There is no place in the world quite like the capital city of China. Beijing is a modern-day metropolis with a legendary history that is woven throughout its temples, palaces, bustling streets, and high rises. As the gateway to China’s imperial past, you can find sites dating back 5,000 years in this city, as well as newly built high rises dating back to the 2008 Summer Olympic games. This Beijing neighborhood guide provides information on where to stay in Beijing as well as how to get around the city.
In Beijing, modernity outweighs tradition, but you’ll still be able to find it in the walls of the Forbidden City and a tour around the Great Wall. It’s one of the six ancient cities named by China, and it’s also called the heart and soul of the country’s politics. Whether it’s the chance to explore the Ming Dynasty or a dream-like nightlife, Beijing offers a variety of entertainment for the city-loving traveler.
Where to Stay in Beijing
Beijing is one of the world’s largest cities with the tallest high rises and lots of unique neighborhood with their own wonders. Despite the expanse of high rises, office towers, and shopping centers, historic sites abound in almost every district. You can find imperial palaces, mansions, and temples built between the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.
Knowing where to stay in Beijing is important as you don't want to spend your days stuck in traffic or lost in the subway maze. When you start to research places to stay in Beijing, you should look for larger accommodations (hotels, guesthouses, and B&Bs) that are near subway stations.
This Beijing neighborhood guide gives you a deeper look into the city’s most popular places to stay whether you’re on a budget or a jetsetter with plenty of budget to go around.
Where to stay in the Beijing?
- If you're looking for great places to stay, my recommendation is to take a look on Booking.com because of their awesome collection of everything that ranges from budget to luxury. Their guesthome/B&B collection is also starting to rival what I can find on Airbnb plus they have a much better cancellation policy.
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The Main 4 Beijing Neighborhoods
Looking for places to stay in Beijing? You should start by picking out a neighborhood that interests you the most. There are multiple districts in Beijing with notable historic sites and things to do. This Beijing neighborhood guide gives you a complete view of the city. Here’s a brief guide to each of them:
- Dongcheng: Known as “East City,” Dongcheng covers the eastern half of the old imperial area of Beijing. Most come here to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, which includes the old imperial palace. Other areas of interest include the city’s hutong and temples, as well as Wangfujing Street.
- Xicheng: This is the central district in Beijing, which is known as the political center. There are several political buildings in this area, and the top officers of the communist party also work here. The Houhai area is well known for its bars and nightlife, as well as the Xidan shopping district. Some other areas of note include the Beijing zoo, Beihai Park, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts.
- Chaoyang: This is an area located in the Liaoning province of China. You will find many historic and natural wildlife sites around this area,including the Chaoyang Bird Fossil National Geopark and the Dalinghe National Water Park and Scenic Area.
- Haidian: This is a large district in the northwest area of Beijing. This is another area of natural beauty with historic temples, palaces, and gardens. Here you will find The Summer Palace, The Old Summer Palace, Fragrant Hills, Beijing Botanical Garden, Tsinghua University, and Five Pagoda Temple.
Beijing Quick Traveling Tips
Beijing is one of those cities that is built on contradictions. With both modern and ancient traditions, you need to be careful if this is your first-time to the capital city of China. Here you’ll find enormous, nearly vacant squares next to a labyrinth of hutong (alleyways) as well as market sellers that have plenty of unique creations to share.
So what’s the most important thing to note first about this city?
How to Get Around
You can plan your trip by how you’ll get around the city. However, we recommend taxis unless you’ve got a guide to help you through the city’s sometimes confusing subway stations.
The first thing you should know about Beijing is that you’ll likely start out at the Beijing Capital International Airport. It’s easy to catch a taxi here. A ride into one of the districts will cost you about $15 to $30 depending on where you decide to go. Getting to your hotel will probably take more than 30 minutes as there tends to be a lot of traffic throughout the capital city.
Taxis are probably the easiest way to get around if you have the budget. If not, then the subway is going to be a fast and affordable way to travel. It’s about $0.25 to go anywhere in Beijing, so it’s pretty cheap to go from district to district.
