Travel & Lodging
Flight & Train
We flew Delta from Minneapolis to Detroit to Beijing. The flight from Detroit to Beijing was 13 hours long, the longest flight my boyfriend and I had ever taken. We both were dreading the length of the flight, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought. Just bring a book and some noise-cancelling headphones and watch all the movies! The meals provided were pretty tasty and they help break up the flight!
We took a high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai, and we loved the experience! It took 4.5 hours to travel between the two cities, but it was so much cheaper and easier than a flight. The seats were also quite comfortable!
We stayed at the Capital Hotel in Beijing and the Holiday Inn Shanghai Vistas in Shanghai. Both hotels served Chinese and Western style food, which was great for us. We aren’t exactly adventurous with food, so we liked having options. The Holiday Inn was not exactly 5-star, but it did the job!
Unfortunately the actual Square was closed on the day we went, but you can still see the square from a distance. The Mao painting is a cool site to see, but a quick pass-through is enough to see this site.
The Forbidden City was one of the best experiences of our trip. This entire “city” was built for the Emperor in the 1400s, and its history is rich and incredibly interesting. If you’ve seen The Last Emperor, it was actually filmed in the Forbidden City! You could spent a solid half day here, and we recommend it! We also recommend reading about the Forbidden City, watching documentaries, or hiring a guide for this part of your trip so you can learn more about this site’s amazing background.
The Great Wall was, unsurprisingly, the highlight of our trip. I completely underestimated the difficulty of this climb. Definitely wear comfortable shoes and clothes, because the stairs are steep! Brett and I are in decent shape and we were huffing and puffing! Bringing small children here would be difficult, and those with bad knees may find this to be too treacherous of a climb. Don’t let this scare you though, it’s definitely worth the visit and the climb! There are also flat areas near the entrance if you want to visit without going up.
We didn’t spend much time here, but the Olympic arenas from the 2008 Beijing Olympics were fascinating to see in person! Do a quick stop at the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube for a photo op!
The Hutong area is one of the oldest and most historic areas of Beijing. We took a rickshaw ride around the hustings and visited a family’s home. This is not a stop that I would consider a must-see, but if you’re a history buff or like to see how the locals live, I’d recommend checking it out!
Jade Buddha Temple
This temple is nestled in the downtown area of Shanghai and contains a Buddha made completely of jade. This is a beautiful stop on a tour of downtown Shanghai
The French quarter of Shanghai is gorgeous and unexpected. On a nice night, it’s a beautiful spot to roam cobblestone streets and enjoy diverse restaurants and shops. We did not spend much time here, but I wish we would have! It’s a great spot to find some Western cuisine options, but you can find a food street around the corner with street vendors selling odd bugs and such to eat! This is a must-visit in Shanghai.
The Yu Gardens was one of our favorite stops in Shanghai. Amidst the skyscrapers and modernization, these gardens bring a peaceful, traditional feel to the bustling city of Shanghai. Nearby are various street vendors and plenty of shopping, so this is an ideal spot to pick up souvenirs or stop to eat.
River Boat Cruise
This was one of the coolest parts of Shanghai. All of the buildings downtown are lit up like a light show at night! We took a 45-minute river cruise up and down the river that allowed for some amazing views of the city lights. I highly recommend this experience for some cool night photos!
Culture & Food
The Chinese are generally very welcoming and respectful to American tourists. They loved taking pictures with us and showing us their cities. Don’t worry about the politics of our nations, just like us, they know the government doesn’t always represent the individual. The younger generations speak some English, but older generations do not, so communication can be a huge barrier. If you need help, try to find someone young. Additionally, employees at hotels, tourist sites, and the airport speak decent English, so you’ll make your way through just fine.
Food was a bit of a challenge. If we didn’t have a guide with us the whole time to translate, some restaurants would have been very difficult to navigate. Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, many restaurants introduced more English-friendly menus with translations and/or pictures. If you need to, simply point to what you want to order. Also, don’t be afraid to wave down a waiter/waitress. The service you receive in restaurants is different than in the US, and many waiters/waitresses won’t bother you unless you indicate you need something.
The tap/sink water in China should not be drunk! Bottled water is cheap, however, so just purchase some from convenience stores each day! When it comes to meals, servers will typically bring hot water or tea instead of cold water like in the States. Some restaurants didn’t even have cold water! If you want something cold and water isn’t available, order juice or soda.
China fashion is eclectic, but you will find folks wearing all kinds of things. We didn’t overthink our outfits, and American fashion will not stand out in any way. Just wear comfortable walking shoes everywhere you go!
Public restrooms often contain squatting toilets rather than Western sitting toilets. You may also find toilets without toilet paper or soap. The squatting toilets really weren’t bad, but I recommend cuffing your pants just in case you have bad aim (ha!), and make sure you carry around toilet paper and hand sanitizer in case you need it.
- We love history, so Beijing was definitely our preferred city. After seeing Shanghai, we think we would have preferred a side trip to Xi’an over Shanghai to see the terra-cotta soldiers!
- October was a GORGEOUS time of year to visit China. The weather was perfect (mid-60s to low 70s) and the smog was minimal.
- A mask is not necessary, but it is recommended for those with respiratory issues. You will see most Chinese walking around without masks in these months.
- Download a VPN to your devices if you want to be able to access email or social media. We used ExpressVPN, which only cost $12.95 for a month!
- Catch an acrobatic show in Shanghai. You will be amazed!
- If you’re intrigued by architecture, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exposition Museum in downtown Shanghai will interest you!
- Always carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you everywhere in case you need it.