How to See Beijing in 2 Days
Given a strict time limit in China for visa-free transit, I was on a mission to see what Beijing has to offer in a very limited amount of time. Of course, this title is quite ironic because 2 days is not nearly enough to truly experience what the bustling city has to offer, let alone scratch the surface of it.
But if you're like me and wanted to see the Great Wall of China without applying for a complicated China travel visa, this quick introductory guide will be useful! Whether you're living in Asia and looking for a weekend getaway blog or taking a quick transit through the city, here are my tips on how to see Beijing in 2 days.
Tip #1: Hire a driver instead of navigating public transportation.
Normally I do like to stick to a decent budget during trips which definitely doesn't include private drivers, but if you're trying to see Beijing in 2 days, it's almost a must in my opinion. I will gladly spend a bit more when I know the experience will be worthwhile, and especially when time is of the essence.
I had also learned from our hotel staff that the public transportation system isn't catered for English-speaking tourists, which makes sense because, duh, you're in China, but also makes it more difficult for tourists to navigate the city. So to spare us time and frustration with translating apps, we hired a driver that we organized through the front desk of our hotel.
Without the driver we most likely would have gotten lost trying to get from place to place within Beijing and would have wasted a lot of time being frustrated and missed out on some sights!
Tip #2: What to do in Beijing with such little time?
There are essentially 3 main tourist attractions that deserve a spot on your twp-day Beijing itinerary: the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square, and...... The Great Wall! Here I'll go over everything you need to know before you visit them on your Beijing two-day tour.
1. The Temple of Heaven
This stunning complex is one of Beijing's most important imperial templates. It was constructed in the early 1400s and was the meeting point for emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. When I was there, I remember closing my eyes and trying to image a scene from hundreds of years ago when these very emperors were discussing important matters.
Nowadays, it's a meeting point for tons of groups of locals - we saw groups of women who were dancing to serene music scattered throughout the park, and groups of dozens of older men lined up along benches playing cards and other games. I personally couldn't fathom why anybody would choose 20°F weather in the middle of the winter to go outside and play a game of cards instead of their warmer house (?!) but it was quite a sight!
The Temple of Heaven is a true meeting place, from important emperors of the past to modern-day locals. We walked around the complex and saw the Temple up close for about half an hour, and headed back to the car for our next stop. I'd suggest budgeting anywhere from half an hour to two hours at the Temple of Heaven, it's a large complex with many happenings to observe.
2. Tiananmen Square
This is the revolutionary heart of China, or at least Beijing. It's infamous in history textbooks for being the site of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre where pro-democracy, student-led protests took place, and where a number in between 180-10,000 deaths occurred (Google says so, not sure why there's such a wide disparity there). Being a political science graduate and a girl who is generally very fascinated by political/social uprisings, this was really important for me to see on our Beijing trip.
But even if you're not fascinated by politics, it's still a must-see on any Beijing two-day tour. The square is massive (it's actually the sixth biggest city square in the whole WORLD!), and it was powerful to try to close my eyes and imagine this exact scene only a few decades ago when the tragic events took place.
Don't miss seeing some of the most important sights in Tiananmen Square, such as the national moment for the People's Heroes and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. Something to keep in mind before visiting is that there's a ton of safety checks here and lots of armed guards, but the entrance to the square is totally free of charge. You should probably budget around 30 minutes to walk around the square and take it all in.
3. The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is located on the northern side of Tiananmen Square, so it's easy to hit both spots in one go. It's an absolutely massive imperial palace (the largest palatial structure in the world) that served as the official Chinese imperial palace for almost 500 years. It's also the best-preserved imperial palace in all of China (say "imperial palace" one more time, Alli...). It's certainly the most popular with tourists too, 14 million people visit it annually!
In all, the Forbidden City covers 180 acres of land space with almost 1,000 different buildings, so it can be difficult to know how to approach visiting it with such little time. Before you go, plan to at least hit the six halls on the central line of the complex with a visit to the imperial garden once you've finished the tour. This is the most popular area of the Forbidden City, so expect it to be crowded with tourists.
If you want to dodge crowds and see some of the hidden gem portions of the Forbidden City, I recommend the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility, the Hall of Literary Profundity, and the Palace of Prolonging Happiness. Here is a more detailed blog about visiting the Forbidden City if you're interested! You should budget at least 2-3 for visiting the Forbidden City.
3. Visit the Great Wall of China
Of course, no trip to Beijing two-day tour is complete without visiting the Great Wall of China. It's probably why the main reason why you're taking a quick trip to Beijing after all. The Great Wall of China is about an hour and a half's drive outside of Beijing city center, and there are two primary sections that tourists visit: Badaling and Mutianyu.
The Mutianyu section is less crowded and less touristy so of course, I sprung for this one, and I recommend that you do too. We arrived at the base of the wall at about 1 o clock, took a shuttle bus to the cable car, and rode the cable car up the mountain to the freaking Great. Wall. of. China.
Ask me 5 years ago if I ever in my wildest dreams thought I'd visit this world wonder in China and I'd look at you like you were crazy! You mean there's a world outside beyond my hometown? I'd say. Yes, and it's spectacular!
I wrote a more detailed guide about how to visit the Mutianyu section Great Wall of China, but for now - here's some of my favorite shots I got there.
We were lucky enough to have the Wall virtually to ourselves. I guess since it was winter time and off-season it was much less crowded than it normally would be, but seriously we probably ran into only about a dozen other people in our hour or two walking along the Wall.
The Mutianyu section is very well kept and easy to navigate, and it sure is a beautiful sight. The centuries-old wall went on for as far as the eye could see, twisting and turning along the ridges of the mountains. There are simply no words to describe the feelings one gets at the Great Wall of China. I search the whole world for those speechless moments and this one probably tops them all.
After about an hour of walking around, we took the cable car back down to the shuttle bus station and took the shuttle bus back to where our driver was waiting and parked outside of the entrance. I was riding on a travel high for the entire 2-hour drive back to Beijing city, unable to completely process that I just visited the Great Wall of China with my wonderful mother by my side. It was really nice to be able to mutually freak out with my mom and talk about how amazing the day was instead of having to keep those thoughts inside my head, as I normally have to as a solo traveler. Even though most of the time I appear crazy and do end up talking to myself and vocalizing my amazed feelings out loud, haha.
Practical tips for visiting Beijing for the first time
How to get to Beijing
Most travelers enter by air through Beijing Capital International Airport, either from abroad or from other cities in China. There are also high-speed trains connecting many Chinese cities to Beijing, but since the country is so huge it still will eat away a good chunk of your time.
Where to stay in Beijing
I highly recommend both Hotel Eclat Beijing and Beijing East Hotel. They are moderately priced around $100-$200 per night. For more budget options, I did research and found out that the best dorm/hostels are Peking Youth Hostel and Peking Yard Hostel.
Conclusion: Beijing two-day tour
If you're considering visiting China on the time-restricted visa free transit and need to Beijing in 48 hours, I 100% suggest hiring a driver for the day to take you to all of the sights. Beijing isn't the most English-friendly city which is totally fine because I certainly don't speak Mandarin, but it just makes it difficult to navigate around by yourself without a guide. With our driver we had a jam-packed but super enjoyable day and saw mostly all that we wanted to see in Beijing. I can't wait to return one day and go back to see more of the Wall! There you have it, how to see Beijing in 2 days.