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What to see and do when connecting for a few hours in Beijing

Updated: April 2019

Located 28 KM from the city center, Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) is the base airport of Air China (from the Star Alliance). Airport is also a main connection hub for China Southern Airlines (part of Skyteam), making it a good place for a long layover or stopover en route to Australia, Europe or the States.

The impressive Terminal 3, which was officially inaugurated for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, is the second biggest airport terminal on the planet after Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 3; and is mainly used for international travel.

Less than 6 hours – what to do in PEK airport?

If your layover is shorter than six hours, i would suggest to plan staying in the airport and skip the city tour.

After landing, allow 75-90 minutes for reaching and clearing passport control and customs. If your connecting flight departures from Terminal 1 & 2, then factor another 30 minutes to move between the terminals. Note that if you are in transit to an international flight, you can proceed to your gate without clearing immigration in Beijing Capital.

For a longer layover, you might want to consider  “paid lounges” which are basically rooms for day use that you can use to get some rest or catch up on work during your stay at the airport. Lounges are available in all three terminals.

If you have 7-12 hours

If you are in for a longer layover in PEK and the weather is fine, you might want to consider going to the city. Otherwise, you might want to consider booking an hotel for day use.

Leaving PEK during a layover

All passengers arriving into the Beijing airport from an international flight and connecting to Mainland china  will need to go through passport controls and customs. If you want to leave the airport you should apply for a Chinese visa before your trip.

Going to the city:

Money: First off, obtain Chinese currency (RMB) through a local ATM in the terminal.

Taxis: Taxis are readily available at the terminal entrances. From previous experience, i suggest to have your destination clearly written on a paper (or available on your cell) in Chinese. Also negotiate your ride fee before starting your trip. Factor in a 60-90 minutes trip to the main city attractions. During morning times, commuting could be longer.

Trains: The Airport Express will take you from PEK to stations Sanyuanqiao (and transfer to line 10)  and Dongzhimen (and then transfer lines 2 and 13). The ride will cost you 25 RMB.

Beijing essentials tour:

If you have less than a day, you might need to decide between two main options:

  • Visit the City center main sights OR
  • Visiting the Mutianyu section of the great Chinese Wall

Visiting the City center:

Below are several key attractions in the city center:

  • The Forbidden City: Perhaps the most famous attraction in Beijing. From the airport, take a taxi (will cost roundabout 100-120 RMB, and take 75-90 minutes) that would drop you closely to one of the gates. Note that taxis are not able to stop right in front of the gate itself. Plan for at least a couple of hours to queue for tickets and tour the entire complex.
  • The Temple of Heaven: A bit south from the forbidden city and the Mao Dze Dung mausoleum, the Temple of heaven is an amazing complex of praying sanctuaries surrounded by beautiful gardens.
  • Wangfujing St: One of the famous shopping districts of Beijing, located 10 min east from the Forbidden City. Don’t miss the snack market which is packed with food stalls serving more traditional food.

Allow at least 90 minutes to return to airport, as well as additional 120 minutes to go through security, immigration (if needed) towards your domestic or international connecting flight.

Visiting the Great Wall:

Open during the daytime, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is relatively less crowded than other sections, and can be reached from the airport by taxi only. Trip will take up to 60-75 minutes. You might need roundabout a couple of hours to tour the wall (including obtaining your ticket).

Beijing overnight layover

An overnight stopover in Beijing, will allow you the required time to visit both the Great Wall and the City Center attractions.

As for accommodations, suggest to book an hotel in the surroundings of Wangfujing street.

Feel free to let us know your own Beijing favorite things to do by leaving us a comment. Thanks!


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