From the Forbidden City with its ancient courtyards and temples, to the incredible Tiananmen Square, capable of holding over a million people, our Beijing trips let you uncover each layer of its history. Beijing also means business when it comes to Chinese culture and global popularity and although it only became the capital of China during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, its history dates back 3,000 years.
This is a city that’s tackled the modern world head-on, and it’s a place of powerful contrast. On our Beijing tours, you’ll visit many iconic sites such as the Terracotta Warriors and the Forbidden City, but you’ll also learn about its culture and natural wonders. Explore the hutongs (narrow alleys) for a taste of the old city, discover Imperial China on a Yangtze River cruise or walk sections of the Great Wall.
What’s really fascinating about this megacity is how it effortlessly fuses state-of-the-art technology and ultra-modern architecture with natural sights and ancient culture as though they’ve rubbed shoulders since the beginning of time. Its colourful contradictions are what make Beijing stir your soul. As you skip from frenzied streets in the city and high-speed bullet trains to rural villages framed by mountains, you’ll start to get a grasp of the dizzying contrasts on our Beijing tours.
One of the easiest ways to get to the heart of Beijing is through its food. Chinese cuisine plays an integral role in its culture, created from ancient traditions passed down through the centuries. As you wander around stalls selling street food, the aromas of Beijing roast duck, shredded pork, Chinese dumplings and other exotic dishes are irresistible.
Visit The Forbidden City: So named because it was once forbidden to ordinary people and only the emperor could enter at free will, the Forbidden City is an imperial palace dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Nowadays it’s often called the ‘Former Palace’ and is one of the most important in the world. As you explore its majestic halls, you’ll witness the magnificent artwork and traditional Chinese architecture which was designed based on the ancient art of feng shui. The site spans 178 acres and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Walk a Section of The Great Wall of China: One of the most epic manmade structures in the world and important pieces of Chinese history, The Great Wall of China takes you on an exhilarating journey into the past. Because the building of the wall took more than 2,000 years, there are many contrasting sections. The wall runs for more than 13,000 miles from the west to the east of Northern China and is a magnificent architectural feat that passes through some of China’s most dramatic mountain scenery. The Great Wall was originally constructed to protect North China and the Silk Road from invasion and some of the finest sections can be walked inside Beijing Great Wall National Park.
Try the Beijing Duck: Commonly known as Peking duck, Beijing duck is a traditional, and arguably the most famous, dish in Beijing. It has a long history and was once served as a royal dish in medieval times, cooked by imperial chefs for the emperor, and it even has a dedicated museum in Beijing. Traditionally cooked over an open charcoal fire, the duck would be covered in a sweet syrup and Chinese spices and served with spring onions, cucumber and hoisin sauce before wrapping in a soft pancake. It’s likely you’ve already tried Beijing duck but there’s no better place to try it than in its homeland.
Ride a Bullet Train: Home to the fastest and largest high-speed train, China created the ‘bullet train’ which can travel at a staggering 320km per hour. But what makes it even more surprising is that even when travelling at such a speed, you would hardly know you were moving if you didn’t look out of the window. The Beijing to Shanghai high-speed railway connects the Bohai Economic Rim with the Yangtze River Delta and is one of the busiest of its kind in the world.
See the Terracotta Warriors: One of the most significant and awe-inspiring architectural finds in history, the Terracotta Warriors at Xi’an are a must-see site when visiting Beijing. The life-size army of approximately 6,000 terracotta soldiers and horses were discovered in a subterranean vault in 1974 by a group of peasants. It’s believed the army was built to protect Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife and they’re made up of archers, cavalrymen, horses and generals. The level of detail of each of the models is extraordinary with no two soldiers the same, from the facial expressions and hairstyles to the armour they wear.
The Great Wall is even more mind-blowing than in your imagination and doing this fantastic trip at the end of October is a great time to see it. We had beautiful autumn colours, with pleasant, warm days and slightly cooler mornings and evenings, and it’s not crowded with visitors. It’s suitable for people who are fit and enjoy walking, but it’s most definitely not a trek, so if that’s your thing you may not enjoy it as much as we did.
You get to visit different parts of the wall – from the restored and more touristy, to completely wild and unrestored and we appreciated seeing these different facets. The toboggan at Mutianyou is a hoot so it’s well worth giving yourself time to fit that in.
The food was good quality and varied (though see below if you’re veggie).The hotel in Beijing (Golden Sun Commercial Hotel) was very nice; a little away from the city centre but we enjoyed wandering the local hutongs, parks and temples and we easily got into town via the subway (Guang’anmennei station is an easy walk from the hotel).