We decided to visit Beijing in late October 2016 to visit my brother and his friend in what we were told was the best time of the year to see this vast city for the first time, and we were not disappointed.
The first thing we noticed about China was the scale, the airport terminal was vast, really really big. And everything else is about scale, very big scale.
Historical places to visit
Before we flew out we worked out the ancient places we would most like to visit as detailed on the following page:
Neither of us having visited China before we arrived with no direct knowledge and were both very impressed. We were lucky that this was an easy trip in that we were being looked after by family. So it was a restful few days although the days out visiting tourist sights and trying to create some quality images was pretty tiring.
Visiting as a normal tourist would be a little more difficult but as the city transport system is all in Chinese and English things are not actually too complex when taken with the general helpfulness of the Beijingers provided you remember that this city is very very large. As a result it takes between 3 and 4 hours to travel from the eastern side to the western side, so you need to ensure that you are realistic in how much you plan to do in a day.
Beijing is an enormous modern city populated by many millions of modern Chinese folk. People are fairly impassive until you smile at them but they were all friendly and helpful.
It feels like a very safe city. Everyone is well behaved. We saw no begging, suffered no hawking or intrusive street selling.
All small vehicles, scooters, powered bikes and the Chinese three wheeled taxis as well as small utility vehicles and some full size taxis are electric, so keep you eyes peeled crossing the eight lane city highways, electric vehicles are very quiet!
When the buses are electric also §this will make a big difference in reducing street noise and maybe also air pollution.
The public transport system is all in Chinese and English, both written and in announcements and is logical and fairly easy to figure out.
Just remember that it takes about 2.5 - 3 hours to cross the city from one side to the other.
Beijing is a clean city and this reflects the attitudes of the population. Public lavatories are clean and Europeans can generally find a seat as opposed to a squat when required in the main tourist areas.
There is certainly air pollution and we were lucky to visit during a good period with a fresh autumn breeze clearing the air somewhat. You will notice the pollution but it may be improving with the increase in electric vehicles.
We very rarely smelt sewers, unlike many parts of Europe.
Outside the city on our way to the Great Wall we saw many highways with adjacent development which would not have looked out of place in Florida or California.
Some of the older residential blocks of flats strongly reminded us of communist housing from Eastern Europe but this is being submerged by a flood of high quality privately developed two bedroom flats. The Chinese government announced it's slackening of the one child rule during our visit so perhaps demand will build for slightly larger flats in the future.
We were very impressed by the quality of both work and materials in the apartment in which we stayed and in the shops, offices and tourist facilities we visited. See the apartment here.
Chinese fashion is wide and unregimented, many influences creating many individual styles. We observed a wider range of styles than we have seen anywhere else in the world and many folk clearly cared about how they looked. Maybe this is not surprising in one of the largest cities on Planet Earth!
Although we saw a few gaunt elderly men who we imagined had been young men during the Cultural Revolution we mainly saw young and middle aged people working and studying very hard and enjoying some of the benefits of their economic growth.
Young people were invariably well behaved and polite, mainly glued to their phones or reading books. We saw no drunken or rowdy behaviour.
The iPhone seemed to be the most desirable accessory amongst young and middle aged with about an even split between iPhone and similar devices.
If you like cooking and great food then Beijing is a great place to be, the range and quality of ingredients is very very good and we saw many fruit and vegetables we didn't recognise.
The food we had in more expensive restaurants was invariably very good and in cheaper places it was generally pretty good too.
We experienced no really poor food unlike various parts of Europe and the USA where the food has on occasion been indescribably bad. I recall being served actually rotten food in both Paris, France and just outside Barcelona, Spain.
We were surprised by being served really very good coffee in coffee shops, until we had coffee at a Costa shop at the airport which was the worst coffee we had in the entire week.
So Beijing gets a strong recommendation from us as a great city to visit.
If you only visit one tourist site we recommend The Summer Palace.