Beijing, the capital city of China has a lot to offer. From the futuristic skyscrapers to the old hutongs, Beijing is always on the top travel list when it comes to China.
If you want to learn the rich Chinese culture and explore the 5,000 years old history, and at the same time you want to have the option to shop in the megamall full of high-end goods, Beijing is the place to visit.
There are so many things you can see and do in Beijing and you can spend years here yet, still unable to explore them all.
Plus, Beijing is just part of China, not all of China. What you experience in Beijing, northern China, will be a lot different from the southern region like Guangzhou and west region like Yunnan.
But, Beijing is a great start for most people want to get to know China. It is a unique city where you can take a step to explore the old Beijing and take another step and venture into the future of China full of high-rise buildings.
This Beijing travel list consists of interesting places and attractions you are recommended to check out, plus, this list also shares with you some of the must-dos when you’re in Beijing. Let’s go.
1. Climb the Great Wall of China
First thing first, there is no way you can skip checking out the Great Wall of China if this is your first visit to Beijing. Hiking up one of the Seven Wonders of the World is in a lot of people’s travel bucket list.
The Great Wall was built to prevent invasion from various nomadic groups across the northern region.
Stepping on The Great Wall may sound like a dream to many, but one thing you need to know is that not all parts of the wall are great to visit.
And the nearest section of the wall you can visit from downtown Beijing is the Badaling section. However, this part of the wall has been widely-popularized and throughout the years, hundreds of people will visit this section.
There are a few sections of The Great Wall you can visit:
The Badaling section of The Great Wall is famous among first-timer and locals. A lot crowded due to direct public transport access.
If you want to avoid the crowd, go to Mutianyu or the Jinshanling section. And if you want something more adventurous, visit the Jiankou section. However, make sure you plan your trip and check the availability because the Jiankou section is sometimes closed for a visit.
Your visit to Beijing must include The Great Wall regardless of seasons because different seasons will give you a totally different scenery of The Great Wall.
2. Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is another top attraction in Beijing. It is the heart of the country, just like White House is to the United States.
This place is huge, and if you visit it early in the morning, you get to see the flag-raising ceremony with the accompaniment of the military band.
There are a couple of things you can check out at the Tiananmen Square:
The Tiananmen Tower – Located at the front door of Forbidden City, built in Ming Dynasty and was used to declare a big ceremony in the past.
The Monument to the People’s Heroes – Stands at the center of Tiananmen Square to commemorate the people’s heroes in modern Chinese history.
Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao – Known as Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the resting place of the chairman.
National Museum of China – Visit this museum to the east side of Tiananmen Square for Chinese history and the Chinese revolution.
The best time to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City is sunrise or sunset, and try to avoid public holidays as it will be a lot crowded.
3. Forbidden City
After you visit Tiananmen Square, the following attraction you must check out is none other than the Forbidden City.
This place is huge, and the complex is massive. It was once the home to the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties for almost 500 years.
The Forbidden City is now known as the Palace Museum, is rectangular in shape, and once you get in, you will be overwhelmed by its size. It is the largest palace complex in the world, covers over 74 hectares (182 acres) with over 8,700 rooms.
Like the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City is another must-visit and the top of list attraction for every visitor to Beijing.
Here’s a good tip – Exploring the Forbidden City is not like a walk in the park, it will take you a couple of hours to an entire day to check out this whole place. So, plan your visit and go slow to enjoy going back to ancient China and experience how the emperors’ lifestyles look like.
4. Jingshan Park
Jingshan Park is located right behind the Forbidden City. It used to be the landscape garden for the royals and when you get to the peak of the hill, you can catch the full and spectacular view of the Forbidden City.
Forbidden City is huge and you can’t see it in a big picture from the inside, but you can do so when you get to the top of Jingshan Park.
The park is decorated with beautiful ancient pavilions and colorful flowers along the path. This park is very famous among the locals and you can see many of them playing musical instruments and even dancing in the park.
5. Summer Palace
Summer Palace used to the playground and a park for the emperors to relax. It was built in 1750, has many pagodas, palaces, and also a huge man-made lake.
But depending on the season you are visiting, the best time to explore Summer Palace is in spring when the flowers are blooming and in autumn when the leaves turn yellowish.
The Chinese called it “The Garden of Tranquil Harmony” and its name really reflects its purpose. When you want to escape the busy and bustling city life, just take a rest and stroll in the Summer Palace.
The garden is elegantly designed and Summer Palace is also listed under UNESCO World Heritage site.
6. Ruins of the Old Summer Palace
Do you know that there are two Summer Palaces in Beijing? The one with the beautiful garden is actually the new Summer Palace. There is an Old Summer Palace called “Yuanmingyuan” used to be a spectacular achievement of Chinese architecture.
