I plan to be in Beijing and want to see some sites (the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, etc.). Can you help me?
In order to maximize your four days in Beijing, you may want to spend a day or two on an organized tour of the city. You can set this up through the concierge at your hotel when you arrive or make arrangements ahead of time.
China International Travel Service is China's largest and oldest travel agency and offers both group and customized tours. The U.S. office is located in Pasadena, Calif., and can be reached at 626-568-8993 or via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information on planning your tour.
Any visit to China would not be complete without a visit to the Great Wall. The closest point is about 43 miles from Beijing in Badaling. You can reach the wall by taking Bus 919 or a tour bus.
However, if you are looking for smaller crowds and a less reconstructed wall, one of my favorite things to do in Beijing is to see the Great Wall on my own. To do this yourself, work though the concierge at your hotel, hire a private car, and tell the concierge you want to leave the hotel at 4:30 in the morning (no later!). The concierge might want to steer you to a more organized Great Wall tour later in the day (there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm trying to give you a special moment at the wall). You'll get to the Great Wall about 5:15 a.m. Have the car wait. You'll be about the only one there, with a few older Chinese people doing their morning tai-chi exercises. You can walk it on your own, take fabulous pre-dawn and dawn pictures, and then walk down by 7 or 7:30 a.m., when the first organized bus tours start arriving. You will have missed the crowds and the noise but had a special moment!
If you care to venture out and tour the city on your own, there are several must-see locations. First, the Forbidden City is a marvelous place to begin any tour of Beijing. Located in the heart of the city, you can take in a variety of sights, including the Imperial Palace, the Gate of Divine Prowess, and Jingshan Park. Guide recordings are available at both the northern and southern gate entrances.
Tiananmen Square is another potent area located just below the Forbidden City. The raising and lowering ceremony of the Chinese National Flag at sunrise or sunset is a worthwhile event for any visitor.
And finally, although there are many cultural museums in Beijing, the Beijing Capital Museum is filled with a cultural experience you wouldn't want to miss. Located on the western side of the city, the museum has free admission. However, be sure to make reservations three days in advance.