Beijing is an unmissable hit through a journey in China. You could get there by plane, but I recommend to overcome all the possible issues and arrive on the bullet train connecting Shanghai with Beijing.
Taking a train to Beijing may be a bit of a trouble for independent travellers. First of all, to get a ticket you need to show your passport and visa, in order to allow every move of yours to be thoroughly checked. Second thing, you can only book a few days in advance (ten for the bullet train, five for regular trains) and after you have purchased the ticked, class, coach and seat will be assigned to you. Third thing, those fantastic selling machine require you to insert your magnetic identity card, which you probably do not have on you. Fourth thing, tickets can not be purchased online (but there are online agencies which will deliver them to your hotel room for a commission).
The only option left is to buy the tickets at the ticket counter. I suggest you find time tables and train number on the web and then you get to the counter in town or at the train station. At Hongqiao (上海虹桥站) train station the clerks usually speak a bit of English, but do not rely to much on it. At the counters in town they don’t, but are usually more patient. A second class ticket costs 555 renminbi, for 1318 kilometres in about 5 hours: you can leave from Shanghai in the morning and have lunch in Beijing!
The trains are really modern and comfortable, with big adjustable seats. You can’t feel any vibration and the noise is very low and you will be surprised by the number of gracious stewardess roaming among the coaches: their duty is halfway between serving and checking on you, and if you are hungry they will sell you drinks and food. There is screen to watch movies, but if you take a look just out of the window you will understand why these are called bullet train.
While seated on the train for five hours, any aspect of modern China will roll in front of your eyes – construction sites, factories, skyscrapers, and rural villages – until you will finally get to Beijing South Railway Station, a huge building with drunkyard-proof directions.
There is a great hotel close to the train station which can be reached by subway. You will have to start from Beijing South Railway Station (北京南站) and go on through Line 4. Inside you will find an automatic seller in English, but you can also go to the ticket counter: give them the right amount of money and you will receive the corresponding number of tickets. Should you try to pay with a large bill you will get enough tickets for the rest of the month!
Once at Wuanwumen (宣武门站), change for Line 2 and get out at Qianmen Station (前门站). On Meishi Jie (煤市街), number 81, you will find King’s Joiy Hotel. You could also get here showing to a taxi driver a picture with Chinese name and address: it’s easier than taking the subway, but be ready for a hard bargain: taxi drivers often refuse to use the metre. The hotel offers a good quality price ratio, with comfortable rooms and wi-fi included, and it is located among the hutong, Beijing’s traditional alleys which are endangered by urban development.