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Visiting the Capital of China: 10 Tips You MUST Know

So, you’re headed to Beijing, China?

Here are 10 things you need to know before heading to the capital of China:

Forbidden City located in the capital of China - Beijing
Forbidden City, Beijing China

Be prepared in Beijing, China

  1. Always have cash

Aside from your hotel, you will find that very few places in the capital of China accept your foreign debit or credit card. It’s best to keep ample amounts of Yuan on you so making purchases doesn’t create a disruption to your travels. You’ll often pay cash for food, snacks, trinkets, souvenirs. We did encounter some gift shops at major tourist attractions that did accept card, but I suggest not relying on it.

A man hand painting Chinese art onto glass bottles in the capital of China - Beijing
Local artisan hand painting his designs

2. Carry Toilet Paper on you

It will definitely serve you to make a little room in your purse or backpack for toilet paper. While you are out exploring popular attractions or site seeing, you will definitely encounter restrooms along the way. But what you will find is a toilet sans ‘loo roll.’ In other words, it’s BYOTP – bring your own toilet paper. Therefore, don’t get caught off guard. Come prepared, pack the TP!

3. Know Eastern vs. Western Toilets

In most public restrooms you will encounter two different types of toilets. In many places, they will have a familiar western style toilet, likely what you use at home. However, the other will be a traditional Chinese toilet, which, is essentially …. a hole in the ground. Ladies, your squatting abilities will be summoned. Occasionally, you will have to stand in a lengthy line for the restroom, make sure when it’s your turn that you go into the ‘stall type’ that you desire. In many restrooms, there will be a picture on the door for what kind of toilet is in the stall. Above all, don’t forget your toilet paper!

Red building in Forbidden City in the capital of China

What to wear in Beijing, China

4. Mask up

The air quality in Beijing is concerning. Not only is there high levels of air pollution, but the concentration of particulate matter in the air is nearly six times what the World Health Organization deems acceptable. While the state of their air quality is worrisome for those who live there, I wouldn’t let it deter you from visiting the capital of China. Wearing a mask can help minimize the inhalation of these pollutants, as is a common practice by the locals. If you don’t bring a mask with you, there are many stores that sell them throughout the area.

5. Wear Tennis Shoes

Fashionistas, listen up. I never wear tennis shoes anywhere I travel, typically. But I will only wear tennis shoes in Beijing, China. Firstly, you will likely be doing a lot of walking. Beijing has stairs and staircases everywhere. In addition, if you’re site seeing, the streets can be, well, pretty dirty. You wouldn’t want your feet exposed or to wear anything that you would worry about soiling. Tennis shoes will ensure your comfort, assist with safety and ensure you get around with ease.

Beijing Double Happiness Hotel in the capital of China
Front door of Beijing Double Happiness Hotel in Beijing, China

Technology and Communication

6. See ya later, Social Media

If you’ve ever desired to completely disconnect or take a break from social media, you’ll be in the right place in Beijing. Although, you don’t really have a choice because many popular websites and social media are forbidden. Google, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and a slew of other platforms are blocked from use. You can find a comprehensive list of what is allowed and what is blocked, here.

Some visitors will use a VPN to circumnavigate China’s internet restrictions. However, VPN provider websites are mostly blocked. Despite this, many people are able to access VPN’s while in China. The legality of VPN’s in China are a bit ambiguous. While a VPN itself is not illegal, breaking their internet laws and accessing censored sites is. Breaking the law in any country is never advisable, so think twice and use discretion when browsing.

7. Get to know your translator App

While you may not find many English speakers, this did not prove to be a hinderance thanks to translate apps. Whether you are walking down the street, in a store or dining in a restaurant, most everyone seems to have a translate app on their phone. Shop keepers and employees will readily whip out their phones in order to better communicate with you and help you with what you need. In fact, in most instances locals seemed eager to communicate through the apps and sincere in wanting to help in any way they can. We successfully used iTranslate and Speak & Translate to communicate throughout our travels. Remember, Google translate will not work in China.

Famous Beijing Cakes from a Chinese Bakery in the capital of china
Delicious Beijing Moon Cakes from a Chinese Bakery

Food for thought

8. Be prepared for a food adventure

Many travelers like to do a bit of research on must visit restaurants or places to dine before visiting. Others like to wing it and some like to do a combination of both. I tend to find myself in the latter group. It’s always nice to experience some planned and unplanned foodie adventures while abroad. However, keep in mind that you will not have access to things like YELP or Google while in the capital of China.

