Seven Days Backpacking in Beijing and Xian
China is a huge country that is rich in history and culture. The two most recognizable attractions are the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors. You can find both in Beijing and Xi’an, cities that are home to ancient attractions, as well as an eclectic mix of the traditional and contemporary.
For a typical backpacker, a week is enough to explore the highlights of these cities. I was able to visit Beijing and Xi’an in seven days and kept the spending at a minimum.
Getting In and Out of Beijing Capital Airport
Your gateway to both Beijing and Xi’an from the Philippines is Beijing Capital Airport. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have regular flights to this airport. Book tickets months before your planned dates to get the lowest possible fares.
Once at the airport, you have transportation options that can take you to different parts of the city. The Airport Express train can take you to Sanyuanqiao and Dongzhimen subway stations for Y25.
The Airport Shuttle Bus can take you to various parts of Beijing such as Wangfujing and the Railway Stations for Y20 to Y30, depending on the destination. Otherwise, you can always take a taxi from the airport to your hotel, which can cost you around Y300, depending on the address. Get more information about getting in and out of the airport here.
Places of Interest in Beijing
Beijing is an urban jungle with an extensive network of subways and buses that can take you to many attractions. Places of interest are within walking distance of bus stops and metro stations, and there are many signs in English pointing you to where you may want to go. Download a metro app to easily navigate the city. I used the Beijing Metro App (it has a yellow logo), which is free to download and works offline.
1| The Great Wall
The first place that comes to mind when one mentions China is the Great Wall. This UNESCO-listed destination has different sections. At Mutianyu, the wall is restored in some parts and stretches as far as your eyes can see. You have the option to hike up and down or take the cable car.
How to get there: Mutianyu is a convenient way to reach The Great Wall. Tours here cost Y280 and prices will vary depending on the section you visit.
Fees: Pay a Y45 entrance fee for Mutianyu and Y15 for the bus that will take you to the start of Mutianyu. There is an additional Y120 for a roundtrip ticket for the cable car.
2| The Forbidden City
This city within a city exemplifies ancient Chinese architecture. You’ll get a glimpse of how royalty lived and the ceremonies and duties they performed when dynasties ruled the country.
How to get there: You can enter the complex from either Qianmen or Tiananmen East Station. Follow the signs from Tiananmen Square.
Fees: Y60 for entrance fee
3| Fragrant Hills Park
If you want a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, Fragrant Hills Park is a nice addition to your itinerary. The park has many trails that lead to various sections. Take your time exploring and admire the views along the way. Autumn is a good time to visit because of the changing colors of the leaves.
How to get there: The closest metro to Fragrant Hills Park is Bagou Station. From there, take the Western Suburban Line and alight at Xiangshan Station.
Fees: Y10 for entrance fee
4| Summer Palace
This park is a huge, UNESCO Heritage complex. Many gardens and parks in China have been heavily influenced by its layout and design. Royal families of previous dynasties used the palace as a place of relaxation.
How to get there: Enter via the North Gate by alighting at Beigongmen Station then go through exit D.
Fees: A combo ticket costs Y50 from November to March and Y60 from April to October.
5| Temple of Heaven
This temple dates back to more than 600 years ago. Many religious and sacrificial ceremonies were held here during ancient times.
How to get there: The temple complex is accessible by metro through the Tiantan Dongmen Station. When you alight, look for signs that will lead you to the East Gate.
Fees: The combo ticket costs Y28 from November to March and Y34 from April to October.
6| Yonghe Temple
This temple is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists. Many go here to say prayers and make offerings. The structures inside the complex are beautiful and display the architectural ingenuity of the ancient Chinese. Explore the complex to learn more about the city’s culture and history.
How to get there: Alight at Yonghegong Lama Temple Station and follow the signs.
Fees: Y25 for entrance fee
7| Bird’s Nest
The Bird’s Nest looks like what its name suggests. It is one of the most eye-catching buildings in the city. It was also one of the main venues during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
How to get there: Olympic Green and Olympic Sports Center are the nearest metro stops. Follow the signs to the Bird’s Nest.
8| Water Cube
The Water Cube is an architectural wonder just like the nearby Bird’s Nest. It was among the key structures showcased at the 2008 Olympics hosted by the city.
How to get there: The cube is within walking distance from the Bird’s Nest.
