Welcome to the capital of the most populous country in the world. With a culture steeped in history and tradition, this is a city unlike any other.
From cultural landmarks and historical monuments to some of the best food and nightlife, there is literally something for everyone in this mega city. It is the heart of China and you’ll find a diverse mix of people and traditions. It’s the perfect place to begin your backpacking trip through China.
Due to the massive size of this sprawling metropolis, you’ll want to choose your neighborhood carefully.
That’s why I’ve put together this guide – to help you choose where to stay in Beijing. I spent over three years living in this bustling metropolis so I’m about to hit you with the best insider info to help you choose the best neighborhood to suit your interests.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- Quick Tips -Where to stay in Beijing
- Where to Stay in Beijing – Our Top Picks
- Beijing Neighborhood Guide
- Beijing’s 6 Best Neighborhoods to Stay In
- Qianmen – Where to stay in Beijing for the first time!
- Xinjiekou – Where to stay in Beijing if you’re on a budget!
- Dongzhimen/Sanlitun – Where to stay in Beijing for the best nightlife!
- Gulou – Where to stay in Beijing if you want to be cool!
- Xidan/Xisi – Where to stay in Beijing with a family!
Quick Tips -Where to stay in Beijing
- Where to stay in Beijing first time – Qianmen
- Where to stay in Beijing on a budget – Xinjiekou
- Where to stay in Beijing for nightlife – Dongzhimen/Sanlitun
- Coolest place to stay in Beijing – Gulou
- Best area to stay in Beijing for families – Xidan/Xisi
- Observe the flag raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square
- Get lost in the multiple alleys and rooms in the Forbidden City
- Shop til you drop at the many stores on Qianmen Street
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Beijing.
Best Hostel in Beijing: Peking International Youth Hostel
The Peking International Youth Hostel has hosted many travelers throughout the years and even won awards for being an excellent hostel. There’s a wide range of room options so you’re sure to find something to suit your needs. There’s a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a cocktail from the bar and the attached restaurant is a great place to people watch over a delicious meal. This is the best place to stay in Beijing for solo travellers who want to meet new people.
Best Hotel in Beijing: Manxin Beijing Qianmen Siheyuan
Located in one of the most important neighborhoods in Beijing, you can easily get to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The nearest subway station is also a quick walk away. You’ll never go hungry thanks to the onsite restaurant that serves a buffet breakfast for a very reasonable price. Manxin Beijing Qianmen Siheyuan is our top recommendation for where to stay in Beijing for the first time as it’s a very short walk to the most important landmarks not only in Beijing, but all of China.
Best Airbnb in Beijing: Entire Studio in the Heart of Beijing
If you want to enjoy Beijing’s incredible nightlife, this is the place for you! This studio apartment is located in the middle of the best party district in Beijing. It’s also the neighborhood with some of the best restaurants and as well as a massive transport hub with easy access to the airport and the rest of the city. This is our top recommendation for the best place to stay in Beijing if you want to feel like you’re home away from home.
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Dongzhimen / Sanlitun
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Xidan / Xisi
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Now it’s easier than ever to visit Beijing as it’s possible to stay up to 6 days visa free! There is more than enough to keep you busy for a few days. From cultural activities and museums to cuisine from all over the world, there are so many things to do in Beijing.
Beijing is a municipality not belonging to any of the provinces. It is made up of 5 central districts and 11 other suburbs and rural districts. Almost anything of interest to travelers are located in the central districts. The only reason to visit the outer areas is to explore more remote sections of the Great Wall. It’s even possible to camp on the Great Wall!
The Chinese capital is marked by a “ring road” system that go around the city in a rectangular shape and are a good reference point as you attempt to move about the city. The inner-most ring road – the 2nd Ring Road – encompasses what was once inside the city wall. The subsequent ring roads extend outwards from there. For the purpose of this post, all of the places we recommend are inside the 3rd ring road as it’s of most interest to visitors.
