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Beijing 3 Day Itinerary | Recommended For First-timers

Beijing is one of the greatest ancient capital cities of the world. It is an eclectic mix of traditional and modern, and it houses many prolific monuments, temples and attractions such as the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven.

In an ideal world, you should take a week to explore Beijing fully but you can still see the highlights with this Beijing 3 day itinerary including where to eat, stay and how to get around.

Day 1 Beijing Itinerary | Wall Wild Of China

Who can’t resist making the Great Wall of China the first stop when you get to Beijing? The longer Chinese name “Ten-Thousand Mile Long Wall” (萬里長城) but this UNESCO World Heritage site is 13,170.70 miles long. Now how do you decide which part to visit if you just have one day to spare?

The Great Wall of China is known for being a tourist hot spot but if the crowds don’t float your boat then go for the Wild Wall, for me this was a no-brainer. There are many options and tours but the Jiankou to Mutianyu was the perfect trek. The journey was 2 hours from Beijing, the trek was around 4 hours with a fun toboggan ride at the end.

FULL-DAY MUTIANYU TOUR || SEARCH GREAT WALL OF CHINA TOURS

Great Wall on China - 3 days itinerary Beijing
Great Wall on China

Day 2 Beijing Itinerary | Explore The City Of Beijing

Discover The Temple Of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven (天坛 Tiāntán) is one of Beijing’s most iconic temples and the most important for Ming and Qing emperors who came annually to worship the heavens and pray for good harvests. It was built in the early 15th century during the reign of Yonge and was originally called the Temple of Heaven and Earth. This is shown in the architecture as temples are circular (heaven) with square bases (earth).

The Temple of Heaven earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1998 and covers 273 hectares, surprisingly, it is 3 times the size of the Forbidden City. Whilst it sounds huge, most are gardens in which you can wander around passing by the locals partaking in various activities such as singing, dancing, practicing tai chi, or playing chess. The main sights are the Round Altar, Echo Wall, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. They’re all pretty much in a straight line, one after the other, so it’s easy to get around.

Temple of Heaven - a must-see in your Beijing 3 day itinerary
Temple of Heaven

Getting To The Temple Of Heaven

The nearest subway station to the Temple of Heaven is Tiantan East Station on Line 5, exit from A1 or A2 and the East Gate entrance where you can buy tickets will be right there. 

Opening Hours And Cost Of Temple Of Heaven

The park gates are open from 6 am to 10 pm but the sights are open from 8 am and close between 5 pm and 6 pm depending on the time of year.

Between April and October, the ticket to the park is 15 CNY or 35 CNY to see all the sights. From November to March, this costs 10 CNY / 30 CNY. The audio guide 40 CNY.

PLANNING || TEMPLE OF HEAVEN HALF DAY TOUR || TEMPLE OF HEAVEN ENTRANCE TICKET

Try The Street Food In Qianmen

Qianmen Street runs south from Tiananmen Square and whilst it’s’ steeped in history, it is now a pedestrian area lined with shops and places to eat. It’s a great pit stop to explore and get some sustenance before you head to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace.

Jianbing is a traditional Chinese street food similar to crepes and Peking Duck to go! Did you know Fortune Cookies are not a traditional Chinese custom?

Try Chinese street food in Qianmen Street near Tiananmen Square in Beijing
Try street food in Qianmen Street

Wander Around Tiananmen Square

Located at the centre of Beijing City is the infamous Tiananmen Square (天安門) meaning “Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace” where you can see the Tiananmen Tower, Monument to the People’s Heroes, Great Hall of the People, and Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. 

There is a national flag-raising ceremony by the Guard of Honor of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army every morning at sunrise. It is free to watch the ceremony and lasts around 30 minutes. Click here for the flag-raising timetable.

PLANNING || TIANANMEN SQU + FORBIDDEN CITY TOUR || TIANANMEN SQUARE ENTRANCE ONLY

The infamous Tiananmen Square - Beijing 3 day itinerary
Tiananmen Square

Discover The Mystical Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, located in the heart of Beijing, is the former imperial complex where 24 emperors from two dynasties lived for nearly 500 years and one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s permission. Also known as the Palace Museum, it has over 980 buildings. It was designed and built in a way that typifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, simply stunning!

