As the capital of the People's Republic of China, Beijing is the nation's political, cultural and economical hub! And while it is the beating heart of the ancient past, it has now become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world with all the exciting modern development that has taken place! A country with over 3,000 years of history is difficult to experience in just one day, but if you're lucky enough to have even a 12 hour layover, take the opportunity to see and do as much as you can!
Like I mentioned in my previous post, my recent trip to Thailand included a 16 hour layover in Beijing, China on the way back to San Francisco. My flight landed in Beijing at 5:00 AM and departed that very evening at 9:00 PM, giving me exactly 16 hours to explore the city I had only seen in the pages of my history textbooks. (If you'll be spending a bit longer in China, be sure to check out this post for a more detailed itinerary!)
Before arriving to Beijing, the husband suggested we play on the safe side, so we booked a private driver ahead of time. Who wants to deal with that after an overnight flight in economy, right? We arrived at the airport, obtained our 72 Hour Visa-Free Transit and exited the airport ready to explore! After searching for about 15 minutes, we decided to give the company a call to see what was up. To our surprise, our driver was still asleep and we were asked to wait for an hour until he arrived. Meanwhile, I was approached by an English-speaking private driver who was eager to take us around for the day and get us where we wanted to go. After a little negotiation, we were on our way. Here's what 12 hours in Beijing looked like:
Arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport
If you are going to see the city of Beijing while on a layover, you do not need to apply for a visa ahead of time. Depending on how long you will be there, you can get a transit visa on arrival (I shared everything you need to know about getting one of these here).
Depart for The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall is about 1 ½ hours drive from Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). You have a few options to get there, but I highly recommend either booking a private driver ahead of time or trying your luck at negotiating with one on arrival to the airport, like I did. More on how to do that here.
The Great Wall of China
No trip to China is complete without having seen The Great Wall of China. There are various sections of the wall to choose from and I've talked about each of them in my on How To See The Great Wall of China During a Layover in Beijing post. You'll easily spend anywhere from 2-4 hours at the Great Wall (maybe even more, depending on how much of the wall you decide to hike). I think it took me 2 hours just to comprehend where I was standing! I highly recommend taking your time here. I loved that I had enough time to take it all in and explore some of the more untouched sections along the wall.
Savor an Authentic Chinese Lunch
Some must-try dishes while you're in Beijing include:
- Peking Roast Duck
- Bǐng (toasted flatbreads) can be found made by street vendors
- Barbecue skewers at the night markets
- Beijing Lamb Hot Pot
Tip: Specify if you want your food spicy (là) or not (bùlà)
If I had the time, I would have loved to visit the Wangfujing Street Market to try some unique Chinese street food and shop for souvenirs to take back home!
The largest square of its kind in the world, Tiananmen Square is located at the center of Beijing City. Historically known as the site of the 1989 protests, it is a place to commemorate the thousands of lives lost during the common people’s uprising against repressive leadership. Today, you can visit the iconic square and watch the daily hoisting and lowering of the Chinese flag by armed forces as they commemorate the birth of the People’s Republic of China.
The Forbidden City
From 1420 to 1912, the Forbidden City served as the imperial palace and home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It was forbidden to enter the palace without the emperor's permission, hence the name! Now, a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, it houses the Palace Museum which displays an extensive collection of cultural artifacts and artwork. You can easily spend an entire day exploring The Forbidden City, but it is also possible to make a quick entrance and exit if you are short on time.
Return to Beijing Capital International Airport
Arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to your flight to allow enough time for check-in, immigration and security. Relax and give yourself a pat on the back -- you've just spent the day exploring one of the most amazing cities in the world! Get ready for take off and reflect on your day touring the wonderful city of Beijing.