When limited to only 48 hours in a major capital city like Beijing, it can be overwhelming to narrow down what you want to do with your time there and not everyone is lucky enough to have a school friend bribed into being your personal guide round the city (see Bethan on the right). Luckily, by having a friend living in the city, I got to experience some fun and unusual things that I wouldn't have thought to do otherwise in Beijing.
1. The Great Wall
Now yes obviously anyone going to China's capital will surely put this on their list. However, guides and websites always suggest the nearest points to the city. I recommend travelling a little further out (it's about 50 miles and around 75 minutes from the city limits) to Badaling, while there is another part of The Wall more easily accessible from the city. Badaling is much less travelled and practically abandoned during the winter months making it a much more unique experience with views to kill for.
While combination tours are usually offered with The Ming Tombs also on the itinerary, the average tour of both places can take up to eight hours and would eat into a large portion of your time. If you have longer, though, The Ming Tombs are well worth a visit, recently having been named an international heritage site.
2. The Forbidden City and Summer Palace
Another two obvious tourist spots and for a good reason—the history of the dynasties that ruled over China and the buildings that represent the various stages in their rules are breathtaking. Again, combination tours are normally offered but as both of these places are within the city limits of Beijing, you can normally find a tour that will take you to both of them in around four hours.
3. The Hutongs, Galou
A blossoming area in Beijing, it is easily accessible by the extensive underground network (that itself can be difficult to navigate). While the area itself is worth a visit, it is the food and shopping which draws people from all over the world. My entire time here consisted of eating and drinking and it was amazing. From bubble waffle stands, tornado spiced potato spirals, and bubble tea, the Galou Hutong district has everything.
4. 8 Bit Game Bar, Gulou
This unique bar set off the beaten track is located just outside the major Hutong district and offers a enjoyable and completely distinctive night out in Beijing. The two story building is decked out with every game console I could possible imagine with popular choices from the 1980s to today's most recent releases. With a great selection of beer, their own vodka creations, and a "winter warmer" menu with favourites such as mulled wine, it is extremely fun! Not much of a gamer, the atmosphere itself was enough to reel me in and keep me entertained all night long. With locals and tourists alike all clamouring for a spot, it is a great night out that is distinctive to Beijing.
Pro Tip: As a fan of Rick and Morty I had to try the "Jameson's Pickle Chaser." It is NOT for the faint of heart and while I thoroughly regretted it the next morning, I hate to admit it was pretty good!
5. Eat at Grandma's. Various Locations
Grandma's is a chain sit down restaurant in China known for traditional Chinese dishes and its own spicy twist on staple dishes. I must admit I am easily intimidated when I cannot read a menu. Luckily, I was with my friends and her colleagues so I told them to order me whatever they recommended. The food is delicious and extremely cheap. For six people to eat (a lot) we spent around £20 each, including drinks and dessert. The chilli garlic green beans, fish broth, and Chinese spiced chicken were particular delicious.
Leave room for the ice cream bread for dessert. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like: a large cube of bread coated in sugar and topped with vanilla Ice cream, a dish from Hong Kong that is as decadent as it is tasty.
*If you're in a rush and want something fast, try Mr. Lee's dumpling stands across the city, with hundreds of combinations of sweet and savoury dumplings all made fresh. It's a must try!
If you have time...
6. Visit a traditional Chinese tea room.
Experience a tea tasting, watch the centuries old methods, and learn about the various plants used in Chinese medicine.