Check out the opulence in the Palace of Tranquil Longevity, the private paradise of the Qianlong Emperor built for his retirement. Not a bad gaff to grow old in eh?

At the exit to the Forbidden City, you can head up to Jingshan Park, a great place to view the sunset and the surrounding city. The earth that was dug out to build the moat around the Forbidden City is what makes up the big mound you climb up.

Opulent chair in the Palace of Tranquil Longevity in the Forbidden City in Beijing
Palace of Tranquil Longevity in the Forbidden City

Nibble On Strange Snacks At Wangfujing Night Market

Who loves to try out the local street food? If the answer is YES, then check out Wangfujing Night Market in Beijing or “Donghuamen Night Food Street”(东华门美食坊夜市) which is the correct name! It’s just a couple of streets lined with interesting eateries and an electric atmosphere.

Discover the large selection of exotic finds with Chinese food from different regions and you’ll find stalls frying up skewered scorpions, beetles, starfish, and who knows what else. This is a tourist gimmick, the people of Beijing don’t eat such snacks. I wussed out and went to a restaurant for the Beijing Hot Pot I’d heard so much about. 

Skewered scorpions at Wangfujing Night Market in Beijing
Skewered scorpions at Wangfujing Night Market

HUTONG BEER + FOOD AT HIDDEN RESTAURANTS || AUTHENTIC LOCAL BEIJING FOOD TOUR

Get Spicy With The Beijing Hot Pot

The Chinese are known for their sharing dishes and the infamous Beijing Hot Pot is the best thing you can eat to warm yourself up on a cold day. I was travelling solo so I got to eat the whole dish by myself!

Your clear soup arrives in a copper chimney and you can choose from normal or spicy or get half and half. I went for the latter, I’m not sure why as I don’t really do spicy. BOOM.. this blew my brain, the tears streamed down my face and steam came out my ears practically so I stuck with the mild side.

You mix your meat in your chosen sauce (tahini for me) and pop it into the steaming pot along with your green leaves and other vegetables. The taste is delicious if your mouth wasn’t too numb!

LITTLE TIP – Don’t leave it too late to go and find a restaurant. I got turned away from a few at 9 pm before I found one that opened later behind Wangfujing Night Market.

Spicy Beijing Hot Pot in a restaurant near Wangfujing Night Market
Spicy Beijing Hot Pot

Day 3 Beijing Itinerary | Summer Palace + Lama Temple

The Summer Palace 頤和園 is said to be the best-preserved imperial garden in the world, and the largest of its kind still in existence in China. It’s around 10km (about 1 hour on the subway) and I’d give yourself at least half a day there, I mean it’s 290 hectares in size… it’s a big one! Here are a few of my highlights.

If you enter by the South Gate, you’ll walk across the bridge overlooking Suzhou Street (苏州街). It was built by Emperor Qianlong for the members of his court to imagine themselves being in the canal town of Suzhou.

Next, you will find The Sea of Wisdom (智慧海), the highest building in the palace, whose glazed green and yellow façade adorned with innumerable repeating buddhas makes it rather unique. Inside, it’s home to Buddha statues big and small, who perch imposingly in the dimly lit hall.

Then The Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁), the centrepiece of the park. The elaborately decorated three-tiered structure is as magnificent up close as it is from afar.

The Long Corridor in the Summer Palace stretches for almost half a mile and is embellished with a staggering 14,000 intricate paintings depicting scenes from Chinese history and myths.

PLANNING || SUMMER PALACE + HARMONY GARDEN TOUR || SUMMER PALACE ENTRANCE

The Tower of Buddhist Incense - Summer Palace - Beijing
The Tower of Buddhist Incense

Feel Spiritual At Lama Temple

Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple) is the largest and best-preserved lamasery in Beijing and one temple you should see in the city. There is a real sense of calm and tranquility in this temple no matter what religion you are.

