Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to spend in each destination. If you are like me, you want to see as many places as possible, even at the expense of being able to completely immerse in a new locale. So if you only have two days to see Beijing, a city with a ton of historical and cultural landmarks, how do you decide what to do? Here is your answer.

Day One: Central Beijing

Lucky for us, a couple of the top sights, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, are across the street from each other, so start there. Tiananmen Square is best known for the army massacre of students protesting the Chinese government, but it also holds the memorial to Chairman Mao and is fronted by the Great Hall of the People. A few minutes to walk around will suffice because we are in a hurry.

 Looking across the street at Tiananmen Square.

The Forbidden City was the official residence of 23 Ming and Qing emperors. It was built from 1407-21, and is possibly the most impressive palace anywhere. Courtyards lead to gates which lead to courtyards and palaces and gates and courtyards and temples and gates and gardens and courtyards, and so on in a dizzying maze, all with names like Hall of Superior Harmony and the like. 

Just one of the countless palaces and more than 10,000 rooms in the complex.

There are no signs anywhere, so make sure to rent an English audio guide if you don’t take a tour. The guide is GPS triggered, so it will start talking as you enter a new location. Note: it can get crowded here. Very crowded. Sometimes it is best to give up on a particular building rather than push your way through. As we only really have 3-4 hours here, such is life. Also note that there is really no way anyone with physical disabilities can navigate all the stairs and uneven ground necessary to see the complex.

People. Everywhere people.

Since we got here at 8:30am when the Forbidden City opened, it is now early afternoon and we sadly have to move on. Hailing a cab can be tough, so try to walk a couple blocks away to a less crowded street. For many people, the Summer Palace would be the next sight on their list, but we just saw a palace and want to escape the throngs, so we go south to the Temple of Heaven for a nice afternoon walk, maybe after having a bowl of noodles right near the Forbidden City on our way.

Noodles like this can be found all over Beijing.

The Temple of Heaven is one of the largest religious complexes in Beijing. It also has lovely gardens and lawns. If you get there early in the morning you can see a bunch of everyday citizens practicing Tai Chi, but we didn’t have time for that, so we are here to soak in the afternoon sun. Oh, and did I also mention the main temple is gorgeous?

The main temple at the Temple of Heaven complex.

Tonight we can see Chinese acrobats or just get a good night’s sleep.

Day Two: Outside Beijing

Let’s be honest: the real reason we came to Beijing was to see the Great Wall of China. It has been on our bucket list for a while, and it’s time to cross it off, especially since our bucket list has been getting longer and longer with time. So today, we need to go do that.

While some sections of the Wall are fairly easily accessible on your own, a guided tour is the best way, and since we are in a hurry, a private guide and car make the most sense. has great options, and if you go with them, ask for David as your guide. Trust me.

For a day trip, you can see a section of the Wall (Badaling is closest and most crowded; Mutianyu is slightly further and a bit sparser) plus the Ming tombs. Sounds good!

The Soul Tower in the Ming Tombs.

The Ming tombs are actually decently cool. The one we descend into was dug out more than 500 years ago, and opened to the public in 1968. It housed the body of one emperor and his two empresses. There are many such tombs in the area, but this one is able to be explored by us.

The tomb complex is referred to as the Underground Palace.

Since we made the smart decision to hire a private guide, we can explore this fairly quickly to get to the main event: the Mitianyu Great Wall!

Some things in life live up to the hype, and the Great Wall of China is one of them. A chair lift takes us up (when weather is nice a toboggan makes the return trip exciting) to the Wall itself.

The Wall coming into view.

This section of the Wall is more than 600 years old, but we can see (though not walk on) others dating back more than 1,000 years from this spot. 

This section of the Wall is older and overgrown.

This section is steep; virtually all was stairs between several guard towers. 

As you can see, the Wall here is steep.

One can walk for several hours in either direction from here, but since we didn’t even get here until after lunch, we settle for a more abbreviated trek. It is still amazing!

This tower held quarters and offices for the generals.

Returning to Beijing, we have time to try the most iconic food here: Peking Duck, though most places now call it Beijing Roast Duck. Whatever you call it, go to Dadong to eat it.

This duck is no ordinary duck. This duck is magic. I am confident that if you rubbed this duck it would grant wishes, though all you’d wish for is more duck. Yes, it is that good.

The duck at Dadong is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Beijing is a really amazing place, and even in two days, you can really get a sense of it. Just follow our plan.

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