While most signs are in Chinese, you’ll see some with English translations as well. You should always know the name of your destination to ensure that you get there. If you do get lost, most Beijing locals are friendly enough, and if you pick out a younger person, you’ll likely get someone who speaks English.
If you don’t mind bikes, then it’s a great way to learn the city on your own for much less. You can rent a bike for a few dollars per day. Most drivers in Beijing haven’t had that long to practice, so it’s best if you wear a helmet.
Inside of the city awaits a lavish nightlife with bars and restaurants, as well as shopping and marketplaces within the alleyways. You’ll find some of Beijing’s most famous destinations in Dongcheng, but Haidian is well known for its natural beauty and ancient temples.
Plan Your Trip To Beijing
Beijing is one of those cities where you’ll find a bit of anything. It would be prudent to make a list of things you want to do, but if you put too many things on your list, you will wind up missing out on enjoying the city. It’s really not about the amount of things you cram into your vacation, so remember to plan according to your interests. You can pick and choose where to go, allowing yourself a moment to relax in between.
Make a List of Five Things to See
Of course, the number will change depending on how long you stay in Beijing, but if you are headed there for a week, then you probably have time to see a few things in the city and outer limits. You should account for security checks, subway maze transfers, huge travel distances, and traffic as you plan your sightseeing adventures across the different districts.
The best way to do this is to travel to each district separately. You can head to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square at the same time, but you’ll probably need a whole day to visit the Summer Palaces in Haidian.
Don’t Forget the Smog Factor
Beijing is a beautiful city with a lot of people. There are times when the city will be clouded in smog. Sometimes it is worse. For example, the winter has been known to cause many tourists to get sick due to the smog warnings. Spring is the best, but you’ll still encounter some air pollution. There are apps for moments like this. You can use Airpocalypse App for a funny guide on the smog each day. If you decide to spend time outdoors during high smog alerts, you’ll likely wind up sneezing and not enjoying your time in Beijing.
When the smog is highest, that’s when you should head to museums and galleries to explore. With low smog, you can head out to temple grounds and palaces for a bit of exploration.
Pack a Light Day Travel Bag for Security Checks
You will be stopped in every train station for a baggage check. Beijing takes it security very seriously, so you will be examined in train stations and x-rayed whenever you go through a huge travel spot. Some areas have more security than others, such as Tiananmen Square. In these cases, you’ll want to bring along a small travel bag that can be easily ruffled through and declared safe.
Don’t Try to Walk Everywhere
You may think that it looks so close on the map, but it can be deceiving. Beijing isn’t a compact city. You’ll be walking around outside and get lost in the hutong markets. In addition, the air quality is a huge deterrent to doing everything on foot or by bike.
You’ll need to take breaks and explore by taxi at some point. While exploring by bike is the best way to see the city, you should make sure that you know a little bit of Chinese if you’re going to get around.
Bring Coins and Notes with You
Taxi drivers don’t want yuan, they want coins. However, in some markets, market sellers won’t like coins and will prefer yuan. These vendors prefer that you only bring paper money and likely won’t have a credit card reader.
Take Your Own Toilet Paper
Public restrooms are sparse in China, so if you need toilet paper, you’ll need to supply your own. This is true for most of the tourist spots in Beijing. Most restaurants and bars will have a bathroom supplied with toilet paper.
Explore the Hutongs
Many travelers are weary of going into local places, but there’s actually no place safer or more welcoming than these hidden alleyways. It’s one of the ways that you’ll see the city in the purest light as well. Market sellers want you to come to the hutongs to experience their way of life, but of course, you should respect the laws at all times and never get too lost that you can’t find your way back to the hotel.
Don’t Be Fooled by Loud Talkers
In China, it’s customary to speak loudly and passionately. It can be easy to look at these conversations as arguments, but that’s not the case. Talking fast and loudly just means that that the conversation is fun. If you use a translator app or learn Chinese before heading to Beijing, you’ll be able to listen in. Another app that is helpful is Pleco (Android/iOS)
Get the Right Plug Adapter
You’ll need a two-prong or three-prong plug depending on where you go in Beijing. That said you'll find that a lot of hotels still have the standard two-prong North American outlet . Make sure to pick up a few adapters because you're never guaranteed when you're travelling in China.
