There's no doubt that Beijing's initial culture shock owes much to the artificiality of the city's layout . The main streets are huge, wide and dead straight, aligned either east-west or north-south, and extend in a series of widening rectangles across the whole thirty square kilometres of the inner capital.
The pivot of the ancient city was a north-south road that led from the entrance of the Forbidden City to the walls. This remains today as Qianmen Dajie , though the main axis has shifted to the east-west road that divides Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City, and which changes its name, like all major boulevards, every few kilometres along its length. It's generally referred to as Chang'an Jie .
Few traces of the old city remain except in the street names , which look bewilderingly complex but are not hard to figure out once you realize that they are compounds of a name, plus a direction - bei, nan, xi, dong and zhong (north, south, west, east and middle) - and the words for inside and outside - nei and wei - which indicate the street's position in relation to the old city walls which enclosed the centre. Central streets often also contain the word men (gate), which indicates that they once had a gate in the wall along their length.
The three ring roads , freeways arranged in concentric rectangles centring on the Forbidden City, are rapid-access corridors. The second and third, Erhuan Lu and Sanhuan Lu, are the most useful, cutting down on journey times but extending the distance travelled and therefore much liked by taxi drivers. While most of the sights are in the city centre, most of the modern buildings - hotels, restaurants, shopping centres and flashy office blocks - are along the ring roads.
You'll soon become familiar with the experience of barrelling along a freeway in a bus or a taxi while identical blocks flicker past, not knowing which direction you're travelling in, let alone where you are. To get some sense of orientation, take fast mental notes on the more obvious and imposing landmarks. The Great Hall of the People in Tian'anmen Square; the Telegraph Office on Xichang'an Jie; the seventeen-storey Beijing Hotel on Dongchang'an Jie; and farther east on the same road, the Friendship Store and World Trade Centre. At the western intersection of the second ring road and Chang'an Jie, the astronomical instruments on top of the old observatory stand out for their oddness, as does the white dagoba in Beihai Park, just north and west of the Forbidden City.
The first experience most visitors have of China, and one which straight away confounds many expectations, is the smooth ride along the freeway, lined with hoardings and busy with Japanese cars, that leads from the airport into the city. Unless you arrive...
The first experience most visitors have of China, and one which straight away confounds many expectations, is the smooth ride along the freeway, lined with hoardings and busy with Japanese cars, that leads from the airport into the city. Unless you arrive by train, it's a long way into the centre from either the bus stations or the airport, and even when you get into downtown Beijing you're still a good few kilometres from the hotels, certainly the more affordable ones. It's a good idea to hail a taxi from the centre to get you to your final destination rather than tussle with the buses, as the public transport system is confusing at first and the city layout rather alienating. Walking isn't really an option as distances are always long, exhausting at the best of times and unbearable with luggage