What does this mean? You’re going to experience food the old fashion way. Take recommendations from your hotel or locals. Peruse the local food options in the neighborhood you’re staying in. We had the most amazing dining experience at a local, family owned restaurant that was walking distance from our hotel in the immediate neighborhood. It was warm, quaint, inexpensive and delicious. The menus will all be in Chinese, but luckily, there are pictures! Our server also readily and happily used a translating app to communicate with us.

Check out your local Chinese bakery while staying in Beijing. You’ll find an array of delicious Chinese baked offerings and treats. Highly recommend trying the Beijing Moon Cakes while in town.

white plates of fried green beans, chicken, sautéed vegetables and bowls of white rice -Chinese food in the capital of China
Dinner at a local family owned Chinese Restaurant

Personal Safety

9. Beware of the Tea House Scam

If a very attractive woman approaches you and asks you if you want to go to a tea house with her so she can “practice her English,” what should you do? I’ll give you a hint. Don’t go. Politely decline and be on your way. Before heading to Beijing, a friend shared this scam with me. Our hotel warned us as well. Basically, if you go with the woman to have tea, they will charge you an astronomical amount of money for the both of you. It’s all downhill from there.

10. Use the Subway & Rickshaw with Discernment

To be clear, we never at any point of our time in Beijing felt unsafe. In fact, Beijing feels overtly safe. There seemed to be a uniformed police officer on every corner. Similarly, all the locals and shop keepers we encountered were incredibly kind and helpful. In terms of saving money, be discerning when you decide to use a rickshaw for transportation. It isn’t so much that they are relatively unregulated and mostly unlicensed. Our hotel advised against it as they tend to “overcharge” or at least tend to be more expensive than a taxi or subway.

Taxi’s in Beijing are astoundingly cheap, especially for a world capital. We taxi’d everywhere.

Subways are even cheaper.

BUT.

Having ridden subways around the world, in comparison, the subway in Beijing is incredibly confusing. It’s likely exacerbated by the fact that everything is, understandably, in Chinese characters. We rode the subway one day and while it was pennies on the dollar to ride it, we ended up needing the assistance of an incredibly kind woman that helped direct us. Taking taxi’s around Beijing is likely the most practical choice, provided you can hail one.

a panda in the Beijing zoo in the capital of China

Beijing is a true cultural experience. The capital of China is full of ancient history, intriguing customs, delicious food and iconic attractions like The Forbidden City and The Great Wall of China. Don’t forget, when you visit, have a Moon Cake!

Have any questions about visiting the capital of China? Drop them in the comments!

Pin this for your Beijing trip planning!

Headed to China?

Check these out:

The Great Wall of China: What You NEED to Know!

Chinese Lunar New Year in Shanghai: How to Celebrate!

Water Town Shanghai – All You Need to Know!

Must See Places to Visit in Hong Kong

Travel Tips & Resources to Help You Plan an Epic Trip!

Going – I have been subscribed to Going (formerly, beloved, Scott’s Cheap Flights) awhile now and it’s an amazing resource for finding… did you guess cheap flights? Yes, you can set your preferences from airports to flight class and get destination deals right to your inbox. It’s fab! I use the Premium paid version, but they have a FREE version too. So what are you waiting for?! Let’s get Going!

Booking.com – the majority, if not almost all of my stays are booked on Booking.com. It’s a reliable site to book and manage your reservations. It’s a great way to find boutique stays and unique accommodations at the best rates! You can also easily communicate with your accommodation through the app!

Expedia – If I am looking for a flight to a specific destination for specific dates, I find myself booking the majority of my flights on Expedia. It’s user friendly and straight forward. I often can find the most cost effective rates, while earning points for every flight I book (in tandem with the points I receive from the credit cards I pay with).

Viator – most of the activities, tours and excursions I book for my trips are booked through Viator. Whether you’re seeking a guide for the day, a group tour, a cooking class, Viator has you covered!

Get Your Guide – this is another great marketplace to find tours, excursions and activities to book for your upcoming trip.

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