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72 Hours in Beijing

China has been rolling out a new 72-hour transit visa exemption policy in major cities throughout the country, making visiting China even easier. Now travelers from the U.S., Canada, and 49 other countries can include China as an additional destination on an existing trip without needing to get a visa. Under the policy, visitors are able to enter select Chinese cities for up to 72 hours without a visa, as long as they have a booked plane ticket to a third country or region within the 72-hour time period. This applies to the cities of Beijing, ShanghaiGuangzhou, Chengdu, ChongqingShenyang, Dalian, Xi’an, GuilinKunming, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Harbin and Tianjin. China continues to expand this policy to additional locations throughout the destination. In the meantime, these cities are the ideal stopovers or add-on destinations for travelers already in Asia.

Now that you can visit Beijing for up to 72 hours without getting a visa, the only question is what you want to do while in the capital city. The good news is that Beijing is doable within three days. Here are some of the top things to do in Beijing to make the most of your 72-hour trip:

Tiananmen Square

This famous site is the largest public square in the world and a major piece of both ancient and modern-day history. It’s an important place to visit, and can be done relatively quickly on your way to the Forbidden City.

Forbidden City

Home to 24 Chinese emperors over almost 500 years, the Forbidden City is steeped with history and beautiful surroundings. The Forbidden City was so named because it was off limits to the outside world for 50 decades, when no one could enter or exit the palace without the emperor’s permission. Today, it’s open to the public and well worth the visit. Located in the center of Beijing, admission costs $6-10 (depending on the season) and an audio guide is suggested so you have all the details as you roam the expansive grounds. The Forbidden City has a multitude of palaces, pavilions, and gardens so make sure you leave time to explore it at your leisure, as well as the Palace Museum within the grounds.

Jingshan Park

After the Forbidden City it’s just a short walk to Jingshan Park – and you’ll be glad you made it once you’re there. Cross the street from the Forbidden City’s underground tunnel and enter the park. There you can climb up “Coal Hill,” which was made from the dirt that was displaced when they dug the moat surrounding the Forbidden City. Coal Hill faces the north gate of the Forbidden City and, being the highest point in Beijing, on a clear day you’ll be greeted with a full view of the Forbidden City and greater Beijing below. The park has more than just a pretty view: its 50+ acres boast lush gardens and traditional architecture, as well as locals flying kites, playing music, doing tai chi and practicing calligraphy. This is the place to see the iconic Chinese culture in action.

Rickshaw/Pedicab Rides

If after all the walking you’re too tired to hoof it back to your hotel yourself, hire a pedicab or rickshaw to get you there. Drivers can be a bit aggressive, so make sure to haggle on the price. You can also have them swing by the Drum and Bell Towers, which are near the Lama Temple. There’s a 4:30pm drum performance that’s worth checking out.

Peking Duck

For dinner, you’ll want to taste the celebrated Chinese dish of Peking Duck, which Beijing is famous for. Traditional restaurants like Bianyifang follow the same cooking methods that were used in the Qing Dynasty, while others like Da Dong Restaurant use new methods to get the duck crispy-skipped while still juicy. (Da Dong is also known for its pork belly.) Either way, you’re guaranteed a tasty and memorable meal.

Great Wall

Start your next day in Beijing bright and early with a trip to the Great Wall. Perhaps China’s most iconic attraction, the Great Wall is a must-do while in Beijing. You can visit the wall with a tour group, private guide, or on your own, and there are various sections you can visit, each with their own vibe. The Great Wall at Badaling and Mutianyu is fully restored and prime for tourists. If you’re seeking a much less frequented portion of the wall, the Jiankou section is a bit more “wild,” and less restored, but provides many breathtaking views and the chance to hike with very few people around.

Ming Tombs

If you haven’t taken a full-day hike on the Great Wall, most groups will head to the Ming Tombs afterward. The burial place of Emperor Wanli from the 16th century, there are 13 tombs total, as well as Sacred Way, a path leading to the tombs that is flanked by stone creatures.

Temple of Heaven

Built in 1420 as an imperial prayer site, Temple of Heaven Park is today the largest building for religious worship in China. Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties frequented these grounds to worship the heavens and pray for a good harvest and bountiful year. All the buildings within the Temple of Heaven have dark blue roof tiles to signify heaven, as well as round temples (representing heaven) with square bases (representing earth).

Summer Palace

First built in 1750 as a luxurious getaway for the royal families to rest and entertain during the hot summer months, the Summer Palace gardens and grounds have been destroyed and restored throughout their ancient history, but now serve as a not-to-be-missed attraction in Beijing. The Summer Palace is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape design, with Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan) melding effortlessly with the pavilions, bridges, temple, and gardens that have been created there. You can spend a whole day exploring the 290-acre park, its tea houses, shops, marble boats, and pristinely restored temples.

Other Sites

There is of course much more to see, do and eat while in Beijing, but the above activities are among the can’t-miss experiences while in the capital city. Also highly recommended is visiting some of the 2008 Olympics venues, including the Bird’s Nest and the Olympic Swim Cube. While in Beijing, take time to have tea in a traditional tea ceremony. Finally, a visit to the Silk Street Market (Xiushui) is an excellent place to pick up handbags, jewelry and other souvenirs from your 72 incredible hours in Beijing.