I've been to China quite a few times now, but I had always stuck to Shanghai or the Shenzhen area and I'd never had a chance to make it to Beijing. Beijing is what most people think of when they think of China and it's chock full of history and amazing things to see, so I was anxious to visit. I was finally able to make it happen back at the end of June and spent two days exploring the city and fitting in as many of the sights as possible.
First off, I'd recommend not visiting Beijing in the dead of summer. It was incredibly hot and humid and it was so insanely crowded at every sight we saw. That being said, summer was my chance to go, so I went.
I was traveling by myself and didn't want to deal with the hassle of trying to get to farther sights like the Great Wall at Mutianyu and the Summer Palace on my own, so I decided to book a two day small group tour. This was truly the best option for me and I'm so glad I did it, because I ended up with a really great group and we were able to take photos of each other and keep each other company on some of the longer car rides. The other best part was the guide we had for the tour. Her name was Sunny and she was excellent. She spoke perfect English and she had clearly been doing this for a long time, so she had all the tips and tricks and so many stories and facts to tell us, so she was really invaluable. You can contact her here (and I swear I wasn't paid to say this, but she really was awesome and truly recommend her as a guide).
On our first day, Sunny and our driver picked everyone up from our hotels and dropped us off at our first stop - Tiananmen Square. The square is truly massive and interestingly is the most important location for Chinese tourists to visit. There's a flag raising ceremony every morning at sunrise and people will camp out for hours to get a good spot to watch the ceremony every day. It's truly amazing. From the square, you can see the entrance to the Forbidden City/Imperial Palace and it's quite the sight to behold. The square is surrounded by government buildings and also the National Museum of China, which I didn't have a chance to visit, but I heard it's amazing.
From the square, we walked through the first gate into the Imperial Palace. The Palace is often called the Forbidden City because ordinary citizens were forbidden from entering the palace unless they had been invited by the Emperor. The city was full of incredible detail and continued on and on and on. It was also so full of people and nearly impossible to navigate at times, but was definitely a place you can't miss in Beijing.
Review: Park Hyatt Shanghai
City Guide: 5 Things to Do in Shanghai
Review: Grand Hyatt Shenzhen
Review: HKG Cathay Pacific “The Bridge” Lounge
Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class HKG - SFO
Shanghai is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities I have ever visited. When I first arrived in mainland China, I was absolutely shocked at how manicured and beautiful the large cities are (I've so far visited Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Suzhou in mainland China). The roads are lined with flowers, trees, grass, and all kinds of foliage and it is all very well maintained and extremely beautiful. The architecture is really just incredible. China really seems to love pushing the envelope when it comes to architecture and the accompanying lights that adorn said architecture. The city is really a treat for the eyes and is at its most stunning at night when everything is lit up and you can fully appreciate the architecture in all its glory.
All of this being said, there isn't a whole lot to actually do in Shanghai unless you're eating or shopping. During my first visit last November, I had a free day between work and decided to venture out into the city to see what it had to offer. I actually had a pretty difficult time finding things to do and since that visit, I haven't really done much on free days other than sleep or catch up on things back home. This is honestly a bit disappointing to me, but I haven't felt compelled to see anything other than what I will mention here.
Pudong can be found on the "other side" of the river from the rest of Shanghai. When you're looking across the water at the Pearl Tower and surrounding buildings, you're looking at Pudong, which is essentially the financial district of Shanghai. Really, there's not much here other than some malls and the three tallest buildings in the city. It's not quite worth the trip unless you're already staying on this side of the river, but it sure is pretty to look at!
The Yuyuan Bazaar was actually something I found by mistake because it's directly outside of the Yu Garden. If you want to visit someplace with traditional looking buildings and what you probably think of when you think of China, the Yuyuan Bazaar is a fun stop. It's full of bustling shops and restaurants and has a beautiful huge koi pond. It's definitely a massive tourist trap, but don't worry, it's full of Chinese tourists too!
The Yu Garden is hands down my favorite attraction in Shanghai and one that I always recommend to friends and colleagues. It's the most beautiful traditional Chinese garden and I honestly could spend hours getting lost inside. Admission during low/high season is ¥30/40, which is about $5-7 and it's completely worth it.
The garden is huge and winds around for quite a long time. It's full of traditional looking temples, bridges, beautifully intricate carvings, walls, doorways, windows, and ponds and water features full of koi fish.
I visited on a cloudy, rainy day and while the garden was full of people, it was still peaceful inside - especially compared to the extremely busy Yuyuan Bazaar just outside the walls. Once inside, it's so easy to forget you're in the middle of a massive metropolitan city with huge skyscrapers and a visit is one of the best ways to decompress after a long week.
Tian Zi Fang
A coworker recommended we check out Tian Zi Fang and I really enjoyed it. Tian Zi Fang is a collection of old houses that have been converted into both low- and high-end shops, galleries, studios and restaurants in the French Concession neighborhood of Shanghai.
