Beijing is a great city to explore on foot as there are hidden gems to be found around every corner. I walked all over the city, navigating longer stretches using the subway (station names are conveniently listed in English).
Staying in one of the many lively hutongs that make up the city, I started each day with my senses being awakened by the noise, smell and hustle of daily life in Beijing.
1. Great Wall of China – Mutianyu section
Your first sighting of the Great Wall of China is a moment you will never forget. Renowned for its beautiful scenery, the Mutianyu section is located roughly 45 miles outside Beijing, winding 1.4 miles through mountainous scenery, with 22 well maintained watchtowers to stop and grab some shade.
2. The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City blew me away as I was not aware of how large it is. Spanning almost 1 km in length from the South Gate to the North Gate, take a moment with the other 77,000 daily visitors and immerse yourself in the history and splendor of this magnificent landmark.
3. People watching in the park
Do yourself a favor and spend a moment walking through one of the many beautiful parks in Beijing – Beihai Park, Houhai Park, Summer Palace Temple and Heaven Park. I fell in love with the Chinese people and their culture, as they gently invite you to join them in their daily rituals, which includes rigorous outdoors exercise routines, communal card games and evening dancing classes.
4. Learning how to cook Chinese food in a Hutong
If you are looking to not only taste the local cuisine, but impress your friends with your Chinese cooking skills, take a moment home with you and join one of the many half-day cooking classes offered by ‘The Hutong‘. Located in, you guessed it, a hutong close to Beixinqiao station, The Hutong is a well established Chinese-culture centre, also offering traditional Chinese medicine classes.
5. Exploring the city by bike
As Katie Melua once sung – “There are nine million bicycles in Beijing” – so do as the locals do and get pedaling! I booked the Hutong half-day bike tour and felt like I was part of the daily comings and goings of the city, experiencing the noise and chaos first hand on two wheels. Approaching Tiananmen Square with the wind blowing in your hair is a special moment!
On a final note, if you are looking for a useful app I highly recommend ‘Beijing on a Budget‘ by Daniel McCrohan. For what it lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in great tips and activities, such as:
- Tai chi lessons – I attended a one hour tai chi lesson at Ritan Park with Milun Kung Fu School, learning alongside a group of expats who are working in Beijing.
- Lunch – Sold on the name, I sampled the ‘cross-the-bridge noodles’ close to Houhai Lakes – fantastic!