The heart and soul of Beijing has always been the Forbidden City (aka the Palace Museum) which served as the Imperial Palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Only the royal family was allowed to enter the palace complex. Anyone else was forbidden to enter unless they had special permission from the emperor, hence the name “Forbidden City.”
Expanding out from the Forbidden City are Xicheng and Dongcheng districts which means “west city” and “east city” respectively based on their position to the Forbidden City. These are the nighbrohoods where members of the nobility and extended royal family called home and it’s where you’ll find the highest concentration of historic landmarks such as Tiananmen Square, Houhai lake, the Lama Temple, and Confucius Temple. You’ll also find some of the coolest ‘hoods such as Gulou and Dongzhimen.
Expanding out from Dongcheng is Chaoyang District. This is one of the largest districts in the central area and plays host to one of the best shopping, dining, and party areas in the whole city – Sanlitun, Worker’s Stadium (Gongti), and the Central Business District (CBD).
It’s also home to one of the largest parks in the city, Chaoyang Park. You could easily spend an afternoon walking around or grab some friends and rent the party bike for the afternoon! You’ll be so glad you did. To get your culture fix in Chaoyang district, head to 798 Art District and see what happens when several artists get together to save abandoned factories and warehouses from demolition – one of the largest art complexes you’ll ever visit.
Don’t forget that Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. You can still visit the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube both of which are in Chaoyang District. There’s even a super rad water park inside the water cube that’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Heading northwest from Xicheng District you’ll enter Haidian District. This is where you’ll find the highest concentration of universities in the whole city including the top universities in the country. Naturally, there’s a university town vibe to match. The neighborhood of Wudaokou is home to multiple bars, nightclubs, cafes, and restaurants where you’ll find a much younger crowd of both foreigners and locals. Haidian District is also home to both the Old and New Summer Palaces.
Still confused about where to stay in Beijing? Read on, we’ve got you!
Editor’s Note: For more inspiration, check out our epic China Travel Guide!
Beijing’s 6 Best Neighborhoods to Stay In
Beijing has one of the most largest and most comprehensive subway systems in Asia. There are multiple lines running all over the city and they’re constantly building more. For any place the subway doesn’t reach, there are also multiple buses. Taxi drivers are pretty easy to get along with and you won’t have to haggle with them as they’re usually pretty good about using the meter.
No matter where you stay, you’ll be able to get around to other areas with ease but you’ll still want to choose the neighborhood that has the most of what you want to do. With a population of 21.5 million people, the rush hour traffic and crowds on the subway can be mind boggling!
The less traffic and major crowds you have to deal with, the more enjoyable your time will be. So without further adieu, here are our recommendations for where to stay in Beijing broken down by interests.
Beijing’s most important landmarks and buildings were built on a central axis and the southern-most point of that axis is Qianmen Street.
This street has over 570 years of history. It was called Zhengyangmen during the Ming and Qing Dynasties but was changed in 1965. During the Qing Dynasty, it was the main marketplace of Beiijng where locals would go to shop and travelers would trade their crafts. It consisted of a meat market, a clothing market, and a jewelry market. The nearby hutongs had theaters, warehouses, and craftsman workshops.
Fastforward to modern day and Qianmen Street is a thriving, pedestrian only shopping district. The buildings still retain the Qing Dynasty architecture style on the outside but the inside houses modern day brands such as Zara, H&M, and Sephora. It’s also a popular nightlife spot with some of the best restaurants such as Quanjude – the most popular Peking Roast Duck in the country.
This neighborhood has the easiest access to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven.
Best Hostel in Qianmen: Leo Hostel
Get a glimpse into “old Beijing” in this quaint and beautifully decorated hostel. Located in the center of Beijing in the hutongs (old school neighborhoods), Leo Hostel is only a 10-minute walk from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Leo Hostel has been around for several years and has been featured in several guidebooks. You’ll find a restaurant serving both Western and Chinese cuisine on site as well as a 24-hour bar! It’s our top budget option for where to stay in Beijing for the first time.
