The city of Beijing, while steeped in history, was also a bastion of 'Old China.'

Beijing - The Great Wall of visa rules surrounding tourism to China is about to be dismantled - at least for short-break visitors to the capital, Beijing. In a move that represents a cultural revolution overturning decades of bureaucracy, tourists in 2013 will be able to experience Red China without being entangled in red tape.

The Xinhua news agency has reported that citizens of 45 countries, including the UK, will be allowed to visit the capital for up to 72 hours with only cursory formalities. From New Year's Day, tourists holding confirmed reservations for a flight departing within three days can get a “transit without visa” stamp upon arrival at Beijing's Capital airport. The move is intended to boost tourism, and in particular to poach stopover travellers who currently take a short break in Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong between Europe and Australasia.

Wang Yue, deputy director of Beijing's tourist board, said: “A relaxed visa policy is common practice to boost the inbound tourist market.”

At present, anyone seeking to break their journey in the Chinese capital is obliged to apply for a visa in advance. Stuart Whittington, Head of Product at Wendy Wu Tours, said: “Short-stay visas typically cost around £100 and take a couple of weeks to be processed. This new regulation removes the hassle and cost of transiting in Beijing.”

The tourism authorities predict visitor numbers will double to 10 million annually as a result of the relaxation. Although the new policy applies only to visitors to Beijing, the base of Air China, if it proves successful it is likely to be adopted in Shanghai and Guangzhou, hubs for China Eastern and China Southern respectively. All three airlines offer cut-price tickets from London to Australia.

James Jones, Asia product manager for DialAFlight, said: “This is a great opportunity for the consumer to stop off somewhere new and without the inconvenience of applying for a Chinese visa. It will provide a welcome alternative to the more popular stopover destinations.”

Travellers will still have to register with the police within 24 hours, and will not be able to wander far. Nor will they be able to leave Beijing to visit other cities during the 72 hours.

However, it is thought that a day trip to the nearest section of the Great Wall of China, at Badaling, will be permitted by the authorities.



Check in

I stay in the Lu Song Yuan, a great survivor - a venerable, low-rise hotel around a quadrangle, buried amid the hutongs (alleyways) that the bulldozers spared before the 2008 Olympics. A double with breakfast is just £34 (about R450).

Get your bearings

Tiananmen Square remains the hub of the capital city - and of the People's Republic itself. The name of the square where demonstrators died in 1989 means “Place of Heavenly Peace”. To the north, across the city's main east-west thoroughfare, Changan Avenue, stands the Forbidden Palace. To the south, Beijing's ultra-modern South Station offers high-speed links across China.

Take a hike

… around Hohhai Lake, a great escape from the civic clamour. Get there early to see practitioners of Tai Chi. Later, there are plenty of opportunities to snack. Be warned: China is not a good venue for vegetarians.

Window shopping

The Panjiyuan Market has plenty of Mao memorabilia, including Little Red Books and wind-up Cultural Revolution-era alarm clocks. - The Independent