However, the Old Summer Palace was destroyed during the Second Opium War in 1860 when China was invaded by British and French.
Today, the old garden is a public park open for visitors. But the old ruins are still there and you see the remains of the buildings of the old palace.
If you visit the Old Summer Palace, make sure you check out the small on-site museum for its history and reconstruction models.
7. Beijing Hutong
With rapid development each day, Beijing has quickly a modern city and the older side of Beijing is quickly diminishing. The old neighborhoods where the locals refer to as hutong (alleyways) have to make way for skyscrapers.
And so, if you want to experience and see the old Beijing, you must explore the alleys there. When you visit the hutong, it is like stepping into the time machine that takes you back hundreds of years ago.
The alleys are narrow, with many traditional homes and shops, are the residences and also social center for the locals.
When you get lost in the hutong and you venture deep into the place, you can see old people playing chess and dancing, while the children are playing on the in the narrow streets.
Of course, some of the shops and alleys have been renovated and given a face-lift to serve as a tourist hotspot. The old Beijing is slowly diminishing, but if you are willing to explore, you can still experience the old Beijing culture in the hutong.
8. Temple of Heaven
Tiantan or the Temple of Heaven is one of the most sacred buildings in Beijing. It was first built in 1420 by Yongle Emperor.
This building is an outstanding masterpiece of the classic imperial buildings throughout Chinese history. As its name suggests, it is a temple served as the holy place for emperors to pay homage to Heaven.
When you look at the temple from afar, you will think that it is a small pagoda-like building, but once you get close to it, you will be amazed by its scale and design.
UNESCO also listed Temple of Heaven in the World Heritage Site List and described it as, “a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilizations…”
To visit the Temple of Heaven, you can take the Beijing metro and drop off to the station nearby.
9. Temple of Earth
There can be no Heaven without the Earth. There are a few famous temples across Beijing, one is the Temple of Heaven, another is the Temple of Earth, there is also another called the Lama Temple, and Temple of Confucius.
The Chinese believe in the Yin and Yang, so if there is a Heaven, there will be an Earth. The Temple of Earth is called “Ditan” in Chinese, which also means the altar of the Earth.
The temple was first built in 1530 in the Ming Dynasty and served as a sacred place for the emperors to worship the God of the Earth.
10. Lama Temple
The Lama Temple is called Yonghegong in Chinese, it is the highest-standard Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing. In Chinese, the Tibetan monks are known as Lama, hence, the name.
There are impressive Buddha statues in the temple and the architecture of the buildings are a combination of the Tibetan and Han style.
The most eye-catching statue is none other the 54-foot high Buddha carved from one complete piece of Tibetan sandalwood located in the main hall of the temple.
11. Temple of Confucius
You may have heard about Confucius even if you are a westerner. And you can always learn more about the history and the work of Confucius in this temple and also from the Guozijian Museum.
The Temple of Confucius is where people paid homage to Confucius during ancient times. You can learn more about Confucius, his philosophies, impact, spirit, and legacy in this place.
12. Drum and Bell Towers
The drum and bell towers were built in 1272 and were originally used as musical instruments in Beijing. And at one period, the towers were used as time-telling center of the capital city.
Get a combo ticket and you can climb up both the towers. And when you get to the top, you can catch some nice views of the hutong. There is also drum performance that happens throughout the day, but to see it you must time your visit because the performance happens only happen at 09:30, 10:00, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30, 16:45.
13. Olympic Park
If you want to see some amazing architecture of modern Chinese, then you must visit the Olympic Park.
The two famous buildings, the National Stadium which also known as the Bird’s Nest and right next to it is the National Aquatics Centre known as Water Cube, are worth a visit.
Of course, if you decide to go into the Bird’s Nest, you will need to pay for the entrance ticket. Some people say it is not worth it, but if you’re a fan, you may just want to check it out.
14. Ming Dynasty Tombs
The Ming Tombs can be called Chang Ling, are actually the resting place for 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. The site is located about 50 km away from Tiananmen Square it has impressive natural landscape and historical significance.
The entire site was chosen with the principle of Feng Shui and in 2003, Ming Tombs was listed as UNESCO World Culture Heritages.
Each tomb has a gigantic temple on the ground and the entire architectures of the place were built perfect axis and symmetry.
15. Beihai Park
In Beijing, there are many parks and gardens. And Beihai Park is one of the oldest imperial gardens in the city.
Beihai means “North Lake” in Chinese and this park has quite a number of attractions within. Structures such as the Round Fort, Hall of Enlightenment, and there is also a huge Buddha statue carved from jade stone.
