Beijing, the capital city of China, is a city steeped in history, with a rich cultural heritage and a plethora of iconic landmarks. For those pondering things to do in Beijing, exploring the Forbidden City, a vast palace complex that served as the imperial palace for nearly 500 years, and visiting the Great Wall of China, one of the most impressive architectural feats in history, are top activities.
The city’s bustling Wangfujing Street offers a premier shopping experience, with numerous stores, restaurants, and street food stalls. Nearby, the Temple of Heaven, a complex of religious buildings used by emperors for ceremonies of prayer to Heaven, provides a glimpse into the city’s imperial past.
Beyond its historical and cultural attractions, Beijing is also renowned for its culinary scene, with numerous restaurants serving Peking duck, a dish synonymous with the city. For those seeking the best places to visit in China, Beijing’s blend of ancient history, cultural richness, and gastronomic delights makes it a must-visit destination.
Table of Contents
Attractions & Things to Do in Beijing, China
1. The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
Just a short trip from Beijing, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall offers a less crowded experience with stunning views of the wall winding over the hills. This section is well-preserved and features several watchtowers along its length.
Travel Tip: Consider taking the cable car up and the toboggan ride down for a unique and exhilarating experience.
2. Forbidden City
The Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an immense palace complex that once served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors. It’s the world’s largest palatial complex, showcasing traditional Chinese architecture and cultural artifacts.
Travel Tip: Buy tickets online in advance to avoid the ticket lines, and remember that the Forbidden City is closed on Mondays.
3. Temple of Heaven
A marvel of Ming Dynasty architecture, the Temple of Heaven is where emperors would perform solemn rites for good harvests, celestial blessings, and imperial legitimacy. The park surrounding it is equally captivating, filled with ancient cypress trees and local residents practicing tai chi.
Travel Tip: Visit early in the morning to experience local life and perhaps join a tai chi session.
4. Summer Palace
An exquisite example of Chinese garden design, the Summer Palace is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens, and palaces. It was once a royal retreat from Beijing’s summer heat.
Travel Tip: Rent a boat to float peacefully on Kunming Lake and admire the views of the palace and gardens from the water.
5. Tiananmen Square
One of the largest public squares in the world, Tiananmen Square is surrounded by significant buildings, including the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and the National Museum of China.
Travel Tip: Security can be strict, so carry identification and be prepared for bag checks.
6. National Museum of China
Situated on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square, this museum is vast, chronicling Chinese history from ancient times to the modern era.
Travel Tip: Focus on sections that interest you most, as it’s nearly impossible to see everything in one visit.
7. Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest)
Iconic for its role in the 2008 Olympics, the Bird’s Nest is a marvel of modern engineering and design.
Travel Tip: The area is impressive when lit up at night, and you can often find a good vantage point for photos from the Olympic Park.
Beijing’s traditional alleyways, or hutongs, offer a glimpse into the city’s old way of life. Many have been modernized but still retain their historical charm.
Travel Tip: Consider a guided hutong tour, which often includes a family visit and a meal, to learn more about these unique neighborhoods.
9. Wangfujing Street
This bustling shopping street is known for its mix of modern malls, traditional shops, and its famous snack street where adventurous eaters can try local delicacies.
Travel Tip: Evening is the best time to visit when the snack vendors are out, and the area is lively.
10. Peking Opera at the Liyuan Theatre
The Peking Opera is a traditional form of Chinese theater that combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance, and acrobatics.
Travel Tip: You may not understand the language, but the spectacle of color and costume, as well as the expressive performances, transcend the language barrier.
11. Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple)
This is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. The beautiful architecture and the peaceful atmosphere provide a spiritual retreat in the city.
Travel Tip: Be respectful as it’s an active place of worship, and visit during off-peak times to avoid the crowds.
12. The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA)
Affectionately known as “The Giant Egg,” this titanium and glass dome is a stunning piece of contemporary architecture set in the middle of a lake. It’s a cultural hub that hosts a range of performances from opera to dance and music from China and around the world.
Travel Tip: Even if you’re not attending a performance, it’s worth visiting for the architecture alone. You can walk around the exterior or take a tour inside.
13. The Ming Tombs
Located about 50 kilometers northwest of Beijing, the Ming Tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty. The site is one of the most important imperial burial grounds, and only a few of the tombs are open to the public.
