Until the early 1990s, China and its capital city, Beijing, remained shrouded in mystery for all but a select few. However, since that time China has become increasingly accessible to Western visitors. In 2011, Beijing contributed just over 8% of China’s inbound tourist revenue.
Of course, no visit to Beijing would be as good without a visit to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in the city centre or the Great Wall of China in the northern suburbs. However, above and beyond these popular tourist attractions, there are one or two other things that you should be aware of as a foreigner in Beijing. The official language of China is Mandarin Chinese. However, most hotel staff members speak English and most young people study English, so you’ll probably be able to make yourself understood well enough to get simple help and directions. Some, but not all, Chinese road signs have Latin as well as Chinese characters, but taxi drivers typically don’t speak English. If you need to take a bus, taxi or train, ask someone to write down your destination in Chinese to avoid any confusion.
Health & Safety
Note that only the better hotels in Beijing offer tap water that is fit for drinking without first being boiled. Hotels without potable tap water may provide you with flasks of boiled water in your room or, failing that, bottled mineral water is widely available. One thing that you’ll notice about Beijing residents is that they have a propensity for spitting, anywhere and everywhere. Beijing’s local government has made repeated efforts to eradicate spitting in the city, including imposing fines, but the unhygienic custom remains. Be aware, too that the standard of driving is generally poor; traffic is chaotic and China has one of the highest rates of road traffic accidents, including fatal accidents, in the world.
Numerous mainstream and budget carriers operate flights to Beijing Capital International Airport from all London airports (City, Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted) as well as many provincial airports, including Belfast, Cardiff, Dublin and Edinburgh. If you want to take advantage of cheap airport car parking, book your parking well in advance rather than just turning up at the airport and paying on the day. The earlier you book, the more you’re likely to save. Typically, you can make savings up to a third by booking well in advance. Even if you book just before you leave for the airport, you can still save money.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Beijing is during the autumn months of September and October. Average temperatures are around 19 degrees Celsius in September and around 12 degrees Celsius in October. Warm, dry days and cool, but not unpleasantly cold, evenings are typical at this time of year. The worst time to visit is during the summer months of June, July and August, when daytime temperatures can reach a sweltering 40 degrees Celsius and the air quality in and around the city can become very poor.