Home to hilltop Buddhas, a famous skyline, and lush greenery aplenty, Hong Kong is not only a major tourist destination in itself (sometimes occupying the top spot for most visited city in the world, even), but it's also a nifty starting point for further China travels. People hop from Hong Kong to the bustling capital city of Beijing often.
Tourists flock to Beijing year-round to visit the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and other attractions in this sprawling metropolis where more than 21 million people live. It's a quintessential Chinese experience, although a much different one than offered by Hong Kong, which strays slightly from Chinese tradition.
The two cities are 1,971 kilometers (1,224 miles) apart, but the driving distance is 2,189 kilometers (1,360 miles). Because it takes 22 hours to drive from one to the other, most people stick with the less-than-three-hour flight.
How to Get from Hong Kong to Beijing
- Train: 9 hours, starting at $117
- Car: 22 hours, 2,189 kilometers (1,360 miles)
- Flight: 2 hours, 45 minutes, starting at $200 (fastest)
The direct train from West Kowloon Station to Beijing West Station takes only about nine hours via the G-series train, which is China Railway's fastest train service. These high-speed trains can go about 350 kilometers (217 miles) per hour, so they can cover the distance in less than half the time it takes to drive. The train departs only once per day, at 8 a.m., and costs between $117 and $156.
The low-speed sleeper train takes a whopping 23-and-a-half hours long and includes a one-hour transfer in Shenzhen. Considering this takes even longer than driving the route yourself, it's the longest and one of the least popular options.
Driving in China is not for the faint of heart. Not only are drivers notoriously aggressive in China's two most bustling cities, but the road signs are near useless and, worst of all, drivers must switch from one side to another because Hong Kong and mainland China drive on opposite sides of the road. For this reason, some tourists who insist on renting cars actually hire drivers (considering Chinese wages, the cost of hiring a driver is actually pretty low).
The route is about 2,189 kilometers (1,360 miles) long and takes about 22 hours. It's such an unusual mode of transport, in fact, that Google Maps won't even calculate it. With the hassle of switching sides, dealing with traffic in major metro areas, and navigating road signs, it's best to save both time and money by taking a train or plane instead.
Beijing is a long way north of Hong Kong, so most people opt for the two-hour, 45-minute flight. Naturally, flights to Beijing are cheaper during the off season, which runs roughly from November through February. However, Chinese New Year (January) sees planes packed with Hong Kongers visiting family, so ticket prices can skyrocket to almost $300 USD at this time. The cheapest time to travel from Hong Kong to Beijing is actually from March to June, when you can snag a one-way ticket for less than $250.
You will most consistently find cheap flights from Hong Kong to Beijing via Dragon Air, the cheap domestic carrier run by Cathay Pacific. It offers several flights per day, competitive fares, and regularly-run deals on this route. Hong Kong Airlines is another budget-friendly option that sometimes rivals Dragon Air. Both carriers only offer direct routes and are ideal for a short weekend break (or a day trip, even). There are a total of six airlines that offer direct flights from Hong Kong to Beijing and they run about 150 flights per week, according to Skyscanner.
Travelers can choose between two international airports to fly into: Beijing Capital International Airport (the city's biggest and the world's second busiest airport, behind Atlanta) and the newer Beijing Daxing, which is expected to become just as busy as its counterpart. Both airports are about a 20-minute train ride from the city center.
What to See in Beijing
Beijing's historical landmarks, modern architecture, ornate temples, and delicious dumplings have long beckoned tourists. The city dates back three millennia, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. History buffs will get a thrill from walking along the famous, sprawling Great Wall of China, built during the 7th century BC, and visiting the 500-year-old Forbidden City, home to former imperial palaces and a museum. The cluster of Ming tombs, mausoleums from the Ming dynasty, and the imperial gardens at Jingshan Park, north of the Forbidden City, are equally grand. If you don't mind a short hike, the Bell and Drum towers (where people of the city once announced the time) offers great views as well.
After marveling at Beijing's ancient sites, old souls can continue their journey through the city's more recent history by perusing its many antique markets. The Panjiayuan Market, alone, contains 4,000 vendors selling everything from antique teapots to calligraphy.
If it's vibrant palaces and temples you like, Beijing has no shortage of those, either. Summer Palace is a collection of structures on a three-square-kilometer lot that includes picturesque lakes and gardens. The Lama Temple, a fully-functioning Buddhist monastery, is one of the most colorful and artistic.
No visit to China's capital city would be complete without a wander through Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world. This was where Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. While you're in the neighborhood, check out the National Museum of China, too. Once you find that you've worked up an appetite, stop by a street stall or one of the many restaurants for some steamed or boiled dumplings, a Beijing specialty. Baozi (steamed buns) are another local favorite. They're sold at almost every street stall around the city and because they're dry, not liquidy like soup dumplings, they make for a good on-the-go meal or snack. The locals often have them for breakfast.