Tap into this post to read about some of our sightseeing, fun facts, travel tips and many pictures of our time in Beijing. We encourage you to get out and see the world if you are able, and if not, we will bring it to you through our posts. We hope you enjoy!
The flag of China features a large gold star with four small gold stars on a red background. The stars symbolize the Communist Party (large star) and Chairman Mao Zedong’s four social classes of people–proletarian workers, agricultural peasants, petty bourgeoisie, and capitalists. The red represents the communist revolution. The five gold stars together symbolize the importance placed on the number five in Chinese philosophy regarding the five elements–water, fire, wood, earth, and metal.
No matter who you are or where you come from, you have undoubtedly heard of the Great Wall of China, even since your childhood. Since the time we were kids it has always been a dream of ours to visit the Great Wall and as we’ve gotten older that dream became a bucket list destination. So we decided to tick off that bucket list item by finding ourselves a cruise that commenced in Beijing (actually nearby Tianjin) and booked tour dates of 3 days in and around Beijing before the cruise.
Upon arriving at the massive airport in Beijing we immediately noticed how busy and crowded it was everywhere we went. The greater Beijing area boasts a population of 21 million people, give or take. We booked our Beijing tour through the cruise line (Princess) who collected us at the airport and transported us to our centrally located hotel via plush tour bus. Traffic was absolutely mad! Besides traffic, another first impression that struck us immediately was the hazy, smoky, cold gray sky of early December. Air quality is very poor in Beijing, especially in winter. Our Chinese tour guide informed us that most people living in and around Beijing do not yet have central heating and actually burn coal to heat their homes. The smoke from coal furnaces significantly adds to the air pollution in wintertime and I can attest that there was always a faint woods fire smell in the air. Not enough to need any kind of breathing mask while we were there but enough to notice the constant annoying smell.
Day 1 – Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square has much political and historical significance. For most Westerners of a certain age, the government suppression and massacre of pro-democracy supporters in 1989 probably come to mind. The square is one of the largest such city center squares in the world and borders the Forbidden City. Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao) founded the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 and the square hosts a large anniversary event each year. It was a very gray and misty day when we visited and not great for pictures.
The Forbidden City was an amazing part of our tour and a highlight of our time in Beijing! It covers a massive area in the center of Beijing and was once home to Chinese emperors and their households for nearly 500 years. Built in the early 1400s during the Ming Dynasty, the Forbidden City contains 980 buildings on 72 hectares (180 acres). The beautiful wood structures are well preserved and ornately painted, dominated by the imperial colours of red and yellow–yellow roofs signifying respect and red walls representing stability.
Day 2 – The Great Wall and Summer Palace
We boarded a tour bus on the second day of our Beijing visit and traveled around 2 hours to our stop at the Great Wall. We were encouraged by better weather as the sun had peaked through the haze on occasion and was a much better day for picture taking. While looking at the surrounding mountains, it was a bit daunting to see just how high the Great Wall extended up the mountain. We knew we were about to experience a real thigh-burner. Excited and a bit apprehensive, off we climbed. Built primarily during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the wall was intended to provide border control and defense from nomadic raiders. During our climb up the Wall, one odd and unexpected observation was how tall some of the steps were. I’m about 189 cm (nearly 6’3″) tall and I found it difficult even for me to ‘high step’ up some of the blocks, which led me to wonder how on earth did the small Chinese people traverse the wall. It was a very strenuous climb, but soooo worth it!! Bucket list item–ticked.
The Summer Palace was our afternoon stop on Day 2, which was a playground of emperors and imperial families dating back to the 12th century. THe palace grounds and structures were absolutely gorgeous.
Day 3 – Temple of Heaven
We awoke to glorious sunshine and blue skies on Day 3 and boarded the bus for the Temple of Heaven, which is a collection of imperial religious buildings where emperors would come to pray for good harvest and other blessings. The Temple of Heaven was constructed between 1406 and 1420 by the same emperor who built the Forbidden City. Today it is a park where we saw many elderly Chinese people playing card games and dominoes.
Other Scenes Around Beijing
Facts & Figures
— Beijing is the capital of China and the 3rd most populous city in the world with 21.4 million people; on any given business day an additional 3 million commuters enter the city for work
— Beijing was originally called Peking, which was coined by missionaries in the 1600s from approximations of the Chinese sound made by the locals in reference to their city, pronounced loosely as ‘pay-cheeng’
— In 1949 Peking was renamed as Beijing to follow the Hanyu Pinyin standard of using the Latin alphabet for Chinese words and names; beginning around 1982 the Chinese government started to enforce ‘Beijing’ on official documents, sea routes, flights, and maps
— Tiananmen Square was named after the Tiananmen Gate to the Imperial City built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty and means ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’
— When Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics it will become the first city to ever host both the summer and winter Olympic games (having also hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics)
— The Temple of Heaven was made into a park and opened to the public in 1918
— Transportation in and around Beijing is mad; DO NOT try to drive on your own in Beijing; we highly recommend an organized tour for all the attractions and landmarks in Beijing
— Western toilets are not common in Beijing; most toilets are the ‘squat type’ with a porcelain-lined hole in the floor
— English is not widely spoken; again we recommend guided tours
— As previously discussed, air quality is poor in Beijing, especially in winter; you will see many locals wearing filter masks over their mouth and nose
— Currency used in China is the renminbi, or more commonly referred to as the yuan
If you are a world trekker like us and want to become more ‘worldly’, then you will want to try our books below. Thanks to the former British Empire and current Commonwealth, the English language is widely spoken across the world, however it is spoken quite differently depending on where you are traveling. We believe the books below are essential to worldly trekkers and think you will find them both fun and informative. The books include a dictionary of everyday words and phrases, traditional cuisine, some history and culture, and other handy information.
Simply click on the book covers below to find out more:
Proverb 18:19 – New Living Translation (NLT)
19 An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars