Monday, August 14, 2017

Visiting Beijing in Winters...

Late last year, my husband casually asked me if I’d like to go to Beijing for my birthday. It was winters, there was no tour available, we don’t speak mandarin, and we had very short time to prepare but those are not the kind of details over which you’d refuse a trip, right?
I asked friends who had lived in China, I perused over travel articles, I read through blog posts but nothing much (positive anyways) was said about traveling to China in winters but we (a family of four) went anyways. It was much easier to travel in winters than to change my birthdate and thus began the journey. I thought I’d share my experience for any future travelers who’d like to explore China during winter holiday break.

The last organized tour to China was offered during the first week of November and after that the tourism industry goes into hibernation. That just means better travel deals and less tourists. We booked our hotel and flight package through Expedia and chose to stay close to Forbidden City rather than Olympic Village which was the other option in this bundle and is a much modern area compared to the heart of old town.

Since, it was low tourist season once we arrived at the hotel, we got to pick between two very modern and beautiful suites after taking the tour of each room and besides that our breakfast was included in the room price. We like to find hotels which include breakfast during our vacations since it sets us up for the day ahead for sightseeing/hiking as the case may be. The breakfast room wasn’t crowded even though it was holiday season in the western hemisphere and the chefs could easily entertain our requests for omelets and soups.

Low tourist season meant that we could negotiate better deals on local travel, we booked a package for visiting the Great Wall through our hotel concierge. Before visiting Great wall, I had imagined it to be an overly crowded section of an ancient, crumbling wall but thanks to our visit during the winter season, we hardly had any folks with us on the wall. It is huge, magnificent and beautifully restored. And best of all, no photo bombers in any pictures. I could have sat and meditated there for hours before being disturbed by any other visitor, and that is not the case in rest of the monuments that we visited.
One of the biggest threat that our friends’ warned us against was cold. Well, we knew it won’t be a problem with us being from Minnesota. Our key pieces of clothing were long underwear (a couple of sets) and lots of layering. Malls, Taxis and Subways are all air-conditioned so you need to take off a few layers when you are indoors. Also, lots of walking (for us) meant that layers were mostly off and sometimes on. Scarves, hats and gloves were big help after the sun went down and if there was a breeze.

One big concern that DH had was the air quality. He researched and found that air quality is bad during winters and smog lingers on so he ordered these 3M masks from amazon to take us along the trip. They were comfortable and we used it for the first couple days while walking on the road. Most people tourists and locals alike wear masks so it wasn’t too awkward to wear them all the time. But I took them out often since I didn’t want them in all my pictures. Once we were inside a monument, building, I took them off completely. On our third day in Beijing, there was a strong breeze that blew the smog away, it made the air quality much better but the weather considerably chillier.

The best part about going on our own rather than being part of a tour group was authentic Chinese food. The couple of bad food adventures we had were when we were part of a tour (Great wall) or took a guide’s suggestion for a restaurant (Xi’an), it was hugely overpriced, bad strip mall Chinese food. Otherwise the food was excellent and local eateries are very helpful and would like to serve you their best dishes. We had some very fun experiences when the locals suggested to us the dishes we should order while at the restaurant. Will share those in subsequent posts.

All my friends’ who have gone to China with a tour group complain about the food, one experience that we can’t identify with. Food in Beijing was excellent! The air quality issue persists during spring and summer as well, so winter wasn’t really making it much worse. We also heard a lot from friends about overcrowding and people rushing and pushing at all tourist places and not being able to enjoy the sights because of that. Based on these inputs, we are glad we went in winter and didn’t go with a tour group.

We made all our transportation bookings (High speed Rail and sleeper rail) ourselves, there was always one window at the station ticket counter where they spoke English. We mostly traveled in Subway train within town and sometimes took Taxis. It was a great trip, where we were able to enjoy food, sights and shopping at our own pace without any pressures and create some wonderful family memories.

Please feel free to ask any specific questions if you are planning a trip but I do plan to share pictures of all the sights we saw and the experiences we had…


  1. Very interesting, Shalini. I'm impressed that you planned your trip and went on your own - I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to do that in China! I do like the idea of missing the crowds, and I suppose it isn't much colder than Minnesota!

    1. Cindy, the cold was really nothing compared to Minnesota. It felt more like a windy Fall day in Minnesota. I'd totally recommend going on your own and then using locals to help plan the trip, but please don't use any of their recommendations' for food, they must think Americans have no taste buds and we like all our food sweet (sweet and sour sauce).