Although day trips filled with interesting hiking abound in nearby villages, there aren’t too many trip options close to Beijing that are appropriate for a weekend jaunt. Many interesting destinations will still require a flight and some planning. However, a few attractions do exist that can make a good weekend getaway from Beijing.
Beidaihe Beach Resort
A seaside resort crafted out of an old coastal fishing village, this area has turned into a seaside haven popular with well-heeled locals. Starting in the late 19th century, Beidaihe became a retreat for foreigners looking for refuge from Beijing’s heat and is currently still a favorite weekend getaway for ex-pat families. Attractions include a 10 km stretch of beach, resorts, bird-watching sites, parks, boating/sailing options, and seafood restaurants. It’s far from a tropical paradise, but beaches are clean (if crowded) and it’s a great place for a weekend away where kids can play in the sand and water while parents soak in the sun.
Beidaihe is approximately 253 km from Beijing. Long-distance buses run directly from the Lizeqiao and Bawangfen bus stations. Thirteen trains connect Beijing Railway Station and Beijing West Railway Station to Beidaihe every day from about midnight to 9:00 pm. A fast train to Beidaihe from Beijing Station will run about 100 RMB per ticket in a soft seat and take less than 3 hours. Slow trains can take 4-6 hours. Many travelers prefer to buy tickets from local travel agents. Return trains are less frequent so make sure that you arrange return tickets to Beijing with the travel agent or purchase them immediately upon arrival at Beidaihe. If driving, take Jingshen Expressway to the Beidaihe exit.
Baiyangdian Scenic Area
Baiyandian, located about 150 km from Beijing, is a large expanse of water consisting of over 146 lakes and small islands described as the “Venice of Hebei Province.” The best way to get around the area is by boat. Popular activities include boating amongst the 216 types of rare and wild lotuses, admiring the traditional pavilions, enjoying the fishing pools at the bottom of hills, and taking in the local folk culture demonstrations. Visitors can rent rowboats or motorboats to tour the marshland and islands, join tour boats and groups visiting local museums and parks, and stay at unique stationary houseboat bungalows equipped like standard hotel rooms. There isn’t a lot for kids to do but the Exotic Park located near one of the lakes does have regular shows featuring lions, seals, and magic performances.
To get there, you can take a tourist bus leaving on weekends from Dongdaqiao bus station (6593 7338). Drivers can take the Jingshi Expressway to Xushui, exit, turn left and follow signs to Tianjin for 12 km. Then pass the toll gate and continue for 20 km to Anxin. Or take the Jingkai Expressway to Bazhou and merge onto the Baojin Expressway toward Baoding. Get off at the Rongchen exit and follow signs to Baiyangdian. A car ride will take less than 3 hours.
The city of Xi’an is located about 1200 km away from Beijing and is home to the famous Terracotta Warriors. This ancient city served as China’s capital for ten dynasties and still retains much of the “old China” allure. Other main tourist attractions include the Ancient City Wall, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Small Wild Goose Pagoda, The Bell Tower, and The Great Mosque (Muslim Quarters). You may not be able to do everything in one weekend, but the city isn’t that big and if travelers pick a few key activities, they’ll get a great sense of the place in a couple of days. Xi’an is a beautiful mix of modern buildings with lots of remaining old-style architecture. Interesting shops and restaurants line the modern, clean, main streets. The ancient wall still stands and surrounds a portion of the main city. Visitors can rent bikes and fly kites on top of the wide, renovated stretches of wall and view the city within. A bustling night market also draws crowds in the evenings with food, souvenirs (lots of terracotta replicas), and heaps of dried local fruits for sale. Between the terracotta warriors, biking on the wall, exploring the old canons, and “gonging” the huge drums at the Bell Tower, kids will find the city interesting and a very different experience from Beijing.
Overnight trains leave from Beijing West Railway station. Get a hard or soft sleeper on the 10 pm train and arrive in Xi’an by 9 am. Many international hotel chains are located in the city and some are closer to the airport outside the city. It’s best to let travel agents handle train/plane tickets and accommodations. Flights to Xi’an take about 1 hour and if within your budget, make a very fast and easy trip, giving you more time to explore the sites.