Are you planning to visit China in the near future? In that case, you are not to miss Beijing, its capital city and the country’s second largest city, after Shanghai. There are so many things to do in Beijing that we thought we would list a few of the best!
But what are the most important things to do in Beijing? With a population of 21.5 million, you will need to prioritize what tourist attractions in Beijing you will visit during your stay and plan your trip properly, if you are not to end up running aimlessly around the tremendously sized city.
Back in the day, Beijing was home to the emperors, centre of arts and culture in traditional China and despite it being hit quite dramatically by the communist Cultural Revolution that went on in China between the 60s and the 70s, the city still holds a multitude of cultural sites of high importance.
Therefore, there is no shortage of things to see in Beijing. To get a correct and complete understanding of this mega-city, the historical centre of China, do not miss these Top 7 sites one needs to see while in Beijing.
7 Things To Do in Beijing, China
1. Tiananmen Square
Holding his grocery bags, a man stood in front of a column of tanks during the bloody Tiananmen Protests of 1989. That is the image that’s burnt into our common memory and the first one many of us recall thinking about this famous and gigantic public square of 440,000 sqm.
Since it was initially built in 1415, the Tiananmen Square has hosted many major events in Chinese history, the 1949 Proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong being probably the most notable one.
It’s no surprise that this is where Mao would spend eternity, the square being home to Mao’s Mausoleum. Other sites to see inside the Tianmen Square are the Monument of the People’s Heroes, a 38-metres high obelisk, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Changan Avenue, used for military parades.
Undoubtedly the number one tourist attraction in Beijing, the site is visited daily by hundreds to thousands of tourists, so better start your day early when visiting the square. Highly militarized, expect to see many officers both in uniform and in civilian clothes guarding the square and be prepared for a check of your luggage when entering.
The Tiananmen Square is open daily between the hours 5AM and 10PM (unless there are special events going on) and it’s free to visit; there is a small fee of 15 RMB (~2.5 $ US) for ascending the Tiananmen Tower. The Mausoleum is open every morning (excepting Mondays) and closes at noon and it is also free to visit.
The National Museum of China is also a free site for normal exhibitions and it is open between 9AM and 5PM on every day excepting Mondays.
2. The Forbidden City
For those passionate about Imperial China, the Qing and Ming dynasties, seeing in real life the main filming location of “The Last Emperor”, the Forbidden City is a must on your list of things to do in Beijing.
Twenty four emperors of China ruled from inside the walls of this impressive construction and this was the very centre of political China for over 500 years, before the last emperor, Puyi, was overthrown in 1924. The original constructions were built back in the 1400s and currently there are extensive restoration works going on at the palace and its surrounding buildings.
The city locked in between thick walls got its name because of the policy practiced back in the days of the emperors, when any person who stepped inside needed the approval of the ruling emperor. Nowadays the complex is one of the main tourist attractions in Beijing having had been turned into a museum open to the public.
The admission fee is 60 RMB (~10 $ US) during the high season and 40 RMB (~6.5 $ USD) from November till March and you can visit it every day except Mondays.
3. The Great Wall
Want to be seen from space? No better place to wave at astronauts than the Great Wall of China. Although this truly Great Wall, crossing 9 different provinces and municipalities can be visited in many different spots, the areas accessible from Beijing are probably the most visited out of them all.
The Wall is actually an ensemble of walls built by 4 different ruling dynasties over the course of almost 2000 years, so no wonder it is the only construction on Earth which is visible from outer space. If you’re wondering what to do in Beijing, wonder no more and take a day trip to see the magnificent Great Wall at one of the nearby spots open to visitors.
The closest two spots are Badaling and Juyongguan, both accessible by bus from the city. The Wall is very well restored in these areas and there is no risk visiting, but they are however on everyone’s list of things to see in Beijing, so they are generally quite crowded.
The admission fee runs around 45 RMB (~7.5 $ US) and there is the option to hire an audio guide for extra charge. Many tour operators also run organized tours to these spots and many more if you prefer that option.
4. The Hutongs
Grand monuments and museums are only part of the travelling experience. Among the things to do in Beijing, one of the top priorities has to be seeing the Hutongs, the traditional Chinese narrow alleyways representative to northern parts of China. Here is the best place to catch a glimpse into the old lifestyle of Chinese people, that is still preserved along these tiny streets, the life preceding the communist era.
The Hutongs are the best place to go in order to understand true Chinese culture of the regular people, the majority that create this nation and their true nature. Now is also the best time to see this everyday landmark of the Chinese life, as the plan is to tear most of these areas down over the following few years and replace them with newer more modern architecture.
Watch old men play Majong and cards, listen to the sizzling sounds of street food being prepared in huge woks, watch couples square dancing and enjoy the true China such as it was centuries ago.
5. The Summer Palace and the Imperial Garden
Surrounded by what is considered to be masterpiece of Chinese garden design, the Summer Palace was built during the Jin dynasty. The complex, which was added to the UNESCO list of sites back in 1998, consists of an ensemble of natural lakes and hills with beautiful artificial features such as pavilions, temples, palaces etc.
Walking around this beautiful park is one of THE things to do in Beijing and should not be missed. There are separate admission fees for different sections of this park, which is the largest royal park in China. You can choose a combination ticket which includes the main area and also the halls and separate sections and that costs 60 RMB (~10 $ US).
6. Temple of Heaven
Religion is a controversial subject in China. Despite China being the number one atheist country nowadays, as imposed in the communist era, some of the most important things to see in Beijing and in China in general are the many temples, some old ones still standing but most of them reconstructed after being demolished during the Cultural Revolution.
The Temple of Heaven stands as a great example of an early Daoist temple complex. It served as a ceremonial place, visited by emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties that ruled from Beijing. These ceremonies were payers to Heaven for good harvest during the year.
The ensemble was built between the XIV and XVI centuries and it covers an impressive area of 2,700,000 sqm. It is larger than the Forbidden City and with good reason too, as the importance of the Heaven was considered greater than the one of the earthly rulers.
A combination ticket that will allow visit to all the buildings constituting the complex costs 35 RMB (~6 $ US) and there are maps and electronic guides in English available for rent.
7. The Ming Tombs
One day left on your trip and don’t know what to do in Beijing to best use your time? While here, one of the things to see in Beijing and of similar importance to Chinese culture as the pyramids are to the Egyptians, the Ming Tombs are final the resting place of Ming dynasty emperors.
The collection of mausoleums holds 13 Ming emperors who ruled between the years 1368 – 1644. This site is located just outside Beijing, 50 km away from the city and is reachable by bus. Only 3 of the tombs are open to the public, Changling Tomb, Zhaoling Tomb and Dingling Tomb along with the Sacred Way leading to the Changling Tomb.
There is a separate admission fee for each of the sites and to purchase all the tickets you’ll need just over 200 RMB (~32 $ US) during peak season.
There are many things to see in Beijing and there is surely not a shortage of what to do in Beijing. The best city to experience traditional and historical China, this capital city is a bucket list item of most travellers.
Despite being one of the expat centres of China, open to change and incorporating many elements of western culture, Beijing remains mainly traditional. Even though it’s a main stop on all tourist maps, Beijing sites remain affordable in price, tickets rarely exceeding 10-15 $ US per site.
Monuments of old Imperial China of unmeasurable value, some even turned into communist masterpieces, traditional Chinese life, can all be experience in one mega city. Cultural and political centre, one cannot truly understand China without a stop in Beijing.
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