First, locate Beijing on a map of China. You are in the north of the massive country of China, slightly south of the Gobi desert. Sand from the desert blows into the city throughout the year, reminding residents of their proximity to nothingness daily. You are also only a short ride to Mongolia, Korea and Japan, as well as a hop away from Shanghai. Beijing is a great place from which to start any China adventure, and it is connected to the rest of China by high-speed trains, airports, bus routes and amazingly clean highways.
Beijing has been China’s capital for quite a while, but this wasn’t always the case. Xi’an, in the center of the country, was once the capital and seat of power, as was Nanjing, which translated literally to southern capital (Beijing means northern capital). Once you learn a few of these details and translations its hard to forget your orientation in the country.
Beijing itself is broken into districts.The district map to the right shows the way the districts are smallest where the people are the most dense. As you span into the suburbs you’ll find larger districts with fewer people. The four central districts all lie within the second ring road, and the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, most of the museums and many hotels, bars and restaurants lie within this ring. The ring road is also the parameter of line 2 on the subway, the ring route that circles the city’s most important attractions. If you are ever lost, jumping on line two will whisk you to a site you recognize.
Notice how Beijing is basically centered on the Forbidden City, with everything surrounding that one focal point in the middle of Beijing. The map below highlights the smallness of China’s capital city in terms of proximity to top sites.
You’ll also benefit from a subway map that is an overlap of the map on the city so you can see which site you’ll come above ground on top of and how to get from A to B. Many maps in the subway system itself don’t show the sites so you are left guessing how your map lines up to the metro. The map below is one place to start orienting yourself to the subway and city routes.