Beijing has a number of hutongs (old districts) that provide visitors with a glimpse of the past. Nanluoguxiang is one of the most famous hutongs in the city. This area has traditional houses and shops.
How to get there: Alight at Nanluoguxiang Station and follow the signs.
This area provides you with a glimpse of old Beijing with its traditional architecture, hole-in-the-wall-restaurants, and shops.
How to get there: Alight at Qianmen Station then follow the signs.
11| Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen is famous for many reasons. You’ll enjoy walking around, entering museums, and admiring the architecture.
How to get there: Alight from Tiananmen Square station and follow the signs. Remember to bring your passport.
Fees: There is no entrance fee but you have to pay if you want to experience the attractions in the square.
Places of Interest in Xi’an
Though not as big as Beijing, Xi’an is already developed. There are fewer metro lines and buses here, but the places of interest are within walking distance from each other or are a few metro stops away. The Terracotta Army is just outside the city, but there are many buses traveling to and from it regularly.
There are no direct flights from any city in the Philippines to Xi’an. However, it is easy and convenient to reach Xi’an by either bullet train or overnight slow train. Bullet train tickets start at Y515.50 for a second-class set. A sleeper slot on a slow train starts at Y272.50. Book a train ticket weeks or a month before your planned trip because you’ll be competing with traveling locals. I bought my train tickets from this website.
1| Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army is among the most famous archaeological discoveries in the world. The terracotta statues number to around 8,000, each of them with unique details on their faces. The statues are part of an elaborate tomb monument built in 145 B.C. The entire complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to get there: The Terracotta Warriors site is easy to visit via public transportation. Take bus 306 line 5 to reach this attraction. The fare is approximately Y7 and the trip takes around an hour.
Fees: Y150 for entrance fee
2| Muslim Quarter
This area is the Muslim community’s hub where you’ll find many shops and restaurants. Try local food, shop for souvenirs, or visit the nearby unique mosque here.
How to get there: Alight at Zhonglou or Bell Tower Station then follow exit B. The entrance to the quarter is near Drum Tower.
The pagoda has a history that dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 652 A.D. The pagoda rises to just over 60 meters high and is a distinct part of the Xi’an’s cityscape.
How to get there: The closest metro station is Dayanta. Follow the signs to the pagoda.
Fees: You will be charged an entrance fee of Y40 to enter Da Ci’en Temple and Y25 to go up the pagoda.
4| Bell and Drum Towers
These two structures have a history that spans centuries. Both are recognizable city landmarks and are relics of the city’s ancient past.
How to get there: Alight at Zhonglou Metro Station and follow Exit B.
Fees: A combo ticket for both the Bell and Drum Towers is Y50, while a standalone ticket is Y30.
Where to Stay in Beijing and Xi’an
Both cities are developed and offer all types of accommodation from hostel dorms to five-star hotels. If you want to save money, your ideal option is to stay in a guesthouse or hostel. There are many in both. A dorm bed in Beijing costs somewhere between Y60 to Y100, while in Xi’an, it is around Y40 a night. A private room at a budget hotel, hostel, or guesthouse is double or triple these prices.
You can stay near attractions or a metro station for convenience. There are many accommodations in Qianmen, Wangfujing, Tiananmen Square area, and in the city center.
You can see most of the attractions in Xi’an in two full days or one full day depending on how much time you spend in each and how early you start. You can take the hard sleeper overnight train, not only to save money, but also to have a full day once you arrive at either city. Below are the estimated costs of backpacking in Beijing and Xi’an. The prices are rounded out for easy computation, so these are just approximates for a weeklong trip.
Y240: Three nights’ stay in a dorm room or shared private room with at least one person
Y280: Tour to Mutianyu Great Wall
Y60: Entrance fee for Forbidden City
Y28: Entrance fee for Temple of Heaven
Y50: Entrance fee for Summer Palace
Y10: Entrance for Fragrant Hills Park
Y25: Entrance for Yonghe Temple
Y330: Food and drinks
Y545: Overnight hard sleeper train round trip for Xi’an
Y50: One night in a dorm-type room
Y150: Entrance for Terracotta Warriors
Y140: Food and drinks
Y50: Entrance for Bell and Drum Towers
Y40: Da Ci’en Temple (Giant Wild Good Pagoda)
The total cost for both cities is Y2,298 or roughly P17,000 for one week. You might spend more or less depending on how many attractions you visit, where you stay, how much you eat, and how you get around the cities.