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Beijing (China) – A Backpackers Budget Guide & Travel Itinerary

A backpackers guide & 10 day itinerary for Beijing. See The Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City and more!

backpacking in beijing guide on Great Wall of China Cristabel at The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu, Beijing.

Backpacking in Beijing was intense. The people, the smog, the heat, the sights, it was all so different from what we had become used to. Beijing was a very different experience of China for us.  There are just so many things to see and do that it's nearly impossible to do everything. We had a list of attractions that we wanted to see, and we slowly worked our way through them during our stay.  This is our 10 day travel itinerary of things to see and do around Beijing (otherwise known as Peking).

Want to get a better idea of how much backpacking in Beijing will cost you per day?  Read our guide on Daily Travel Costs of Backpacking in Beijing.

We travelled to Beijing from Shanghai, on the Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway.  High speed trains to Beijing depart every half hour in each direction, taking just 4 hours and 48 minutes to complete the 1400km journey. Many people that are backpacking in China either fly into Shanghai to start their adventures, as well as flying directly into Beijing.  If you want to see both cities in a reasonable amount of time and on a budget, we recommend taking the train which can cost just 555RMB one-way.  Or the slower train which takes over 7 hours costs just 410RMB one-way.

Where to stay? Budget backpacker hostels in Beijing:

We stayed at The Happy Dragon Hostel in central Beijing.  It was perfectly located, within walking distance to the metro system, 15 minutes walk away from Jingshan Park and other attractions.  The hostel is well regarded on and very backpacker friendly. Or you can book directly with them.

Our room cost 260RMB per night for 2 people (that's roughly $16 per night, per person) or 5 bed dorms go for just $9 per person.  There are plenty of cheaper options out there for those travelling on a tighter budget than us, but we can recommend this place.  Happy Dragon had nice quality en-suite rooms, legendary breakfast, happy hours everyday on drinks and friendly English speaking staff.  FYI – their address in Chinese is  隆福天缘宾馆 东城区 隆福寺街(隆福大厦西北角).

Happy Dragon Hostel Room Rate:

Double room Ensuite 160RMB 200RMB 280RMB
Triple room Ensuite 70RMB/bed 80RMB/bed 100RMB/bed
Twin room Ensuite 160RMB 200RMB 280RMB
4 bed dorm Ensuite 50RMB/bed 70RMB/bed 90RMB/bed
Single room Ensuite 120RMB 160RMB 220RMB
5 bed dorm Ensuite 40RMB/bed 60RMB/bed 80RMB/bed

10 days in Beijing: Our guide to seeing Beijing on a budget:

Day 1: Walk around Jingshan Park (景山公园)

Watch a live opera or just escape the hustle and bustle of down-town Beijing for a few hours at this favourite local haunt.

Backpacking in Beijing and walking around Jingshan Park

The view of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park, Beijing.

Jingshan Park (景山公园) is an artificial hill just north of the Forbidden City. It was created from the earth removed creating the moat of the Forbidden City. Originally it was an imperial garden, these days it is a public park where it acts as a tourist attraction and a gathering place for the local community.

The park is a popular place for locals to come and socialise and participate in various activities – whilst we were there we saw singing (opera style!), folk dancing and musical performances.

Watch our video of local residents singing in Jingshan Park:

The highlight of the park is the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring perched on what long ago, would have been the highest point in the city. From here you can view the golden rooftops of the Forbidden City in the South, Bell and Drum Towers in the North as well as other parts of Beijing's occasionally clear skyline.

It is definitely worth a visit to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and do some people watching.

How to get to Jingshan Park:

Take Subway Line 5 (Purple) or Subway Line 6 (Light Brown) to Dongsi metro station.  Take Exit E and walk along the main road (Wusi Street) towards the West.  Continue down the same road at the traffic lights (Jingshan Front Street) and you will eventually get to the South entrance of the park.  It's usually busy, if you want to take another entrance into the park, walk up Jingshan East Street and this will bring you to the East entrance which is quieter.

Address in English / Chinese: No.44, Jingshanxi Street, Xicheng District (景山公园)

Entrance Fee: 10 RMB ($1.50), making it a very cheap attraction for those backpacking on a budget!

Day 2: The Beijing Olympics Park (北京国家体育场)

Relive the 2008 Beijing Olympics and see the incredible Bird's Nest Stadium and try some kite flying!

