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How To Spend 48 Hours in Beijing

Pedicabs travel down the street in Shichahai, Beijing, China
Pedicabs travel down the street in Shichahai, Beijing, China | © Reimar / Alamy Stock Photo
Beijing is so rich in both heritage and modernity that it’s hard to get bored. Culture Trip presents the best experiences that travellers can have in Beijing in 48 hours.

Day one

Morning: Go for breakfast and stroll the hutong alleys

Beijing is famous for its wide variety of halal street snacks, and there’s no better place than the Huguosi Snack Bar to taste all the classic Beijing snacks at one time. The snack bar’s flagship store lies on Huguosi Street in the Xicheng District.

After enjoying a hearty breakfast (you may also want to take some snacks for later), wander freely through the hutong neighbourhood in the southwest part of the district, where the white tower of Miaoying Temple is. In about 30 minutes, you’ll reach the Baitasi neighbourhood, one of the representational regions of Beijing’s hutong renovation plan to keep the hutong’s original flavour and raise people’s quality of life at the same time. Take a seat at Bear Brew, where high-quality, pour-over coffee and a rooftop view of the white tower await you.

Traditional bird cages in the Hutong alleys, Beijing, China © Chen Pelled / Alamy Stock Photo

Afternoon: Tour the Forbidden City

No visit to Beijing would be complete without seeing the inside of the Forbidden City, the essence of the last six centuries of Beijing’s royal history and a treasure of ancient Chinese architecture. The Forbidden City is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8.30am until 5pm (or 4.30pm from November to March). Apart from touring the vast palace, visitors can enjoy permanent and temporary exhibitions of artefacts collected by the Palace Museum.

Luckily, it only takes 40 minutes by Bus 685 or 20 minutes by taxi from Baitasi to reach the north gate of the Forbidden City, so you won’t waste too much time on the way. It’s recommended to purchase tickets online in advance (passport info is needed), but if you don’t feel comfortable booking tickets on a Mandarin website, you can also buy tickets on-site. Note that you’ll have to suffer a painfully long queue.

Pro Tip: You can buy a travel card at any subway station in Beijing, and get half price for travelling by bus.

The Forbidden City, Beijing, China © Paul Quayle / Alamy Stock Photo

Evening: Enjoy the sunset over the Forbidden City and have a hotpot dinner

Wondering where the best spot is to overlook the Forbidden City while inside it? Well, just like the verse written by the Song-Dynasty poet Su Shi, “Not knowing the true shape of Lushan because I myself am in the mountain (不识庐山真面目, 只缘身在此山中),” the best spot for a bird’s-eye view of the Forbidden City is actually on the outside – specifically Jingshan Park to the north.

As it’s open daily until 8pm during the low season and 9pm during the high season, the park allows visitors to take their time after an exhausting Forbidden City tour. Climb to the top of Jing Mountain, and you’ll see scenery you will never forget.

After that, head out and walk for 20 minutes or so until you reach the Wangfujing Shopping Street, one of the oldest shopping regions in Beijing. There are several good hotpot restaurants, including the traditional Beijing copper hotpot venue Dong Lai Shun, and the 24/7 hotpot restaurant Haidilao, which is known nationwide for its thoughtful service.

Preparing the Pots outside a Hot-Pot Restaurant, Beijing, China © Felix Stensson / Alamy Stock Photo

Night: Have a cocktail at the East Shore Live Jazz Bar and enjoy the view of Houhai Lake

What is better than a good cocktail in a jazz bar after a day’s wearying journey? The East Shore Live Jazz Bar in the Houhai and Shichahai area is one of the best of its kind in Beijing and offers free jazz performances Thursday through Sunday. The night breeze of Houhai Lake during summer is especially soothing and seems to magically liberate people from their worries.

There are quite a few nice places to stay in the neighbourhood, so you can take your time without having to worry about missing the last subway (the last train usually leaves before midnight).

Houhai Lake, Beijing, China © Philipp Zechner / Alamy Stock Photo

Day two

Morning: Watch the Tian’anmen Square Flag Raising Ceremony and visit the National Museum of China

Here’s an activity perfectly suited for morning people: watching the Tian’anmen Square Flag Raising Ceremony. It is a ceremony from which you may feel the pride that Chinese people have for their country. The ceremony takes place at sunrise every morning; according to the time calculated by Beijing’s astronomers, it’s the exact moment when the first streak of sunlight shines through the horizon and beams down on Tian’anmen Square. You can find the timetable on the official website.

Afterwards, walk south for 20 minutes to the Qianmen area, where the best traditional Beijing restaurants are established. Take your time to enjoy your breakfast, and then head back to Tian’anmen Square and eastward to the National Museum of China (NMC). Here you can see, for free, the best artefacts that reflect Chinese history and culture (remember to bring your ID). There are also temporary charged exhibitions from time to time that feature domestic and international artworks.

Rising Flag Ceremony Tian'anmen Square, Beijing, China © Matteo Carta / Alamy Stock Photo

Afternoon: Go to the 798 Art District for lunch and enjoy contemporary art exhibitions

It takes about one hour to travel from the traditional Chinese art gallery at the NMC to the contemporary art collection in the 798 Art District. Have a relaxing lunch at one of the artistic restaurants or cafés in the zone before immersing yourself in the art collections selected by the most pioneering art galleries in China.

Pro Tip: Avoid visiting the 798 Art District on Monday, as most galleries close on that day.

Chinese Contemporary Art allery in 798 Art District, Beijing, China © China Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

Evening: Have a peking duck dinner

You’ll likely feel hungry after a whole day’s art tour, so treat yourself with Beijing’s speciality, peking roast duck! Unsurprisingly, Beijing doesn’t have a shortage of roast duck restaurants. You can order a “Flourishing Peony (Shengshi Mudan)” peking duck set at Quanjude’s Sanyuanqiao branch, eat something more contemporary at Dadong (which was also favoured by Michele Obama during her visit to Beijing in 2013), or try the innovative peking duck hamburger at Dadong Duck. Except for Dadong Duck, which is a fast-food restaurant, all the proper peking duck restaurants provide traditional Beijing dishes as well.

Chinese vendor selling Beijing duck and Baozi at night, China © Nicolas Maderna / Alamy Stock Photo

Night: Have a drink in Sanlitun

Even though an urban renovation campaign demolished the famous “dirty bar street” of Sanlitun, its position as Beijing’s earliest and biggest bar concentration is unshakeable. Have a cocktail specially made just for you at Manna while enjoying the night view of the financial centre of Beijing from the 19th-floor bar, or strike up a conversation with your neighbour while having a glass of locally crafted beer at Jing-A Taproom.

Central Western Restaurant & Bar, Sanlitun District, Beijing, China © China Photos / Alamy Stock Photo