Ask a High Schooler to Be Your Guide
Younger people in Beijing are taught English at an early age. Most of the people under 25 years old are able to speak Mandarin and English. Students have studied English for years, but they may have never had a chance to use it in a real conversation. You can befriend people in Beijing quickly and allow yourself to get a local’s view of the city this way.
Go to a Teahouse
These are pretty famous in China, but in Beijing, you’ll find too many to count. There are a lot of teas in Beijing to discover. However, you’ll want to head to Lao She’s Teahouse or Liuxianguan to get the full experience.
#1 – Dongchen
Why go to Dongchen
Dongchen is one of those places rich with ancient Chinese history. This district is home to some of the most beautiful architecture wonders to lively food stalls and buzzing streets, you’ll be able to visit Dongchen every day and never get bored.
Suggested hotels near Dongchen
Here are the top hotels to stay in while visiting the Dongchen district in Beijing.
This is a unique hostel concept that brings the tent camping experience indoors with a relaxed and comfortable environment where the staff will always go the extra mile. It's only 13 minutes from Guijie Street and 2.3km from Yonghe Temple.
Located in the traditional Hutong location, this hotel is a comfortable accommodation in downtown Beijing. The rooms are clean, a Western breakfast is included, and the staff is very friendly and speak English. It's not upscale by any means but for a central area, it's quite affordable.
Things to see near Dongchen
- Head to Saffron for tapas – One of the most amazing restaurants is located off of the Wudaoying Hutong Street. Saffron is a Spanish-inspired restaurant that serves up the hottest tapas in Beijing. The restaurant is intimate and modern, so you’ll enjoy fine dining with friends.
- Hit up the 8-Bit gaming bar – This bar is a favorite you’ll find in a hutong alley. 8-Bit is an oasis for younger people and those who love to game. With classic arcade games and lots of drinks, as well as pizza, it’s fun to unwind here and enjoy yourself.
- Go Shopping in Wudaoying Hutong – This is an iconic area of Beijing due to its market vendors, restaurants, chic cafes, and eclectic shops. You’ll be able to browse a number of quaint storefronts, as well as eat your way through tons of street fare and fine dining restaurants.
- Head to Yonghe Temple – This is an ancient landmark that is culturally significant to the area. While you want to take a couple days to explore large temples like this one, it’s fun to roam these ancient halls built in 1694 and see the beautiful Lamasery of Tibetan architecture.
- Visit the Confucius Temple – This temple was first built in 1302 and is one of the places where Confucius lived. However, there have been several construction periods to enlarge the spaces here. You will find Beijing’s scholarly hubs at this temple, where there are stone ledgers filled with the names of all Chinese scholars. There’s also a variety of Confucius sculptures.
- Get some seafood on Ghost Street – While it spans across three sub-districts within Dongchen, Ghost Street is well known for finding excitement and lots of fun on any given day of the week. You can pick up some street food here, or jianbing as they call it.
- Head to The Forbidden City if you’ve never been – Most people love to go to the Forbidden City when in Beijing. It’s one of the places that shows off the ancient architecture and history of the city. However, it is also a tourist trap, so be warned that you will probably find more authentic experiences around The Forbidden City, such as in the hutong areas.
- Take a day for Tiananmen Square – This is Beijing’s political center, and it’s one of the places that you will definitely want to see. This area is in the middle of China’s political headquarters. You will feel as if time has stopped while you’re wondering around these ancient structures, seeing the capital city’s history right up against urbanized streets and skyscrapers.
When you travel to Dongchen, you will likely use a taxi or subway. You’ll find that the area has a lot of visitors, so it will be difficult to walk to these areas. Instead, you should take a bike around this area and visit some of the neighborhoods within Dongchen.
The most central transportation hubs in this area include:
- Beijing International Airport
- Dongzhimen Station
- Wangfujing Station
- Beijing South Railway Station
- Beijing Railway Station
- Wudaokou Station
- Sanyuanquao Station
Activities and tours to try near Dongchen
- Forbidden City Ticket – Looking for advanced tickets where you can skip the line and work with a tour agency that speaks English, this is the one to book ahead of time. Highly rated.
- Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven & Summer Palace By Bus – Explore the history of China on a 7-hour coach tour of some of Beijing’s most iconic sites, including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace.
- Highlight Tour: Tiananmen, Forbidden City & Great Wall – Visit 3 of the main highlights of Beijing – Tiananmen Square, Forbidden Square and Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Goes from 7AM to 6PM.
#2 – Xicheng
Why go to Xicheng
This is a charming and beautiful area of Beijing that offers the cozier side to the city. For many visitors, this is the reason why they return to the capital city again and again. Most visitors to this part of Beijing use a bicycle or walking tour to explore the area. The area is home to many courtyard houses, quaint hutong areas, and lots of treats on Huguosi Jie, which is just west of the icon Mei Lanfang house.
Hotels in Xicheng
Here are the top hotels in the Xicheng district.
Transformed from a former mansion and home to a Qing Dynansty administrator, this is a beautiful hotel with rooms that feature wifi, sandalwood furnishings, a tea house and restaurant. It is right in the Houhai area as well.
Things to see near Xicheng
- Beihai Park – Also known as Round City, it contains beautiful sculptures and gardens, including the white-jade Buddha and an enormous bowl given to Kubla Khan. You’ll also find the Temple of Eternal Peace and the Shayion Hall.
- Beijing Zoo – While you’re probably the most interested in the giant pandas, you shouldn’t miss the tiger exhibit as well.
- Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum – This is a small, lesser-known museum that’s located inside of a Ming Dynasty template. It reveals some of the most rare artifacts from ancient Chinese civilizations, as well as a deeper look into the architecture of Ming Dynasty.
- Capital Museum – This museum was moved in 2005 to be closer to Tiananmen Square. This is one of the country’s most prestigious cultural museums and shows off artifacts from ancient history.
- Cultural Palace of Nationalities – Want to get to know the dynamic history of the Chinese people? This is a great place to start. You’ll find over 56 ethnic groups represented here.
- Liulichang – When you want to find art, books, and little gifts, this is the place to go. This street has been completely restored and features unique market vendors from the area.
- Prince Gong’s Palace – Once used a grand compound that used to house the imperial relatives, it was built during 1777 at the time of the Qing Dynasty and features some interesting sculptures from the time period.
You probably should rent a bike if you want to get the most out of Xicheng. You’ll be able to zip around the crowds and see all of the palaces on a day trip. You can rent bikes on almost every street corner here.
Taxis are another great way to get around the area. However, if you can find a local tour, you’ll easily be able to fit in all of the sights in one day and get to see more by exploring the hutongs attached to each architectural site.
Activities and tours to try near Xicheng
- 4 Hour Beijing Tour to Jingshan Park and Beihai Park – A full dose of Beijing history, culture, and geography that includes a tea ceremony at Jingshan Park, a beautiful view overlooking Forbidden City, strolling the Hutongs and closing off with a boat ride in the legendary Beihai Park.
- Private Beijing Jingshan Hill, Beihai, and Hutongs with Imperial Lunch – A 7-hour tour that includes Jingshan Park, Beihai Park, the famous hutongs, drum-beating ceremony at the Drum Tower and imperial-style lunch at Beihai's Fanghshan restaurant.
- Private Beijing Breakfast Tour with Beihai Park and Morning Taichi Watching – The perfect cure for jetlag with an early morning breakfast tour that gets you active with taichi and exploring Beihai Park.
#3 – Haidian
Why go to Haidian
Exploring this area is for the naturalists who want to see temples and climb the side of a mountain to enjoy the Summer Palace. It’s a beautiful area with lots of places to see, as well as the location of the Tsinghua University, which is its own city within Beijing as well.
Hotels in Haidian
These are the top hotels in the Haidian neighbourhood in Beijing.
This hotel offers an authentic Chinese experience with a roofed courtyard and Oriental furnishing. It's like being taken back in time. Each room has free wifi and is 8 minutes from the Jishuitan Subway Station. Breakfast is also included.
Things to see near Haidian
- Summer Palace: The Summer Palace is is best visited during April to October. This is a place full of beauty and wonder, so you’ll likely need a full day to explore this area. With multiple gardens and attached palaces built in the Qing dynasty, it is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site. The beautiful “Garden of Clear Ripples” was once partially destroyed by soldiers, but it was rebuilt and renamed by the Empress Dowager Cixi.