Best Hotel in Qianmen: Manxin Beijing Qianmen Siheyuan
Manxin Beijing Qianmen Siheyuan is our top recommendation for where to stay in Beijing for the first time as it’s a very short walk to the most important landmarks not only in Beijing, but all of China. You can easily get to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The nearest subway station is also a quick walk away. There is a restaurant onsite serving a buffet breakfast for a very reasonable price.
Best Airbnb in Qianmen: Hutong Alley Century-Old Courtyard Space
Step back 100 years into this courtyard style home located in the hutongs. This ancient home has been renovated with modern furniture. This wing of the courtyard has a private room and bathroom as well as a small kitchen for cooking simple meals. The family lives in the other wing of the home and is there to answer any questions you may have and help you plan for where to stay in Beijing.
Top Things to do in Qianmen
– Wake up before dawn to observe the flag raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square
– Soak in the grandeur of the Sovient style building surrounding Tiananmen Square
– Get lost in the multiple alleys and rooms in the Forbidden City
– Take in the best view of the Forbidden City from atop the hill in Jingshan Park
– Enjoy a traditional Chinese breakfast at one of the many local restaurants just off of Qianmen Street
– Shop til you drop at the many stores on Qianmen Street
– Learn about how the emperors prayed for help at the Temple of Heaven
– Go for a stroll in Tiantan Park
– Tantalize your taste buds with amazing cuisine at Yitiaolong restaurant
– Taste Beijing’s most traditional mean – roast duck – at Quanjude
– Get up close with the father of modern day China at the Chairman Mao Mausoleum
– Admire the Monument to the People’s Heroes
– Take in the collection at the Chinese National Museum
– See the tiny model of this massive metropolis inside the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall
– Sample the strange foods in the night market in Wangfujing
– Learn the ways of Chinese martial arts at the Kung Fu show performed in the Red Theater
– Get acquainted with quintessential Chinese culture by taking in a Beijing Opera performance at the Zheng Yici Opera Theatre
Historically, this neighborhood was home to members of the nobility and the royal family. It’s a popular neighborhood for buying CD’s and DVD’s thanks to the multitude of shops. Many people also come here to buy musical instruments as there are a plethora of shops on Xinjiekou South Street. Many of them are owned by talented musicians and it’s fun to just pick their brain.
The most popular things to do in this part of the city is hang out around Shichahai – three artificial lakes. The best things to do in the summer is grab a group of friends, some drinks and snacks and rent a boat for a few hours. In the winter the lakes are shallow enough to freeze over and you can ice skate or rent one of the other hilarious ice vehicles. The lakes are surrounded by quaint cafes and coffee shops that play chill out music by day and night club favorites once the sun goes down.
Best Hostel in Xinjiekou: Red Lantern Hostel
Red Lantern House is located in a very traditional hutong neighborhood. The building has belonged to the same family for many years, all of whom still live there giving it a very familial vibe. There is an onsite restaurant serving food all day and the staff speak English well so they can assist in answering questions or helping you book a tour. It’s in a great location as there are two subway stops within a 15-minute walk. It’s our recommendation for where to stay in Beijing on a budget because of their lower dorm bed prices.
Best Hotel in Xinjiekou: Sofu Hotel
This boutique style hotel has traditional Chinese furniture and decoration helping you feel like you’re in the Far East while still having your comforts from home. Breakfast is included and has several options to choose from. The restaurant on-site serves a mix of international cuisine. Some of the rooms have balconies overlooking the old hutong neighborhood. It our top choice for where to stay in Beijng and experience local culture.
Best Airbnb in Xinjiekou: Spacious & Cozy Loft in Houhai
This place has a ball pit – what more do you need?! In addition to this awesome feature, there’s also a full kitchen and a living room. The apartment is located within walking distance to Houhai lake, lots of bars, cafes, and restaurants, and the subway station. There’s also a sofa bed so it’s perfect for a small group. It our top choice for where to stay in Beijing if you want to live where the members of the nobility lived in ancient times.
