Beijing, China’s capital city, can overwhelm on a first visit. Occupied by 22 million people across 10,000 sq km, the city can be challenging to explore. So, we curated a list of Beijing’s top attractions to capture the essence of the mega-city.
Beijing is home to a wealth of historical sites and a unique architecture and art collection. Everything in Beijing is extravagant, taking you through the magnificence of Chinese culture. Whether you want to bask in the city’s beauty by visiting the UNESCO World Heritage sites or immerse yourself in the memories of old Beijing with Hutongs, the capital city offers a wide variety of places for a holistic experience.
In short, the city has the perfect blend of ancient and contemporary avenues to scout. Here are the 20 best things to do in Beijing.
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Beijing travel guide: Best things to do in the city
1. Witness the Great Wall at Mutianyu
Spread across 4,000 miles, the majestic Great Wall of China has fascinated people for centuries. The trail was built during the reign of the Qing dynasty, in order to safeguard the region from Mongol insurgents. While there are several sections around Beijing to visit the awe-inspiring architecture, Mutianyu can be the perfect option with fewer crowds. It’s also the best-kept section of the entire stretch. If you’re an adventure enthusiast, the Jiankou section offers the best hiking and camping options. Gubeikou, Simatai and Jinshanling are also some great sections to explore.
We recommend you bring your own food and drinks since there are limited eating outlets here. The best time to visit is from April to May or September to October.
Timings: 8:30 am – 5 pm (Weekdays); 8:30 am – 5:30 pm (Weekends)
Entry fee: HKD 45
How to reach: Board the Dongzhimen tourist line bus at the bus stop outside Dongzhimen. It starts at 8:30 am every day and returns at 4 pm from the Scenic P1 parking lot.
2. Visit the Forbidden City, symbol of China’s imperial power
The Forbidden City is the largest ancient palatial structure, taking tourists through wealthy empires that ruled China. To give you an idea, it’s three times the size of the Louvre Palace in France.
The UNESCO World Heritage site was home to 24 Chinese emperors belonging to Ming and Qing dynasties. The emperor and his subjects were allowed at the site until 1925, following which it was turned into a museum with the fall of the last emperor. The majestic halls and walls are reminiscent of Chinese culture.
It takes a minimum of two hours to explore the attraction. Book your tickets online for a hassle-free experience. The best time to visit is from mid-October to the end of November.
Timings: 8:30 am – 5 pm (April to October); 8:30 am – 4:30 pm (November to March)
Entry fee: HKD 68 (April to October), HKD 45 (November to March)
How to reach: Use subway line 1 and get off at Tiananmen West or East Station (exit B).
3. Go boating at Beihai Park
Beijing’s largest park and former imperial garden, Beihai offers several activities. The best is the hour-long boat tour on Houhai Lake, which sits right outside the park. The traditional Chinese carriage comes with a boatman, taking you through Lotus Market, the Qianhai area, the Yinding bridge and the Houhai area.
Get a closer look at the locals and their lifestyle while enjoying folk Pipa performances and munching on snacks. You can also visit the Buddhist temples located in the park. Other attractions include Nine-Dragon Screen, 5 Dragons Pavilion, and the White Dagoba.
Timings: 6 am – 9 pm
Entry fee: HKD 11 – HKD 22 (Peak season); HKD 6 – HKD 17 (Off-season)
How to reach: Take a bus from Tiananmen West and get off at Forbidden City followed by an eight-minute walk to Beihei.
4. Explore 798 Art District, one of Beijing’s trendiest spots
All art, culture, and fashion enthusiasts who’re looking to explore the funky and modern side of the city must visit the 798 Art District. Located 30 minutes outside of the city’s downtown area, this place was once full of abandoned, old factories designed by German experts. It has transformed into a unique art exhibition and workshop hub. There are a number of aesthetic cafes, bookstores, boutique stores and art galleries to explore here.
