Beijing is massive. It is the definition of urban sprawl. Due to the smog you will never see the full skyline, but as you drive new buildings seem to appear out of nowhere. The traffic is crippling on the major highways and there doesn't seem to be any rules of the road. Its fantastic.
Note: The best bet is to book a guided tour. They know the fastest way to navigate the pandemonium that is Chinese tourist attractions. Try booking a guide and a private car over doing a bus tour. You will be able to stop at more locations and see more in a shorter time frame. They will take you to the typical tourist trap places like the silk factory and jade jewelry stores along the way. Don’t feel obligated to buy anything. Plus having a driver provides it’s own form of adventure on the highways and country roads. Counting the traffic violations between stops became part of the game.
The largest collection of ancient wood structures in the world! The Forbidden City was the center of Chinese government for nearly half a century. From the Ming Dynasty through to the end of the Qing Dynasty this was the place the place to be! There are almost a 1000 buildings inside the complex which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It would take a full day or longer to fully explore the whole palace. Best bet is to try and go to the outside perimeter of the complex to avoid the tourists. The majority of people seem to stick right down the center of the symmetrical layout. You can find places that are pretty quiet if you take a hard right as you start your walk through.
The Great Wall of China
The name doesn’t disappoint. Its pretty great. The air is cleaner and you can see the actual horizon. Its best to get there as early as possible as the light is great through the fog. If you have a private car this is generally when they will take you. Its a few hour drive from Beijing so its an early start that day. Construction on the walls started in the 8th to 5th century BC, but in 220 BC it was unified into the beginning of The Wall lines we see now. Its hard to find any remaining parts of that wall. The wall that is there now was made during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Most of the areas available to tourists are made up of this era of wall. It is in fairly good condition in the tourist areas but there are sections that are falling apart and crumbling away.
Note: Planning a trip in the autumn months makes for better photos. The light is better and the colour in the trees makes for more dramatic shots. These photos were taken in late October and the whole valley was changing colour. The temperature is also way better for climbing stairs, which there is no shortage of.