Top Things to do in Xinjiekou
– Wander around the lakes of Shichahai taking in the scenery
– Grab some friends and a boat and spend some quality time on the water
– Step back into old Beijing by exploring the hutongs
– Visit the mansion of Prince Gong
– Learn about Chinese instruments on Xinjiekou South Street
– Shop for bootleg CD’s and DVD’s
– Learn about Taoist and Buddhist culture at one of the ten famous temples around the lakes
– Eat one of the many delicious snacks on offer around the lake
– Head to Zoom to experience a British-style football bar in China
– Taste one of the many cocktails while enjoying the live music at Houhai 5
– Sample cuisine from South China at Kong Yiji
– Check out the Beijng Zoo and Aquarium
In ancient times, Dongzhimen was the home of the east gate leading into the inner city. Now it’s a major commercial and transport hub. This is a great area to stay in as it is the terminus of the airport subway line. It’s a popular area for expats as it has many Western amenities, restaurants and most importantly, great nightlife spots.
The reason why it’s where to stay in Beijing for the nightlife is because of its proximity to Worker’s Stadium (Gongti) and Sanlitun. Sanlitun is the coolest shopping and dining area in the city. The Sanlitun Bar Street was the first ever bar community in the city and paved the way for the incredible nightlife one can enjoy today.
The Worker’s Stadium (often called Gongti) is actually a soccer stadium but the building houses some of the ritziest bars and nightclubs. It’s where you’ll find the children of the city’s elite hanging out on weekends, showing off their fancy cars.
Dongzhimen is also the best neighborhood to stay in for easy access to visiting the Great Wall.
Best Hostel in Dongzhimen: Ming Courtyard
The rooms at the Ming Courtyard are situated around their spacious courtyard which is a great place to relax in between sightseeing and enjoying Beijing’s nightlife. It’s located within walking distance of the Lama Temple and the famous Nan Luo Gu Xiang. It’s also a great place to stay to sample traditional and popular Chinese-style dining as it’s just off a famous restaurant street called “Ghost Street.” The rooms are reportedly clean and comfortable.
Best Hotel in Dongzhimen: Oriental Garden Hotel
The Oriental Garden Hotel is equipped with a gym, restaurant, and free WiFi. Each room comes with a TV, mini bar, and private bathroom. There are several different room types from standard rooms all the way up to king suites. This is our top choice for where to stay in Beijing to experience the nightlife as it’s located near some of the best bars and nightclubs in the Chinese capital.
Best Airbnb in Dongzhimen: Entire Studio in the Heart of Beijing
This studio apartment is located in the middle of the best party district in Beijing. It’s also the neighborhood with some of the best restaurants and as well as a massive transport hub with easy access to the airport and the rest of the city. There’s a desk, a nice sitting area in the window and a full kitchen. It’s our top recommendation for where to stay in Beijing if you want to stay out til sunrise.
Top Things to do in Dongzhimen/Sanlitun
– Party like a rock star at one of the most prominent nightclubs in Gongti – Mix and Vics
– Hit up a Beijing Guoan match and learn the (sometimes vulgar) football club chants
– Dance like no one is watching at Lantern Club
– Enjoy a beer while watching the game (any game) at Paddy O’Shea’s – the best sports bar in Beijing
– Watch as they carve your roast duck at your dinner table at Da Dong
– Enjoy free wine and beer while you wait for your table at Da Dong
– Shop luxury brands at Taikooli shopping mall in Santlitun
– Try on the coolest threads at the boutique shops in the 3.3 Mansion in Sanlitun
– Wander the mega malls at Raffles City and Yinzuo
– Try some traditional and downright weird foods at any hour of the day at one of the 100 restaurants on Guijie – “Ghost Street”
– Immerse yourself in Chinese culture through a workshop or movie showing at the Culture Yard
– Dazzle your friends with your singing abilities at one of the countless KTV (karaoke) clubs
– Relax and indulge in one of the many services on offer at Dragonfly Spa
– Curl up with a good book or people watch over a delicious coffee at the Bookworm
– Satisfy your Western food craving with New York Style pizza at Kro’s Nest
– If New York style pizza isn’t your thing, head to the Tree for wood-fired pizza
– Enjoy a cheap glass of vino at Cheers
– Choose your favorite cheap cocktail at Nanjie
– Try beers from all over the world at Beer Mania
– Grab a beer from the cooler and enjoy it immediately at Heaven Supermarket
Gulou literally translates to drum tower so it’s not surprising that this area is home to the ancient clocks of Beijing – the drum and bell towers. They are also an important landmark on the central axis of Beijing. To the west of the towers you’ll find many traditional hutongs (traditional neighborhoods) that have been preserved by the government.
