from the terrace in front of the tower is majestic!
Upon reaching the top of the stairs you can’t help but wonder how often members of the imperial family, courtesans and servants climbed up and down those same steps in the ancient times. Despite the beauty of the location, I wouldn’t have wanted to climb all those steps more than once a day!
While exploring the halls that make up the complex I also couldn’t stop wondering how life must have been over there centuries ago.
The Long Corridor and the Eastern Area
After exploring Longevity Hill, head back down and walk through the beautiful Long corridor that stretches along the northern shores. This is a 728-meter-long walkway, a masterpiece of woodwork, adorned with beautiful paintings that depict traditional Chinese legends and historical battles. I desperately tried to take a nice picture of me walking through the corridor, but I guess it was bad timing. Too many visitors anywhere and finding a quiet spot was hardly impossible.
At the east end of the corridor, you will find several beautiful halls and pavilions and you will be able to choose what to see based on your tastes. Some of the ones I liked the most are the Hall of Joyful Longevity, the Hall of Jade Ripples, the Garden of Virtue and Harmony with its Grand Theater, Wenchang Gallery with its collection of precious porcelains, jades, enamelwares, and ceramics, and the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity inside which you’ll find a lavish throne made of wood and several golden ornaments.
But my absolute favorite was the Heralding Spring Pavilion! From here you can enjoy a beautiful view of the lake and hill. Curiously, it was named like this because it was considered the top location from where to enjoy the beautiful spring colors.
Seventeen-Arch Bridge & Southern area
We continued our walk toward the southern part of the park and, along the way, we encountered this magnificent bridge which connects the land to Nanhu (South Lake) island. I managed to capture a picture of this lovely bridge reflecting into the clear waters of the lake. It was such a stunning view.
After checking out the little island and enjoying the view of the palace from the middle of the lake, we went for a ramble around it. During summer you can also cross it on board of cute traditional style boats but, being almost December and with the water half frozen, this option was not available and so we had to take the long way.
I couldn’t have been happier that we actually decided to do so. The view of Longevity Hill from different angles was absolutely astonishing! Not only was it a relaxing walk, but I also found it very romantic and I strongly recommend it to traveling couples.
Back to the north end of the lake
Once you find yourself back at the northern end of the lake, you will spot the famous Marble Boat, a stone-based structure with a European style wooden pavilion on top. The current construction was built in 1893 after the original Marble boat was burnt down by the Anglo-French forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War.
I suggest you bring some snacks with you. There are almost no shops or restaurants inside the park premises and if there are, they usually sell overpriced stuff. And since the area looks perfect for a picnic, why not take a break on a bench enjoying the beautiful view of the park, while recharging your batteries with a something to eat?
Silk Street Market
Again, by the time you’re done with the Summer Palace, it’s probably gonna be pretty much too late to visit any other place. We decided to go back to Beihai Park area and stroll around since we liked it so much. Then, we made a quick stop to the famous Silk Street Market to buy some souvenirs.
Honestly, when I heard the word “market”, I imagined something quite different. What I had in mind was a street filled with vendors selling food and some other random stuff. In short, I was thinking of something more traditional, just like the markets I visited in Taiwan! But I later found out that these kinds of markets don’t exist anymore in Beijing and they have been replaced with what to me looked like a mall.
If you’re wondering about prices, don’t worry you can still haggle in there.
Alternatively, you could head towards the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. There are many nice old Hutongs around there, and I’m sure you would appreciate the walk.
Sad but true, this is going to be your last day in China’s great capital.
If you managed to secure a flight departing late in the afternoon, you’ll still have a couple of hours to wander the streets of the city.
Temple of Heaven Park
(Admission to the park: ￥15 Apr-Oct or ￥10 Nov-Mar / Combo ticket – highly recommend if your intention is to access the main attractions:￥34 Apr-Oct or￥28 Nov-Mar)
Leave the morning for a nice walk around Temple of Heaven Park.
You’ll be surprised to learn that the park actually covers a bigger area than the Forbidden City, which to me already looked immense. Once the scene of the emperor’s solemn rites, today the park is a place to take a break from the busy urban landscape of Beijing.
We accessed it from the East Gate and directly headed towards the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests, the highlight of the park. The view of this magnificent colorful structure standing out against the blue sky struck me! Of all the traditional sites I visited while exploring Beijing, this is the one I loved the most (it only comes second to the Great Wall).
We then followed the elevated imperial pathway heading south to reach the Imperial Vault of Heaven, famous for its echo wall. They say that there you can hear a whisper from one end to the other. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to test this theory (too many people screaming around), so if you do, let me know!
Right in front of the vault, you can find the Circular Mound Altar, a white marble structure, enclosed by two walls, one symbolizing the earth (the outer square wall) and the inner one symbolizing heaven (the circular one).
There are many other interesting spots scattered around the park, but we decided it was time to move to the next attraction! You could also stay longer and go on a bit more of an exploration, though.
Pit stop at Pearl Market
Nearby the east gate, you can find another famous market, the Pearl Market. I kind of overcame the disappointment of my first market experience and decided to give it another try. Well, the market was just like the other one: a mall. But at least I could manage to lay hands on a beautiful flower-pattern silk scarf.
Next on the list of places to see is Lama Temple (also known as Yonghe Temple), a magnificent Tibetan Buddhist temple filled with frescoes, statues, impressive decorative arts and much more. Once residence to the emperor, the palace was converted into a lamasery in 1744. Since then, the temple has been a very active place of worship. During our visit, local worshippers definitely outnumbered the tourists.
If you’re visiting Beijing for a couple of days only, make sure to stop by. I loved the lively atmosphere of this temple. Not only are all the halls and pavilions beautifully decorated, but the vibrant colors of the structure and the lively chorus of the worshippers’ prayers in the background did nothing less than to fill my mind with a peaceful feeling of joy.
Not far from the beautiful Lama temple stands China’s second largest Confucian Temple. I had already visited some Confucian temples both in Japan and Taiwan, so I decided I wanted to go and check one in China (the motherland of Confucianism) too.
Compared to the Lama Temple, which was filled with people, the Confucian Temple was pretty empty and, I guess the best word I could use to describe it is “silence”. The temple’s premises were extremely peaceful and quiet, and you could hardly hear any noise.
One of the highlights of this temple is its collection of 198 stelae (stone tablets), recording the names of those who passed the Confucian Examination during the imperial times. Confucian and Chinese classics are also inscribed on some of this stelae.
The temple grounds also house the Imperial College. To me, the best parts of the complex were the beautiful glazed archway and the marvelous Biyong Hall, surrounded by a moat.
Far from the loud crowds, we ended our last day in Beijing, taking a lot of pictures in a quiet, peaceful and relaxing location! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this trip.
One picture to sum up our trip exploring Beijing
Despite the short time, our trip to Beijing was awesome! Of course, the itinerary we had planned ended up being very different from what we actually did. But, isn’t that the norm? The secret is to improvise and get the most out of it ALWAYS.
Hopefully, our experience will help you get an idea of what you can see in China’s huge capital in just 4-days.