“He travels the fastest who travels alone.” - Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Of all the places to visit in the People's Republic of China, mainland China, Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Canton, etc., have you got your heart set on Beijing?
To learn more about Chinese history (from Imperial to Modern China), see the Great Wall of China, or explore Beijing’s unmissable attractions, perhaps?
Your money will go much further in Beijing than it would in London. The cost of living in Beijing is 66% of that in London.
However, you will need to set aside between £300 and £450 to rent a room in a shared flat in the centre of Beijing. After all, accommodation in the capital of China isn’t cheap. However, after you've paid to travel to China and for your accommodation, your trip to China will be quite cheap.
So where should you stay when you visit Beijing?
In this article, we'll be looking at some of the best districts in Beijing, where you can stay, what you can do in these districts, and why you should stay there.
Staying in the North of the Historic Centre: Shichahai
Shichahai is a district with three lakes in Beijing’s historic centre, the Imperial City, and is located to the northwest of the Forbidden City.
This is a picturesque neighbourhood where you can find many temples and UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- The Jing–Hang Grand Canal
- The Palace Museum and Forbidden City
- Tiananmen Square
- The Imperial Ancestral Temple
- The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong
- The National Museum of China
- The National Art Museum of China
The district is home to three lakes: Qianhai Lake, by Beihai Park, Houhai Lake, and Xihai Lake. This area is the start of the Grand Canal, the largest canal of the ancient world, measuring 1,776 km in length, with parts that date back to the 5th century BCE, during the Zhou Dynasty.
It was the commercial heart of Beijing and many royal residences were built. There are also dozens of Taoist and Buddhist temples nearby and famous residences such as Prince Gong's Mansion and the Prince Chun Mansion.
While the district lost its strategic role under the Ming Dynasty, the Shichahai district has remained very popular. Chinese visitors and foreign tourists enjoy relaxing by the sides of the lake, having picnics, and ice skating in winter.
You can even rent boats on the canal; a highly recommended activity for couples on nice days.
This is also an area with a lot of traditional Chinese hutongs and many bars. Hutongs are are a type of street with courtyard residences known as siheyuan.
For your next holidays, consider staying with a host family and discover the city’s most beautiful sites and learn more about the culture. This is the district for history, shopping, and the best place to go on a night out in Beijing. However, the district is quiet by the lakes.
Find out more about the best time to visit Beijing.
The Dongcheng District in Beijing’s City Centre
The Dongcheng District is by the Old Summer Palace in the Forbidden City and stretches from the Central Business District to Tienanmen Square. You can visit the Temple of Heaven, Temple of Confucius, the Palace Museum, and the Forbidden City.
In addition to all these historic sites, there are also tonnes of museums: the National Museum of China, the National Art Museum of China, the Beijing People's Art Theatre, etc.
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The district’s main street is Wangfujing Street and it’s one of China’s and Beijing’s most famous shopping streets. It’s the heart of Beijing's commerce and has been since the Ming Dynasty. Under the Qing Dynasty, the district attracted the country’s wealthiest people and many mansions and residences were built for the rich and powerful.
The name of the street, “Wang Fu”, literally means “princely residence” in Mandarin Chinese.
It’s also largely pedestrianised. On the flip side, this street is often packed with locals and tourists shopping and looking for souvenirs of their visit.
Are you looking for something off the beaten track?
This isn’t really the best place for finding tranquillity. Like all the big cities in China, Beijing is very busy and you’ll be surrounded by people almost all the time. Dongcheng is a busy district and is great for a small group or if you’re travelling on your own and is a great base for visiting the rest of Beijing.
Check when it’s at its busiest as hotels and flats in Beijing, which are usually quite expensive, will be even more expensive in the high season. In summer or during the Chinese New Year, for example, the cost of accommodation can jump up.
Find out more about budgeting for a trip to Beijing.
Chaoyang, the District for Expats
If you want to stay away from the touristy areas or are planning your holidays without a travel agency, Chaoyang is recommended.
This is a huge district to the east of the historic centre and includes the Sanlitun neighbourhood and Beijing’s modern city centre. This area is representative of China’s transition from Communist Power towards a market economy with its futuristic skyscrapers, green spaces, and small stalls selling traditional Chinese produce. As a foreigner, this is a good place to stay as the area is popular with expats and the wealthy. This is due to the area's accessible infrastructure, shopping centres, international schools, and many restaurants.
This part of the city offers a more relaxed and modern lifestyle to that found in the very centre just 12 miles from the lakes in Shichahai. You’re also less likely to feel homesick here.
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It’s also a good idea to stay here if you’re spending a long time in China to learn Chinese in an international school, for example.
Here are some of the districts unmissable attractions:
- Blue Zoo Beijing
- Beijing Olympic Tower
- The China National Film Museum
- Tuanjiehu Park
- The Sanlitun Neighbourhood
- The banks of the Tonghui River
It’s also quite close to Beijing International Airport so if you’re on an early flight out of China, staying in Chaoyang is the sensible option.
You’ll have a shorter trip to the airport the following morning.
The Haidian District, a City within a City
To the north-east of Beijing city centre, Haidian is an administrative subdivision of the city.
The district is home to Beijing’s large universities, the Zhongguancun technology hub, China’s equivalent to Silicon Valley, and the Purple Bamboo Park. The district is four times the size of Paris!
As you can imagine, it’s pretty big and 2.24 million people live in Haidian.
Should it still be called a “district”?
It’s effectively a city within a city. It’s also a modern city with people working with new technologies and start-ups. The Chinese government are trying to make Haidian rival California and Silicon Valley so you’ll find plenty of students and hipsters here.
You should also check out the Wudaokou neighbourhood, a relaxed area to have a night out in. With plenty of students and artists, you’ll get a good atmosphere here.
If you're not sold on Beijing, you could always visit Xinjiang, Tibet, Shaanxi, Guandong, Zheijiang, or Hangzhou. China's a huge country, after all!
Before you go to China, consider getting private tutorials in Mandarin Chinese. On Superprof, there are three types of language tutorials available: face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials.
Face-to-face tutorials are bespoke lessons with one tutor and one student. As the only student in the class, this is the most cost-effective type of private tutorial. Your tutor can spend all their time focusing on you, rather than having their attention split between you and other students.
Online tutorials are similar with the main difference being that the private tutor isn't there with you in the room. Thanks to the internet and programmes such as Skype, you can learn Chinese from anywhere with a decent internet connection and from tutors from anywhere in the world. Your Chinese language tutor may even be in China!
Finally, group tutorials are closer to traditional lessons at school with multiple students and a single teacher. This is usually the cheapest type of tutorial since the cost of the tutor's time will be shared amongst all the students in attendance. If you and your family or friends are planning a trip to China, you could all get Chinese lessons together from a tutor before you go.
Each type has its pros and cons so it's up to you and your budget to decide which type of private tutorials you want.