Guide on Best Area to Stay for Tourists and First Time Visitors
Traveling to Beijing and not sure what are the best areas to stay in the city? Planning a trip to Beijing might be overwhelming indeed, especially if this is your time in Beijing.
With over 100 distinct neighborhoods spread amongst Beijing’s central districts, there are many places to choose from. To ensure that you find the right vacation stay for you, here are several things to consider when deciding on the best area to stay in Beijing.
- Travel companions. Do you travel alone or with someone else? Traveling with a family requires careful consideration of everyone’s preferences. Finding a balance between everyone’s tastes is essential if you travel with a family. Solo traveling is much easier since you can decide which area to stay in.
- Budget. Do you feel comfortable staying in a good-budget hotel /hostel in Hutong or prefer luxury hotels in central Beijing?
- Modern Hotels vs. Traditional Hotels. Do you wish to stay in the traditional Hutong Courtyard hotels in Houhai, Gulou, or Nanluoguxiang or stick to the contemporary Western chains downtown?
- Your Activities. Do you enjoy crowds and love Sanlitun’s nightlife or prefer peace and quiet in old Hutong?
- Transportation: How you will commute from one place to another during your stay. Will you walk, take a taxi, or take the subway?
- Type of travel experience you want to have. Do you need to stay near shopping malls, a neighborhood with bustling nightlives, boutiques, etc.?
- Your Eating Habits. Do you enjoy dining out every meal, eating at local markets, grabbing some street food, or doing all three? Do you have dietary restrictions and need to make a lot of food?
Making all these decisions can be daunting, especially to a first-timer who might have no idea of the perfect place to stay. So how exactly does one identify the ideal location to stay in Beijing?
7 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Beijing
Out of 16 central districts, there are seven neighborhoods that I consider the best areas to stay in Beijing for tourists. Each of these neighborhoods offers something unique to visitors.
Whether you want to stay somewhere central and near the local life, stay somewhere on a budget, look for an all-night party or immerse yourself in the city’s dynamic history, there’s a neighborhood that will cater to you.
Quick Summary–7 Best Areas to Stay in Beijing
For those in a rush, here’s a quick summary. For detailed descriptions, keep reading:
- Wangfujing – Best place to stay in Beijing for first-timer/family
- Qianmen – Best place to stay in Beijing on a budget
- Xidan – Best place to stay in Beijing for shopping
- Houhai – Best place to stay in Beijing for Romantics
- Nanluoguxiang – Best place to stay in Beijing for food and restaurants
- Gulou – Best place to stay in Beijing for a local vibe
- Sanlitun – Best place to stay in Beijing for nightlife
1: Wangfujing-Best Place to Stay in Beijing for First-Timers
The question that first-time visitors ask a lot is what are the best places to stay in Beijing. Hotels in central Beijing can be expensive, yet it might be very tempting to choose cheaper accommodation outside the city center; it’s a choice that you’ll quickly regret. First, commuting into the city every day will cost a lot of money and time. Precious time that you could otherwise use for sightseeing.
Visiting Beijing for the first time? Stay in Wangfujing. Wangfujing is the neighborhood at the heart of Beijing. Home to the city’s most famous attractions, Wangfujing is the right place to stay for you if this is your first time in Beijing.
One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Wangfujing, is within walking distance of many major tourist attractions, including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and more. This allows you to explore most of the major sights downtown on foot. Furthermore, you can count at least 20 hotels in the area. The hotels range from budget-friendly options to high-end luxurious suites.
1.5 km long Wangfujing street is also one of Beijing’s most famous shopping streets. Whether you’re looking for sizeable modern department stores, old Beijing brands, markets, or even a perfectly tailored suit, Wangfujing has excellent shopping options.
By staying in Wangfujing, you can see much more in less time. Ultimately this will save money on transportation on your overall trip budget because you’ll need fewer days to see just as much.
If you’re traveling with children, Wangfujing is the best place for families visiting Beijing. It is centrally located and provides attractions and sights for the whole family. Within walking distance of many top attractions, little legs won’t get too tired while exploring the city’s downtown.
A significant challenge when staying in the Wangfujing area is getting a taxi, especially on weekdays.
2: Qianmen – Best Place to Stay in Beijing on a Budget
Qianmen was also a famous red-light district during the Qing Dynasty. It offers the best budget accommodations in Beijing with traditional snack stalls, stores of global brands, Peking duck restaurants, old hutongs with hidden bookstores, and courthouses. From backpacker hostels to boutique hotels, there’s something for travelers of all styles and budgets in this bustling Beijing neighborhood.
Being the historic center of Beijing, this fantastic neighborhood is a mix of old and new, calm and energy, and the perfect place to enjoy the iconic Qianmen Avenue, as well as several cultural and historical attractions (like the Forbidden City, the Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven).
