Our first stop in our 24-hour whirlwind tour of Beijing
Beijing in 24 hours?! For a city as large as Beijing, it seems almost wasteful to spend only 24 hours in exploration. But, given we only had 24 hours after we were “stuck” in Beijing after we missed our connecting flight from Vietnam to the USA, we decided that it was only fitting to see as much as possible in the short time that we were given!
So, without a planned itinerary, what would you do to make the most of your stay in the capital of the People’s Republic of China?
As we waited to be issued a 24 hour visa to stay in the country, we pondered exactly what Beijing had to offer…the former Peking, what used to be the communist hub of the country and renowned for being rich in the country’s culture. We thought of all the possibilities: the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square…a delicious dinner of Peking Duck.
As we discovered, 24 hours is far too short a time to spend in any place, much less a city so rich in political and cultural history.
First thing on our agenda was to find a hotel that was close to exactly where we wanted to be. We decided that Tiananmen Square was going to be our focal point for our exploration. After a quick conversation with a local at the airport, we realized that exploring the Great Wall of China would be impossible to do in 24-hours if we wanted to also tour around the city, given that the Great Wall was around 60 kilometers away from the city. So, we decided to try to see as much as possible in the city limits, and we weren’t disappointed.
Our first stop was to visit the Forbidden City, an enormous complex that has over 900 wooden buildings that use to be the homes of Chinese emperors for 500 years. We couldn’t possibly see every building, but managed to cover a good amount of ground and see some phenomenal architectural structures, artwork and artifacts from as far back as the Ming Dynasty.
One of many beautiful gates within the Forbidden Palace
Ornate detail on the Forbidden Palace structures
View of a temple on the hillside in the Forbidden Palace
Our next stop on the whirlwind tour was Tiananmen Square, memorable to our generation for the 1989 protests where Chinese students demanded freedom of press, freedom of speech and social equality with an end to corrupt communism. We remember the vivid images of students being shot down or run over by tanks driven by the Chinese army and the massive worldwide condemnation of these horrific acts.
View of Tiananmen Square
While at Tiananmen Square, we visited the Mao Mausoleum. Mao Zedong was the Chairman of the Communist Party from 1945 to 1976 and his body was embalmed and placed for viewing in a large structure that was built for him in the middle of Tiananmen Square. Photography is not allowed inside the mausoleum. Mao’s body lies within a glass structure looking remarkably preserved. Some believe that the body is actually covered in a wax sculpture.
Sculpture in front of Mao Mausoleum
After a long (but fast!) day of touring three sites, we left Tiananmen Square hungry and in search of dinner. On our way we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Chinese army marching down the street.
What to eat when you only have one shot at dinner in China? A meal of traditional Peking Duck, of course! Considered a national dish of China, this is an exquisite dish consisting of fatty duck with crispy skin served with sweet and salty hoisin sauce and crisp scallions in thin pancakes. We were recommended to dine at one of the more famous of Beijing’s Peking Duck restaurants called Quanjude. It was a fun experience, consisting of a delectable duck served by a skilled chef who carved the duck and prepared each pancake for us while we indulged. At the end of our meal, we received a card that had a number on it which represented the duck that had been served to us…yes, a little bit touristy, but fun nonetheless! According to the restaurant’s website, they serve over 2 million ducks each year! Incredible.
So there you have it…Beijing in 24-hours. It can be done. We had a blast and felt we got a great taste of China in just one day. We’ll definitely be coming back for more!