Beijing: a bustling mass of high-tech commerce, towering skyscrapers, colourful architecture and historic attractions dating back three millennia. Of course, the city is also China’s capital, and one that has lured visitors for centuries thanks to its humming pace, evocative culture and exquisite fine dining opportunities.
In terms of a cruise break destination, the grandeur of Beijing is difficult to squeeze into a single trip; take a cursory glance over the city’s population and size statistics (16,801 km2, 11.51 million residents) and this quickly becomes evident. But as the 13th largest city on the planet, Beijing is still well worth a visit — even if it’s just to get to grips with the size of the place.
Whether you’ve booked an all-Asian cruise break departing from Beijing or the city is simply a stop-off as part of your holiday itinerary; here’s an in-depth guide on how to make the most of your time spent in this overwhelming, albeit striking, port call.
Where else to start your tour of the Chinese capital than at the Forbidden City — a UNESCO World Heritage Site which once housed the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Built in the 15th century, this sprawling historic site — which contains no fewer than 980 ancient buildings — is home to some of the best-preserved wooden structures in the world. An absolute must-see for even the most culture-shy cruise-goer.
Take a short walk from the Forbidden City and you’ll find Tiananmen Square, one of the city’s most famous landmarks and the site of the June Fourth Incident. Flanked by the National Museum of China and the Forbidden City, this historic square has an undulating and fascinating heritage — making it must-see for those on their first visit to the city.
Far removed from the imperialistic grandeur of the aforementioned attractions; Beijing’s Hutongs are a series of ancient narrow alleyways, characterised by their charm, colour and bountiful street vendors. Now protected for their history and culture, Beijing’s Hutongs can only be accessed on foot, by bike or by rickshaw, so they’re an excellent place to visit for those that want to experience the hustle and bustle of the real Beijing.
It’s not everyday you get to see a panda. As one of the world’s most endangered species, the majority of pandas are now born and bred in specially developed animal centres to better protect their numbers. Luckily for you, Beijing is home to one of the world’s largest panda sanctuaries, the aptly named Panda House. With a grand total of fifty pandas to gawk at, this is by far the best place to see these cute and cuddly critters. Be warned however — the centre gets extremely busy no matter what the time of year.
Looking to experience the true taste of China? Head to the Panjiayuan Market, by far the capital’s biggest and best market. Located in the district of Qiao, this sprawling marketplace is home to innumerable craftsmen, stalls and vendors, each selling an extraordinary array of traditional Chinese gifts, ceramics and textiles. Souvenir anyone?
The Great Wall of China
If your cruise ship is making a designated stop off in Beijing, now’s the perfect chance to witness China’s — and perhaps, the world’s — most famous landmark, The Great Wall of China. The eastern tip of the famous wall is located just 50km from Beijing, so it’s well within reach of those docking in the capital.
Black Sesame Kitchen
Tucked away in an elegant courtyard between Jingshan Park and the Forbidden City; Black Sesame Kitchen serves up an eclectic menu of traditional Chinese fare in wonderfully charming surroundings. Those looking for an authentic taste of all-Chinese cuisine will be delighted by the dishes on offer — think Three Mushroom Stir Fry, Kung Pao Shrimp, Chongqing Spicy Chicken and Wild Rice Stem with Chinese Bacon.
If you’re not quite ready to put those taste buds to the test and sample some of China’s more exotic cuisine, Bottega makes for an excellent place to stop and have your fill. Serving up a selection of familiar Italian cuisine, including pasta, pizza and meatballs — Bottega brings la dolce vista to Beijing in more ways than one.
Take a walk in one of Beijing’s Hutongs, and you’ll come across no end of street vendors selling a mouth-watering array of China’s street food staples. One of our favourite places to chow down on unique fodder straight from the grill is at Jiumen Snacks — a cluster of street food vendors supplying over 200 different savoury and sweet Chinese dishes.
If this article has left you longing to visit the Chinese capital, why not do so on an unforgettable cruise break in Asia? At Cruise1st Australia, we provide an incredible range of cruise breaks to China and Southeast Asia which you can browse, here. Alternatively, if you need any help planning your dream cruise to Asia, contact the Cruise1st team today on 1300 857 345.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Yiannis Theologos Michellis, Jennifer Chong, Dennis Jarvis, See-ming Lee
The footage used in these videos is licensed via Creative Commons and has been modified from the original. Credits: China by train: from Mongolia to Beijing, First time in Beijing, Inaugural Flight: Spirit Airlines N532NK A319 Landing Portland Airport (PDX), How It’s Made: Peking Duck by Fortune Boat, Beijing Cycling, The King Bids Farewell to his Concubine