Besides that, there is also a museum in the park served as a memorial to the widow of the founder of the Republic, Sun Yat-sen. And not to forget there is a very beautiful White Pagoda on the Island of Exquisite Jade.
16. Purple Bamboo Garden
Purple Bamboo Garden or Zizhuyuan is a 117 acres park with 3 lakes and 2 small islands. The lakes are filled with lotus blossoms and there is an old arch bridge connecting both the small islands, making it a very beautiful natural scenery.
As the name suggests, you can find a lot of bamboo with different species in the park. If you love the calm and peaceful scenery of quiet lakes and path roads with bamboos, this is the place for you.
This park is famous for its bamboo scenery. “Zizhu” means purple bamboo in Chinese. And every year around April to June, the park attracted many people due to the Bamboo Culture Festival.
17. Chaoyang Park
Chaoyang Park is the public park where the locals go for outdoor activities. So, why do you want to visit the park then?
Well, if you want to experience the local culture and see what they do, this is the place you should go. There are many parks in Beijing, Chaoyang Park is the locals’ favorite.
Beijing is a developed city with a lot of high-rises, and to escape the hustling and bustling city life, the locals come to the park for social and outdoor activities. Take a walk in the park and you can see people practicing tai chi, practicing calligraphy, dancing in groups, and also playing chess.
If you want to, you can take a boat ride, rent a bike, or join in the dance group. It is a fun way to mix with the locals and experience their lifestyle in Beijing.
18. Hike the Fragrant Hills
One reason Beijing is a great city is that it is not only a modern city with skyscrapers, you can also enjoy hiking just outside of the city. And the Fragrant Hills is a huge park with over 400 acres and famous for its natural scenery.
The Fragrant Hills Park is also known as “Xiangshan Park” is large and if you plan to visit, expect to spend a day here.
And a lot of people visit this place for hiking and for its spectacular red smoke tree leaves that cover the mountains. But this seasonal and only happens in the autumn when the leaves change color. There are a few routes and also cable cars take you to the top.
19. 798 Art District
The 798 Art District offers a completely different site of Beijing. The place was originally the house to factories that were left abandoned. After that, artists began to move in and turn the place into a funky art zone with fascinating arts design studios, fashionable shops, galleries, exhibition spaces, cafes, bars, and more.
By 2008, over 400 cultural organizations from across the world such as France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Australia, etc., have fathered here.
There is plenty of fashionable and art stuff to check out in this area. With international art exhibitions and fashion shows held here all year long, 798 Art District has made its mark as an interesting and fun place that attracts locals and tourists.
20. Beijing National Museum
Besides art, you may also want to check out some museums in Beijing. And of course, the most famous will be the Beijing National Museum, located nearby the Tiananmen Square.
The country’s national museum is among the largest museums in the world, with a total of 48 halls and showcasing over a million relics. The oldest relic is the teeth of Yuanmou Man, aged 1.7 million years ago!
If you have time, check out the Beijing Planning & Exhibition Hall too. The urban planning museum is also located around Tiananmen Square and showcasing a massive scale model of the entire metropolis.
21. Beijing Capital Museum
Another museum worth mentions is the Beijing Capital Museum located at Chang’an Avenue, Xicheng District.
The museum has a boast collection of artifacts and relics, including the huge stele of Emperor Qian Long, weighing more than 40 tons, and almost seven meters in heights.
The Capital Museum has been moved to this location to accommodate larger collections. Its original location is at the Confucius Temple together with Guozijian Museum.
22. Wangfujing Street
Throughout China, there are many pedestrian streets meant for shopping and foods. And in Beijing, one the most of famous street that always packed with tourists is none other than Wangfujing Street.
It is a night market with hundreds of vendors selling street foods and many other Chinese snacks. The entire place is lively, and you can literally find all sorts of street foods and exotic foods here, from stinky tofu to fried starfish, scorpions, and silkworms.
Some of the local Beijing snacks you can try out are like fried dough rings, all kind of dumplings, buckwheat cake, mung bean juice, sugarcoated haws, and street crepe.
23. Qianmen Street
Another great place to visit is the Qianmen Street, a pedestrian street for shopping and sightseeing. It is located at the central axis of Beijing city, with the Archery Tower on the north and the Temple of Heaven on the south.
You can see many buildings along both sides of the street in the Qing Dynasty style. Today, Qianmen Street has become a shopping area with nightlife activities for the locals. You can also take a tram (called Dangdang Che by the local) from one end to another.
24. Xidan Commercial Street
Xidan Commercial Street is about 2 km to the west of Tiananmen Square. It is a huge shopping street in Beijing, with high-end malls on both sides, department stores, restaurants, and entertainment centers.
