GETTING THERE: Flights to Beijing in mid-September are starting at around $925, with one stop. United flies from Reagan National or Dulles, connecting in Chicago or San Francisco. American flies from Reagan National, connecting in New York to Air China.
GETTING AROUND: Visitors are best off taking the subway or taxis around the city, though the subway line convenient to the Temple of Heaven and Beihai parks is currently under construction. The subway costs about 35 cents per ride. Beijing taxis charge 15 or 20 cents per kilometer (depending on class), and while most drivers do not speak English, they will eagerly interpret your map and hand gestures. Taxis are safe to take at any hour of the day or night, and a ride anywhere in the city will generally not exceed $5.
WHERE TO STAY: Beijing International Hotel (9 Jianguomen Nei Dajie Beijing, 011-86-10-6512-6688, www.bih.com.cn/index_e/index.htm) offers well-appointed rooms in an excellent location near Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, as well as shopping areas. Rooms start at $130. The Bamboo Garden Hotel (24 Xiaoshiqiao Hutong, 011-86-10-6403-2229, www.bbgh.com.cn), graciously decked in Ming dynasty-style furnishings, manages to provide a tranquil, leafy setting in downtown Beijing and is near the Beihai and Ditan parks. Rates range from $40 to $70 per night.
For those on a stricter budget, Peking Downtown Backpackers Accommodation (85 Nan Luo Gu Alley, Ping An Dajie, 011-86- 10-8400-2429, www.backpackingchina.com) is in the middle of the traditional hutong neighborhood of Dongcheng, convenient to Ditan and Beihai parks. Prices range from $6 for a simple clean bunk to $14 for a private room. All rates include free breakfast in the hotel's courtyard cafe if booked more than three days in advance. Free airport pickup can also be arranged.
* Ditan Park (Ditan Gongyuan) is in Dongcheng district, a quarter-mile north of a main road called An Ding Men Xi Dajie (Yong He Gong subway stop). Open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is 25 cents. There are hole-in-the-wall eateries along another major road, Yong He Gong Dajie. For a more substantial meal, try Bai Kuai Lao Hao Fan Guan (205 Yong He Gong Dajie, Dongcheng district), where breakfast dishes of porridge or noodles are 25 to 40 cents each, steamed buns about 6 or 7 cents each. Look for the large green storefront.
* Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan Gong Yuan) is in Chongwen district. Open daily, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $1.85 to $4.30, depending how much you want to see. At the North Gate, Chengdu Xiaochi is good for basic noodles and dumplings, with prices from 50 cents to $1.50. At the small Southwest Gate, unmarked stands sell steamed buns, dumplings, tofu, noodles and fruit, from about 20 to 75 cents. Stands operate from 5 a.m. and on. Near the East Gate, Yu Qiao Restaurant (5 Tian Tan Dong Li Zhong Qu) is clean and comfortable by Beijing standards. Try the eggplant or fish-flavored pork. Prices for everything from simple starters to lavish entrees range from 75 cents to about $11.
* The northern entrance of Beihai Park (Bei Hai Gong Yuan) is on the main road Di An Men Xi Da Jie; the southern entrance is on Wenjin Jie, a major road that also skirts the top of the Forbidden City. Open daily, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is about $1.25. There's a Starbucks outside the North Gate. Outside the East Gate, She Shan Men Jie is a tightly knit market of stalls, shops and cafes. Try the xiaobing jia jidan (egg sandwich) or angel food-style pastries, as well as such morning standards as tofu, hard-boiled tea eggs and steamed buns. Prices range from about 5 to 35 cents.
INFO: China National Tourism Administration, www.cnta.com/lyen/index.asp. China National Tourist Office, 888- 760-8218, www.cnto.org.
-- Caroline Cooper