Beijing hotels

By Tom O'Malley, your Beijing expert

I write for Travel and Leisure (SE Asia), CNNGo, The Beijinger, .... Read more

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#23/30
expert-rated hotels in Beijing
Expert overall rating:4.0 (out of 5)

High end hostel-style lodgings for the discerning wanderer.

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#27/30
expert-rated hotels in Beijing
Expert overall rating:3.8 (out of 5)

Friendly, family-run hostel in an authentic neighbourhood.

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#29/30
expert-rated hotels in Beijing
Expert overall rating:3.7 (out of 5)

Bargain-basement rooms in sight of the Forbidden City.

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#30/30
expert-rated hotels in Beijing
Expert overall rating:3.6 (out of 5)

Well-run budget chain with a smidgen of personality.

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Everyone has an opinion on the legacy an Olympics leaves behind, but in Beijing, when they weren’t bulldozing old neighbourhoods they were putting up hotels. Every hospitality brand on the planet wanted in on China’s ‘coming-out party’. The upshot of course is you’ve no shortage of choice, from the simplest hostel (and China has some of the world’s best) to temples of five-star luxury.

Which area?

Wangfujing, home to most of the city’s mid-range and high-end tourist hotels, is a solid choice for first-time visitors, and a prime haunt for tour groups. It’s close to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, big-brand shopping and tourist magnets like the scorpion-on-a-stick Snack Street and Night Market, though light on nightlife. For all its convenience, more seasoned travellers may well find it too touristy and commercial.

A compromise might be to the north west of Wangfujing, where you can find traditional courtyard accommodation still within walking range of the Forbidden City. The hutong neighbourhoods to the east of subway line 5 (particularly around Dongsi and Dengshikou stations) are home to many colourful courtyard hotels of varying price and quality.

In my opinion, for the best mix of sights, tradition, local colour, dining and nightlife, the broad swath of city north of Beihai Lake (from Xihai Lake in the west all the way east to the Lama Temple) makes a great base. This area, encompassing the Drum and Bell Towers, Houhai Lake, Nanluogu Xiang and several temples is peppered with backpacker-style hostels and a growing number of higher-end courtyard properties.

Rack rates and haggling

In most average Chinese hotels (and some of the good ones) no one ever pays the rack rate (also called the walk-up rate, usually on the wall behind the check-in desk). Be prepared to negotiate a price based on the length of your stay and aim for a hefty discount. You generally won’t encounter this at international chains or backpacker style accommodation, but consider it good practice whatever the place to enquire about a discount, upgrade or free breakfast if you plan on staying for three days or more.

A word on courtyard hotels

Beijing has dozens if not hundreds of small, locally-run courtyard hotels of around 10 rooms or fewer, typically offering small, basic rooms that open on to a covered courtyard that doubles as bar and restaurant. Though several are genuinely luxurious, most are distinguishable simply by whether they come with toiletries and a TV or no frills. Décor, furniture and room size doesn’t change much. This often means a place will try to position itself as ‘midrange’ by providing a couple of thin bathrobes, so be aware that backpacker-style courtyards often represent better value for what is essentially the same product. And don’t be put off – Beijing’s hostels are anything but gap-year party places, and tend to attract a much broader age-range than other destinations.

Set focus

As you’ve probably figured out, Beijing – and China for that matter – is a law unto itself. Few other cities can match its blistering speed of development. Most of the hotels I’ve chosen are Olympic-era or later (whether the building is historic or not). Why? Standards of service and amenities continue to rise, so logically (a few venerable establishments aside), the newer the accommodation, the more up-to-date its facilities, the more international its service culture, and the more a la mode its fixtures and fittings.

But most importantly, whether it’s a luxury chain or a courtyard hostel, I’ve given location absolute priority. Beijing’s sights, shopping and nightlife are spread far and wide, and traffic can be hellish. But I can vouch for my choices in terms of their centrality or proximity to public transport. Some hotels I’ve chosen are better placed for nightlife. Others for shopping. But fingers crossed, whichever you choose, your trip will be largely free of travel woe.

You might also notice a tendency towards high-end global chains. Part of the reason is the value they offer compared to other world capitals. Huge rooms, fabulous food, luxury facilities and attentive service at a far lower price than in Europe and the US. Since the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has a five-star hotel on every corner, and with so many beds, great deals abound, especially in the off-season (which includes Christmas). The other reason is simply that there are aspects of Chinese hotels that won’t appeal to foreigners. Stale smoke smells are a common complaint (most adult males smoke), and the Chinese favour firmer mattresses and higher room temperatures than some foreign visitors can tolerate. Of course, there are an increasing number of great local hotels with very competitive rates, some of which I’ve included.

At the lower end of the market, I’ve endeavoured to include a good number of courtyard hotels. I believe leisure travellers will get more from their trip staying in traditional hutong-style digs rather than similarly priced budget and mid-range hotels. Service tends to be more personal too – great if you need advice for tour booking or onward travel.

Finally, Beijing has been late to catch a ride on the boutique bandwagon, but over the last year I’ve hunted down some fabulous new openings that successfully mix Chinese style and tradition with boutique luxury, and which I believe have the potential to give you the best kind of China experience.

Simonseeks has given star ratings out of five for all accommodation recommendations. With hotels, these will tally with the hotel's official star rating where it exists. Where a hotel has no official star rating, and in the case of b & bs and hostels, the experts have made a judgment as to how many stars the accommodation deserves, in terms of comfort, level of facilities and so forth.