layover in Beijing

How To Spend a 12 Hour Layover in Bejing

When flying to Bali earlier this month I was excited to have my layover in Beijing! 

I had never been to China, and I was so excited to check another country off of my list for 2018! I was interested in visiting the Forbidden City and super stoked to see the Great Wall of China, especially the part where you get to toboggan to the bottom of the wall. Checking off my first of the 7 Wonders of the World was a major bucket list item for me!

After booking my flight I ended up with an overnight layover on the way to Bali, and a layover in Beijing of almost 12 hours on the way back. This gave me plenty of time to spend outside of the airport, so I wanted to plan something amazing. This is why I chose to book with China Tours Net. Keep reading to find out how I spent my 12 hour layover in Beijing.

laying in Beijing

The best Beijing airport layover tour

I highly recommend booking a tour in advance rather than heading to the wall yourself, since it is an hour out from the airport and the taxi can end up being quite expensive. China Tours Net specializes in layover tours, and my fantastic guide Jenny kept the time for me so I didn’t have to worry at all if I was going to be late for my upcoming flight.

Before booking my tour I gave them my flight number and time of arrival, and they let me know what tour I would have time for. With my allotted time we were to head out to the Great Wall first, followed by a visit to the Forbidden City in Bejing. PERFECT!

layover in Beijing

Do I need a Visa for a layover in China?

If you have a long layover in Beijing, are arriving by air, and are spending 6 days or less in China, you do not need to obtain a Beijing layover Visa. These layover tours are becoming increasingly more common as China attempts to boost tourist numbers. If you are a citizen of the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some others, you do not need to obtain a Visa as long as your stay is less than 144 hours. Click here to see if your country is eligible.

After informing the tour of your flight number, they will tell you what terminal you will be landing in and give you instructions as to how obtain your Visa free permit. It was fairly easy and I will have a video at the bottom below to help guide you! Here are the steps below if you are arriving in Terminal 2:

Steps to obtaining your Visa Free Permit Stamp:

Step 1: When you get off the airplane, take the escalator up and follow the sign “exit, baggage claim.” Keep walking until you see, “China inspection and quarantine.” DO NOT STOP on the way for “transit for International flights within 24 hours” or “entry Visa” or “Visa Application.” Many tourists go this route and are not allowed to come back out.

Step 2: Walk through “China Inspection and Quarantine”  and follow the yellow arrows on the ground until you see “144 Hour Visa Free Transit.” You will fill out your arrival card at the stand to the right. The information required are the usual; DOB, COB, Gender, Nature of visit, passport # and any visa number if you go a visa before arriving.) – you can pick this up as you queue up to see the immigration officers.

Make sure that you have a screen shot of your boarding pass before heading here – the wifi in Beijing Airport is terrible and I had trouble proving I had a later flight because I couldn’t get good wifi!

If you are staying overnight, make sure so have your hotel bookings saved on your phone as well.

Step 3: At the “China Immigration Inspection” there are several access for foreigners. Go through that access and there you will receive your Visa free permit stamp.

Step 4: Follow the sign “exit, baggage claim” and head down the escalator to customs. Through the customs you will see Starbucks Coffee across the hall. This is where the tour guide will be holding your name and waiting.

layover in Beijing

How far is the Great Wall from Beijing Airport?

The Wall is an hour away from the airport, and then you need to factor in an hour back. From the Great wall, the Forbidden City is also an hour. I would factor in about three hours in transport time if you would like to see both the Wall and the Forbidden City.

If you have 4-7 hours  in Beijing, you have time to experience an epic layover tour to the Mutianyu part of the wall, or you can choose to see Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I personally think the Great Wall is the better choice, as I thought that the Forbidden City was very crowded, and the Wall is one of the 7 wonders of the world!

If you have a 7-12 hour layover in Beijing, you can opt to see both the Mutianyu part of the wall and the Forbidden City. I was back at the airport well before my next flight.

layover in Beijing

China Tours Net Tour Itinerary


  • Meet your guide outside of Starbucks Coffee at 7:00 AM. My flight arrived at 4:30 AM and I was out to Starbucks by 5:30 AM. Sometimes it can take up to 2 hours to obtain your Visa Free Permit.
  • An air-conditioned vehicle will take you to the Mutianyu part of the wall (1 hour)
  • Visit Mutianyu Great Wall (2 hours). I highly recommend spending the $19 dollars to take a cable car up, and then ride your own toboggan down! It was sooo much fun!
  • Your vehicle will then take you to Tiananmen Square. You will then enter the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park.
  • Transfer back to the airport on time.

