When flying to the Philippines earlier this month I was most certain that my stopover would be great. And to make sure it did we tried our hardest to book a flight with a stopover in the best location we could find two months before. And guess what? After a long evening of searching we found a flight with a layover in Beijing, China.
Beijing has never been on top of my travel-list, but I was still curious to visit the Forbidden City and I sure as hell was eager to travel to the Great Wall Of China!
In the end, we had booked a flight with a layover in Beijing of almost 15 hours! So that made it quite easy for us to make plans outside of the airport, and we made sure we planned something good! Beijing is a pretty popular layover destination overall, and after my experience I am going to give you a couple of tips that you absolutely need to know before landing in Beijng!
The practical information
WITH A TOUR OR BY YOURSELF? At first, me and my friend wanted to travel to the Chinese Wall ourselves, but since we traveled outside of high season and since it is a pretty long distance from the airport, it was hardly doable to travel without a tour group. Basically, the only way to get to the Chinese Wall yourself is by taxi, after which you have to ask the driver to wait for you at the entrance until you are ready to say goodbye to the Wall again. In other words: quite expensive.
During our search for tours to visit the Chinese Wall we found tour groups specialized in layovers. Voilà, the perfect solution! Basically all they want to know is your flight number, your time of arrival and your wishes, and they will come up with the perfect itinerary for your trip. For us, they decided we could go to the Chinese wall first, after which they would take us to the Forbidden City in Beijing.. Perfect! What I especially found was that, if you book a regular tour in the city, you have the chance of needing to cancel your reservation if you have a flight delay. Where the layover tour is private, and very much aware of the fact that you can arrive later than planned AND that you need to be back at the airport in time to catch your next flight.
Of course, if you just want to go into Beijing, you can do that too. There are a lot of things you can do in the city center as well! Going into the city center is easy to do, and you don’t need to book any tours for the center! Just take a taxi or the train from out the airport, it won’t take too long. Do make sure you are prepared for the fact that Beijing is extremely busy (and how can it not with around 11 million inhabitants), that most people in the city hardly speak any English and that most road signs are Chinese. It can make it quite hard to travel around, so don’t go into town without a good city map!
DO YOU NEED A VISA? China has the ideal visa for travelers who are in China just for a layover. If you want to entree China for less than 3 days, you can get a 72-hour transit visa. The only thing you need to do is fill in a small form, which you probably get handed in the airplane, and give it to customs. Do make sure you have printed out your tickets for your next flight and you have an itinerary ready so you can ‘prove’ you’re here on a transit.
Where to go?
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA Probably, in most occasions, and no matter how long your layover is, the Great Wall of China is something you want to visit. The Great Wall of China covers about 6.000(!) kilometers, so once you get to visit it you can go to different parts of the Wall. Some are more touristic, some are less touristic, but all of them are extremely beautiful. I mean, it’s the Great Wall of China, after all.
We visited Mutianyu, one of the sections northeast of Beijing, and about an 1,5 hour drive away from the airport. I am not sure whether it was just this part of the wall, or whether it was the time of the day we visited (this section opened at 8:30 in the morning, and we were there around nine) but it was really quiet here. Which was obviously quite nice, as we basically had the whole Wall to ourselves! One of the best parts of visiting Mutianyu was the fact that they have a big slide from the Wall to the parking lot. How cool is it that you can slide down the Chinese Wall? On of the funniest things I did during this trip!
THE FORBIDDEN CITY Part two of our layover was visiting the Forbidden City of Beijing, which I think is one of the most touristic things you can do in Beijing and probably something you have thought about visiting as well. The Forbidden City used to be the center of the Chinese ‘government’ and the homes of the empires decades ago. It’s called the Forbidden City because citizens of China couldn’t enter this part of the city. Of course, now we can, and that is why we make use of it.
Once entering the Forbidden City through the thick gates and walls you’ll enter big squares surrounded with even bigger, buildings that look most impressive. If you aren’t taking a tour and visiting the Forbidden City by yourself, be sure to buy an audio tour to get some explanation about the buildings, the former emperors and the Forbidden City.
THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN As one of the biggest temples in the city, the Temple Of Heaven is an experience you have to think about! Situated south of the city center surrounded by a beautiful park, it is easy to visit once you have reached Beijing from out the airport. The Temple Of Heaven is known as a big ceremonial altar with a lot of culture and history. Definitely something worth considering visiting!
THE SUMMER PALACE Just a bit outside of the center of Beijing you’ll find The Summer Palace. Even though you can visit the Forbidden City, and the main palace of the city, the Summer Palace can definitely top that experience, looking completely different.
BEIJING CITY CENTER Of course, once you have a layover in Beijing you can also just visit the city center to learn a bit about the locals, eat the best Chinese food around the city and to just walk around to discover Beijing as it’s supposed to be discovered!
THE BEIJING OLYMPIC VILLAGE If you are looking for a bit of a different city experience, you can also visit the Olympic Stadium and Village of Beijing. It is located relatively close to the city center so it’s not that hard to reach. The Beijing Olympic Village is new, modern and quite big and very fun to discover as a tourist!