Beijing is one of those cities you can spend a lot of time in without breaking the bank. If you want to, you can survive in the city, and do well, for around $20 a day. Still, if most of your money goes to lodging you’ll still find it easy to stay entertained with loads of free things to do in Beijing.
Many of the parks in Beijing are free, and there are loads of activities going on to keep you entertained while you stroll around the ‘nature’ these parks provide. One of the best free parks is Chaoyang Park but if you are willing to spend a few kuai you can see Bei Hai Park for about RMB10 ($1.50). Both of these parks provide excellent people watching, but also the chance to partake in fun social dancing (at night, mostly) or hacky sack with the locals who have turned this simple hippie game into an all-out kung fu sport by adding a net and attempting to kick the sack back and forth tennis-style but with the craziest and wildest kung fu spin kicks imaginable. This is something not to be missed, and you can also catch it at Bei Hai Park or at Hou Hai south gate (directly across the street from Bei Hai Park’s entrance).
Another fun free option is to rise bright and early and head to any of the aforementioned parks for morning tai chi. You can always join in, the locals are very eager to share Chinese culture with you and show you how awesome the benefits of tai chi are. You can arrive around 6am and spend several hours prancing, dancing, tai chi-ing or even doing Chinese sword play. Most of the people in the park in the morning are elderly, but that doesn’t mean they are not cool or very able, and you’ll find it hard to keep up with these life-long practitioners of early-morning sport.
You can walk around Tiananmen Square for free, be aware that you have to go through security to get on the square, and in recent years (and especially in summer) the square gets packed with color-coded hat-wearing tour groups with mega phones and thieves hawking their latest grab, and kite merchants, and loads of undercover cops and naturally a lot of tourists from around the world to give these undercover cops something to stare and gawk at. You’ll find it hard to enjoy the square unless you happen to enjoy mosh pits, but it’s a must-see while in Beijing– and it’s free!