When purchasing our tickets to Thailand, I noticed that we would have an almost 24 hour layover in Beijing. I immediately googled “what to do in Beijing when you have a 24 hour layover” and was happy to find out that we could visit the Great Wall of China and much more.
Most people think of a 23 hour long layover as a waste of time. I was one of those people; I absolutely hated long lay layovers. However, when I realized that long layovers didn’t mean a waste of time at the airport, my views changed completely.
I immediately opened a new tab (like the million I already had open weren’t enough) and got busy googling all the one million questions I had.
Can You Leave The Airport During A Layover?
The answer to this questions is simple – YES! You can absolutely leave the airport during a layover in any country. The only time when this can be an issue, is if that country requires a visa.
If there are no visa requirements to enter the country you have a layover in, then you are free to leave the airport and explore. Just make sure that you’re back in time to catch your next flight.
Can Americans Leave The Airport In Beijing
Before making final plans for our Beijing layover, and booking our tickets, there were three main things I wanted to know.
1. Do Americans need a visa to travel to Beijing?
- I was excited to find out that if we were staying in Beijing for under 72 hours, a visa was not necessary. Yay!
2. What can you do when you a 24 layover in Beijing?
- The first thing that I saw was, drum roll … The “Great Wall of China.” Knowing that the Great Wall of China is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world, it was at the ultimate top of my list.
- Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City were also on the list of must see places in Beijing.
3. What is there to do in Beijing with kids?
- Hardly anything came up when I searched this. I got similar search results as question number two above. We didn’t plan on staying there a while, so it didn’t matter much to me.
This type of ticket is called an open jaw ticket because you fly into one city and fly out of another city.
Packing For Our Trip
I always tend to over pack when we travel. So I couldn’t believe it when packed all our things in these backpacks for two whole weeks. I didn’t even think that was possible but we made it work.
We were going to be moving a lot, so I needed to make sure that we were as mobile as possible, and hands free too. Other than traveling to Bangkok and Phuket with a layover in Beijing, we also planned a quick stop in Singapore as well.
How Did We Fly To Beijing?
We flew to Beijing on Air China. I was disappointed to find out that there was NO internet. Whattttt… No internet on a 13-hour flight? How could I possibly survive?
Thankfully all our tablets were loaded with lots of shows and movies to keep us entertained. The food wasn’t impressive, so it’s a good thing I packed lots of food and snacks for Aiden because he didn’t eat any of the food that was served.
Flying With Kids
On this trip, we used two new kids travel gear., which are now at the top of my must have travel with kids list. I highly recommend both.
1. Child Airplane Travel Harness – we purchased this because we did not travel with Aiden’s car seat. So this was to make sure that he was probably buckled and safe while on the plane.
2. First Class Kids Travel Pillow – I don’t know how we traveled without this before, but I’m never traveling without it again. This is an absolute must have, and Aiden slept most of the flight comfortably. We also used it on our trip to Europe.
I was curious to find out what type of snacks they had on the plane, so I asked one of the flight attendants if they had any snacks. She didn’t understand what I was asking for, so she called another flight attendant to help her understand what I was saying.
I had to show them a few hand gestures, and point at some things and then she responded with “No.” I wanted to say “What, what do you mean by No?” But I didn’t.
A few minutes after I went back to my seat, the flight attendant showed up with a small pack of chocolate chipped cookies. Aiden was excited about it and thanked her.
Bottom Line: If you’re flying Air China with a picky eater, make sure to feed them before the flight and also pack enough food and snacks.
Overall, it was a smooth flight and Aiden slept 85% of it, Yay. We landed in Beijing at 8.45pm. It was dark and COLD! We weren’t as tired as we thought we would be, or maybe it was just excitement. We grabbed our backpacks, deplaned on the runway and followed the crowd.
Getting Through Immigration In China
After we grabbed our backpacks and deplaned, we walked straight to immigration. When we got there, I noticed that there were two lines, the general passport line for those with a Chinese Visa and the line for people getting the 72 Hour Visa.
We almost stood in the general passport line which was so much longer, but then I spotted a separate line to the left (following the crowd was clearly a bad idea). The line for people exiting the airport under the 72 hour no visa rule was so much shorter.
I stood in line with Aiden while my husband filled out our arrival cards. My advice – Fill it your arrival/departure cards on the plane when they are passed out or at least before you deplane. It’ll save you so much time.
We got up to the front of the line, presented our passports, tickets for our connecting flight, the filled out arrival and departure cards and got our passports stamped.
The immigration officer didn’t ask any questions or even say a word, not even a smile. He just looked at each passport, ticket and departure card, looked at the person who the passport belonged to, stamped and then went on to the next one.
Pro Tip: Make sure you have everything ready before you get to the front of the line, the people in front of us didn’t, and the immigration officer seemed to be a little frustrated with them.
Meeting Our Tour Guide
As soon as we were cleared to go by the immigration officer, we hopped on the tram to baggage claim/arrivals. One of the best things about not checking in a bag is not having to wait at baggage claim.
You know those signs people always hold when you exit, I’ve always wondered when someone would have one with my name on it (Silly I know. But be honest with yourself, you know how you get off a flight and secretly read names hoping your name is on one of the signs. No one? Okay, just me I guess, lol).
