Hostels offer the best all-round value, with traveller-friendly facilities and English-speaking staff, but bear in mind that you can find midrange hotels at a similar price point to hostel private rooms. Courtyard hotels are wonderfully atmospheric, but they lack the facilities (pool, gym etc) of top-end hotels in similar price brackets. Thanks to an excess of Olympics-era accommodation, Běijīng has rooms in international five-star hotels often going for under ¥1000.
Youth hostels offer much more than just dorm beds and budget prices. Many are hidden away in historic buildings down Běijīng’s hútòng, with comfortable single and double rooms, and staff tuned into foreign travellers’ needs. Travel advice is often honest, impartial and knowledgeable, and staff members usually speak excellent English. They have free wi-fi, often rent bicycles and tend to run worthwhile day trips and tours to places such as the Great Wall.
If you want history, look no further than Běijīng’s courtyard hotels, which allow you to enjoy the city’s hútòng ambience and inimitable courtyard residences. The downside, considering the relatively high prices, is the smallish size of the rooms, but courtyard hotels come with an atmosphere that is uniquely Běijīng and a charm that other hotels cannot imitate.
The top-end bracket is crammed with options in most parts of town (apart from in the Dōngchéng North neighbourhood). All the major players in the world of international five-star hotels are represented – Hyatt, Hilton, St Regis etc – and some have multiple locations around the city.
Run-of-the-mill midrange Chinese hotels lack character but can be good value as they often come with generous discounts. Expect clean rooms (although some may be smoky) with TV, wi-fi, kettle, fridge and small attached bathrooms. Staff at these types of places rarely speak much English.
Many of the city's cheapest guesthouses, often known as zhāodàisuǒ (招待所), still refuse to take foreigners because of the rigmarole involved with registering foreign guests with the local police.
Homestays & Long-term Rentals
Homestays are a great way to experience Chinese culture (and improve your Chinese language skills). Běijīng also has a large and fast-expanding couch-surfing community and short-term room rentals can be found at www.airbnb.com.
The rental market in Běijīng is good value, considering how much homes cost here now. Prices start at around ¥4000 per month for a two-bed apartment, although that won't be in the centre of town. If you speak Chinese, just make enquiries at any estate agent in the part of town you wish to live in. If you don’t, your easiest option is to check the accommodation pages of the websites of Běijīng’s expat magazines.
Need to Know
Discounts of 20% to 40% are the norm in ordinary, midrange, Chinese-run hotels. Hostels, courytard hotels and boutique hotels tend to be more transparent, and will just charge the rack rates. Whatever the hotel, booking online and in advance – especially through large, well-established booking sites such as www.ctrip.com or www.booking.com – will often help you secure the best discounts.
Hotel rooms are easy to find, although it’s worth booking ahead during public holidays. It’s always advisable to prebook courtyard hotels, as they often have only four or five rooms in total.
When checking into a hotel, you will need to complete a registration form, a copy of which will be sent to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB; Gōng’ānjú), and your passport will be scanned or photocopied.
Service Charge & Tips
A 15% service charge is levied at midrange and top-end hotels. Tipping is only expected in top-end hotels.
While more hotel staff have OK English-language skills, there are still plenty who can't speak English. Youth hostels typically have excellent English speakers, as do five-star hotels – it’s the ones in between that may not.