Travel Tip: The Spirit Way, leading to the tombs, is lined with impressive statues and is particularly worth a walk.
14. Jingshan Park
A beautiful royal landscape garden, Jingshan Park offers the best panoramic view of the Forbidden City and central Beijing from the top of its artificial hill, which was constructed from soil excavated to form the moats of the Forbidden City and nearby canals.
Travel Tip: Visit near sunset on a clear day for a breathtaking view of the Forbidden City against the backdrop of the setting sun.
15. Dashilan Street
One of the oldest and most famous commercial streets in Beijing, Dashilan boasts over 500 years of history. Here, you’ll find a range of time-honored shops and traditional Chinese medicine stores.
Travel Tip: Be sure to try some authentic local snacks and visit the silk and tea shops that have been there for centuries.
16. The CCTV Headquarters
This futuristic building, designed by architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, is a marvel of modern architecture. While it’s not open to the public, the exterior alone is worth a visit.
Travel Tip: The best time to photograph the building is at dusk when the setting sun reflects off the glass.
17. 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District)
Once a complex of military factories, the 798 Art Zone has been transformed into a leading concentration of contemporary art galleries, artist studios, and cultural institutions. It’s a hip area with a unique blend of industrial architecture and modern art.
Travel Tip: Check the exhibition schedule before you go as there might be interesting gallery openings or art events.
18. Beihai Park
One of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved ancient imperial gardens in China, Beihai Park is a masterpiece of Chinese garden design. The park includes a lake, several historical buildings, and is rich in history and culture.
Travel Tip: Rent a boat to paddle around the lake, or enjoy a leisurely stroll to take in the intricate details of the park’s beautiful temples and pavilions.
A vibrant area known for its shopping, dining, and nightlife, Sanlitun is a must-visit for those looking to experience Beijing’s more cosmopolitan side.
Travel Tip: Visit Sanlitun Taikoo Li, an open-plan shopping area with a mix of high-end and street fashion, and don’t miss the Sanlitun Bar Street for a cocktail or craft beer in the evening.
20. Prince Gong’s Mansion
The largest of all princely mansions in Beijing, Prince Gong’s Mansion is known for its beautiful gardens and well-preserved traditional Chinese architecture. It offers insight into the lifestyle of Qing Dynasty nobility.
Travel Tip: Catch a traditional Chinese music performance if possible when you visit, as it really enhances the atmosphere.
21. Panjiayuan Antique Market
The Panjiayuan Market is a treasure trove for antique lovers, with hundreds of stalls selling everything from ceramics and jade to cultural revolution memorabilia.
Travel Tip: The market is at its best on the weekends; go early to avoid the crowds and have the first pick of the day’s offerings.
FAQ About Things to Do in Beijing, China
What are the must-see historical sites in Beijing?
The Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven are among the must-see historical sites. They offer a glimpse into China’s rich history and cultural heritage.
Is a visit to the Summer Palace worth it?
Yes, the Summer Palace is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features like pavilions, halls, palaces, temples, and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value.
Can I explore Beijing’s hutongs?
Absolutely, exploring the hutongs, or old alleyways, is a great way to experience the local lifestyle and see traditional Beijing architecture. You can take a rickshaw tour or simply wander on foot.
Are there any food tours available in Beijing?
Beijing offers a variety of food tours that allow you to sample traditional dishes like Peking duck, jianbing, and various dumplings. These tours can take you to popular eateries and hidden food gems.
What modern attractions can I find in Beijing?
Modern attractions in Beijing include the 798 Art Zone, the National Centre for the Performing Arts, and the CCTV Headquarters. These sites offer a look into the contemporary cultural and architectural advancements of the city.
Is there a place to enjoy nature in Beijing?
Yes, the Fragrant Hills Park is a great place to enjoy nature. Especially in autumn, the red smoke tree leaves are a beautiful sight to see. The park also offers a cable car ride to the top for panoramic views of the city.
Where can I get the best panoramic views of Beijing?
For the best panoramic views, head to the top of Jingshan Park. It’s located just north of the Forbidden City, and from the pavilion at the top of the hill, you can see the full layout of the Forbidden City and much of central Beijing.
What cultural experiences should I not miss in Beijing?
Don’t miss experiencing a Peking Opera show, attending a tea ceremony, or participating in a Tai Chi session in one of Beijing’s parks. These cultural experiences provide a deeper understanding of Chinese traditions and arts.