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A day in China: Beijing vs Shanghai

An afternoon or more offers time for a tantalising glimpse into China’s plentiful treasures, but we’ve made a list of our top four attractions in both Beijing and Shanghai that you can fit into your trip in just a few spare hours.


12 hours in Beijing

China’s capital city offers too many highlights to see in such a short period, but if you have a day to spare here are our must-see sights:

Climb part of the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China snakes across the breadth of China for around 21,000 kilometres – it’s the longest man-made structure ever built. Parts of the wall are easily accessible from Beijing, so if you leave early in the morning you can squeeze more exploration into the afternoon. One of the most famous parts of the wall to visit is at Jinshanling, where you can see a series of impressive watchtowers crowning the shapely hills, about two-and-a-half hours from the capital.

Slip behind the walls of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was once off-limits to all but those sanctioned by the presiding emperor, but 600 years later guests are welcome to visit the largest and best-preserved collection of ancient palaces in China. There are over 900 buildings to explore so it’s impossible to see it all in a short space of time, but highlights include the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Imperial Garden.

Try deliciously crispy Peking duck

Beijing’s local dish, Peking duck, is an iconic meal consisting of tender slices of roasted duck with crispy skin, wrapped in a thin crepe with sliced spring onions, cucumber and rich hoisin sauce. You can find it in almost all traditional restaurants and markets and it’s a great value snack.

Stroll the ancient hutongs

The narrow, cluttered hutongs make up part of Beijing’s Old City, and once characterised the social status of the residential areas during the dynastic era. Many districts of hutongs have been demolished so the remaining alleyways offer a great glimpse into life as it once was.


12 hours in Shanghai

Shanghai is often described as the ‘Paris of the Orient’, and its European influences can be seen in its elegant boulevards and pavement cafes. If time is limited, here are our top recommendations:

Take in the legendary view with a walk along the Bund

It’s hard to believe that Shanghai began as a humble fishing village when viewed during a walk along the Bund. The wide waterside catwalk showcases the city’s mixed Asian, Russian and Jewish influences in its stylish architecture, while across the water you can view the futuristic skyscrapers of Pudong.

Visit a local water town

Just outside of Shanghai are the pretty whitewashed ‘water towns’ known for their arched stone bridges and bustling canals. Many locals still live as generations gone by, plying their trade on the waters, washing clothes and catching food. Two of the best examples are Xitang and Zhujiajiao.

Ride the world’s fastest train

While Japan may be famous for its bullet trains, the fastest train in the world can actually be found in Shanghai. The Maglev train (meaning ‘magnetic levitation’) has a top speed of 431kph and travels the 19 miles from downtown Shanghai to Pudong airport in just seven minutes. It’s a great way to experience China’s knack for technology for yourself.

Head higher for a panorama of the city

While the view from the Bund is exceptional, if you want the best panorama of Shanghai you need to get higher – much higher. Cross the Huangpu River to Pudong and soar to the top of one of the highest towers: the World Financial Centre or Oriental Pearl TV Tower. The latter has a revolving restaurant in its second sphere and an observation deck, while the ‘Bottle Opener’ financial building has a great wine bar on the 98th floor.