- The Old Summer Palace: These were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, and while much of the area has been looted or destroyed, it has never been restored. It serves as a reminder of the dangers of imperialism.
- Fragrant Hills: For those who want to get away from the city, there’s no better place to do so than this former Qing dynasty imperial garden.
- Beijing Botanical Garden: Beijing is perhaps best known for its quiet gardens. This is located just near the east side of Fragrant Hills, and it’s green foliage and beautiful flowers are a nice break from the city’s traffic and smog.
- Tsinghua University: The university area is a city within a city. You will get lost inside of its efficiency with several markets, banks, post officials, and the campus itself.
- Five Pagoda Temple: For those who love architecture, one of Beijing’s most prized areas is the Diamond Throne Tower that is at the center of the Temple of the Great Righteous Awakening. While parts of the wooden temple were burnt down in 1860, you will still get to marvel at the brick and marble Diamond-Throne Tower.
The best way to get around this area is by subway. You’ll be able to crisscross and head out to the outlying areas fast, but you should be careful to bring a map.
You can also take a taxi out to the different palaces and Fragrant Hills. However, you’ll want a local guide to walk with you around the area if you’re not sure what you’re looking at. There are also plenty of tours to these areas.
If you want to see the lake at The Summer Palace, you should hop on the ferry to explore more of the area.
Activities and tours to try near Haidian
#4 – Chaoyang
Why go to Chaoyang
This is one of the largest and most historic areas of Beijing. Here you will find urban areas, such as the Beijing Central Business District with lots of skyscrapers, as well as fun and entertainment. It’s the best place to indulge in nightlife, especially if you are looking to check out the Olympic venues used for the 2008 games.
There are also a ton of skyscrapers in this area to explore. The most prestigious buildings and modern architectural wonders can be found in this part of the city.
Hotels in Chaoyang
Here are two of the recommended places t o stay in Chaoyang, Beijing.
This is a hybrid between a hostel and hotel. Rooms offer fantastic views of the city and very close to the metro. The owners are very attentive to their guests and often cook meals for a small price. Yoga of course is part of their offerings.
Things to see near Chaoyang
- Central Business District – If you are a huge fan of modern architecture or just want to enjoy some of the most exquisite fine dining, the CBD is home to Guomao or the most prestigious businesses in the country. The ultra-modern buildings here will amaze you, but it’s the World Trade Center complex that you’ll enjoy to walk around and shop due to a variety of luxury international brands, exclusive restaurants, and prime night spots.
- Sanlitun – For local shopping and nightlife, you can head over to Sanlitun. This is an area popular for ex-pats as well, so you should expect to more retail shops and international scenes, as well as the widest selection of cuisine. Bars and nightclubs also abound in this area.
- 798 Art Zone – For those who love the visual arts, then you’ll want to travel to this arts mecca that features all of the best artists from China and beyond. There are also a few cafes, restaurants, and bars located here.
- National Stadium, National Aquatics Center, and Olympic Sports Center – These were areas used as part of the 2008 Olympic Games. You’ll find some nostalgic areas to visit around here. The most impressive area is probably the inside of the Water Cube.
The subway is your best bet for getting around this traffic-heavy city. You’ll easily be able to get to all of the Olympic buildings, as well as downtown bars and nightlife. Taxis are also a safe bet at night when you want to get to a particular restaurant in the area.
Subway line 10 was opened up for the Olympic games and travels parallel to the main road or Third Ring Road, which runs through most of Chaoyang. However, Line 5 of the subway will take you to the north and south parts of the district.
Activities and tours to try near Chaoyang
What about Beijing Airbnb rentals?
If you prefer to stay in private room rentals, here are my picks for the top 7 Beijing Airbnb properties that you can find on the market right now. All of the ones listed here are under $100 USD and hosted by Superhosts.
Where to Stay in Beijing Wrap Up
So there you have it. These are my choices for where to stay in Beijing. What about you? Do you have suggestions from your experience? Drop a comment below. The more ideas the better!
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