You’ll find fashion enthusiasts decked in chic clothes as well as uniformed workers, all in one place. Some of the must-visit attractions include UCCA Centre For Contemporary Art, 798 Art Factory, Ace Café and M Woods Art Gallery.
Timings: 9 am – 6 pm
Entry fee: Free entry
How to reach: Take a taxi from Dongzhimen and reach your destination within 10 minutes.
5. Stop by Summer Palace, former royal retreat of emperors
UNESCO aptly describes the Summer Palace as “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design”. Among its several aesthetic marvels, the 728 meters decorative walkway is what stands out the most. It is decked with 14,000 colourful paintings on both sides, which narrate tales familiarising you with the rich history.
In addition, the gleaming Kunming Lake adds to the grandeur of the palace. Along with Longevity Hill, it forms the key landscape feature of the Summer Palace Gardens. The best time to visit the palace is from April to October.
Timings: 7 am – 7 pm
Entry fee: HKD 34 for adults and HKD 17 for students
How to reach: Take subway line 4 to Beigongmen Station and leave from exit 1.
6. Get a glimpse of Tai Chi at the Temple of Heaven
Also relating to the Ming and Qing dynasties, this must-visit place in Beijing consists of many religious buildings. The emperors were believed to perform the duties of the Gods here. Hence, it’s considered one of the holiest imperial places in Beijing. The Circular Mound Altar sits as the most important part of the site, where sacrifices were performed.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Palace of Abstinence and Divine Music Administration are among the other sites of attraction inside the complex.
It’s also a great place to see locals go about their morning rituals, engaged in Tai Chi or Chinese yo-yo. The best time to visit the temple is from April to October.
Timings: 6:30 am – 10 pm (April to October:), 6:30 am- 8 pm (November to March)
Entry fee: HKD 17 (Peak season); HKD 11 (Off-season)
How to reach: Use subway line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen Station and take exit A.
7. Gaze through cultural relics at the National Museum of China
An amalgamation of two museums, the National Museum of China houses over 600 million historical and cultural artefacts of importance. The Museum of the Chinese Revolution and the National Museum of Chinese History converged to create this masterpiece, which opened to the public in 2003.
The 48 exhibition halls flaunt Chinese history from Yuanmou Man to the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Bring a valid ID to enjoy the free exhibitions and collect your free ticket from the ticket office. For those wanting to witness any special exhibition, visit the National Museum of China’s official website for bookings.
Timings: 9 am – 5 pm (Tuesday to Sunday)
Entry fee: Free entry
How to reach: Take metro line 1 and get off at Tian’anmen East Station. Use exit C or D.
8. Enjoy Beijing opera at the Liyuan Theatre
An amalgamation of music, art, and literature, complemented with stunning face masks, costumes, and choreography, the Beijing opera gives you a taste of the Chinese culture.
The Liyuan Theatre has been at the helm of entertainment affairs since 1990 and is considered one of the must-visit tourist places in Beijing. The theatre holds daily evening performances, so a quick detour to this place will serve your purpose. You can also book your tickets on their website.
How to reach: Located in Qianmen Jianguo hotel, the theatre can be accessed by subway at Hufangqiao Station on line 7.
9. Spend a romantic evening at Landiao Lavender Garden
Popularly known as the ‘blues dreamland’ of Beijing, this garden is straight out of a fairytale. The garden has hot water springs, a wedding hall as well as a lavender farm, making it the perfect romantic spot for a stroll in the evening. Enjoy the fragrance of the blooms and don’t forget to buy lavender products while you’re here.
The best time to visit the garden is in July and August when the aromatic plants bloom. We recommend you spare at least half a day to cover the entire place.
How to reach: Get off at Shuangqiao Station and take a taxi.
10. Experience tranquillity at Yonghe Temple
Also known as Lama Temple or Yonghe Lamasery, this temple is the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing, always crowded with locals. Not only does the temple serve as a museum of Tibetan Buddhism but is also a popular spot of worship. It comprises five main halls including statues of Gautam Buddha, Kasyapa Matanga and Maitreya Buddha. Additionally, the temple has three marvellous archways and a giant prayer wheel.
Timings: 9 am – 4:30 pm (April to October); 9 am- 4 pm (November to March)
Entry fee: HKD 28
How to reach: Take subway line 2 or line 5 to Yonghegong station and use exit F.
11. Shop at Wangfujing Shopping Street
The most famous shopping place in the whole of China, Wangfujing has everything from upscale shopping outlets, and boutiques, to traditional Chinese art and craft outlets, eateries and more. One of the most famous attractions here is the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a centuries-old Catholic church by the Portuguese.
Another must-visit spot at Wangfujing is Snack Street, which offers lip-smacking foods from stand to stand, including fried scorpion, snake kebobs, chicken kebobs and more.
How to reach: Use subway line 1 and get off at Wangfujing Station and then take exit A.
12. Visit the stunning Beijing National Stadium or ‘bird’s nest’
The striking stadium famously called the ‘bird’s nest’ that was constructed during the 2008 Summer Olympics is quite an engineering marvel. Its complex yet fascinating shape is inspired by Chinese-style ‘crazed pottery’ and the outer shell is the world’s largest steel structure.
Following the Olympics, the stadium has been used for conducting athletic events, football faceoffs as well as concerts. If you’re visiting the city for the first time, you can’t miss this place.
Timings: 9 am – 5:00 pm (November to March), 9 am – 2:30 pm (April to October)
Entry fee: HKD 57
How to reach: Use line 8 subway to Olympic Sports Centre Station and walk for 10 minutes.
13. Take a stroll in Shichaha, a calm oasis
Composed of three lakes, Shichahai is a haven for all those looking to bask in tranquillity. It used to be a recreational spot for people during the Ming Dynasty, so you’ll spot many of their mansions and homes here. The major attraction for tourists is the Hutongs. Find yourself surrounded by a slew of bars and restaurants tucked on the banks and make sure to relax over a drink, watching locals in their element.
How to reach: Use subway line 8 directly to Shichahai.
14. Visit the resting site of the emperors at Ming Tombs
The UNESCO World Heritage site houses the tombs of 13 Ming emperors. The Yongle emperor was the first to have his tomb built here per the rules of feng shui.
Each tomb has its independent unit, built at the foot of the Tianshou Mountains. The units range from half a kilometre to eight kilometres. Please note that only three tombs are open for public view: Changling tomb, Dingling tomb and Zhaoling tomb.
Timings: Usually from 8 am – 5 pm (differs from tomb to tomb)
Entry fee: Ranges from HKD 22 – HKD 148 according to the areas you’re planning to cover
How to reach: Bus 877 takes you from Deshengmen Bus Station to Badaling Great Wall. After touring Badaling, use bus 879 to reach Sacred Way, Changling and Dingling. Zhaoling is also in the vicinity.
15. Enjoy the nightlife at Houhai
The former relaxation spot for Yuan Dynasty royals, Houhai is an artificial lake that has become highly famous for its nightlife. As the sun sets, the live music bars come to life. You’ll find youth hopping cafes and bars as well as tourists navigating the neighbouring Hutongs and courtyards of celebrities and former officials. Take a stroll through Prince Gong’s mansion and the former residence of great poet Guo Moru. Also visit Yandaixie Street to enjoy scrumptious food and buy antiques.
Zoom, a Britain-style football bar, is one of the most popular cafes here. If you love jazz, hit The East Shore Live Jazz Cafe that hosts live music performances.
How to reach: Use line 2 subway from the Qianmen Station and get off at Gulou Dajie Station.
16. Go to Gubei Water Town for a romantic getaway
One of the most popular sightseeing and holiday destinations in Beijing, the town boasts picturesque mountains, ancient villages, and lakes. With its quaint and tranquil aura enveloped in yellow lights, Gubei is an ideal romantic abode. Enjoy hot springs in your hotels, take a sightseeing boat or relish Chinese wine at the distilleries. Adventure junkies can also hike up the Simatai Great Wall right next to the town to get a bird’s eye view of the place.
