A transportation hub for railways, highways, and international flights, Beijing may well be your first introduction to China. Watch the changing skyline as first-class hotels and high-rise condos take the place of older neighborhoods to get a feel for this energetic place. See how autos are fast replacing bicycles as a favorite transportation mode.
Get a guide (to maximize your experience) or venture out on your own.
Here are some possibilities:
• The Forbidden City and the Palace Museum inside. In the midst of a massive reconstruction effort, the glory of the place and its past empires remains. It is surrounded by several notable Chinese gardens, a classical art form into itself.
• Tiananmen Square, located adjacent to the Forbidden City, includes a massive open plaza, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. This is a great people-watching opportunity.
• Beijing Opera. Go early to see some of the actors apply their makeup. Electronic signboards help visitors keep track of the story in English.
• Temple of Heaven in southeastern Beijing gives insight to religious ceremonies in the Ming and Qing dynasties. An adjacent park is a haven for Beijing retirees, who meet, play traditional board games, sing accompanied by ancient instruments, practice T’ai Chi, and many other distinctive activities.
Finally, don't forget the Great Wall north of town. You haven't visited China until you've seen it.