Sightseeing in Beijing can be an overwhelming prospect. No other city in China, and few other cities in the world, offers so many must-see attractions. It is technically possible to see the big names -- the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and Great Wall -- in as little as 3 days, but you'll want at least a week to get any sort of feel for the city. People spend years here and still fail to see everything they should. Note: Most major sights now charge different prices for admission in summer and winter. The summer high season officially runs from April 1 to October 31 and the winter low season from November 1 to March 31.
How To See Beijing
Beijing's traffic is appalling. Do not plan to see too many sights that are far apart, unless you want your memories of the capital to consist of staring helplessly out of a taxicab window. Regardless of whether you choose to get around by taxi, metro, bus, bike, or foot, plan each day to see sights that are close together.
The best option for reaching sights within Beijing is to take the metro to the stop nearest the attraction you plan on seeing, and duck into one of the many waiting taxis. As an example, the Summer Palace is a short ¥20 cab ride from the new light rail station at Wudaokou. Buses are slow but plentiful and relatively safe, especially if you choose the air-conditioned 800-series buses. Maximum freedom (and usually speed) is realized by hiring a bike for the day. More convenient still is to hire a normal taxi for the day (see section 3, "Getting Around," in chapter 3).
The standard of organized tours in Beijing leaves much to be desired. But if this is your preference, most hotels have offices of China International Travel Service (CITS) or Dragon Tours, which offer overpriced tours to the major attractions (see section 11, "Organized Tours," in this chapter). The advantage is that transport and language barriers are removed, but the freedom to visit smaller attractions and meet locals is sacrificed. The fast pace of these tours can leave you giddy.
The last and least recommended option is to hire a car through your hotel. You will be charged up to five times what you should pay. Aside from convenience, the only conceivable plus is that if you are staying at a foreign-run, luxury hotel, they have a reputation for good service to protect. Organizations such as CITS do not.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.