You'll wander through many small alleyways and see all kinds of shops, foods, and people while visiting. If you're shopping for gifts to bring back home, I would definitely recommend stopping here, because it's full of souvenirs and interesting items. Honestly, even if you're not shopping for anything, it's still worth a visit just for the novelty.
Perhaps the most famous vista in China can be seen when looking across the Huangpu river at Pudong while walking along the Bund. Located in the heart of Shanghai, the Bund is a walkway along the river with many restaurants and shops running alongside it. If you can, try to visit on a clear night, which will make it much easier to take photos and take in the view.
BONUS: Ride the Maglev
The Shanghai Maglev train is a comically excessive addition to Shanghai that cost $1.2 billion to build and is currently the world's fastest train in regular commercial service. The Maglev runs from Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) into Shanghai city center (which is honestly not close to anything) in 8 minutes and 10 seconds most of the day and in only 7 minutes and 10 seconds during special operating hours. The max speed for the 8 minute ride is 301 km/h (187 mph) and the max speed for the 7 minute ride reaches 431 km/h (268 mph). If you can, try to catch the quicker ride, which runs from 9:00AM–10:45AM and 3:00PM–3:45PM each day.
Shanghai is a gorgeous city and if nothing else, it can truly be described as a feast for the eyes. No matter where you look, there's something unique and interesting and I am so impressed each time I visit. I honestly believe that you can catch most of the highlights in a day or two, but I like to run through things quickly, so take that for what it's worth. Enjoy!
As a current California/former Arizona resident, I've been to San Diego about a hundred times. Interestingly, somehow I always end up there with people who haven't been before, so I've developed a sort of tour (plus or minus an activity or two) that I have now taken 17 people on (over 5 trips) during their first visits to San Diego.
For my third city guide, here's what I love to see and eat in wonderful San Diego!
Balboa Park is one of the most beautiful places in San Diego. I take the same pictures over and over again each time I go and it's really because I just can't resist the beautiful architecture and grounds. Interestingly, many of the beautiful buildings in Balboa Park were actually designed for the 1915 Panama - California Exposition. Balboa Park is not only gorgeous to walk around, but it's also home to many fascinating museums, the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, and another item on this list - the San Diego Zoo. If you're in San Diego, Balboa Park is a must see!
Just a quick jaunt across the bay from downtown San Diego is a true gem - Coronado Island. You can reach it by bridge and it is a beautiful community with shops and restaurants along the main drag, Orange Avenue. My favorite thing to check out on Coronado Island is the Hotel del Coronado. It's a beautiful, historic, red-roofed hotel right on the beach and it's beautifully maintained. The "Hotel Del" as it's called, is nice to walk around and has a very rich history, including its very own ghost story, which I always get a kick out of. The beach on Coronado Island is also very nice and seems to be less crowded than others in San Diego.
In early May, I took a weekend trip to Portland, Oregon. It seems like everyone mentions Portland and all really seem to love it. Personally, I would pick Seattle or Vancouver over Portland if I were planning another trip to the Pacific Northwest, but Portland definitely has its share of things to do and see (and eat!).
For my second city guide, here are some thoughts on what to do next time you're in Portland. Feel free to share any additional recommendations in the comments below!
Portland Japanese Garden
We honestly almost skipped the Portland Japanese Garden but I'm so glad we didn't. It was absolutely gorgeous! It was rainy and cloudy on the day we went, but it really just made the garden that much more beautiful. The foliage is absolutely gorgeous with so many colors and textures and it was surprisingly huge! There were a bunch of little areas throughout the garden with koi ponds, other water features, a pagoda and a zen garden. It was probably my favorite thing I saw in Portland and it's really not to be missed.
City Guide: Vancouver, British Columbia
Review: Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver
Review: Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver
Review: YVR Maple Leaf Lounge
Back in March, I took a wonderful weekend trip to what has become one of my favorite cities I have visited: Vancouver, British Columbia. I may be a bit biased, but I love Canada. There’s something about the abundance of maple, the amazing scenery, and the wonderful people that makes it such a great place to visit. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s just a quick trip across the border and you can speak English, use US dollars, and basically fit right in.
I’ve now taken two weekend trips to Vancouver and thought I’d share some of my recommendations in the first of what will hopefully be many city guides. Feel free to share any additional recommendations in the comments below!
If you’re thinking about visiting Vancouver, you will likely hear Stanley Park mentioned several times. It’s a huge (1,001 acre), gorgeous park on the edge of downtown Vancouver and it has everything from rocky coastline fit for biking to a collection of colorful totem poles.
The park is absolutely massive, so I would recommend renting a bicycle and biking around the perimeter of the park along the seawall. We rented a bike from Spokes, which was right near the entrance to Stanley Park and had pretty reasonable prices. Biking along the seawall allows gorgeous views of Vancouver Harbour, the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and English Bay.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.