Budget Travel Ideas in Beijing

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Finding Beijing's budget friendly side can at first glance seem as impossible as uncovering its well-buried history. An orderly metropolis of freeways and skyscrapers, a tangle of ancient alleyways and well-preserved Dynasty palaces are just beneath its modern-day surface. And behind the flashing cars, luxury hotels and fine restaurants lay a wealth of low-cost opportunities to explore the on-again-off-again capital of Chinese power.

Beijing is drenched in history, and while some sites come with heavy admission fees, others are blissfully budget-friendly. To experience the divided dance between old and new, Imperial and Communist, head to two free historical sites. The 300-year-old spacious Tiananmen Square is famous for political protests and for housing Chairman Mao's tomb, and displays the divide between Imperial and Communist China. Once Beijing's busiest street, Qianmen Dajie has been restored to its once great glory, with wooden buildings house traditional eateries and an Apple store.

Cultural hounds should head to the Beijing Capital Museum, where the artifacts and art chronicle the city's 850 years of power in a five-story modern building. Admission is free, but you must book tickets several days in advance. For a complimenting taste of contemporary art, 798 Art Zone hosts modern exhibitions for a reasonable entrance fee.

Take an excellent-value day trip to the Summer Palace (Yi He Yuan) to soak in the stunning natural scenery surrounding an historic palace. The park's lake and pagodas are fine examples of Chinese royal garden design, and offer a restful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Don't miss the Seventeen-Arch Bridge, the Cloud Dispelling Hall and the Temple of Buddhist Virtue.  

Authentic dining doesn't have to break the bank either. The Dong Hua Men Night Market is a buzzing collection of food stalls filled with elbowing throngs of eager eaters; a true cultural and culinary experience, you can try everything from sticky rice to baby sparrows. Grab famous steamed buns at Gou Bu Li, or, for feast on fantastically substantial fare at Yuxin Chuan Cai. For a good times after hours, hit international Nanjie for cheap drinks and Kai Club for killer music and dancing.

Lodging options in Beijing include several quality budget choices. Students and younger travelers will find Houhai Youth Hostel's mix of dorms and private rooms more than adequate, while the Beijing City Central International Youth Hostel also makes for great stays. For hotels, you can't go wrong with centrally located Beijin Yongdingmen Hotel or the peaceful views from Beijing Exhibition Center.

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