Backpacking in Beijing requires travelling to see the Birds Nest Stadium

Bird's Nest Stadium (and Darryl)

The Olympic Park is about as exciting as you can expect from an old Olympic ground. Although a must-see sight for those backpacking in Beijing.  There are plenty of people still flooding the area – posing in front of the Bird's Nest, flying kites, strolling around, taking photos of the Water Cube (which is now a water park) and avoiding all the hawkers.

It is free to enter the grounds (with a brief security check) but if you want to enter the Bird's Nest you do need to pay, and the Water Cube's park obviously costs money too. We went late afternoon so it was too early for it to be lit up but I'm told that's pretty exciting.

If you fancy a snack there is a food tent which has a lot of fried foods, noodles and coconuts. You will need to get a prepaid swipe card before ordering though.

How to get to Beijing Olympics Park:

Take Subway Line 8 (Green) to either Olympics Sports Stadium or Olympic Green.  Then follow the crowds of people walking in the same direction as you.  The reason we've recommended 2 stations, is you can either walk North from Olympics Sports Stadium station and then get the metro back from Olympics Green or vice-versa.  This will let you walk around much of the park and get that all important picture at The Bird's Nest.

Address in English / Chinese: 15 Beichen Dong Lu, Chaoyang (中国北京朝阳国家体育场南路国家体育场)

Entrance Fee: Free, but there are lots of attractions inside the stadium area that you can pay to see / do.

Day 3: South Luogu Alley, a vibrant Beijing Hutong (南锣鼓巷)

Whether you fancy eating some local Beijing delicacies or fancy a browse around the many shops, Luogu Alley makes for a great afternoon out!

Visit Beijing's South Luogu Alley Hutong for travelling on a budget!

One of the many shops located on South Luogu Alley

If you want to experience some ‘traditional' Beijing Hutongs, your best bet is to just wander the back streets and find the streets that meander at the back of main roads, this is where the real locals in Beijing live, eat and work. However, given all that is a little boring and unlikely to rouse your interest, the next best place is South Luogu Alley.

South Luogu Alley (南锣鼓巷) is one of the oldest alley's in Beijing with a history spanning over 800 years. It is an 800-metre long North-South alley with cafes, bars, and shops all designed in classical Chinese ‘hutong' style.

The alley is packed full of families and young Chinese tourists.  There are plenty of places to snack, drink and dine, also there is a lot of tat to be bought if you wanted to pick up a few Chinese souvenirs.

How to get to South Luogu Alley:

If you are staying at the Happy Dragon Hostel as we recommended, below is a walking map (takes roughly 20 minutes).  Walk down Cuifu Alley, then take a right at the end of that road and follow the road north, at which point it turns onto Meishuguan E Street.  Follow it around the corner and continue walking North.  Walk past the major intersection, across traffic lights and continue north on Jiaodaokou S Street.  Take a left down Houyuan'ense Hutong and you will find yourself on South Luogu Alley after a few minutes or so.

How to get to South Luogu Alley from Happy Dragon Hostel

If you are staying elsewhere, likelihood is your hostel is nearby as well.  The nearest metro station is NanLuoguXiang, an interchange station on Subway Line 6 (Brown) & Line 8 (Green).  Walk out the station at exit A and walk north down the alley and you will start your walk from the bottom of the street.

Address in English / Chinese: Nanluoguxiao, Dongcheng (中国北京东城区南锣鼓巷)

Entrance Fee: Free (Overload yourself on some backpacker budget friendly sweet treats along the way, you deserved it!)

Day 4: The Yonghe Temple, also known as Lama Temple (雍和宮)

Experience Beijing's rebirth of religious freedoms, catch the young and old making offerings to Buddha.

Budget traveller friendly buddhist temple in heart of Beijing

Many people making offerings to Buddha

The Yonghe Temple (雍和宮), popularly known as Lama Temple, is a temple and monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism located in the northeastern part of Beijing. It was originally built as an imperial palace before being converted into a lamasery. This is apparent in the imperial palace style architecture which makes it so distinctive.

We arrived with little over an hour to get around before closing, I was a bit concerned that wouldn't be enough time but it was plenty. The Lama Temple really doesn't need to take up a significant chunk of the day even though it may look like it will take several hours, just be aware of closing time as in China these tend to lean on the early side.

The Pavilion of Infinite Happiness, the last main hall, is the highest hall of this temple. It is also home to a huge statue of Maitreya. The entire statue which is carved from a rare sandal tree is 26 metres (85 feet) in height and eight metres (26 feet) in diameter, with eight metres (26 feet) buried under the ground.

