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Beijing Itinerary Help, Please!

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Greetings! My family will be in Beijing for 8 days next month. We are two adults and two boys, ages 15 and 11. We want to be somewhat leisurely with our time so that we don't wear ourselves out, so we want to mix some busy sightseeing days with some wandering days...and even reserve some blocks for downtime at the hotel or at a park (weather permitting).

I am hoping that those who are in-the-know can give some opinions about whether we're being too ambitious or not ambitious enough, so I'm posting on a couple of travel boards to see what y'all think.

Here's my (very) rough outline of what we're thinking:

Day 1
- Tour Temple of Heaven, Tianamen square, Forbidden City with a guide. (This is set. My husband will still be working that day, and he has been to these places several times, so it'll just be the boys and me hitting some highlights.)

Day 2
- Drum and Bell Towers
- Poking around (and shopping) in the hutongs nearby

Day 3
- Summer Palace
- Old Summer Palace

Day 4
- Spend time with husband's colleagues, who are locals

Day 5
- Ghost/dirt market
- [What else would make sense to do in conjunction with this market?]

Day 6
- Guided trip to the Mutianya section of the wall + Ming Tombs

Day 7
- 798 Arts DIstrict
- Ancient observatory

Day 8
- open

One of the nights we are taking a cooking class at The Hutong, and we may see an acrobat show (although I'm tempted to save that for our one night in Shanghai).

Any ideas for must-dos on that last day? Are there interesting things that we should check out near some of our destinations? Does this itinerary seem reasonable? Anything that boys would especially enjoy that I'm missing? Do you have a favorite restaurant that's near any of these spots?

Many thanks for your opinions and help!

  • Report Abuse

    First and foremost, I trust that you have given some consideration to the pollution levels in Beijing. Here's a thread with some relevant information:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/beijing-air-quality-forecast.cfm

    That said, I think Beijing is fascinating and hope you and your family also think so! Some comments:

    You might consider visiting the Temple of Heaven, Tianamen Square, and Forbidden City WITHOUT a guide. These places are VERY easy to visit on your own, and you might find that some of the highlights are the moments that you have to see and experience these places at your own pace and without someone else's interpretation.

    You are planning to visit many things I skipped, and you are skipping many things that I truly enjoyed while in Beijing. Perhaps that is intentional. If not, click on my name to find my trip report on my time in China -- the sections on Beijing were near the start and end of that trip, and the report is searchable.

    Enjoy!

  • Report Abuse

    > Tour Temple of Heaven, Tianamen square, Forbidden City with a guide. (This is set. My husband will still be working that day, and he has been to these places several times, so it'll just be the boys and me hitting some highlights.)

    This is a lot for one day (nothing 'leisurely' about it), and if in this order is in the wrong order. Taking a guide will merely see you being misled about all three locations, and see you rush through officially approved highlights. The Forbidden City is vast, and there are many pleasures off the main tourist routes. Just show up when it opens, get a map with your ticket or for ¥5 from a vendor, and wander off. There are one or two places to eat inside, but you should consider pocketing a picnic. If you've still energy after the FC (which is worth a whole day in its own right) then it's easy to reach the Temple of Heaven by metro. But with these two in a day you'd better be prepared for many kilometres of walking.

    Otherwise, simply change your approach: China does not respond well to micro-planning, travel at ground level is very slow, and below ground sometimes very crowded. Instead make a list of things that you most want to see in order of priority, and set out to work through them from the top, not expecting to see them all. Group them geographically to save time, wherever possible. 798 is nowhere near the Ancient Observatory, for instance (the extensive Railway Museum is, however, and possibly of interest to boys).

    Pan Jia Yuan (I think this is what you mean by the 'dirt market') is mostly tourist souvenirs and antiques that are nothing of the kind. If you wanted a market that's really local, you might try the Shí Lǐ Hé Tiān Qiáo Wénhua Chéng at metro Shi Li He: birds, fish, flowers, insects, tea, and all the paraphernalia to do with traditional pastimes. Or try the vast Tianyi market a short walk west of metro Fucheng Men where every trinket known to man is sold on multiple floors (including toys, games, jigsaw puzzles, radio controlled planes, electronic goods, and just about anything else you can think of). This is where the Chinese really shop.

    Note that the area immediately adjacent to the Drum and Bell Towers is undergoing painful redevelopment. West and Southwest towards the 'Back Lakes' is now pretty tawdry. There are older hutong (singular and plural form) to the east, and by the time you reach Bei Luogu Xiang and even more so Nan Luogu Xiang its designer gifts, trendy cafés, micro-breweries, and so on--wannabe hip young Beijing at play.

    Again, ditch the guide for the Great Wall. Mutianyu can easily be reached by public bus. Guides have nothing worthwhile to tell you, and simply reduce your flexibility. The Ming Tombs won't impress you after the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. If you want really atmospheric and far more extensive tombs consider a day trip to either the Eastern Qing or Western Qing ones--you'll need to charter a taxi.

    Finally, don't listen too much to your husband's colleagues: with the best will in the world they'll want you to see and believe in a picture-book China with the hokum '5000 years of culture' angle, and they simply don't see the world as you do. And do go prepared for the pollution.

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