3: Xidan – Best Place to Stay in Beijing For Shopping
Xidan is the best neighborhood to stay in if you want to be in the center of excellent shopping. As the traditional commercial hub in Beijing, Xidan features an extensive street that houses shopping malls, boutiques and clothing stores, etc.
Most of these shops trade in fast fashion, classic, and fancy International brands like Zara, Gap, H&M, and DKNY. There are, however, others that deal with less expensive, locally manufactured garments and accessories.
When it comes to accommodation and restaurants, Xidan has numerous modest hotels and hostels to suit anyone’s budget. Furthermore, it is only two kilometers away from Tiananmen Square, making it the perfect choice for a holiday stay.
4: Houhai – Best Place to stay in Beijing for Romantics
With tranquil waters and the fringe of willow trees, Houhai (literally ‘rear lake’) is a beautiful area for couples and honeymooners.
In this fast-paced capital, Houhai offers unique ethnic shops, traditional tea houses, hole-in-the-wall cafes, and cocktail lounges as a leisurely oasis.
Houhai doesn’t have many must-see sights besides the former residence of Soong Ching-ling and the mansion of Prince Gong, but that adds to the sense of exclusivity.
You can take part in a variety of activities on the lake, including paddle boating, diving, fishing, kite flying, and winter ice skating. And you can always stroll along the water, people-watching or just enjoying the picturesque views with your significant other.
Houhai is a perfect place for Valentine’s break, for the honeymoon of your dreams, or to spend some time with the love of your life. Exploring this romantic place as a couple will give you plenty of opportunities to enjoy some quality time together.
5: Nanluoguxiang – Best Place to stay in Beijing for Food and Restaurants
Nanluoguxiang is a lively, walkable area with great restaurants, and nightlife, and close to everything if you love food and nightlife.
Nanluoguxiang courtyards have a history of seven hundred years, covering the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Both sides of Nanluoguxiang are lined with restaurants bound to delight your taste buds.
Furthermore, it is only two kilometers away from the most famous nighttime restaurant, strip-Ghost Street, where some of Beijing’s best eating is done.
With traditional courtyards, red lanterns, and hundreds of restaurants along the Street, 1.5km long, Ghost Street is a famous food street offering mostly Sichuan-style spicy crayfish, bowls of frog, fish, or beef in hot chili oil, etc. Some restaurants carry Sichuan cuisine and Beijing local delights like Peking duck, cow’s stomach, and scorpions.
Moving within this area is also quite comfortable, thanks to subway line 6. Take subway line 6 to Beixinqiao, where the exit is right along Ghost Street. Staying in Nanluoguxiang offers you the perfect opportunity to sample the cuisines from different parts of China.
6: Gulou – Best Place to Stay in Beijing for a Local Vibe
Gulou (literally drum tower) offers a slice of authentic Beijing if you want to avoid staying in a touristy area. The historic alleys in this area represent Beijing’s “real life,” where alleyways connect to the traditional courtyards.
This area is a good mix of independent shops, neighborhood markets, and popular eateries that draw locals, students, and tourists. It’s a nice place to get lost and feel like you’re back in ancient times.
When the weather’s nice, it’s great to head to the nearby lake to mingle with the locals. It has become very trendy in recent years but still retains a local vibe.
7: Sanlitun – Best Place to Stay in Beijing for Nightlife
If you’re looking to enjoy Beijing’s famous nightlife and club scene, the Sanlitun neighborhood is the best place to stay. Its colorful lanes are awash with bars and cafes, and every night it buzzes with activity as crowds of locals and tourists pile in to enjoy the party vibe.
With many 24-hour joints, Sanlitun is crowded, especially over the weekend, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself in what you think is a bar that suddenly turns into a nightclub or a club that suddenly starts drawing in the brunch crowd.
Opposite Sanlitun bar, the Street is the multi-floor Taikoo Li shopping center (formerly Sanlitun Village), Beijing’s top shops, including China’s first Apple store, and notable man brands in New York.
If you are a real foodie, you won’t regret trying as many restaurants as you can in this area as many ethnic communities live here, each of them with its fantastic cuisine, so you will get to taste the real deal!
The mix of luxury boutiques, hipster coffee shops, upscale restaurants, craft beer, cocktails, and even live music or film screenings creates a neighborhood with an international vibe where it’s a pleasure to stay. Do your research and preserve your energy by hitting only those you’re most interested in.
As the coolest part of Beijing, Sanlitun is also the best area to stay in Beijing for tourists who want to experience the city through a hipster’s eyes.
Best Places to Visit in Beijing
Beijing is one of my absolute favorite cities in the world. Below are my favorite sights in the absolute city center.