This temple is an active place of worship hence you’ll see many Buddhist practitioners light and raise the burning incense sticks above the head and bow to the statues of Buddha. Then they place their sticks vertically on burners from which smoke wafts, Worshipers do so in the hope of talking to the Buddha who will appear in the smoke. 

Being the most renowned Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, this temple was changed to a lamasery in the year 1744 after having been a place of residence for Emperor Yong Zheng.

In the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness, flip your head back to the 26m tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha which is carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood – no wonder it was included in the Guinness Book of Records!

Getting To Lama Temple

Head on the metro to Yonghe Temple station, leave via exit C. Walk south for about 400m, the temple is on the right side. It’s open from 9 am – 5 pm but they started closing the 5 halls from around 4.30 pm so don’t arrive too late!

How Much Does Lama Temple Cost?

It’s only 25 CNY (less than $4) to enter. It is an additional cost to buy the incense sticks.

Maitreya Buddha at the Lama Temple in Beijing
Maitreya Buddha at the Lama Temple

Get Rolling The Peking Duck

If you’re looking for a mouth-watering Peking Duck within a stone’s throw from Lama Temple, this place is a real hidden gem down the dark hutongs. The restaurant looks rather unassuming from the outside with the chefs in the window preparing the traditional dish for the many guests. When a restaurant looks like it’s popular with the locals, you know you’re in for a treat!

How To Get To Hua’s Restaurant

From Lama Temple, it’s less than a 10-minute walk. Click for Google Maps or TripAdvisor for reviews.

How Much Was The Peking Duck?

The total bill came to 190 CNY ($45) which included 2 beers (26 CNY each) and Peking Duck (138 CNY)

Peking Duck in Huas Restaurant - cuisine to taste in your Beijing 3 day itinerary
Peking Duck in Huas Restaurant

Beijing 3 Day Itinerary | Travel Essentials

Visa For China

The 72-hour and 144-hour visa-free transit policies in China allow passengers from 53 countries to transit and stay in 18 China cities without a visa. Beijing is 144-hour visa-free but does check your eligibility for the Chinese transit visas before travelling and ensures you have 6 months validity on your passport from entering China.

Download A VPN

Many apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are blocked in China, they have their versions so download a VPN before you arrive, I used ExpressVPN which worked well.

Download Google Translate

It is surprising how many people in Beijing do not speak English (even in the airport) so be prepared and download Google Translate before you go to help you out in tricky situations. 

Medication In China

There are no mandatory vaccinations in China. There are 2 types of pharmacies, Traditional Chinese Medicine (plant-based) and the normal pharmacy. If you are under medication, ensure you pack them, you are not guaranteed to find the same medication in the pharmacies in China.

Airport Shuttle To Beijing

It was 25 Yuan from Beijing Airport on the shuttle train to Dongzhimen. A man approached me there saying he was a taxi driver, I’d read the scams online with fake taxis so I kindly declined but he then sent me in the opposite direction to my hotel. Wish I’d just figured out about the subway at that point!

Get To Know The Subway In Beijing

Riding the subway in Beijing probably feels like a bit of a facing but it’s super easy, signs are written in English. If you’ve taken the London Tube before, you can figure out the Beijing subway. There’s a station every few blocks, it’s very cheaper (average 5 Yuan) and it really will give you more freedom around the city. Get a subway map from your hotel to carry around with you.

Get Travel Insurance for Beijing

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SafetyWing for Digital Nomads. Benefit from 24/7 assistance, comprehensive and medical cover including Covid-19. Buy insurance whilst you are travelling, with the option of global health insurance.

Where To Stay In Beijing

I can recommend both places I stayed. The first was Beijing Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel which is a traditional Chinese-style hotel and the second was Peking Station Hostel, a stylish and cosy place to hang out, both are perfectly located among the best attractions in Beijing. With so much accommodation to choose from, I’m sure you’ll have fun picking your place to stay in Beijing!

RELATED ARTICLE: BEST PLACES TO STAY IN BEIJING FROM HOSTEL TO LUXURY HOTEL 

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25 Comments

  1. I love this article! In 2013 I lived in Beijing for half a year. I heartily agree with these being the top spots to go if you only have 3 days. Hot pot is a must eat as is Peking Duck. I had a ton of fun at the Great Wall as well.

