The capital of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with over 19,000,000 people – 95% of whom are Han Chinese – Beijing’s cultural and political importance goes far back in the annals of time. It goes without saying that Beijing has a rich history dating back three millennia. With a well-renowned reputation for its beautiful and lavish palaces, temples, gardens, art treasures, the Beijing Opera and over 100 museums, Beijing is a must-see for culture vultures. The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the UNESCO world heritage site the Temple of Heaven and a myriad of other temples across the city are just a few of the historical attractions. Historical bridges include the Lugou Bridge – the site of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident between the Republic of China's National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army, often regarded as the marker for the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) – the Jade Belt Bridge, which has a distinctive tall, thin arch, and the Baliqao Bridge, the site of the Battle of Baliqao and where the Qing court envoys agreed to all the Western demands at the end of the Second Opium War.
Host to the 2008 Olympics, Beijing was the centre of the sporting world’s attention for the summer -sports fans enjoy visiting the Olympic sites and reliving memories from 2008, and the National Stadium. For the foodies, teahouses are common throughout Beijing, and Beijing itself specialises in its own specialised local cuisine, most famously Peking Roast Duck, Moo Shoo pork, Peking wonton and hot and sour soup. Whether on foot or in a pedicab, the intrepid explorer will always find something amazing to do and see in Beijing!
Beijing is an ideal destination for 3, 5 or 7 day pre- or post-programmes – there is so much to see and do in the city itself, and it is also great to combine with other popular Chinese cities such as Guilin, with its wide range of scenic spots including Jingjiang Princes City, the Li River, Daxu Ancient Town and Reed Flute Cave; Xian, one of China’s oldest cities and most famous for its Terracotta Army; as well as Shanghai and Hong Kong. Beijing is also a good base for visiting the Great Wall of China, a must-do for any visitor to China.
Located along the Hai River, connected to the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers via the Grand Canal, Tianjin has been the gateway to Beijing since the mid-19th century. Most cruise ships visit Beijing via Tianjin, China’s third-largest city which has somehow managed to retain a small-town feel and accessibility. There is lots of 19th and early 20th century European influence – French, British and German – in the architecture and streetscapes, as a result of Tianjin’s opening as a treaty port for foreign trade after the British were victorious in the Second Opium War. The distinctively different European styles are fascinating, and give a sense of the time in which they were built. However there were frictions between the Chinese and foreigners, leading to Tianjin playing a crucial role in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and – for those interested in modern Chinese history – the Luzutang Boxer Rebellion Museum is a must-see.
Tianjin specialises in extensive seafood cuisine, but also offers menus such as the Eight Great Bowls, which are mostly meaty dishes, and the Four Great Stews (which, in fact, is more than four different types of soup!), and delicacies such as Caoji donkey meat, Bazhen sheep-leg mutton of Guanshengyuan, and Xiaobao chestnut.
Tianjin is also home to traditional carpet weaving, handcrafted clay figurines and hand-painted woodblock prints. Also, not wanting to be outdone by Beijing, Tianjin has its own Opera Museum offering regular opera performances. It offers fantastic cultural insights in its own right, and is not merely a gateway to Beijing.