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Upon arriving at one of the most enormous airports in the world, the sheer size of the place is something that immediately stands out. China is such a vast country, and both Beijing (北京) and Shanghai (上海) have an average population of about 20 million people. Here is what to expect if you're visiting the capital of China for the first time, and how to make the most out of 48 hours there.
Check into The Peninsula Beijing, an excellent hotel in a great location. You are able to walk from the hotel and venture out to explore the famous food markets just a few blocks away. Everything can be found on offer, from fried scorpion to fried seahorses. It is simply fascinating to walk along, take it all in and see what might be on the menu for dinner! For those with a less adventurous palette, the Huang Ting (凰庭) restaurant at the Peninsula is a recommended dinner spot.
During a day of sightseeing in Beijing, you will be able to cover a lot of the “must-see“ places. The Temple of Heaven (天坛) is a tourist favourite—arrive at 9 am and you will find the place packed with the local elderly who visit each day to do their daily exercise and practice their ballroom dancing. There are always so many different activities happening, including singing, juggling, chess, cards, and many others. It is a great way to soak up the atmosphere and give you a great understanding of the common Beijing leisure lifestyle.
Passing through the must-see Tiananmen Square (天安门), and then the Forbidden City (紫禁城), you will be able to make your way down to the hutongs (胡同)—narrow Chinese style street and alleys. The hutongs are a really fun part of the Beijing to-do list. There, you can travel around in a rickshaw along the river, then pop into the shops featuring tea demonstrations—an ideal opportunity to buy any variety of tea or souvenirs to bring back home for friends and family.
It almost goes without saying, The Great Wall of China (万里长城) is a real highlight for any visitor to Beijing. You may check out the wall at the Mutianyu (慕田峪) area, where the beautiful and stunning views are guaranteed to live up to expectations. Try taking a chairlift up the Great Wall, then wander along for a while to explore the wall, and finish off your stroll by taking the toboggan sled down. It is a lot of fun—a great activity for the family, and a definite “must” if you are visiting the Great Wall with children. However, be sure to watch out for slow sledders who create a backlog of traffic, as they might slow you down.
Finish your Beijing trip off with one last stop: The Summer Palace (颐和园). The palace is located about 45 minutes outside of the city, and it is where the emperor and his family would go to escape the heat of Beijing in the summer during ancient times. The location is beautiful, with the palace being situated right by the side of a lake. You may also choose to stay at the Aman at the Summer Palace, a stunning Aman property that has its own secret door into the palace grounds.