Beijing is capital of China and its second-largest city - only Shanghai is bigger. Millions of tourists each year take cheap flights to Beijing to experience this ancient city, home to such famous landmarks as Tiananmen Square, the world's largest open urban square, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, the wonderfully named Forbidden City with its Palace Museum and the Great Wall (Badaling section).
Newer landmarks, built ahead of the Olympic Games, are the National Stadium, known as the "Bird's Nest", the National Swimming Centre, known as the "Water Cube", and the National Grand Theatre, the "Eggshell", all cutting-edge and, frankly, stunning.
Taking a tour of the hutongs (narrow alleyways) is a great way to soak up the atmosphere of this fascinating city. Another way is through its food. Peking Duck is reason alone to take a trip. The Houhai Lake district has dozens of dining options. Sanlitun is one of Beijing's most popular bar streets while Gui Jie (or "Ghost Street"), a stretch of restaurants and eateries, comes to life at night when red lanterns sway above the heads of hungry Beijingers.
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Beijing has a continental monsoon climate. The seasons are distinct. Spring is mild, summer rainy, fall clear and winter cold and snowy. In terms of booking cheap flights to Beijing, spring (April and May) and fall (September and October) are the best seasons to visit. January is the coldest month, temperatures average -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). July is the hottest, with temperatures averaging 26 degrees (78F).
When to fly to Beijing
The summer months and Chinese New Year (Spring Festival, which falls January/February) are peak season. Avoid travelling at the start of May (Labour Day) and start of October (National Day) if you want to keep costs low.
The best times to book cheap flights to Beijing are spring and fall. If you avoid Labor Day and National Day, you can save on hotel accommodations.
Winter is off season.
Getting around Beijing
There are plenty of ways to get around this enormous city. Beijing has an extensive bus and subway network to get you where you need to go. The subway is fastest and easiest, but will be very crowded during rush hour. Buses are always crowded.
The taxis run off of metres, and are very easy to find, but many drivers don’t speak English, so it helps to have your destination written in Chinese.
Cycle rickshaws are another option, but you will have to bargain your rate, and some drivers demand more when you arrive at your destination.
You can also rent a car and driver for the day, or rent your own car. Be aware that you won’t be able to leave the city limits if you’re driving. The city is too large to walk, but you can certainly take public transportation or a taxi to a particular area and then explore on foot.
If you are brave enough, rent a bicycle and ride alongside the busy traffic. Biking is very popular in Beijing and bike lanes are clearly marked. If you get overwhelmed, go with the flow of cycling traffic, especially when crossing streets.
Beijing insider information
- The must-visits are the Forbidden City (Palace Museum), the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, Mao Zedong's Mausoleum, the Summer Palace, the Ming Tombs and, the Great Wall.
- The Donghuamen Night Market is a 2,000-square-metre bazaar, a great place to sample Beijing cuisine under the swaying red lanterns.
- Beihai Park was once reserved for the imperial family, and is a wonderful example of a classical Chinese garden. The park is dotted with pavilions, temples, restaurants and covered walkways. There is a lake that covers more than half of the park. In the centre of the lake is Qiónghuá Island. A 40m high stupa (the Bai Ta or White Dagoba) is on the highest point of the island.
- Lama Temple is Beijing's most magnificent Buddhist temple. The temple defines ornate. Its archways are richly worked, each of its five main halls are taller than the preceding one, there are revolving prayer halls, multi-coloured tiles and huge statues.
- For art and culture, visit the Dashanzi Art District. For shopping, head to Oriental Plaza shopping mall, Wangfujing Street and Panjiayuan Market where you can pick up almost-perfect counterfeit fashion.