Located 32km (20 miles) northeast of Beijing’s city centre, Beijing Capital International Airport is the main international airport serving the city. It is owned and operated by Beijing Capital International Airport Company Limited, a state-controlled company. In 2014, it became the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic. It’s also the sixth busiest in terms of aircraft movement, and the 13th busiest in terms of cargo traffic. In fact, the airport added the massive Terminal 3 in 2008 to accommodate the growing traffic volume, and also in time for the Olympic Games in that year. It serves as the main hub for Air China, the flag carrier of the People's Republic of China, and also a hub for Hainan and China Southern Airlines.
Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng District is the heart of the city and also its most important landmark. As the largest public square in the world and a very popular tourist spot, it is surrounded by impressive buildings like the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Qianmen Gate and the Forbidden City – the last one being the most important palace in China. It was home to the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. You can find the Temple of Heaven, the symbol of Beijing, in Chongwen District. Locals and tourists alike flock this lively park. Meanwhile, Dongcheng District is home to one of China’s most important and beautiful temples, the Yonghegong (Lama Temple). Some of the biggest and famous museums in the world are found in Beijing. The Palace Museum, in particular, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other notable museums to visit are the National Museum, Military Museum, Capital Museum, and China Aviation Museum.
Beijing plays host to several festivals in the country. If you ever find yourself in Beijing when festivals are being held – most during spring – then don’t forget to attend one or more. There’s the Temple Fair and the Grand View Garden Fair held during the Spring Festival of Beijing; the Music Festival on Labour Day (1 May) and National Day (1 Oct); and the annual Yanqing Ice and Snow Tourism Festival (10 Dec). A visit to Beijing is not complete without walking on the Great Wall of China, especially on the Badaling section.
See traditional Beijing architecture in Hutongs, which dates back to the era when the city used to be the capital of Yuan dynasty. Other stunning displays of Chinese architecture are the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Xicheng District, especially Beijing Opera, considered as the most renowned of all the traditional opera performed around China – a completely different experience from its western counterparts. There are several great places to eat while you’re in Beijing. The best authentic dishes and specialties that you should try include the Peking Roast Duck, Savory pancakes (sold in the streets), lamb kebabs, and during winter: candied haw berries.
How to get around within Beijing
Before you begin to travel around, it’s highly advised to print out the names of your destinations (if you already have a planned itinerary). It will avoid confusion since most drivers, even locals, may not be able to understand or speak English well. The most preferred way to navigate around Beijing is by taxi, as they are convenient and inexpensive. Most of the official taxis operate in the major areas of Beijing. In the more remote places, it’s more difficult to flag an official taxi, but there are plenty of unofficial taxis that ply in these areas. Just remember to negotiate the fare ahead with the driver and take extra precautions when you get on an unofficial taxi. While getting on a taxi can be tricky because of the language barrier, getting on the Beijing Subway should be no problem. The subway is clearly marked in English, making it easier for travellers to see their destinations. Also, it’s a cheaper way compared to taking a taxi, not to mention, a great opportunity to stretch your legs; though it can get very crowded, especially during rush hours, and it shuts down rather early. Currently, there are 17 lines, a new airport line, and separate lines for Batong, Yizuang, Changping, Daxing, and Fangshan, which connect the outer suburbs to the city. You can use your ticket to transfer between lines, except for the Airport Express, where you have to buy a separate ticket. Another convenient and cheap way to get around is by bus. The city’s bus system covers the entire city but unlike the subway, they aren’t marked in English. A helpful way to figure out the bus routes is by checking the Beijing Public Transport Co. website, which has both Chinese and English versions, including an extremely helpful routing service with an interactive map. Once you get on a right bus going to your destination, the trip itself allows you to see several parts of the city that tourists normally don’t visit. They can be very crowded and there are incidences of pickpockets, so always keep an eye on your valuables. There are also minibuses that operate in the countryside, outside the urban areas. Even with the growing number of privately owned vehicles, the city’s infrastructure was built during its days as capital of the "Bicycle Kingdom" – which means you can always explore Beijing in bike. This is a great and faster way compared to driving a car or taking public transport. It is possible to rent a car and drive around if you have a driver’s license issued by China or a provisional one, but it is not recommended due to traffic jams and language difficulties, among others.
How to get there
Most of the passengers coming from domestic and international destinations are served by Beijing Capital International Airport. Some of the airlines that serve the airport are Capital Airlines, Grand China Airlines, Hainan Airlines in Terminal 1; Air Asia, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Airlines, Mega Global Air Services, Philippine Airlines in Terminal 2; and Emirates Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines, and United Airlines in Terminal 3. From the airport, you can take a taxi straight to Beijing or other locations. Another option is by taking the Airport Express train, which runs in a one-way loop from T3 to T2/T1, then Sanyuanqiao Station and Dongzhimen Station. A slightly cheaper alternative is the airport shuttle, which leaves every 10-30 minutes. You can check the shuttle bus website to see which bus route to take. Other airports that operate in or near Beijing are Beijing Nanyuan Airport and Tianjin Binhai International Airport. Other ways of getting in the city apart from flying in are by train, most of which arrive at the central, West, South or North stations; by car, through one of several expressways that head in all directions; and by bus, with long-distance bus services that operate between Beijing and far-flung areas such as Harbin or Xi'an.