Thanks to its retro style, this area has become quite popular with the city’s hipster clans. That’s why it’s our recommendation for where to stay in Beijing if you want to hang with the cool kids. It’s also popular with Chinese tourists who want to see how Westerners like to party. There are numerous bars, cafes, restaurants, and quaint little shops tucked away down the alleys. It’s the perfect place to get lost and feel like you’re back in ancient times.
The most prominent area of Gulou is a pedestrian street called Nanluoguxiang. There’s no shortage of cool places to hang out. Be careful of the days and times you visit as it’s popular with local tourists and it can get pretty crowded on the weekends.
Best Hostel in Gulou: Peking International Youth Hostel
Located on one of the most happening streets in Beijing, the Peking International Youth Hostel has hosted many travelers throughout the years and even won awards for being an excellent hostel. With a wide range of room options, you’re sure to find something to suit your needs. There’s a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a cocktail from the bar and the attached restaurant is a great place to people watch over a delicious meal.
Best Hotel in Gulou: The Orchid Hotel
The Orchid Hotel is in a magical location of the hip Gulou neighborhood. According to one review, “Staying here is like staying with friends you didn’t know you had!” Another review stated the included breakfast rivals any brunch he’s ever had in the States. That’s why this is our choice for where to stay in Beijing if you want to hang out with the cool kids.
Best Airbnb in Gulou: Lake Houhai, Real Life in Hutong
Located near the Drum and Bell Towers, this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Beijing. You’ll get to experience life in a traditional Beijing ‘hood. The apartment is cozy and has a full bathroom. There’s a sofa bed so it’s good for a couple or a small group. The host is very helpful and can answer any questions you may have about the city. It’s also just a short walk from some of the best restaurants in the city. It’s our top pick for where to stay in Beijing for its old-school charm.
Top Things to do in Gulou
– Visit all the shops and cafes on Nanluoguxiang
– Take in the live music at Temple Bar – the home of Beijing’s underground
– Indulge in the best Asian fusion meal at 4Corners
– Watch the show and learn how they told time back in the day in the Drum Tower that happens multiple times a day
– Feel small standing next to the massive bell in the Bell Tower
– Learn about the revolutionary writer Mao Dun by touring his former residence
– Head to Yonghegong area to learn about Buddhism and Buddhist culture
– Explore the Lama Temple – a temple that houses a 26m tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of white sandalwood
– Learn to philosophize like the greatest Chinese teacher at the Temple of Confucius
– Take a rickshaw ride through the hutongs
– See how the royalty lived by taking a tour of Prince Chun’s Mansion
– Try the skewers of mutton, duck, chicken and other roast meats at Kao Rou Ji
– Get a glimpse into the home of Yang Changji – one of Mao Zedong’s educators
– Try the Chinese-style medical therapy Capital’s Famous Doctors Clinic
– Find nice gourmet food and interesting souvenirs sold in hip boutiques on Gulou Dong Da Jie (Gulous East Street)
– Jump on line 8 subway and head straight to the Olympic Complex to see the Bird’s Next and Water Cube
Just west of the Forbidden City in Xicheng District, you’ll find these two neighborhoods – Xidan and Xisi. The former being a bustling shopping and commercial area and the latter is quieter and dotted with old public buildings, temples, and winding hutong alleys filled with artsy hangouts and home-grown cafes.
Xidan has always been an important area of Beijing with a history dating all the way back to the Ming Dynasty. It was the main path from the western suburban areas into the inner city. Now it has become a prosperous area with countless shopping malls, department stores, restaurants, and entertainment. It’s a great place to spend a few hours.