The price per person for the Mutianyu Great Wall Layover Tour to the Forbidden City is slightly expensive, but the more people there are, the cheaper the rate. China Tours Net. They are also VERY NICE so if you are worried about money, I would try talking to them a bit. The price includes all entrance tickets, English speaking guide, mineral water, and airport pick up and drop off. It does not include the cable car, which I highly recommend, tips to the driver, and a meal.

If your flight is cancelled or delayed, and you inform China Tours at least 4 hours in advance, there is no cancellation fee, and if you are not able to get out of the airport for some reason, your money will be refunded to you.


The Great Wall of China

This is definitely the place you want to visit no matter how long your layover is. The sections of the Great Wall that we mostly associate with The Great Wall of China were built by the Ming Dynasty 600 years ago, but the building of it started in 221 BC by the Qin dynasty. The Wall is known to be the largest cemetery, where over one million people died building the wall.

The most well known of all of the legends of the Great Wall is the story of “Men Jiangnu’s Bitter Weeping” whose husband died building the wall. Her weeping was so bitter that a section of the wall collapsed, revealing her husband’s bones so she could bury them.

layover in Beijing

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was home to home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming Dynasty and 10 of the Qing Dynasty. It was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987 and also declared as the world’s largest preservation of wooden structures from ancient world. You could see the giant bowls filled with water in case a part of the city would catch on fire.

It is one of the most visited ancient sites in the world and it felt VERY crowded, but it was still very eye opening! I found it tough to get good pictures with the crowds. There are in total 9,999 rooms, each one decorated with statues. As the importance of each building grows, the number of statues increases. The most important room has a maximum of 10 statues.

layover in Beijing

layover in Beijing

Overnight layover in Beijing

If you have an overnight layover in Beijing, I really just recommend getting a good meal and a good night’s sleep! I stayed at Holiday Inn Beijing in the airport zone, about ten minutes away from PEK for $70 USD.

DON’T MAKE MY MISTAKE! Cab’s don’t take credit cards, so I hailed a cab from the outside of the airport and asked how much to take me to Holiday Inn. He said 400 CNY and so I hopped over to an ATM not thinking anything of it. I pulled out 500 CNY, and gave the cab driver 400 CNY and 100 CNY as a tip.

After checking into my room something just felt off, so I checked my bank account. I had given the driver $72 US DOLLARS for a ten minute cab ride. And he seemed SO NICE chatting me up the whole drive. From now on, I always use the app currency foreigners even if I am only going to be in a country for a short layover. This situation did leave a bitter taste in my mouth of China since it was the first experience I had there.

Hourly Hotel Beijing Airport

There is also an hourly hotel in the Beijing airport, but after reading many reviews on how unorganized, chaotic, and more expensive it is than booking next door at the Hilton, I would advice against it.

The hourly hotel in Beijing Airport is located in Terminal 3. If you would like to take a shower, the cost is 150 Yuan, and you also get access to the lounge for 1 hour afterwards. In the lounge there is wifi, a buffet, and hot drinks.

Here are the rates listed below:

Single room: 120 Yuan/hour or 720 Yuan all day

Double room: 180 Yuan/hour or 980 Yuan all day

Standard room: 220 Yuan/hour or 1180 Yuan all day

Deluxe Room: 280 Yuan/hour or 1600 all day

Meeting Room: 1500 Yuan/hour or 200 Yuan/ 3 hours per person

Shower: 150 Yuan per person (1 hour lounge access)

The airport hotel has a minimum use of two hours. Only the Standard and Deluxe hourly hotel rooms have their own en-suite bathrooms (bathtub & shower). The Single Room & Double Room do not have their own en-suites so you will have to use the lounge’s private shower facility.

You unfortunately do not get access to the lounge, but there is wifi (the wifi is AWFUL in the airport!)

I highly recommend applying for the 144 hour Visa free permit and checking into a hotel nearby to save money! The Hilton Capital Airport is right next door and has shuttles available every 20 minutes and food available.

Feel free to ask any questions through the comments below! Also, if you have experienced The Great Wall I would love to hear what you thought about it! For my top tips for visiting the wall, read on here.




Disclosure: This post is written in partnership with China Tours Net. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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