Here are some of the hotspots you may want to check out along Xidan Commercial Street:
- Xidan Shopping Center
- Xidan Culture Plaza
- Grand Pacific Mall
- Hanguang Department Store
- Joy City
- Beijing Books Building
25. Sanlitun Bar Street
This is a street located in the eastern Chaoyang District and is a street full of fashionable shopping centers and bars.
The street is known internationally as a bar street and this is how it got its name. Sanlitun Bar Street is the symbol of Beijing’s nightlife and bar culture.
Here’s a fun fact you should know, more than 60% of Beijing’s bars are located here. Some of the famous bars include Red Moon Club, Lan Kwai Fong, Boys & Girls, Day Off, and Swing.
26. Silk Market (Xiushui Street)
One of the most famous products in China is silk. And in Beijing Silk Market, which also known as Xiushui Street, you can find all kinds of silk products here.
The place used to be an outdoor market, but it has been transformed into a huge shopping mall with over 1,000 retailers.
The mall has 6 floors above ground and it even comes with a silk museum located on the third floor. It is one of the must-visit places for shopping, especially if you are hunting for silk-related products.
27. Enjoy the acrobatics and Kung Fu show
Another thing Beijing is famous for is its acrobatic and Kung Fu show. And if you ever visit Beijing, make sure you watch at least one of the shows.
The performances are impressive, and the acrobats were trained at a very young age. The Chinese acrobatic is an art that has been handed down from generation to generation through a master-apprentice system. Like what you watch in the movie, there will be a master or a sifu teaching his or her students.
Chinese acrobatics show has a history of over 2,000 years. And some of the famous shows are from Chaoyang Theatre, Tiandi Theatre, and Cultural City of Beijing’s Night, which is a banquet-style theater meant for upscale visitors.
28. See the pandas in Beijing Zoo
If you have time, why don’t take a tour to China’s largest zoo? The Beijing Zoo has two main attractions, the Panda House and the Beijing Aquarium.
The Beijing Zoo is the home to 5,000 animals and 450 species of animals. And of course, the giant pandas are always the top attraction in the zoo. Besides pandas, there are also some rare animals like golden monkeys, milu deer, and more.
Plus, if you drop by, don’t miss the Beijing Aquarium too. It is the largest inland aquarium in the world with over 2,000 different aquatic species. It is also one of the top attractions in the country.
29. Feast on Beijing roast duck
Beijing roast duck or Peking duck is the must-eat food in Beijing. Some people say there are two things you need to do in Beijing, one is to visit the Great Wall, and another is to eat the Peking duck.
The best experience is that the chef will present the dish in front of you and slicing it and present to you on your table.
The meat is juicy and flavorful while the skin is crispy. Each slice is thin and usually, eat together with pancakes, green onion, shallot, plum sauce, and cucumber.
So, where to eat the delicious Peking duck you ask? Here is a list of some of the most famous restaurants:
- Quanjude – the most famous restaurant selling Peking duck
- Yulin Beijing Duck Restaurant
- Hongyun Tianwaitian
- Dadong – the local’s favorite
- King Roast Duck Restaurant
- Siji Minfu
30. Relax in a teahouse
How can you not drink some teas if you ever visit Beijing, right? Tea-drinking culture is an important part of the Chinese tradition.
Put aside the benefits of tea, do you know that enjoying tea in teahouses in Beijing is also a way to experience the Chinese traditional culture? And it is also a great way to relax and recharge for your trip too.
And if you want to enjoy some teas, check out this article for the 10 best teahouses in Beijing.
31. Try out the Beijing style hot pot
Besides teahouses and Peking duck, there is another thing you should try out when you are in Beijing – the Beijing style hot pot.
Unlike the hot pot from Sichuan, which is numb and spicy, the Beijing hot pot is totally different. And the most famous is the lamb hot pot where you soak the lamb slices into the hot soup for a few seconds and then eat it.
The traditional Beijing hot pot uses a copper pot where there is a turret-like opening in the middle to put in the coals. And what makes Beijing hot pot so special is the sesame butter sauce. After you cook the meat, dip it to the sauce and enjoy it.
Now you know what you should do in Beijing
You may have heard that the air pollution in Beijing is bad, the traffic is terrible, and the tourist attractions are always crowded. You may be right, but not all the time.
The air pollution has greatly improved, plus, Beijing is a huge city and not all parts of are affected. As for traffic congestion, try to avoid traveling at peak hours and take the metro and high-speed rail when necessary.
China has about 1.3 billion population, with Beijing at about 22 million people, ranked #4 in China. So, if you visit Beijing during the Chinese public holidays like early October, do expect huge crowds.
Some places, like some sections of the Great Wall, are not really that crowded. Plan your trip and experience the capital city of China that offers you great insights of both the modern and ancient Chinese history and culture. Beijing welcomes you.