Xisi literally means “west four” and the area is named after the 4 paifangs (Chinese sign gates) that used to mark the intersection of Xisi Avenue and Fuchengmen Inner Avenue. The gates stood in the crossing from the Yuan Dynasty up until 1950 when they were removed. Although the gates are no longer there, the name remains. It’s a cool little ‘hood that’s overlooked by most visitors to the city.
Best Hostel in Xidan: Chinese Box Courtyard Hostel
This beautiful courtyard hostel has soft beds, clean bathrooms, and super hot water. The staff is extremely helpful and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. They have free, themed dinners three nights a week making it easy for guests to mingle and try traditional Chinese fare. There are several tours on offer including one to more secluded sections of the Great Wall away from the crowds. It’s our top choice for where to stay in Beijing with a family as they have large rooms big enough for four people.
Best Hotel in Xidan: Nostalgia Hotel
Perfectly located near the Xisi subway station, the Nostalgia Hotel offers lots of amenities for guests such as a toiletries kit and snacks. There is a good breakfast available for a small extra cost. You can easily explore Beijing’s traditional neighborhood on foot and quickly reach important places such as the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. Although the staff doesn’t speak perfect English, they are happy to help.
Best Airbnb in Xidan: Xidan Shopping District
This bright two bedroom apartment is perfect for a family of four. It has a fully equipped kitchen for those times when you just want to stay in. The location is perfect as it’s right next to the forbidden city, Jingshan Park, and the hip neighborhood of Houhai. Xidan shopping district is right next door with plenty of futuristic shopping malls. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area as well. It’s our recommendation for where to stay in Beijing with a family.
Top Things to do in Xidan/Xisi
– Get in touch with your inner bibliophile at the Xidan Books Building
– Watch all the people as you explore Xidan’s sprawling Culture Square
– Enjoy a cultural tradition of watching a Beiing Opera performance at the Mei Lan Fang Grand Theatre
– Visit a reconstruction of one of the original paifangs in the middle of the Xidan Culture Square
– For a taste of sweetness that’s been around for a century, head to Daoxiangcun for a delicious cake
– Shop til you drop in one of the gazillion shopping malls
– Get your competitive board gaming on at the Backyard Board Game Room
– Remember your trip forever by buying a cutesy souvenir at one of the many shops
– Indulge in delectable gelato at Vai Milano
– Take a stroll through old Beijing in Lingjing Hutong – the longest hutong alley in Beijing
– Gaze on the Miaoying Temple Whita Dagoba from the rooftop terrace at Bear Brew
– Admire the architecture of the Cathedral of our Savior which played a big role in the Boxer Uprising
– Step back in time while sipping on a coffee at 1901 Cafe – a baroque-style building built in….you guessed it, 1901
– Admire the beautiful pagoda or rent a paddle boat in Beihai Park
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in Beijing
Beijing has morphed into a modern and futuristic city while still holding on to its traditions and architecture. It has something to offer all types of travelers. From it’s long, rich history to the cuisine and budding arts, you’ll never be bored in this mega city.
Just to recap, Qianmen is our pick for where to stay in Beijing for the first time for its proximity to the most historic landmarks in the city. You can’t go wrong staying at the Manxin Beijing Qianmen Siheyuan as it’s the best hotel in Beijing.
Our choice for the best hostel in Beijing is the Peking International Youth Hostel because it’s located in the coolest part of the city where you can still get a sense of what the Chinese capital was like in ancient times. After you’ve picked where you’ll be staying in Beijing, plan your trip using our Beijing itinerary.
Do you now know where to stay in Beijing? Have you been to Beijing and think we missed something? Let us know in the comments below! Cheers!
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
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Rachel Lee from Tennessee is a traveler, teacher, writer, and music lover who’s been living and traveling around the world with her husband, Sasha, since 2010. She is the co-founder and designer of Grateful Gypsies. As a lover of all things Grateful Dead and Phish, she spends her free time boogyin’ down to her favorite tunes – when she’s not bouncing around the globe, that is!