Beijing is located at the northern tip of the
Plain, near the meeting point of the Xishan and Yanshan mountain ranges. The city itself lies on flat land (elevation 20 to 60 m (66 to 200 ft)) that opens to the east and south. The municipality´s outlying districts and counties extend into the mountains that surround the city from the southwest to the northeast. The highest peaks are over 2,000 m (6,600 ft).
Beijing Municipality consists of six city districts (previously eight, see Xuanwu and Chongwen), eight suburban districts and two rural counties. It covers a total area of 16,807.8 km2 (6,489.5 sq mi). By land area, the municipality is slightly larger than the country of Montenegro, though much of the municipality outside the urban core are sparsely populated mountains and farmland. The terrain is roughly 38% flat and 62% mountainous. The city is 150 km (93 mi) inland from the Bohai Sea via Tianjin Municipality in the southeast. Aside from
Beijing is bordered on all other sides by
Province, including a piece wedged between
Historically, Beijing was situated on the border between sedentary agricultural areas to the south and pastoralist regions beyond the mountains to the north.
The Great Wall of China was built across the mountains north of
Beijing to guard against nomadic invasions. In modern times, the same mountains that shielded Beijing from the Gobi steppes also form a semi-circular basin which catches the
city´s air pollution. Severe smog problems develop in the summer as the hot and humid air pressure from monsoons in the south prevent air pollutants from leaving the basin. Smog is less severe in the fall and winter when the direction of the wind currents reverse course as the vast anticyclone high pressure system takes hold and brings cold, dry air from Siberia. In the spring, the northerly winds, pick up dust from desertifying areas of
China and bring occasionally severe dust storms to Beijing. The city's climate is characterized by hot, humid summers and cold, windy, and dry winters.
As the capital of the country set to dominate the 21st century, there’s a unique fizzing energy to Beijing that few other cities around the world can match. You could spend weeks here, but five days is enough to see the most iconic sights and get a taste of Beijing life.
The Beijing summer is brutally hot and humid, but it’s also peak season for tourists. Winter is freezing but if you can handle the sub-zero temperatures and icy wind you’ll find the key sights far less crowded. The short spring and autumn are when Beijing is at its most pleasant. Make sure to avoid the city during the main Chinese public holidays, such as the Spring Festival and the golden weeks that fall at the beginning of May and October, when domestic tourists descend on the capital.
Top of the list are the former imperial palaces.
The Forbidden City
is the heart of Beijing, even if nearby Tiananmen Square is its true centre. The former home of China’s emperors, the sons of heaven, it earned its name because it was off-limits to mere mortals for 500 years. Now anyone can wander through it, gazing at extraordinary treasures acquired over 5000 years of Chinese history. Almost as spectacular is the Summer Palace, a superbly landscaped collection of gardens, temples and pavilions, where the imperial family retreated to escape the heat of the Beijing summer. Then there’s the geometric marvel that is the Temple of Heaven, the ultimate expression of the Chinese quest for perfection.
The Capital Museum offers a fine introduction to Beijing and its customs, folklore and traditions, and the newly renovated National Museum of China can guide you through 5000 years of recorded Chinese history. Art buffs are also well served in
Beijing and the buzzing Chinese contemporary art scene continues to attract attention from around the world. Explore the best of what’s happening now at the 798 Art District, where galleries (closed on Mondays) mingle with cafes, or the nearby Caochangdi area.
The very soul of Beijing is its hutong, the ancient alleyways that criss-cross the centre of the city. Dating back as far as 800 years, the hutong are still home to many locals and wandering them is the best way to experience
Beijing street life in all its raucous and friendly glory.
With over 60,000 restaurants in Beijing, you can sample every one of China’s many cuisines in the one city. Don’t leave town without trying Peking Duck! There are also western and foreign restaurants galore, including an ever-increasing selection of high-end European eateries. Many of Beijing’s smartest bars are concentrated in the Sanlitun district, but there are plenty of bohemian places, especially in and around the hip hutong of Nanluogu Xiang.
No visit to Beijing is complete without an excursion to the Great
Wall. The stretch at Mutianyu, a couple of hours out of the city, has fine, restored watchtowers and steep ramparts, from which you can gaze at the classic vista of the Wall snaking away over the nearby hills.
Beijing’s roads are increasingly jammed, making driving a tense experience. But cabs are plentiful outside of peak times and an ever-expanding subway system will whip you around the city for next to nothing. A good option is to hire a bike for a day to explore the hutong areas.
Beijing is no longer the cheap destination it once was. If you want to stay in high-end hotels, sip cocktails and eat in upmarket restaurants, you’re looking at 2000 Yuan a day, or more. But bed down in a 3-star hotel and eat in local restaurants and you can get by on 500-700 Yuan a day. Real budget travellers who stay in hostels and eat street food can survive on around 250 Yuan.