- Tiananmen or Tiananmen Square – This is clearly one of the most visited sights in Beijing. Having your picture taken in front of Tiananmen Square is as much a must for Chinese families. In 1949, the late Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the Chinese People’s Republic on the Square.
- Mao Zedong Mausoleum – built in 1977 to honor the great leader of the Communist Party, you can see the preserved body of Chairman Mao Zedong. Visiting Mao Zedong Mausoleum is an unforgettable experience of a lifetime!
- Great Hall of the People – The Great Hall of the People was built in 1959. State guests are received and state celebrations are held in this sacred hall.
- Chinese National Museum – to learn more about China’s history, a visit to this museum is worthwhile.
- National Theater – Just a few meters west of Tiananmen is the National Theater. It was completed in 2007 and is famous for its futuristic architecture.
- Zhengyangmen or Qianmen Gate – The Zhengyangmen Gate is a magnificent city gate. This was the main gate of the Inner City in both the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 to 1911 A.D). Only the Emperor was allowed to pass through this passageway on his way to the Temple of Heaven.
- The Forbidden City – the largest palace complex in the world. The imperial family resided here and the common people were forbidden to enter, so it’s called Forbidden City. From 1406 to 1420 a million workers and 100,000 artisans were employed to build this huge palace complex. For a long time, no building in Beijing was allowed to be higher than the Forbidden City. You should spend several hours exploring this sight.
- Temple of Heaven – a temple complex built in 1420. The emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed for a good harvest once a year. It is a masterpiece of Chinese architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire complex is larger than the Forbidden City.
- Summer Palace – one of the largest and most beautiful Chinese landscape parks in Beijing. This was completed in 1750. Emperors could relax on summer days to escape the hot summer in Beijing.
- The Great Wall of China – one of the most famous sights in all of China. You can reach the most popular part of the Great Wall – Mutianyu – from Beijing in about 90 minutes. A little less well-known, but still on the tourist radar, is the Jinshanling and Jiankou section of the Wall. For those who are interested in night tours of Beijing, visiting Badaling Great Wall at night brings you a unique experience. Both private tours and group tours are available to see Badaling Great Wall at night.
- Drum Tower and Bell Tower – built in 1272 and served, among other things, to tell the time. The morning was announced from the Bell Tower with a chime, while the evening was signaled from the Drum Tower with a drumbeat. You should visit the two adjacent lakes of Qianhai and Houhai nearby if time permits.
- Beijing opera – Peking opera has existed for about 200 years. It mixes many artistic elements such as singing, dancing, acrobatics, performing arts, and martial arts. Watching Beijing opera is a great way to learn about local culture.
Top Beijing Outdoor Activities
What are the top Beijing outdoor activities? In my opinion, skiing in real snow in winter Beijing, biking through Beijing’s Hutongs, and hiking Jianou Great Wall is the best things to do for outdoor lovers. These are great places to chill and relax, and it helps you escape the hustle and bustle of this famous city.
Map of 7 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Beijing
Stay Near a Subway or Train Station in Beijing
Although Beijing is best explored on foot, its sheer size can make that almost impossible. Thankfully, the city boasts an efficient and extensive subway system. The subway system is the quickest and most efficient way to travel around the city, not to mention the cheapest.
Staying in hotels within walking distance of significant subway/train stations is highly recommended to save money, time, and energy. Easy to navigate, you’ll have no trouble exploring Beijing’s top seven neighborhoods by subway, no matter where you make your base.
- Line 1 is one of the most convenient lines in Beijing for tourists as it crosses Tiananmen Square, Xidan, Wangfujing, and the military museum. You can quickly get to National Grand Theater, Forbidden City, Qianmen, and Wangfujing Street from Tiananmen Square. It is a heavily used line because it crosses Beijing from west to east.
- Line 2 serves important stations, particularly for tourists, such as Yonghe Lamasery Temple, Drum & Bell Towers, Qianmen Street, Houhai, and Ghost Street. It’s a good idea to pick a hotel within 5-minutes walking distance of a subway or train station in the central area of Beijing, which is bounded by the circular Loop Line 2.
- Line 4 will take you to key spots like the Summer Palace, Yuanmingyuan Park, Beijing Zoo (Panda House), Xidan, and Peking University. Line 4 runs across Beijing from northwest to southeast.
- Line 5 serves these three famous stations the Temple of Heaven, Nanluogu Xiang, and the National Art Museum of China. It crosses Beijing from north to south.
- Line 8 passes by Olympic National Stadium (Bird’s Nest), Gulou, Shichahai, Nanluoguxiang, and National Art Museum. It was created exclusively for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
- Line 10 mainly serves Sanlitun Bar Street (Tuanjiehu station), Agriculture Exhibition Center, and Guomao (Beijing central business district). It’s the longest subway loop line in Beijing.
