What to Do on a Layover in Beijing
When I booked my flights home (NZ) for Christmas, budget dictated that I would have a long layover in Beijing. However, this suddenly became an added bonus when I discovered China allow you to visit for up to 72 hours visa-free. My 12 hours in Beijing quickly changed from an annoyance to an adventure. I would get to explore one of the biggest cities in the world while waiting for my flight home. These flights are becoming increasingly common as China attempts to boost tourist numbers. So for those of you who are interested or considering it yourselves, here's how I spent 12 hours in Beijing on a layover.
How to enter China visa-free
China offers a 72-hour visa-free stay for visitors who arrive by air into one of 18 Chinese cities. Citizens of Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some others can enjoy a visit to Chine without having to obtain a visa providing your stay is shorter than 3 days. Simply head through immigration using the correct line marked '72 hour visa-free'. You can find more info on the policy and which countries are eligible here
*Update* This has now been changed to 144 hours in some cities (including Beijing) which means you can now spend up to six days exploring Beijing on a layover!
How long do you need to leave Beijing Airport on a layover?
I had 12 hours in Beijing but only ended up using about six to go and explore the city. I recommend factoring in an hour each way to get to and from the airport using the subway. You can see a couple of major sights in Beijing in just 2-3 hours.
How to get from Beijing Aiport to the city
The fastest and easiest way to get from the airport to Beijing is by subway. The trains leave from terminal 2 and 3 every 15 minutes. It takes roughly 20 minutes to reach Beijing from the airport and it is easy to use the subway to get to other parts of the city.
Everything is incredibly well signposted in English and there are even English announcements on all the trains and subways (apparently this is since the Olympics). So I had no trouble finding my way into Beijing city centre and to my first destination - Tiananmen Square.
Where to stay in Beijing on layover
If your layover in Beijing will involve an overnight stay have a look at some of these accommodation options for centrally located comfortable stays.
Budget: M Youth Space - Comfortable and affordable dorm rooms, rooftop terrace and a five miunte walk to the metro. Book now
Mid-range: Kelly’s Courtyard Hotel - Beautiful traditional decoration and detailing, rooftop terrace, well appointed rooms. They are five minutes from the metro and can organise trips to the Great Wall. Book now
Splash out: New World Beijing Hotel - Luxury hotel with stunning city views and a pool and spa centre. 15 minute walk to the Temple of Heaven. Book now
What to see on a layover in Beijing
The huge structures which house the Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong reminded me a lot of Russia. The square itself is a huge concrete area with a lot of people taking selfies. The North side of the square leads to The Forbidden City so it made sense just to continue walking. I passed through several royal-looking gates which were pretty impressive but at one point it became necessary to buy a ticket to go further.
The Forbidden City
If you only have a few hours in Beijing this should be top of your list of things to do! It's a huge complex dating back to 1420 and includes many palaces, temples and gardens. It's truly beautiful and worth having a layover in Beijing just to see!
It was 40 CNY (about €5.50) which was the off-peak price, it goes up to 60 CNY during the peak tourist season. Even as someone who is usually not a fan of paid attractions, this price was definitely worth it. I spent the next hour and a half wandering around the labrinyth of intricately decorated gates and temples. There was plenty more to see and I could have spent a lot longer exploring but was wary of the quickly fading light.
I took the North exit from the Forbidden City and crossed straight over the road to the entrance of Jingshan Park. A ticket costs just 2CNY. The park looked like a really peaceful place for a wander and some quality people watching. But time wasn't on my side and so I headed straight up the walking path to the pavilions atop the hill (about a 7 minute walk). The tallest point in the park had amazing views of the city, particularly a great bird's-eye view of the Forbidden City. It was a beautiful spot to enjoy the sunset.
With the sun heading over the horizon I decided to move on. I negotiated a rickshaw from the exit of the park to take me to Wangfujing Street, which I had read about. It is one of the main shopping streets in Beijing but after a few blocks of huge malls and Western brands I was starting to feel a little disappointed. Then the lights of a small alley caught my eye and I was drawn into Wangfujing food street.
This market started with some souvenirs and soon opened out into a lively food market selling an array of delicious and disgusting looking food items. Not feeling too adventurous with a 12 hour flight ahead of me, I opted for some dumplings and was extremely satisfied for my 25 CNY.
It was now completely dark and getting quite cold so I decided to head back to the airport to wait out what was left of my 12 hours in Beijing. There are a few other things I would have liked to have seen e.g the Lama Temple and the Olympic stadium. But with limited daylight hours and energy I ended up only spending about five hours in the city. It was still a huge improvement on sitting alone in an airport and gave me a taster for a country I will need to come back to!
Looking for a good book about China?
‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ is an incredibly beautiful story spanning 100 years in China. A really great read and a good introduction to some of the countries history. Buy now