Beijing is a wonderful mixture of the ancient and the modern, the past and the present. A true ancient citadel with a history of Emperors and temples, it is now the seat of communist power with a strong vision for the future. Modern skyscrapers sit alongside ancient temples and chaotic, narrow-laned residential neighborhoods. Cars speed along new motorways while rickshaws scramble down the narrow, old streets. This is a confident city with an eye on the future and a foot in the past.
Day 1: Beijing Essentials
If you only have one day, do the essentials. Tiananmen Square dates from 1417 and has witnessed some of the most pivotal moments in China’s history, including the 1989 protests. It’s also the site of Mao’s Mausoleum, a place of pilgrimage for Chinese tourists. The queue for entry looks lengthy, but moves fast and entry is free. Nearby the Forbidden City has over 1,800,000 sq km of gardens, palaces and halls of relics dating back to 1407. Home to 24 emperors over five centuries, the Forbidden City opened to the public in 1924. Then see the other side of Beijing, the hutong, narrow, winding residential streets full of real life and communal-style living. Getting lost in the labyrinth is half the fun.
Day 2: Temples and Pandas
Lama Temple is Beijing’s most magnificent Buddhist temple with elements from Han, Mongolia, Tibet and Manchuria. The highlight is a massive 60 ft (18 m) Buddha, reputedly carved from a single sandalwood tree. Another temple worth seeing is the 15th century Temple of Heaven from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Finally, visit the Summer Palace, the emperor’s favourite retreat. When you’ve had enough of history and architecture, head to the zoo to see the giant pandas, China’s living treasures.
Day 3: The Great Wall
No visit to Beijing is complete without seeing The Great Wall of China. An impressive 3,900 miles (6,300 km) of engineering miracle, it was built to protect China from the rampaging and pillaging Mongols to the north in the 1400s. There are two sections along the wall popular to visit: the Badaling section which is one of the best preserved areas, and the Mutianyu section which is older and steeper, a more challenging climb involving around 1,400 steps but rewarding with its three watchtowers.