Anyways, this time it happened; there he was, our driver/guide waiting for us with our names “Karen Sylvester” on a sign. Yeeeee!
Prior to heading to his car, my husband stopped at the airport ATM and withdrew some Yuan (Chinese currency).
PS: I got the contact information for our driver/guide from a friend who had a layover in Beijing. I contacted him prior to our arrival and made arrangements. If you’re ever in Beijing and need a driver, reach out to Ma Mark – firstname.lastname@example.org.
The driver took us on a drive around Beijing, downtown as well as Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City. It was dark and difficult to see anything.
After driving for a bit, we told out driver/tour guide that we were hungry and wanted to eat authentic Chinese food, so he drove us to a restaurant that he said had good food.
I am not a big fan of Chinese food, however I figured Chinese food in China will definitely not be the same as Chinese food in the U.S. so I had to try it. And plus, I was definitely not eating American food in China that’s for sure.
We invited our guide to eat with us but he politely declined, however he did accompany us in though.
When we got to the restaurant, we were immediately seated. It was nice to have a guide who spoke some English so he could translate for us. I studied the menu like I was studying for finals.
The items on the menu where nothing close to Chinese food served in the U.S. Duck, Frog — Uhhhmm No thank you! I asked the waitress, “No, orange chicken?” – and she looked at me like I was from another planet. Google translate to the rescue!! I translated it to Chinese and when I showed her she looked perplexed, and said “No, No, Sorry.”
I ordered plain noodles for Aiden, a chicken dish, a meat dish and some white rice for myself and my husband. Aiden said the noodles were yucky (typical picky 3-year-old), but he did settle for plain white rice.
The food was okay. One thing is for sure, the flavors were definitely very different from what I had tasted years ago in the U.S. (Yes, it’s been several years since I has Chinese food – over 5 years actually).
Where Did We Stay in Beijing?
After dinner, our guide dropped us at our hotel and we paid him. We checked in, got our keys, went up to our room and right to bed. Aiden was already sleeping by the time we checked in to our hotel.
Our guide was scheduled to pick us up at 6am the next morning, however we overslept. By the time we got up, showered and got ready it was already 6.20am.
We called the front desk and told them to let our guide know we would be running a bit late. We rushed to breakfast and told them we were in a hurry and couldn’t sit and wanted to take some food to go.
The hostess provided us with few plastic bowls. I filled it up with whatever I could find. They had some typical American items on the buffet as well as Chinese food. I also grabbed a hot chocolate for Aiden and some water and we were good to go.
The Great Wall Of China
The drive to the great wall of China from our hotel was about an hour and a half. We sat in the back of the van and munched on our food while enjoying the scenery.
When we got to the main entrance, our driver parked the car and said he needed to buy tickets. While waiting, I took the opportunity to hop out of the car and let Aiden run around a little, as well as take photos of course.
While playing around, Aiden made a friend. She told us her Chinese name which was a little hard to pronounce, and then quickly said, but my American name is Cassie. She asked to take a picture with Aiden, and he said yes.
When our guide got back, we hopped back into the car and up he drove to the Great Wall of China. He parked in the parking lot and then walked us uphill to the main entrance.
PS: Be prepared to walk. Make sure that you have comfy shoes and clothes because you will need it.
At the main entrance, we had to pay another fee to ride the cable car up to the top of The Great Wall. We gave our driver some money, and he paid for our tickets. He told us we had about 2 hours up there and then it would be time to head to the airport.
We took the cable car up to the top. Midway in the cable car, I looked down and boy oh boy was it a Bad Bad idea! I freaked out and immediately keep looking forward (Yes, I am scared of heights).
We got up to the top, got out of the cable car, and there we were. Standing on The Great Wall of China. What an amazing experience! The view was splendid, but it was so cold. We packed for Thailand, 80 degree weather, not Beijing’s 40 degree weather. We were freezing, but that did not get in the way of us having fun.
We walked around, admired the beauty of the Great Wall, took photos and just had a good time exploring.
There were a few other people there, but not too many. Our advantage was the fact that we got there very early in the morning. It was nice to take photos and not worry about crowds.
After walking around and talking to Aiden about the history of The Great Wall of China, it was time to go back down. An hour and a half had gone by so fast. Time goes by fast when you’re having a good time.
On the way down, we decided to ride the toboggan. We weren’t sure if we could with Aiden, but one of the workers there informed us that we could as long as he rode with one of us. Let me tell you, that was a Fun ride. You absolutely must ride the toboggan down. If anything, Michelle Obama did it! Lol.
When we got to the bottom and got off, Aiden’s exact words were “That was just so much fun. Let’s do it again.”
There was a guy waiting as soon as we got off the toboggan, there was a guy with a sword (real one) and asked to take a picture with Aiden. Not free of course, he asked for a tip afterwards.
On our way back to the parking lot, we noticed lots of people. Groups on tour buses were getting bused up the hill and dropped off. My first thought was YES! We totally avoided the crowds.
After we got to the parking lot, we met up with our driver/guide, and off to the airport we went for our flight to Bangkok.
You can read the return portion of our layover in Beijing HERE
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