Steeped in history and tradition, Beijing is a city of contrasts. Ancient hutongs (alleyways) are tucked in the shadows of modern skyscrapers while old-timers can be seen practicing traditional Chinese arts like tai chi and calligraphy in parks across the Chinese capital as young families wearing designer labels stroll along the city's wide boulevards.
Getting to the 'Jing is easy and efficient via its two massive airports and China's modern high-speed rail. Beijing is a major international hub with dozens of international flights arriving and departing each day and an important domestic hub, offering connecting flights to most major cities. Beijing Capital International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world, with more than 100 million passengers annually, and the new starfish-shaped Beijing Daxing International Airport is set to be the world's largest airport.
Depending on which city you are coming from, the train—which is a slower, more time consuming way to travel—may be a better option. More than RMB220 billion was spent to build China's high-speed rail system (gāotiě)—the largest in the world. It is worth a ride or two on these impressive bullet trains that crisscross four of China's provinces at speeds up to 236 mph (380 kph). High-speed train travel is mode of transport that often trumps quick flights as domestic air travel in China is routinely subject to lengthy security screenings, flight schedule delay, and prolonged travel time to and from each airport, making air travel take just as long as a high-speed train trip.
From Hong Kong
Duration: 3.5-hour flight by plane; 8 hours 56 minutes by high-speed train; 24 hours by regular train
Flying affords the quickest travel time to make the 1,221-mile (1,965-km) journey from Hong Kong to Beijing and is the most convenient and preferred option. There are more than a dozen nonstop flights from Hong Kong International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport and Beijing Daxing International Airport.
Flying between the two cities is a breeze, particularly because most major airlines allow passengers to check-in 90-minutes to one full day before their flights locally in-town at Hong Kong MRT Station and Kowloon MTR Station. From each Beijing airport, a private driver can drive you to the Great Wall.
While flying is the quickest way from Hong Kong to Beijing, traveling along the largest high-speed train system in the world is an enticing option. Each day, only one high-speed train travels up to 186 mph (299 kph) along the 942-mile (1,516-kilometer) route from Hong Kong West Kowloon Station to Beijing West Railway Station.
The budget option is the much slower classic sleeper train from Hong Kong's Hung Hom Station to Beijing West Railway Station, but it's a long, 24-hour journey that departs every other day.
Passengers traveling by bullet train from Hong Kong to China should arrive early to check in and clear customs and immigration for Hong Kong and China, which are completed on the Hong Kong side. Passengers traveling on the overnight train from Hung Hon Station should also arrive early to check in and clear customs and immigration in Hong Kong; passengers will go through China's immigration process upon arrival in Beijing. In addition, a tourist visa may be required to travel from the former British colony of Hong Kong to China, which has separate immigration and customs procedures from Hong Kong. Depending on your country of citizenship and your itinerary, you may be eligible to travel in China for up to 72 hours without a visa via China's 72-hour Transit Visa Exemption or for up to six days without a visa via the 144-hour Travel Visa Exemption.
Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes by plane; 4 hours and 18 minutes by high-speed train; 15 hours and 28 minutes by regular train
Flying affords the quickest travel time between Shanghai and Beijing. There are approximately 20 flights daily between Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Beijing's two airports. However, the high-speed train is often the most efficient option between Shanghai and Beijing even though the travel time along the 819-mile (1,318-kilometer) route can be twice as long as air travel. More than 40 trains run daily from Shanghai Hongqiao Station. If you're looking to travel on the fastest high-speed trains, book the "G" category trains. The overnight trains, which take the classic route from Shanghai to Beijing are the budget option, saving travelers the expense of a hotel night. Booking a soft sleeper (there are four beds in each cabin) is more comfortable and secure as there is a door that locks.
Duration: 1 hour and 55 minutes by plane; 4.5 hours by high-speed train; 12.5 hours to 19 hours by regular train
Flying affords the quickest travel time between Beijing and Xi'an. There are more than a dozen daily flights from Xi'an Xianyang International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport and Beijing Daxing International Airport. There are more than a dozen high-speed trains that travel daily along the 756-mile (1,216 km) route from Xi'an North Railway Station to Beijing West Railway Station. As with China's most popular train routes, there are slower overnight trains—this budget option saves travelers the expense of a night's accommodation. The overnight train is a decent, comfortable option to travel from Xi'an, China's ancient capital for 13 dynasties, to Beijing.