Beijing City Guide: China’s Sprawling Capital

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A bustling mass of high-tech commerce, towering skyscrapers, colourful architecture and historic attractions dating back three millennia, Beijing is a multi-coloured, many-splendored wonder. Of course, the city is also China’s capital, and one that has lured visitors for centuries thanks to its humming pace, evocative culture and exquisite fine dining opportunities.

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In terms of a cruise break destination, the grandeur of Beijing is difficult to squeeze into a single trip; take a cursory glance over the city’s population and size statistics (6,500 miles2, 11.51 million residents) and this quickly becomes evident. But as the 13th largest city on the planet, Beijing is still well worth a visit — even if it’s just a whistle-stop visit to get to grips with the size of the place.

Whether you’ve booked an all-Asian cruise break departing from Beijing or the city is simply a stop-off as part of your holiday itinerary, here’s an in-depth guide on how to make the most of your time spent in this overwhelming and striking, port call.

Fun fact #01

Beijing has been a capital city six separate times, and Beijing was the 16th name given to the city.

Fun fact #02

The most popular surname across Beijing is Wang, with 11% of the population bestowed with the handle.

What to see in Beijing

Beijing’s rich history, incredible food, and far-reaching cultural cache means there’s no shortage of things to see and do. For the gastronomes among you, all manner of dazzling dining opportunities await; make no mistake, the Chinese take their food very seriously.

Looking for photo opportunities? Beijing’s plethora of architecture old and new are sure to provide you with plenty of snaps. The culturally-inclined always do well here too. The epicentre of China’s culture scene, this is where the finest artists, writers, musicians and film-makers across the nation make their presence known.

With that, here are some highlights to fill your schedule during your time in Beijing.

Forbidden City

Where else to start your tour of the Chinese capital than at the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which once housed the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Built in the 15th century, this sprawling historic site — which contains no fewer than 980 ancient buildings — is home to some of the best-preserved wooden structures in the world. An absolute must-see for even the most culture-shy cruise-goer.

Tiananmen Square

Take a short walk from the Forbidden City and you’ll find Tiananmen Square, one of the city’s most famous landmarks and the site of the June Fourth Incident. Flanked by the National Museum of China and the Forbidden City, this historic square has an undulating and fascinating heritage — making it must-see for those on their first visit to the city.

Hutongs

Far removed from the imperialistic grandeur of the aforementioned attractions; Beijing’s Hutongs are a series of ancient narrow alleyways, characterised by their charm, colour and bountiful street vendors. Now protected for their history and culture, Beijing’s Hutongs can only be accessed on foot, by bike or by rickshaw, so they’re an excellent place to visit for those who want to experience the hustle and bustle of the real Beijing.

Panda House

It’s not every day you get to see a panda. As one of the world’s most endangered species, the majority of pandas are now born and bred in specially-developed animal centres to better protect their numbers. Luckily for you, Beijing is home to one of the world’s largest panda sanctuaries, the aptly-named Panda House. With a grand total of fifty pandas calling it home, this is by far the best place to see these beloved bears. Be warned, however — the centre gets extremely busy no matter what the time of year.

Panjiayuan Market

Looking to experience the true taste of China? Head to the Panjiayuan Market, by far the capital’s biggest and best market. Located in the district of Qiao, this sprawling marketplace is home to innumerable craftsmen, stalls and vendors, each selling an extraordinary array of traditional Chinese gifts, ceramics and textiles. Souvenir anyone?

The Great Wall of China

If your cruise ship is making a stop off in Beijing, now’s the perfect chance to witness China’s — and perhaps, the world’s — most famous landmark, The Great Wall of China. The eastern tip of the famous wall is located just 31 miles from Beijing, so it’s well within reach of those docking in the capital.

Fun fact #03

Beijing Capital International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world, with almost 100 million travellers passing through every year.

Best kept secrets

Looking for something a little more hush-hush? Beijing has plenty of hidden gems tucked away for those who like things a little more off the beaten track. Take the road less travelled, avoid the crowds and explore parts of Beijing others have yet to find. Here’s a selection of some of its finest clandestine areas…

Souvenirs

You can’t go all the way to Beijing, and not bring a piece of the city back home for loved ones.

Chinese Tea

Something of a fine art in China, pick up a pack of tea and show your friends and family back home why the Chinese take their tea very seriously. In fact, they consider it be one of the seven necessities in life. Prices vary but head to the Hong Zhi Teashop for some of the best.

Calligraphy Wall Scrolls

We might as well mention another Chinese drink that’s at the opposite end of the strength scale. A distilled spirit that can be as strong as 56%, this potent stuff is massively popular across the country; bring back a bottle and see what your friends are made of after a sip of this. Pick it up from the Friendship Store in Chaoyang.

Firewater

We might as well mention another Chinese drink that’s at the opposite end of the strength scale. A distilled spirit that can be as strong as 56%, this potent stuff is massively popular across the country; bring back a bottle and see what your friends are made of after a sip of this. Pick it up from the Friendship Store in Chaoyang.

Where to eat in Beijing

A city this large has more than its fair share of amazing dishes to sample.

Jiumen Snack Street

Bottega Veneta

If you’re not quite ready to put those taste buds to the test and sample some of China’s more exotic cuisine, Bottega Veneta makes for an excellent place to stop and have your fill. Serving up a selection of familiar Italian cuisine, including pasta, pizza and meatballs — Bottega Veneta brings la dolce vista to Beijing in more ways than one.

If this article has left you longing to visit the Chinese capital, why not do so on an unforgettable cruise break through Asia? At Cruise1st Australia, we provide an incredible range of cruise breaks to China and Southeast Asia which you can browse, here. Alternatively, if you need any help planning your dream cruise to Asia, contact the Cruise1st team today on 1300 857 345.

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