A Practical Guide to 3 Days in Beijing

Beijing is a historically and culturally significant, must-visit city to visit when in China. There are seriously so many wonderful things to see there and do there! 3 days in Beijing felt like just enough time to explore, but you could easily spend more.

Beijing was our first stop of the trip and I’m so glad it was! 3 days in Beijing was the perfect way for me to start the month I would end up spending there. It’s full of history and has been the capital for over 700 years. There’s so much to explore there!

Costs:

  • Airbnb — $67 a night
  • Airport pick up — $20

We got in at 8 pm, picked up by our Airbnb host, and went straight to the neighborhood where our hotel was located. One of the coolest things about that was how wonderful our host was. He spoke English, and we asked him about getting Peking duck while here.

He stopped at a restaurant where he knew someone and brought us to the back to showed us how it’s made. It was so cool on our first night to already feel like we had someone so kind showing us around! Plus, who doesn’t love getting a private look into a professional restaurant kitchen!

 
 
Pro-tip:  New to a city? Use Airbnb with an English-speaking host. Our host was so very helpful, which was really important in a place like China where we had no knowledge of the language, city layout, or many of the customs. He offered car service in addition to hosting an Airbnb and picked us up from the airport and drove us around as a private coach two days later (more info on that later).

 

Day 1 of 3 Days in Beijing

Day tour — $80

One thing I always like to do on my first day in a new city or country is a day tour so I can get an understanding of the city. A day (or half-day) tour helps you learn about the history, customs, laws, and overall structure of a new place. Ours was a private tour and only $80 (private tours in Europe or the US can cost you hundreds of dollars). We used Beijing Han Tang Tours. This was the essential Beijing tour, where they advertised lots of history.

This tour did not include the Summer Palace. We did this on purpose because we knew we had another day and could explore more on our own. It saved us money and gave us more time in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

 

Can you tell how excited we were? I was so happy to make it there after such a long flight and to get to enjoy the Forbidden City. The tour we used was a pretty decent one. Our guide was nice, easy to understand, and took us everywhere that was listed.

What I will say is, be prepared for pieces of history to be left out a little bit as the government does control a lot of what is said and shared with the public. We asked questions a few times and got vague answers when it came to politics, especially related to Chairman Mao and government censorship. This seems like a given for some and a shock for others.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Pro-tip: You have to show your passport to get into historical places in China. Bring your passport with you everywhere!

 

Mao’s tomb — free

So this was something I was conflicted about doing because it is a dictator’s tomb in Tienanmen Square, but all politics aside, I feel like it was important to see to understand China’s culture and history. So we went. The tomb itself is huge. They sell flowers and many, many people were buying them. They are fake flowers, and I am pretty sure that they probably just reuse them each day.

You have to stand in line for quite a while then you walk through and see his body, some people lay flowers and pray, and you walk out. That’s it. It was a very odd experience for us because we were confused how people were still so loyal to him, but this is not a question we need to answer. The visit was helpful because we understood the cultural significance of Mao better.

 

Hutongs — free

After our tour ended, we used public transit to walk the Hutongs located next to the Forbidden City. They were very cool, and we loved seeing the old buildings.

We used public transit to get back to our hotel.

Pro-Tip: Public transportation in Beijing has signs in English, which makes it easy to use. However, they have a color-coded system that is confusing. We kept getting the red and green mixed up for directions—be careful!

 

Our Airbnb host (we owe him a lot for his help!) gave us a suggestion for hot pot near our apartment, and we ate our first delicious dinner in Beijing! My friend, Adam, didn’t prepare very well for the trip because he didn’t even know how to use chopsticks! He was literally trying to pick up food and was unable to put it on his chopsticks. He thought he’d just be able to use a fork—NOPE.  

Bring your own fork if you can’t use chopsticks, even better, learn to use chopsticks! The waitress was so sweet. She came by and would physically put the food on his chopsticks and hand him the chopsticks. Hilarious for me, but not as much for him. It was a long meal…

Pro-Tip: The Chinese are very friendly to Americans and willing to help. Not many people speak English, but most people are willing to help however they can. We loved the people we met and how welcoming they were to us!

 

Day 2 of 3 Days in Beijing

Beijing Sites

Car service — $40/person

Beijing History Museum — free

Our AirBnB host offered car service on the side and we definitely took advantage of this because while the train was easy to take, walking was a lot already, and we wanted to see a lot of places. It saved us time, and a private driver for a day was definitely an added perk for a non-Western price! Plus, we were able to ask him questions about everywhere we were going – almost like a guide! It was great.

