Advice on Visiting Beijing for 72 Hours

In February, 2016, we made our first trip to China via the little known free 72 hour Chinese transit visa on our way to Australia. We bought two roundtrip tickets, one from Boston to Beijing on American Airlines for just $600, and two additional roundtrip tickets from Beijing to Melbourne on Air Asia for $650. By scheduling multiple stops of less than 72 hours, while en route to a third country, we were able to visit Beijing for a total of 5 days on the way and back. This also saved us $150 each for a Chinese tourist visa. And since we were going to Australia anyway, we basically got a free trip to China with the flight deals. Here’s some additional advice for visiting Beijing!

Girl eating noodles on the streets of Beijing, China

Stay in the Wangfujing Area of Beijing

Beijing is a massive city, with some 25 million people. There’s ancient palaces scattered around the city but most of the big ticket items are centrally located near the Wangfujing area. Most people in Beijing don’t speak English, so for visitors it’s easiest to just stay in Wangfujing. This places you in walking distance to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Chinese National Museum, Temple of Heaven, shopping centers and a couple of great night markets.

Where to Stay in Wangfujing in Beijing?

We stayed at two 5 star hotels in Wangfujing, which were both fantastic bang for the buck by western standards at under $95 per night. We’d recommend the Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel over the Prime Hotel Beijing. The rooms and amenities at both hotels were great but the tiebreaker was plusher beds at the Inner Mongolia. Chinese people tend to like very firm mattresses so if you also prefer that, then the Prime Hotel is probably perfect for you.

Don’t stay in a western chain that will be decorated the same as a hotel in Chicago or London if you don’t have to. You can possibly book either hotel with free cancellation to hold the room and then cancel later if your plans change.

New Year dragon dance, Beijing, China shopping mall in Wangfujing

Forbidden City (Imperial Palace)

Forbidden City, Beijing - Winter

A visit to the incredible Forbidden City is a must while visiting Beijing. This massive palace complex houses 980 buildings and was the seat of government for the Ming dynasty through the Qing dynasty between 1420-1912. Wear comfortable walking shoes!

Also, be sure to dress for the weather. If you visit in winter like we did, prepare for temperatures even colder than the forecast suggests. We were underdressed and you cannot enter most of the palatial buildings, so you’re exposed to the elements. We were really cold and had to rush through this magnificent experience.

ALex & Bell selfie at Imperial Palace (Forbidden City)


collage of statues and buildings in the Forbidden City

Visit the Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall of China

Sections of the Great Wall of China date back 2,700 years, but the majority of the staggering 13,170 mile (21,196 km) wall was unified and expanded during the Ming Dynasty in the 1400’s. There’s many breathtaking sections to visit that vary in distance from 90 minutes to 2 & 1/2 hours drive from Beijing. Badaling is not the section to visit if you want to avoid massive crowds because it’s the most popular section to visit.

The Mutianyu section is the best section while visiting Beijing in terms of distance from the capital, beauty, accessibility and fewer tourists. Consider a private tour with Wild Great Wall Adventure Tours like we did. Our visit to Mutianyu with them was made easy and very comfortable.

Alex and Bell on the Great Wall of China,

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu

Alex and Bell jump at Great Wall of China Jump at Mutianyu section

South Luogu Lane

The traditional hutongs of Beijing date back centuries, but these traditional buildings are quickly being replaced with modern high rises. One of the best areas to view traditional hutongs are the neighbourhoods just off South Luogu Lane. South Luogu Lane itself offers a long stretch of quality eateries, cafes and shopping. The businesses themselves are a great blend of old traditions with new ones. We enjoyed delicious dishes and snacks, unique shopping and possibly the best tea we’ve ever drank, a delicious hawthorn fruit tea.

Hutong in South Luogu Lane,

On a sidenote, public bathrooms are still very prevalent in China. This area is also traditional in that most restaurants and cafes don’t have their own bathroom, but there’s always a public one within a couple blocks. This is pretty common in Beijing, with pros and cons to the concept. If you don’t like it, you can always utilize the facilities in the lobby of nicer hotels!

