Day 1 in Beijing – Visiting the city
The Celebrity Millennium cruise ship arrived at Tianjin, a city which is widely known as “the Port of Beijing” despite being located about 2 hours away by car.
We were going to be docked in Tianjin for 3 full days, so we had various options to choose from. Either stay on the cruise and visit Tianjin and/or Beijing on our own, purchase one of the tours which the cruise offered or buy a 2-day experience tour to visit the Great Wall of China and Beijing. We didn’t even bat an eye lid, the 2-day experience had our name written all over it!
When we jumped on the bus, we met our tour guide Gloria (this was the western name which sounded similar to her real Chinese name) and she was a really interesting person. She lived in Beijing for 6 months of the year with her parents during cruise season and for the remaining 6 months, she lived in Canada with her partner. It was great to meet her, as she could explain the big differences between the Western and Chinese cultures in great detail.
The Temple of Heaven
Our first stop in Beijing was the Temple of Heaven, one of the places which you can’t miss when in Beijing.
Our next stop was lunch, which consisted of a typical oriental meal with rotating tables. We stood out too. Picture this, cruise passengers, used to eating at any time of the 24 hour-day, and today, we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast! The table was spinning like the Wheel of Fortune!
The Forbidden City
With our stomachs full, we were ready for our next stop, the Forbidden City.
From the entrance and admiring the grandeur of this site, we immediately agreed that we did the right thing when booking this tour. Both locations we visited on this day were so different, yet amazing at the same time.
The Forbidden City, listed by the UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, gets its name as it was considered to be a divine place and it was certainly forbidden to ordinary people. It’s a palace complex with 980 buildings in the middle of the impressive metropolis of Beijing.
This city, designed for the King and his family, features clear separations to distinguish zones for their private and public lives, with a building which the King used for official events and others which had a residential use.
During the visit, quite a few people asked us if they could have a picture taken with us, and they explained that they had always dreamt of having a photograph with a westerner.
As we were coming from Shanghai, we knew that this was very common and by now, we had already realised that, despite these cities having populations in the millions, we hardly saw westerners.
The traffic was terrible in this immense city. Still, Celebrity Cruises buses had total and absolute priority and were escorted by police cars that were speeding us through the streets of Beijing, from one tourist attraction to another.
Our next stop was Tiananmen Square, and the bus stopped in front of the National Museum, basically in the middle of the square.
A great and convenient location for older people to get off the bus. Our bus, with us on board, bragged about the low average age compared to the other buses of the tour, the median age was so low that it was considered as young, and that was about 75 years old.
When we got off the bus, they gave us free time to enjoy this giant square, which is where the Student Massacre occurred a few years ago.
Standing in the middle, we noticed it looked like a typical square from a Dictatorship, with a large image of the president, flags and many military officers keeping a watchful eye over us, ensuring that the rules were followed.
In this square you will find the Presidential Palace, which is the building with the photograph of the President of the People’s Republic of China, the Mao Zedong Mausoleum and the National Museum of China.
Regent Hotel Beijing
On the way to the hotel, the tour guide explained interesting facts about China, such as how difficult it is to get a driving license, what you need to do to buy an apartment… Amongst those things she told us the most shocking fact which we had heard about China so far (probably because it was just our fourth day in the country). She began to explain how the news broadcast on their national television, which lasts 30 minutes and is divided into three separate sections. The first part explains how busy the Prime Minister and the President of China are, the second part, they talk about the achievements of China as a country. But in the third and most shocking final section, they sympathise about the United States of America, because they are a “developing country” and how they are the reason for which China needs to continue producing and working hard to help them.
We arrived at our hotel, and we stayed at the Regent Hotel Beijing, which has been by far the best hotel we have ever stayed at in our entire lives. The bed was the size of 2 king-size beds together, and the room was so ridiculously huge that finding the amenities that hotels usually leave in your room was like a treasure hunt!
During our time at the hotel, we made the most of the Wi-Fi connection, but because Facebook is banned, a VPN was needed to access it. In addition to Facebook, Google and many other services are also banned in China.
Dining Peking Duck
For dinner, they took us to try the typical Pekin duck. Josh loved it and said the best part was the crispy skin that is traditionally dipped in sugar.