Everything we did this day was worth a visit. After our first day with a tour guide, we felt comfortable seeing things on our own as we already know the history of many major sites. The museum also had some descriptions in English.

 

 

Pro-Tip: We found museums all over China didn’t put dates on artifacts, instead they said which dynasty is was created during. English is also written below the Chinese characters. There is little history on the artifact except for the dynasty. Knowing when different dynasties reigned will help you understand the historical artifacts you see.

Summer Palace — $12 with audio guide

 

The Summer Palace was really fun to visit. The audio guide gave us tons of info, and we were glad we didn’t do the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace on the same day because they both involve a ton of walking. The Summer Palace was my favorite thing we did in Beijing because it was just so beautiful! 

We walked so many stairs in the Summer Palace that my legs were sore the next day. It was no joke! With the pollution and heat, we found it to be a challenge. Bring water and stay hydrated.

 

 

Olympic Village and Night Market — free

Peking duck dinner — $15

Elizabeth arrived just as we were finished the Summer Palace (another reason having the driver for the day was great as he picked her up at the airport, included in the fee for the day). And we went right to the Olympic Village!

From there we went to this night market that definitely seemed more like a spot for tourists but was fun none the less. The venders were selling insects, animal parts not commonly eaten in the US, and basically everything you could think of served on a stick. 


The reason I say it seemed more like a spot for tourists is that not many people were buying anything—they were mostly taking pictures. Still fun to see!
 

We then went to dinner with our Airbnb host for Peking duck! We were happy to invite him and have him with us to learn about this famous Chinese food. It was delicious, and the restaurant was so nice!

 

Pro-tip: You can get Peking duck so many different places, ask a local where to go to eat. You will find the best food this way!

 

Day 3 of 3 Days in Beijing

Great Wall tour — $80

 

No trip to Beijing is complete without seeing the Great Wall. As I was researching, I found five different wall sections that are popular to visit from Beijing. In pictures, the Great Wall is often covered in thousands of people. 

Knowing this, I wanted to make sure we did not end up with a million people on a commercial part of the Great Wall. I looked up different sections and found the Mutianyu section. It is one of the best-preserved section of the Great Wall and way less crowded in general than the more well-known sections, such as the Badaling section. I’ve got a whole post on why I think you should visit this section of the Great Wall. Check out my full list of reasons you should visit the Mutianyu section!

 

(We actually did this out of order and didn’t technically visit the very next day. See my full itinerary here to see how we did it.)

 

Full disclosure — I lost my train ticket we needed to get from Shanghai back to Beijing. We had to get new ones for later in the day. It was a huge fiasco as none of the workers spoke English, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Well, thankfully ATMs exist, and we got tickets for the next trip. Not so thankfully… we missed our full-day tour and had to rush to get to the Great Wall. We got there just an hour before it closed and made it up in time. Thankfully, this means we had just enough time to enjoy it.

Pro-tip: We found buying train tickets to be very hard in China unless you already know Chinese. I recommend buying them ahead of time (and don’t lose them!). Yes, they will be a little more expensive, but the time and stress you will save is worth it. I used China Highlights for our tickets. They were professional, responsive to emails, and answered all of our questions.

 

 

We used Mutianyu Great Wall Tours. The tour was great, however, we were late so we did not do everything listed on the tour. I also want to point out that our guide, after getting back to the US, has tried to contact us, tag us in posts, or write on our photos many times about things other than our tour. He is trying to be friendly, but this is a little off-putting for those of us who like to keep our social media more regulated!

 

We ended up being essentially alone, that’s right ALONE, on the Great Wall. We felt like the luckiest humans. This is where research pays off and finding the right tour guide was essential. This section was just as amazing (at least from photos I’ve seen), as the other sections, and we missed the crowds. Worth it!

Note: We did visit the Beijing Zoo while we were here, but I don’t recommend going. We found many animals to be living in inadequate conditions. We also saw tons of signs that said do not feed the animals, and yet people were still feeding them with no enforcement of the rules.

 

Discover the best of Beijing in a 3-day itinerary. From historic landmarks to local experiences, make the most of your visit.
Discover the best of Beijing in a 3-day itinerary. From historic landmarks to local experiences, make the most of your visit.
 

Want to book an AirBnB for the first time? I’ve got a code for $40 off your first booking! Check it out here!

Find more tips and tricks for travel in China here.

Find my full 8 day itinerary here.

Been to Beijing? What do you think? What did you visit that I haven’t?

Meghan

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