If it wasn’t for finding an amazing Chinese New Year offer on the British Airways website where they were offering two Club World returns to China for £2018 I wouldn’t have had this fantastic opportunity to walk on the Great Wall of China. This fantastic deal became even sweeter when I found out that you could combine the flights with a hotel and get Club World flights and 5 nights in a 4* hotel for just £1,125p. This was a deal that I just couldn’t resist, so soon after hearing about this deal I booked a cultural Beijing trip for myself and three friends.
Cultural Beijing Trip
Flight Time from London: The published flight time to Beijing is ten hours, the actual flight took close to nine hours to get to Beijing and eleven on the return to London.
Airline & Airport of Operation: I flew to Beijing on British Airways on a flight and hotel package, booked over Chinese New Year 2018, where I got the amazing deal including Club World flights.
Transfer Time to City: Beijing Capital Airport is located an hour’s drive from central Beijing. As there were four of us and lots of luggage we took a people-carrier size taxi and it cost just under £30 from the airport to out hotel in central Beijing, a standard taxi would cost half of this.
Where to Stay on a Cultural Beijing Trip
For my cultural Beijing trip I booked to stay at the 4* Beijing Novotel Xinqiao which was around a half hour walk to Tiananmen Square and also Wangfujing Street. The Novotel had quite a large lobby area, but not very extensive seating areas. The hotel had 3 restaurants and a bar offering a range of different cuisines as well as a large buffet style restaurant offering a variety of international options.
During my stay I ate in the buffet restaurant as well as the Utopia Restaurant. The food in Utopia was excellent and very reasonably priced, it cost around £15pp for two main dishes and a side each as well as a couple of drinks. The buffet cost approximately £20pp which was a fair price and also included local wine and beer as well as soft drinks. There was also a fitness centre and spa in the hotel but I didn’t use these during my stay.
The rooms were quite spacious and comfortable, however the decoration was a bit dated and could do with a refresh, this was also the case for the hotel in general. Due to our busy schedule while in Beijing I ordered room service twice, and both times it was reasonably quick and good quality food. The room service menu was also very extensive.
Top Attractions for a Cultural Beijing Trip
Great Wall of China
A trip to the Great Wall of China while on a cultural Beijing trip goes without saying really. I booked a fantastic day trip to the wall from Beijing for just £45 on Expedia. Click HERE for full details of my fantastic trip.
Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City
A visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are not to be missed on anyone’s trip to Beijing. We arrived at Tiananmen Square one morning and were amazed to see how large it was, much bigger than you imagine it to be from looking at photos. To enter the square you have to pass through security checks like you do at airports and your ID is also checked. It’s a good idea to carry either your passport, ID card or driving license with you when visiting any attractions in Beijing. The square is lined on all sides by grand buildings which include museums and government buildings, and within the square itself are a few very grand, traditional-looking Chinese buildings.
The famous entrance to the Forbidden City is located at the north end of the square. Be advised that the queue to get in looks very daunting at any time of day, but to my amazement it actually moves quickly so it doesn’t take too long. The tickets to get in cost around £6pp and can be purchased in advance online or at the ticket office on the way in.
The Forbidden City is an absolutely massive complex consisting of many palaces, temples, gardens and other buildings. You could spend all day exploring the city but as we had a lot more to pack into each day we stayed mainly on the principal trail through the city, viewing only the main temples which are along this route. We spent a couple of hours in the square and city, but as it’s so vast you could easily spend a whole day there.
The Forbidden City in Beijing is the former Imperial Palace dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The Forbidden City is over 950 meters in length and 750 meters in width and includes over 980 buildings and over 8,800 rooms.
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven was located about a half an hour walk from our hotel and was a much smaller complex than the Forbidden City but it was set in beautiful parklands. It cost approximately £3.50 to get into the park which included entrance to the temple complex.
The Temple of Heaven was originally used by the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties as a place of worship for the Heaven Worship Ceremony. The temple was first built in 1420 and was later extended. The Temple and park were opened to the public in 1988.
Beijing Olympic Park
While in Beijing we also paid a quick visit to the Olympic park which was used in the 2008 Olympic Games, and is planned to be reused for the 2022 Winter Olympics which will be hosted in Beijing. The Olympic park was a fair distance from our hotel so we used the metro to get there and it took about 45 minutes in total, including a couple of train changes.
During our stay we also visited Shanghai for two days. We took an internal flight from a smaller airport in Beijing early one morning, returning the following evening. We booked these flights on lastminute.com and they cost about £180pp return. The flight time was just over two hours.
Food on a Cultural Beijing Trip
During my trip to Beijing we mainly ate in the hotel’s restaurants or had room service due to being out most days from early morning until late evening, because of this I had the chance to eat out just once. Because I only got the opportunity for one meal out I decided it would have to be an absolutely amazing meal. Through a friend’s recommendation I had lunch at one of Beijing’s few Michelin star restaurant’s, Da Dong. Da Dong is famous for its exquisite Peking Duck. However, Da Dong also has a very extensive menu if Peking Duck is not your cup of tea.
For lunch the four of us shared two Peking ducks. As well as this we were given complimentary starters consisting of a peanut style dip with crispy hollow bread and also a cleansing chicken broth to finish the meal. Words cannot describe how delicious the Peking duck was, without a doubt the best I’ve ever had. Taking into consideration this was a Michelin star restaurant and each of us had a couple of alcoholic drinks, we were slightly shocked to see that our bill was only £80 for the four of us in total. It’s crazy to think that in other locations I’ve paid more than that per person for a Michelin star meal.
Top Tip: I started my cultural Beijing trip taking taxis around the city and this was a bit hit and miss, because half the time there was a clear language barrier, and on a couple of occasions we ended up initially not going to where we wanted to go. After a few days we decided to try the metro system and this was a huge revelation as all signage and maps were in English so we quickly found that we could get to anywhere we wanted in the city for next to no cost at all. A single ticket on Beijing’s metro costs just 30p per trip.
Currency: China’s currency is the Yuan Renminbi, and at my time of visiting the exchange rate was around 9 RMB to 1 GBP. For simplicity we just worked on the ratio of 10 to 1 during our trip.
Weather: I visited Beijing in late October and the weather was in the late teens to early 20s and sunny, but quite hazy on most days which was due to the high level of pollution.
Best Time To Go: Beijing can reach the early 40s during the summer and can drop down to minus figures during the winter months, giving the city quite diverse weather over the course of a year. For a happy medium I would recommend a spring or autumn visit, but you should watch out for Chinese holidays as during these times you will not find many shops, restaurants or attractions open.
Recommended Duration: I visited China for 5 nights, but I found this to be far too rushed. I would recommend a minimum of 7 nights for a more for a more relaxed trip, but allow longer if you wish to travel further afield. I visited Shanghai for 36 hours but if I had allowed more time for my trip I would have gone to Shanghai for three days at least.
Conclusion: I had a fantastic time in Beijing even though it was a very busy trip. I managed to walk on the Great Wall of China which is something I’ve always wanted to do, as well as see some fantastic sites and sample some delicious food. Even though I had a really enjoyable cultural Beijing trip I don’t think I’d rush back to Beijing, simply because I now feel I’ve seen everything there which I set out to see. That being said I would definitely return to China in general as there is a lot more that I would like to see and do in other parts of the country.