Drink Beer At Great Leap Brewing

We’re huge beer fans and Great Leap Brewing rivals the very best brewpubs we’ve ever visited. We visited the Great Leap Brewing location tucked away in a residential neighborhood near South Luogo Lane. They also have two other locations in Beijing.

Alex with a beer at Great Leap Brewing Beer

Their Cinnamon Rock Ale was particularly fantastic. It wasn’t overly sweet, with a subtle cinnamon flavor that was perfectly balanced with hops. They have an excellent combination of western-style beers like IPA’s, pale ales, porters, stouts, pilsners, Belgian style beers and the added bonus of some with an Asian twist. We were disappointed they were out of the Wasabi Pale Ale because based on what we drank, that would have been great. Great Leap Brewing is a must for beer lovers visiting Beijing! Special thanks to Adventures of Sheen for suggesting we meet here for drinks.

Eat Peking Duck at Siji Minfu, an Awesome Experience While Visiting Beijing

Siji Minfu serves traditional Peking duck, freshly carved next to your table. The only downside to a visit here are the long waits. However, you can get a ticket from the hostess, ask for an approximation on the wait time, do some nearby shopping in the Wangfujing area and return around 20 minutes before your scheduled seating. So bang, no problem.

If you don’t eat Peking Duck at Siji Minfu, be sure to eat it at a reputable restaurant elsewhere in Beijing. But since Siji Minfu is ranked #7 out of over 9,000 restaurants in Beijing on TripAdvisor, and prices are reasonable, we doubt you’ll leave disappointed. Bon Appétit, we generally loved the food in Beijing!

Peking duck dinner at Siji Minfu, Beijing, China

For more information on a visit to China, visit the Chinese Tourism Board’s official website.

Want to travel to China Cheap?

Play the credit card points game to earn free flights with everyday spending. There’s really no catch as long as you’re responsible with credit (being irresponsible is the catch). We take advantage of credit card bonus sign ups to save thousands each year on travel. Reward bonuses frequently change so it’s good to know when to apply for certain cards. If you need tips on travel hacking leave a comment or drop us an email!

Advice on visiting Beijing Pin

Have questions on planning a trip to Beijing? Leave a comment or email me at [email protected] and I can assist you!

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  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

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10 thoughts on “Advice on Visiting Beijing for 72 Hours

  1. Beijing is on my bucket list. These are some fantastic tips – not the least of which is the stop-over each way w/ 72 hr. transit visa. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Elaine! Glad you enjoyed the mix of tips and found the article useful! Happy travels!

  2. What a great way to fit a few days in to your trip – and saving money on a tourist visa! China is on my list, but I just don’t have the time I would like to dedicate to it at the moment so the 72 hour transit visa may be a great option to pacify my wanderlust without breaking the bank – knowing I can get a tourist visa when I’m ready!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Vicki. We also look forward to having more time to travel around China in the near future, when it would warrant paying for a tourist visa to travel around the country. Asides from flights, there’s a high speed train connecting Beijing and Shanghai, which is something you cannot utilize if you’re traveling on the 72 hour transit visa. But until we have more time, we totally wouldn’t rule out utilizing the free 72 hour transit visa again. Next time we’re shooting for Shanghai!

  3. Thanks for sharing.
    I would also recommend the 759 Art district which is an art district with Galleries, cafes, museums and souvenir stores.
    The forbidden city is of course a must-see for Beijing visitors, but personally I love the delicate design in Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace more 🙂 @ knycx.journeying

    1. Thanks for the additional tips for readers, knycx! We didn’t want to make the itinerary too overwhelming for 72 hours but yes, it’s certainly worth considering visits to both the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace as well. A couple more things to mention would be the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong (certainly interesting for some) and the National Museum of China. Both are also close to Wangfujing in Tiananmen Square.

      The art district sounds great and the 798 Art Zone is also rated highly for those interested. Cheers!

  4. Great tips especially since we are going to Melbourne in February of 2017! I will do exactly wht you did and get a free trip to Beijing. Gotta remember to dress more warmly.

    1. That’s awesome, Carolina! You’re going to have a wonderful time combining the free trip to China with your travels to Australia. We’re happy to give you some great recommendations for Melbourne too if you need them!

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