China is overflowing with culture, delicious dishes and centuries-old buildings. You could easily lose a week here exploring, but if you only have 24 hours in Beijing, be sure to take in the best of Beijing!
[*Note: I didn’t include the Great Wall of China in this because that takes at least half a day. If you truly only have a layover and 24 hours in Beijing and want to see the Great Wall, I would HIGHLY recommend looking into China Highlights. They have a bunch of tours, some of which include a layover trip to the Great Wall.]
I arrived in the City Center close to 6:00pm local time, and walked from the Dongdan stop to my hotel, The Grand Hyatt at the Oriental Plaza. Now, I don’t consider myself frugal – I call myself financially savvy, so usually when I travel I’m balling on a serious budget, but while I was in Beijing the circumstances were different and I got the chance to spend a week in this gorgeous 5-star hotel right in the city center.
Location: perfect + walkable
Fitness + Wellness Center: incredible
Dining: they sell wine in the lobby and have a gourmet chocolates counter, so check-plus on this one!
Beds: slightly more comfortable than sleeping on a bag of bricks, slightly less comfortable than sleeping on the ground (but that’s just my opinion)
Overall, if nicer accommodations are within your budget I would recommend the Grand Hyatt. But you shouldn’t be spending the majority of your time in a new country in your hotel room anyways, so as long as the place you’re staying is safe and conveniently located (ex. walkable to interesting cultural sites, nightlife, public transportation), I recommend opting for something lower-cost, like a hostel!
I took it easy my first night in Beijing, because I wanted to get a fresh and early start in the morning (and sleep off most of my jet lag!). Fortunately, I had more than 24 hours to explore my new city, but if you’re crunched for time use this itinerary to take in the best of Beijing!
Make sure you get an early morning start! There’s a lot to pack into your day. Depending on where you’re staying, I would work my way from the down up!
Start at Tiananmen Square
With only 24 hours in Beijing, you’ll want to start early. Grab a coffee and head to Tiananmen Square. This square is famous for a stand-off between city officials and students. The vast square is definitely a site to see and the history is extremely interesting. It doesn’t take long to see and is located right across from the Forbidden City so head there next!
Walk Over to the Forbidden City
Ah the Forbidden City. This stop will be your most time consuming, but it’s totally worth it in my opinion. The vast city seemingly never ends, and there are plenty of buildings and rooms to explore. Give yourself AT LEAST two hours to walk around. I would also recommend a tour guide for this tourist site; otherwise, you’re just wandering around looking at buildings and you won’t understand the significance. With that said, be careful of the guides offering their services outside of the walls. Some of them may be wonderful, but more often than not, you’re most likely going to get ripped off.
Grab a Train to the Wudaoying Hutong and Lama Temple
You’re probably hungry by now (trying to squeeze everything into 24 hours in Beijing can be tiresome); so, grab the train to the Wudaoying Hutong & lunch at Wan. Hutongs are famous in Beijing, and the Wudaoying Hutong is right across the main street from Lama Temple (it also happens to be one of my favorite!). Start off with lemongrass and ginger tea (warmed right in front of you!), a generous order of their nut spring rolls and finish with pho as your main dish. Heaven. Seriously. This street is also great if you are a vegetarian. Most of the food options here will suit your needs.
Spend some time walking off your delicious pho (and food coma) on the Wudaoying Hutong and stop in some shops! I’d recommend the shop that carries “Navel” clothing. They’ve got some crazy stuff you certainly can’t get anywhere else. Stop in at one of the little cafes lining Wudaoying, there are plenty, and warm up with a traditional Pu’er tea (or a crisp Pilsner!). I stopped at this great little place that had tons of stickers from travelers from all over the world on the outside wall. I even made a little friend! Another favorite bar of mine is Ben Bar. It’s quaint – you basically pick out your beer from a fridge and someone will open it for you – but it’s warm and cozy and a great place to relax and re-energize.
Next, head to the Yonghe Temple (Lama Temple). It’s right across from the hutong. At this working temple and monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, you’ll find some of the most impressive Han Chinese and Tibetan colorings and architecture. Pick up some free incense as you enter, and you can have a moment of prayer or reflection at different incense cauldrons throughout the temple. Expect to spend about an hour here.
Immerse Yourself in the Culture in Hou Hai
Hitting up the Lama Temple, Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are all key tourist and historical spots. Now, that you’ve seen them, you can relax and really experience the Beijing culture. Once you are done exploring the Lama Temple, I would recommend heading over to the Hou Hai area. It is seriously one of my favorites! If you still have some walking in you, take the train to the South Luogu Alley and you’ll find yourself at the Nanluoguxiang Hutong. It’s one of the most popular – although, I still prefer the Wudaoying Hutong. Head down this hutong to see more shops – most of these are clothing and trinket shops. Here though, you will really begin to experience what life is like in Beijing. Turn left down the Beibing Masi Hutong and begin to head to the Hou Hai district.
The Hou Hai area is so lively! And very different from everything you’ve seen so far. From bars to shopping to gross food on a stick, you can find everything here. You can even find some tea shops – just be wary as tourists often get ripped off here. In the winters, people can be found ice skating around the pond and in the summer, you can enjoy a trip out to the island in the middle. Spend some time wandering and taking it all in!
Meet Other Foreigners in Sanlitun
Head back to your hotel and rest before dinner time. Once dinner rolls around, make your way to one of the famous Peking Duck restaurants or grab some Pho. I don’t think Beijing gets enough recognition as a culinary city, but the food here is some of the best! If you still have energy at the end of the night, head over to the Sanlitun area. This area is where you will find most of the foreigners, but it also has some great food and bars. Also – if you are a karaoke fan then this area is a must head to!
I love this city so much and really think that if you are able to visit, you can spend more than 24 hours in Beijing. Below is a map of different spots that you can visit so you can make your own amazing itinerary. What are your must sees in Beijing?