Beyond the Forbidden City – an insider guide to Beijing

Hi Frugalistas!

The latest addition to my Insider Guide series is very special.  This time we’re off to Beijing courtesy of Agness Walewinder of etramping.  Agness has been living and teaching in China for the past two years, so I jumped at the opportunity for her to contribute to this series.  Despite being one of the great cities of the world, Beijing is poorly understood, so it’s been great to get Agness’ insights and advice on this fascinating, and rapidly changing destination.

1. A lot of people discount Beijing as a serious destination because of its pollution and crowded roads.  What makes Beijing so special for you?

Rumor has it… there are one million bicycles in Beijing and believe me it’s so true. What I love the most about Beijing are the local bikes. Every time I travel to the capital city of China, I rent a bike and go for a relaxing ride visiting some local temples, grabbing some Baozi (Chinese dumplings filled with steamed veggies) on the way and then stopping at the Tiananmen Square to see little kids fly their kites.


2. What is your favorite place in Beijing to take out of town visitors, and what makes it so special?

Of course the Great Wall of China. As Mao, a former Chinese communist revolutionary, politician and socio-political theorist, said “Who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man”. I would take the tourists to Mutianyu (the most renovated part of the Great Wall of China) early in the morning to avoid the crowd (never take a taxi; walk there or take a bus to save some money). Once we got there, I would take everyone for an exciting cable car ride up to the Wall, then have a walk, take some photos and enjoy the scenery. That would certainly be more fun than booking a tour with a travel agency. If you are an adventurous person, you can spend a night on the Wall playing guitar, having a picnic and watching the sky!

The Great Wall of China

3. Tell me about your favorite place that I wouldn’t find in a guidebook.

There is a park near my favourite restaurant where the best Beijing duck is served (Nanxincang Guoji Dasha, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng district), where I always do my yoga, read books and relax. The park is very small with a few benches around, and plenty of beautiful flowers and trees. There is a small fountain in the middle and a charming bridge at the end of the park. What do I love the most about this place? It’s always quiet and peaceful, never overcrowded with tourists and locals – so shhhhhhhh…. don’t tell anyone! It’s a perfect place to calm down, think of your life and do some meditation.

4. What is your perfect day out and about in Beijing and why?

I’m a very active person who keeps herself busy all the time. My perfect day out and about in Beijing would be filled with various activities and plenty of local food. Moreover, I would do a lot of walking and trekking to keep myself active through the day without visiting too many historical places in one day so as not to get bored.

Let me give you an example of my perfect day in Beijing:

I would start my day by having a nice bowl of noodles in one of the local restaurants.

Then I would visit the Great Wall of China where I would take a lot of pictures.

Afterwards, I would follow my China Lonely Planet book to plan a few hours in the Forbidden City where I would stroll down the gardens looking at the animal and other creature sculptures. Then go towards the Belhai Park to rent pedal boats so I could go for a boat ride across the lake.


I would also go to the Beijing Zoo to see giant pandas and monkeys. It is home to many animals from around the world and I would observe them and take some photos.

I would also pay a little visit to the Temple of Heaven, stroll down the park and have a picnic.

At last, I would watch the Kung Fu show and take a peek at the Shaolin Kung Fu performance, which is extremely exciting to see and have a dinner at Wangfujing Street. At night this street looks stunning with thousands of red lanterns hanging above your head!

5. There are many great day trips from Beijing.  Could you share some of your favorite day trip destinations?

I would definitely enjoy a day in Summer Palace and Pearl Market. Pearl Market is a great place to shop for gifts and souvenirs and get to know pearl culture whereas the Summer Palace is the largest former royal garden, and is extremely peaceful and charming.

6. What is the best way for English speakers to find out about concerts, exhibitions and other special events? 

The best place to find out about concerts, exhibitions and other special events going on in Beijing is definitely your hotel/hostel/guesthouse. The staff members always keep themselves updated and posted on all special ceremonies and bigger events taken place in the city. You can ask someone at the reception and I am sure that you will be given a map of the city with list of all things to do and attend attached.

7. Some quick fire favorites now:

Favorite garden(s)/outdoor space(s)/beaches
Summer Palace. It can simply take your breath away in the summer!
Favorite window shopping street
The main street at Pearl market.
Favorite market(s)
Sihuan market. It is a big open market in a Hutong location near Houhai lake, where I always buy fresh vegetables, fruit, dried goods, and all kinds of household items.
Favorite spot for a tea or coffee
As a blogger and coffee lover, I have been to many different coffee shops in Beijing. My favourite one is Colibri Café in the Sanlitun area. It is open from 10 am to late every day. The service here is great and the food well priced and enjoyable.
Favorite value for money restaurant(s)
The restaurant called Wuyi Shan (武夷山农家菜). It is open daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30-9pm. The address is Maliandao Hutong, Xuanwu district. Chinese address: 宣武区马连道胡同. They serve extremely yummy Chinese food, from baozi to jiaozi and Beijing duck and their prices are the cheapest in this area.
If you would like to read more about China, you can check out my ebook Add the Brick to the Great Wall:Experience-based Advice for China from Expats which sums up my two-year experience of teaching, living and travelling in the Land of Dragons.
About Agness:

Agness is a Polish travel blogger who has been travelling and living in different Asian countries since 2011. She is well known for travelling the world for less than $25 per day and she shares her tricks and tips with the readers of her blog She is also a food lover obsessed with Chinese cuisine, yoga, life enthusiast and photography freak.


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11 Comments on “Beyond the Forbidden City – an insider guide to Beijing”

  1. Agness 21/11/2013 at 1:12 pm #

    Thank you so much for having me here. That brings a lot of amazing memories from Beijing. I feel like cycling right now!

  2. Love Beijing so much – I think in my top 3 cities because I had the pleasure of guiding a friend around it too. There are so many places that people don’t know about it so it’s really worth a good wander around! 🙂

  3. Harley 22/11/2013 at 12:44 pm #

    I do enjoy Beijing, one of my favorite cities in China as well. Question I like to ask is do you like Beijing or Shanghai more?

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 22/11/2013 at 8:30 pm #

      I’ve never actually been to either, unfortunately. This is all Agness’ expertise!

  4. Sorin 22/11/2013 at 9:20 pm #

    I did not know its possible to spend the night near the Wall. I would probably try it when I will visit Pekin in March!

  5. Great post – I would love to visit Beijing someday especially to see the Wall. Nice to know it’s not far away. Sounds like a great day – pop by the Wall for a visit whenever you want. 🙂

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 04/12/2013 at 9:45 am #

      Yes, Agness really did make it sound like a great day out at the Great Wall! Thanks for taking the time to comment


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    […] Beyond the Forbidden City – an insider guide to Beijing […]

  2. (Barefoot Travelers) Just Me and My Backpack: Agness from Etramping - 07/02/2014

    […] Related Blog: The latest addition to my Insider Guide series is very special. This time we’re off to Beijing courtesy of Agness Walewinder of etramping. Agness has been living and teaching in China for the past two years, so I jumped at the opportunity for her to contribute to this series. (Source) […]

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