    1. That must have been quite an experience to live in Beijing. I wish I could have spent longer exploring more of the city.

  2. Awesome ideas for first-timers! I’m hoping to go soon, and the Great Wall would be at the top of my list. I would also love to explore the forbidden city. It looks like there’s a fun nightlife too. It’s nice to hear about the subway being easy to navigate!

    1. Glad you found the article useful for trip planning. Get started with the subway as soon as you arrive, it will make your life easy!

  3. China has been on my travel list for long. I always wanted to visit the great Wall of China. The post tells me all about planning my visit there. The Lama temple also looks beautiful. Would love to visit it soon.

    1. The Great Wall is a big highlight but choose the section well to get the best experience.

  4. Emmanuel Damian says:

    The Temple of Heaven seems like a great tourist spot in Beijing. I hope I can visit here. Eating at Hua’s Restaurant sounds so good. I would like to try their Peking Duck. I hear it’s famous for that!

    1. The Peking Duck is super tasty, very much recommend you try the read deal!

  5. Great tips. Google Translate and ExpressVPN were like my 2 most-used apps when I was there, too.

  6. This sounds like a great itinerary for a visit visit to Beijing. I have never been, so it’s great to see the highlights and hidden gems mixed together. I love duck, so I would be down that back alley to Hua’s in a heartbeat!

    1. Happy that you enjoyed the read. The Peking Duck gem was a real find!

  7. amar singh says:

    China in general is on my bucket list and one I would like to tick of in the next 12 months , thanks for your post which gives me some more details yo plan mine. It is a great city filled with so much history and architecture to start with. As soon as you think Beijing you can imagines the great sites as the Great Wall of China, the Tian’anmen Square, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. Another reason for me to visit this city is for the the culinary delights and one of my favorite cuisines. I would love to spend some more time but great to know you ca get to see the most of it in 3 days . thanks for sharing

    1. I agree! I would have loved to have spent more time in Beijing too but I was heading to North Korea so my trip was planned out.

  8. OMG – I so so want to follow this itinerary. It has all my favorite things to do – the Wall for one is so so high on my list. I loved the sound and sight of temple of Heaven. I only hope that food wise they have something better for me to eat – basically some vegetarian options. 🙂

    1. It’s such a great place to explore, so much to see. I definitely saw vegetarian options on the menu!

  9. Danial (Dan On The Road) says:

    That’s quite a lot of walking within 3 days! I would definitely stretch my time at these places because I would snapping my camera away at all those beautiful Chinese architecture!

    1. It’s worth spending more time there if you can but I only had 3 days so this was a great way to maximise that time. I’d love to go back!

  10. This sounds like a perfect 3-day Beijing itinerary. The Great Wall of China has been on my bucket list for so long. But I must say I loved reading about the other monuments as well. This ancient city has a lot of gems waiting to be explored. The Forbidden City sounds quite interesting and so is the Lama Temple with its 26m tall magnificent statue of Maitreya Buddha. Beijing Hot Pot looks delicious, but I’ll make sure not to try the spicy one. I would also want to try the delectable Pekking Duck. Thanks for sharing all the helpful details.

    1. Peking Duck sure is tasty! You could be busy for far longer in Beijing than 3 days but this is a great itinerary to see the highlights!

  11. Never been to China but it is surely in our travel bucket list. Have heard that Great Wall of China isn’t as great as it used to be but would still love to visit it. The Temple of Heaven looks cute with all the bright colors. And oh the food. All this seems so so delicious. Thanks for the comprehensive guide.

    1. I think you’ll disagree about the Great Wall of China if you head to the nob-touristy parts such as the ‘Wild Wall’ – it’s a very different experience.

  12. Rishi rathod says:

    This was a great itinerary, Thanks for the share, Will sure see to visit the place asap. Cheers!!!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the 3 day Beijing itinerary, hope you get to experience this city.

  13. I loved visiting Beijing. All the parks are also lovely 🙂

    1. Yes Beijing surprised me, I enjoyed my trip there. The language barrier can be tricky sometimes!

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