As a vegetarian option, I was served rice and vegetables, and the truth is, that after my culinary experience in Shanghai, it was comforting to have our guide arrange everything with the restaurant for me. Finally, I was at ease, knowing that I could eat something which didn’t contain meat nor fish.
Day 2 in Beijing
The Great Wall of China
This day is one that we mark on our calendar every year to celebrate that this was the day we visited the Great Wall of China.
It took 1.5h to get to the Mutianyu Great Wall section, and once we arrived, they gave us 2 hours of free time. We started climbing the Great Wall with its misshapen steps, and we visited Forts 6, 7, 8 and 9 (and a half) and walked down, which was no easier.
Our smartphones recorded that we had climbed the equivalent of 41 floors and proof of that were our legs, which did not stop shaking until about an hour later.
During the climb, it seemed that we were very easy to overtake, even people who seemed to be around 100 years old passed us while we begged for oxygen. This left us too weak and made us easy prey for people who asked us for photos. Now we understand what tough lives celebrities have!
After that day, on the cruise, a fellow passenger told us that many parts of the Great Wall could be visited and that tour guides organise themselves not to overcrowd only one area.
As he explained this to us, we immediately understood that we had drawn the short straw and that we most likely visited the hardest part.
He explained that there are sections where you can either walk up the stairs or take a cable car to the top and once there, you can simply slide down a long track. We were speechless and still brings tears to our eyes!
At the end of our visit to the Great Wall, it was lunchtime, and again, we went to a restaurant with rotating tables, which was followed by a visit to a store to buy some jade and jewellery.
We didn’t buy anything, but we took hundreds of pictures of replica statues of the Terracotta Army which were on sale outside.
The Terracotta Army is something we want to see in person in the future, but for now, we’ll settle for the replicas.
Bird’s Nest, Beijing National Stadium
On the way back to the cruise ship, we made one last stop at the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest for its lines and shape.
You could freely visit the outside grounds (the structure, the park …) and you could purchase a ticket if you were interested in visiting the interior.
|Currency: Renminbi/Yuan CNY
|Type of Tourism: City
|Safe to Drink Tap Water: No
|Temperature: About 15ºC in March
|Average Cost: 3/5
|Driving Side: Right Hand Side
|Time Zone: UTC/GMT +8 Hours
|Socket Type: Type I
|Best Form of Transport: Tours
|Population: Approx. 21.5 Million
|VISA Required: Yes
|Veggie Friendly: 2/5
|Children Friendly: Yes
- In the majority of restaurants, you’ll find revolving tables. It’s done this way so that all diners can access every dish on the table.
- It is common for the locals to want to take photos with Westerners, so, say Cheese!
- We did a 14-night cruise with Celebrity Cruises during which we were able to visit China, South Korea, Jeju Island, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong and we highly recommend it. China is a very culturally different destination, and enjoying this holiday onboard a cruise makes it easier and is a good idea for a first-time visit.
- In Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, you can’t take photos of the soldiers and military officers.
- Excursions on Celebrity are quite expensive, but for our honeymoon we decided to book all of our tours with them, we wanted peace of mind and to be sure that everything was going to go as planned.
The advantages offered by these excursions are, amongst others, that every morning you will only have to meet in the ship’s the theatre. There, they will give you a sticker with a group number, and they will escort you to your assigned bus for the tour. A big upside to booking your shore excursions directly with the cruise is that the ship will never leave without you, even if the bus back to the ship is late, due to a traffic jam for example. Also, the shore excursions are certified and with official guides who will be waiting for you when you get off the ship.
Once on the cruise and enjoying your well-deserved vacation, you will appreciate that getting off at each port is stress-free, and you soon realize that the little extra you paid for each shore excursion has been worth every penny.
- Google Maps and various social networks are blocked in China, so, to access, you must use a VPN. We used Nord VPN, which is the fastest VPN on the planet. Save 70% off with our link HERE
If you are going to do tourism on your own, we recommend you download the maps of the cities before your trip.
- If you want to know more tips on how to make your visit to China perfect, we recommend that you take a look at our Tips in the Shanghai article.