There are also many amazing restaurants in the town to explore. To relish local delicacies like spiced corned eggs, pancakes, dumplings, barbecued pork and more, we recommend stopping by the Great Wall Bar.
Entry fee: HKD 171 (only Gubei) and HKD 193 (combo ticket for Simatai and Gubei)
How to reach: Take the tourist bus from Dongzhimen at 9 am, 12 pm, or 3:30 pm. Get off at Gubei Water Town in two hours.
17. Soak in the panoramic views of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park
If you’re a sucker for sunset views, you must visit Jingshan Park to see the Forbidden City’s gorgeous architecture at dusk. Hills, ancient buildings and lakes make up the gorgeous landscape. The most luring of them all is the artificial hill called Jingshan or Prospect Hill which offers mesmerising views of the Forbidden City and Beijing.
The best time to visit the place is in May when the Peony Festival takes place. More than 20,000 peonies across 200 varieties blossom in the garden, making it every anthophile’s dreamland.
Entry fee: HKD 2
Timings: 6:30 am – 9 pm (April to October), 6:30 am – 8 pm (November to March)
How to reach: Take subway 8 to Shichahai Station and leave from exit C.
18. Offer prayers in the second largest Confucian temple in China
Located to the west of the Lama Temple, this site is dedicated to Confucius, a great thinker, philosopher and educationalist in ancient China. His teachings were developed into ‘Confucianism’, which spread across parts of Asia and Europe. This is also the second-largest temple dedicated to the philosopher, after the temple of Confucius in Qufu.
You’ll find about 200 stone tablets inscribed with the names of notable scholars of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The temple also houses pavilions dedicated to the Ming and Qing dynasties along with pertinent information about Chinese history. Next to it is also the Imperial Academy, the highest education institute of these dynasties. Both these places must be on your itinerary as you visit Beijing.
Timings: 8:30 am-6 pm (May to October); 8:30 am- 5 pm (November to April)
Entry fee: HKD 34 (combo ticket including Confucius Temple and Imperial Academy)
How to reach: Take bus 13 or 684 bound for Guozijian Station or 116 or 117 to get off at Yonghe Temple Station.
19. Buy antiques from Liulichang Market
If you’re looking to take back exclusive mementoes from your trip to Beijing, this antique market is the place to visit. Stretching just over 750 metres, this street has everything from old coins, books, stamps, paintings, ink stones and more. Also lying in quaint corners are wine shops, teahouses, and restaurants.
Timings: 9 am – 6 pm
How to reach: Use subway line 2 and get down at He Ping Men Station.
20. Enjoy Kung Fu show at Red Theatre
The Chinese martial art has long fascinated people across the globe and Beijing’s Red Theatre is the best place to witness it. The theatre hosts a ‘Legend of Kung Fu’ show, chronicling the tale of a young boy who overcomes several obstacles to fulfil his dream of becoming a Kung Fu master. An amalgamation of acrobatics, dance and Kung Fu, this show is extremely spectacular.
Timings: 5:15 pm – 7:30 pm (daily)
Entry fee: Ranges from HKD 219 to HKD 1004. You can book tickets online via Red Theatre’s website.
How to reach: Use subway line 7 to Guangqumennei station and leave via exit D.
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(Hero and feature image credits: zhang kaiyv/ Unsplash)
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: All China-bound travellers, including Beijing, require a negative COVID-19 report within 48 hours of flight departure.
Answer: Occupied by 22 million people across 10,000 sq km, you will need at least a week to visit the main attractions of the mega city.
Answer: Visit the National Museum Of China, 798 Art Zone or take a walk along the Hutongs for free in Beijing.
Answer: The months of April to May and September to October are perfect for visiting Beijing.