Is Beijing Safe For Tourists?
The short answer is that it is safe. The truth is that Beijing is one of the safest big cities globally. Visitors are constantly under the protection of the city’s friendly and vigilant police force. Yet that doesn’t mean that tourists in the city don’t need to be cautious to stay safe.
How Many Days Do You Need in Beijing?
3-5 days in Beijing is the perfect amount if it’s your first visit. It is also the best compromise when considering time, budget, and the number of attractions. You can spend two days in Beijing, but it’s cutting it close–and you’ll need to come back again.
It’s also a great idea to do a one-week Beijing itinerary for all willing to spend up to 7 days in the capital city.
How Do You Get Around in Beijing?
- Subways. The easiest and quickest way to travel around Beijing is by subway. Riding the subway is also a fantastic way to feel like a local during your stay in Beijing. Sometimes subway routes change, or trains temporarily stop running—especially on weekends and late nights during weekdays—so be sure to check for up-to-date subway service information by subway.
- Buses. Public buses are a scenic way to see the city and reach destinations not convenient to a subway stop. And a large number of Beijing buses are hybrid-electric and electric models. Buses run about every 15 to 30 minutes, or at longer intervals, depending on the time of day.
- Taxis. Grabbing a cab can be ideal when tired feet, heavy luggage, or shopping bags weigh you down. Taxis are available 24 hours a day, but you might not even see a cab nearby, depending on the area and time of day, especially during rush hour.
- Car. There are numerous local car services and popular app-based options like Didi to get you from place to place. They don’t have the same pricing system as cabs, and they’re usually cheaper than taxis.
- Bike. Biking in the city is the most fun and quick way. It’s good for the environment and your body and can often be faster and cheaper than fuel-powered transportation. Cycling hot spots like Houhai and Nanluogxiang are great options for hitting the city on two wheels.
- Walking. Walking is a healthy, accessible, and environmentally-friendly way to get around Beijing. Walking means you can beat the traffic while soaking up the view. Many landmarks like Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are closer than you might think, so walking can often save time. Remember that cars drive on the right in China, so be careful to look in the correct direction for oncoming traffic when crossing the road.
- Boat: Travelling by river is a great way to get around Beijing. You’ll beat the traffic and enjoy fantastic views of willows and peach trees along the way. Change river cruise starts at the Beijing Exhibition Center harbor and ends at the Summer Palace. You will see Beijing’s famous landmarks from the water.
Since you would wish to visit as many tourist attractions, markets, shows, and restaurants, make sure that you take your time to identify the best location to stay. Determining beforehand what you want for your Beijing vacation is an excellent starting point.
List of Hotels/Hostels Used by Our Previous Clients
You can print the address in English and Chinese to get to your place by taxi.
- Xiao Yuan Alley Courtyard Hotel(小院客栈-东城区朝阳门内南小街礼士胡同12号近王府井大街 65212658)
- Red Wall Garden Shijia Hotel (红墙史家花园酒店 – 东城区史家胡同41号近东四南大街51692222 )
- Crowne Plaza International Airport Beijing hotel (临空皇冠假日酒店 北京市顺义区天竺地区府前一街60号 58108888 )
- Ibis Beijing Jianguomen (宜必思(北京建国门酒店) 朝阳区建华南路6号院1号楼地杰长安驿 65671588)
- Citytel inn (都季商务快捷酒店 -南河沿大街华龙街D座 85116665)
- Holiday Inn Express Shangdi (上地智选假日酒店海淀区上地东路33号 82709999)
- Inner City (清风雅筑四合院客栈 – 西城区赵登禹路大茶叶胡同20号 66160200)
- Hotel Holiday Inn Dongzhimen (东直门智选假日酒店 -春秀路1号 64169999)
- Days Inn Forbidden City 北京香江戴斯酒店 – 东城区南河沿大街南湾子胡同1号 65127788
- Somerset ZongGuanCun Beijing 盛捷中关村服务公寓 海淀区海淀中街15号（近中关村海龙大厦）58730088
- Beijing Hyde hotel
- Crown Plaza Hotel 48 Wangfujing Ave Dongchen District
- Lee Garden Service Apartments 18 Jinyu Hutong Wangfujing
- Downtown Backpackers Nanluoguxiang
- Liuhe Courtyard Hotel
- Novotel Peace Hotel
- JW Marriott Hotel
- City Walls Courtyard House 57 Nianzi Hutong Jingshanhoujie Dongcheng District
- Flowering House Courtyard Hostel Beijing
- Holiday Inn Express Temple of Heaven
- Park Plaza Hotel (丽亭酒店 – 东城区金宝街97号（地铁5号线灯市口站C口出东行50米）85221999)
- The Opposite House Beijing Building 1, No. 11 Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District
- Hotel G Beijing