McCann Travels: 36 Hours in Beijing - with Gemma Craven, Head of Social & Mobile

McCann Travels: 36 Hours in Beijing - with Gemma Craven, Head of Social & Mobile

Last week, I spent a whirlwind 36-hours in Beijing, traveling there to speak at a conference hosted by Chinese social media platform Tencent, about our iconic Fearless Girl. China is a truly amazing country, much more advanced than the U.S. in many ways, combined with it a long history and legacy. 

Beijing is the capital of China and as a city of 21.5 million, the world's second most populous city. It’s located in northern China and has a whopping 16 urban, suburban and rural districts.

Here are my top 5 must-do’s while there:

The Great Wall of China. Beijing is very close to the Great Wall, and arranging a tour is a feasible part of your time in the city. It is a triumph of engineering – built of perfectly formed mud bricks, cemented together with a mixture containing egg white and rice (amongst other things) - and also a direct link to the emperors of the Ming Dynasty. It snakes over the mountainsides of China and is truly breathtaking. Organize your trip to see the wall at Mutianyu, which is popular with the Chinese and less touristy. Well, apart from a surreal toboggan run which is one of the options to get down from the Wall. Avoid weekends if possible, as it can be insanely busy. 

The Forbidden City. Another remnant from the Ming era is the Forbidden City, which sits in the middle of Beijing and well worth a visit. This was the imperial palace up until 1912, which is really not that long ago. It has since been transformed into a museum and people flock here in droves to see how the other half used to live. The complex is enormous, so factor in enough time to walk through multiple courtyards and gaze into gold-floored bedrooms. My guide told me that the complex has over 8,000 rooms, although official numbers seem to be more conservative. Be sure to continue your tour through to the far side of the complex and climb up to the emperor’s pagoda, which gives stunning views of the entire palace (smog permitting).

Tianenmen Square. Most of us in the West know of Tiananmen Square because of the student protests of 1989, which were forcibly suppressed and resulted in troops and tanks killing at least several hundred demonstrators. Today’s Tiananmen shows no sign of that moment, apart from the heavy security to get in (according to my guide, to keep out ‘naughty old people’ who often show up to protest). It is flanked by Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, the current government buildings and the entrance to the Forbidden City. Be sure to take a hat and water -- it’s a wide-open space and the weather is brutally hot. 

HongQiao Pearl Market. Call your bank before you leave and let them know you will be dropping some dollars while in Beijing, then head to the famous HongQiao Pearl Market to get your shopping on. There is a floor full of pearls, yes, but there is much more to buy there from watches, electronics, shoes, bags, gorgeous silks, toys and more. Get over your Western sensibility and be ready to haggle, a cultural norm in China.

 Peking Duck. Be prepared for a taste explosion when you try Peking Duck in its place of origin. It is one of the most famous dishes in Beijing and supremely popular throughout China. It is prepared by roasting syrup-coated duck, which is then theatrically prepared by a chef for diners, and eaten wrapped in pancakes with cucumber, spring onion, and yummy sweet bean sauce. There are many different Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing -- this Time Out list is pretty helpful. Ask a local for their favorite for the best duck-based intel.

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