When I flew back home to Germany from Seoul, I had a Beijing layover and decided to book the flight with the longest layover possible to venture out into the city! I had a total of 14 hours to spend a whole day in the Chinese capital to explore everything and a little more! Even if you are in Beijing for less than that, even a 6-hour layover is worth leaving the airport and heading towards to center! Keep reading and find out exactly how you can have a blast during your layover in Beijing.
Here’s my perfect Beijing layover itinerary:
First Things First: Visa, Luggage Storage and City Train
You might have heard that most countries’ nationals require a visa to enter China. So, how come you can just leave the airport without a visa already stamped into your passport during a Beijing layover? Luckily, China introduced 72-hour transit visas to promote tourism. This means, if you are planning on staying under 72 hours in China, you can conveniently get a transit visa at immigration!
Once you passed the immigration stage, be sure to either pick up your luggage from the baggage claim, or, if your suitcase goes all the way through to your end destination, you might want to store any extra luggage that might make your short Beijing trip harder than it needs to be. At Beijing International Airport, there are various luggage storage facilities on each terminal. The prices for small bags are at 30 RMB ($4.5/4 euros) and for bigger suitcases they charge 50 RMB for 24 hours.
When you got everything sorted, you might want to head towards the big signs screaming “AIRPORT EXPRESS” and take the convenient 25-minute train to DONGZHIMEN Station which is in the center of the city! The ticket price is 25 RMB and they only accept cash. If you aren’t able to withdraw money at a Chinese ATM, you might want to exchange some money before your trip or at the airport.
Keep in mind that DONGZHIMEN Station will also transport you back to the airport after your short trip through Beijing. Let’s take a look at the perfect itinerary for your short exploring.
Yonghegong Lama Temple 雍和宫
Why not check out a masterpiece temple once you’re in the center Beijing? Take the subway from DONGZHIMEN to YONGHEGONG LAMA TEMPLE. What makes this temple unique is that it is a monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and shows great Tibetan influences in the architecture. However, it’s not enough as this temple, built in 1694 during the Qing dynasty, originally served as an official residence for court eunuchs. It’s simply a must visit!
Guozijian Street 国子监街
Continue on east from the Lama Temple and you will find the entrance of this street. Built in 1306, this area was the highest educational institution of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing officials. Wandering through the narrow street, you will find yourself in your first “Hutong”, the traditional alleyways of Beijing. Besides the historic houses, you will also be able to find cute cafes, pubs and little shops in this street.
Drum Tower鼓楼 and Bell Tower 钟楼
Once you come to the end of Guozijian Street, walk up Andingmen Inner Street towards the subway station ANDINGMEN and take the subway to SHICHAHAI. This is another interesting area marked by the Drum and Bell Tower to the north and a couple of other cute Hutongs, including the Tobacco Pouch Street (烟袋斜街).
Houhai 后海 and Qianhai 前海
Once you walked the tobacco pouch street all the way to the end, you will find yourself at a lake. Wander around the lake to the north until you reach Houhai lake and then walk back down on the other side towards Qianhai lake. This area features some of the best restaurants and pubs and is a major hub for nightlife. However, even if you visit here during the day, you can have a nice walk and appreciate the beauty of the lakes.
Beihai Park 北海公园
Walking southward from Qianhai, you will get to the north gate of famous Beihai Park. This park is a former imperial garden just northwest of the Forbidden City. It was built in the 11th century and is among the largest Chinese gardens. It is also home to numerous historically important structures, palaces, and temples.
Tiananmen 天安门 and Forbidden City 故宮
Walking through Beihai Park, you will soon reach its southern end and come to Tiananmen Square. Iconic itself, the square is also the main entrance to the Forbidden City. From 1420 to 1912, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace and home of 24 emperors. It is possible to walk through the Forbidden City in 45 minutes if you are in a rush.
Wangfujing Street Markets and Food 王府井
Bravo! All the walking is slowly coming to an end. Since you arrived at the north exit of the Forbidden City, you need to holler a taxi in order to make your way to the Wangfujing Pedestrian street to buy some souvenirs and grab some Chinese street food. In case you cannot get a cab, there is a bus station called “故宫” to the left of the exit. Hop on bus “专2路环线” and get off after you passed THREE stops at “新东安市场” (the 4th stop). This bus ride will only take about 15 minutes.
Tip: Inexperienced China travellers should better holler a taxi and tell the driver “Wangfujing”. The taxi ride should take about 10 minutes. Don’t worry: taxis are cheap in China.
Once at Wangfujing, you can stroll around and buy some cool souvenirs at the street markets and try some crazy Chinese street food if you fancy! For a complete guide on where to find the best street food places in Wangfujing, check this post.
Get Back To The Airport
Leave at least 2-2.5 hours before your flight from here. Go to the subway stop WANGFUJING, or the next closest DENGSHIKOU, and make your way back to station DONGZHIMEN for the airport express. Follow the signs accordingly and pay your 25 RMB (cash only) again and head to the airport. Make sure you check which Terminal you need to get to.
Dont’ forget to pick up your stored luggage if you have any and then proceed with the normal check-in and security check measures as normally. If you don’t know your gate, check the screens or ask staff to find you gate.
Once at your gate, look back on a wonderful day spent in Beijing, one of the most intriguing cities in the world!
Should this solo layover tour be too adventurous for you, there are even Beijing layover tours you can book where tour guides pick you up and bring you back to the airport! Find them here.
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