A must see for any Beijing visitor is the Great Wall of China. World famous and an incredible sight (at least the first time around) it will blow you away twice: Once for the sight itself and once for the teeming businesses that have been built around it.
Thank your lucky stars that the geography of Beijing is pretty easy to get to grips with. Currently, to most foreigners only the area within the 4th ring road is interesting, with all beyond rather Chinese 老百姓 or migrant worker territory (except perhaps 望京 in the northeast). However, there has been a push-out movement in recent years with foreigners slowly (and reluctantly) moving closer to the periphery as rental rates are rising.
There are two ways of looking at the hassle of renting an apartment in Beijing. The first way is to take it all rather personally, the finding process with shady estate agents, meeting with and talking to the landlord for the first time, counting out tens of thousands of RMB in cash, handing the same over, realizing what all is broken and needs replacement after having spent the first 24 hours in your new place and getting registered at the local police station.
To be found nowhere else in the world, the narrow alleyways called hutong are a true Beijing sight to be seen, on a par with the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven. It probably does not inspire the fantasy of travel guide writers as much because you can find them all over the city center and not as a single site in a certain spot. Also, they are free to enjoy, so tourists and locals may not hold them as dear as they deserve to be held.
Riding a bike in Beijing is dangerous. Now that you have been warned, it is also the greatest way to explore, experience and fall in love with the city. And you do not have to be a Tour de France bike buff to enjoy yourself. With the city being as vibrant and the architecture as rich and colourful as it is every bike ride will be different – differently amazing.
A chore any foreigner staying in Beijing (and the rest of China) has to go through is getting registered at the local police station within 24 hours of arrival at your new place of residence even if it is just for one day. This means if you change apartments within Beijing you are actually required to change your registration every time.
An insider’s favorite, the Coal Hill is the elevated feature right north of the Forbidden City. As a matter of fact, when leaving the Forbidden City via the north gate you just have to cross the street (by underpass) and you are there. Its opening times are changing constantly but if you go during the morning or early afternoon you will be sure to gain admission.
A must see for any Beijing traveller, the Forbidden City features what used to be the Emperor’s main dwelling back in the days. While it is without doubt that its architecture is very impressive it also tells you a little bit about Chinese culture. The grandeur of the facility namely stands in stark contrast to the humble lives many of the common people have been leading for many, many years.