How to get to the Lama Temple:

A quick subway ride and a short walk, past several street sellers, will take you to the temple without any problems.  Get off the metro at Yonghegong Subway Line 2  (Blue) and Subway Line 5 (Purple).  Exit at either B or C for the Lama Temple.  Again some walking is always involved when backpacking in Beijing!!

Address in English / Chinese: 12 Yonghegong, Dongcheng (中国北京东城区雍和宫大街雍和宫)

Entrance Fee: 25RMB ($4.50) – which makes it another great budget backpacker friendly attraction in Beijing!

Day 5: Trek the Great Wall of China (Mutianyu)

The less busy, but still popular portion of the Great Wall at Mutianyu makes for a very active day!

Slightly expensive for backpackers on a budget, but a sight that cannot be missed

Mutianyu Section of The Great Wall of China

Backpacking in Beijing wouldn't be complete without visiting the always awe-inspiring, Great Wall of China.  We booked a day trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall through the Happy Dragon Hostel, mostly because it was just easier than trying to figure out how to get there ourselves and avoided the ordeal of scammers.

We opted not to go to the Badaling section as this is the most popular section due to it being easier to get to and we try to avoid massive crowds when we can. This is also the section of the wall that Mao Zedong walked and famously stated..

He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true man.

We were picked up a little after 7.30am by our tour guide and then proceeded to pick up people from other hostels before heading to the Wall. The journey took about an hour and a half from the city, and a bit longer on the way back as we hit some traffic. We were dropped off at our hostel about 4pm.

The Mutianyu section of The Great Wall of China spans just under 2 miles and has 22 watch towers distributed at close intervals. It doesn't sound very far, but there are a lot of steps involved and it was a very hot day. The wall is surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

There are 3 ways up and 4 ways down. To reach the wall you can walk or ride a cable car or ski lift up. The cable car takes you to Tower 14, the ski lift to Tower 4. On your way down, you can again walk, catch a cable car or ski lift down, alternatively you can toboggan down. It sounds crazy, and it is crazy, but you can! It is a lot of fun to do the only problem being who is in front of you (the Chinese seem to be a lot more cautious about their speed).

We took the Cable car up to Tower 14 and walked to Tower 4 and took the Toboggan down. If we had had a bit longer before we had to head back, and the queue for the toboggan hadn't been so long we would have walked up to Tower 1.

Check out the video of us tobogganing down from the top of The Great Wall of China:

Make sure that you take water with you and put some suncream on (if you go in the summer obviously). You can buy drinks and some snacks on the wall but they tend to be a bit more expensive than normal (with good reason, they've had to haul that all up there!). Also, the walk up to the wall isn't supposed to be that bad there were a few people from our tour who walked up and down and they just shrugged like it was nothing when we asked them how it was. They were also the first ones back down.

The costs for our day to The Great Wall of China are below.  And OUCH it is expensive for those that are backpacking in Beijing on a budget!  However, these once in a lifetime activities of seeing ‘A Wonder of the World' are priceless.

Our Tour Costs: 280 RMB
. This included breakfast, lunch, transport, an English-speaking guide and entrance ticket. It did not include the cable car/ski lift/toboggan.

Transport Fees: Cable Car (One Way): 60 RMB
, Cable Car (Return): 80 RMB, 
Ski Lift (One Way): 60 RMB, Ski Lift (Return): 80 RMB, 
Toboggan: 60 RMB

Entrance Fee to Great Wall of China (Mutianyu): 40RMB ($7)

That concludes the first 5 days of our Budget Backpackers Guide to Beijing. The second part, covering things to do from days 6-10 can be viewed here.

Some helpful travel notes:

  • We mostly bought Combined tickets which included the entrance fee and the extras within the grounds. You can buy tickets just for entrance which are cheaper and depending on the attraction, you can buy tickets for the extras once inside if you change your mind. Combined tickets don't really save you that much money (the Chinese don't seem to have offers like at home), but it's just easier to queue once and know you can get in to everything. 
  • Ticket prices are also for during peak season, if you go during off-peak season tickets are likely to be up to 20 RMB cheaper.

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2 Comments on Beijing (China) – A Backpackers Budget Guide & Travel Itinerary

  1. Great photos, thanks for sharing. Mutianyu Great Wall is a good alternative for Badaling, often quiet, with less tour buses and stops. Badaling gets more tourists than Mutianyu. If you could visit only one, and want to enjoy a better views with less crowds, Mutianyu is right for you.

  2. Hi Guys,
    thanks heaps for the great posts on China, we are going next week and whilst we are a bit nervous about the language your site has been amazing in helping us plan.

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