Beijing is one of those cities that you just have to visit – like Paris, New York, Tokyo and Bangkok! Being one of the oldest capitals in the world it’s only logical that it has so much to offer - sights, smells and experiences. And let me tell you after 5 days in this beautiful city, it really didn’t feel like enough time. There’s a lot not to love – the pollution can be terrible, the crowds overwhelming and the traffic deadly, but once you cut through all of that and get on the streets the variety is amazing.
China is one of the fastest growing, rapidly developing countries and the capital can be overwhelming on a first visit—the streets are much wider and the population is denser. So, if you’re planning a trip to Beijing and you’re not sure on how to spend your time in China’s capital we’ve got you covered! We picked for you the top activities that you shouldn’t miss and the reason why.
Let’s start with a little bit of history – it was first built in 1750, largely destroyed in the war of 1860 and restored on its original foundations in 1886. It is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design and is another UNESCO world heritage.
With its natural landscape of hills and lakes combined with pavilions, palaces, temples and bridges you could easily spend the entire day here or at least half-day. It’s just too beautiful to be in a rush and too big to be able to explore it thoroughly – just walk around and appreciate the surroundings.
Cost of a visit: 20RMB to 30RMB
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
Built for the Emperor to show respect to the gods for giving him responsibility of Earth, the Temple of Heaven is a beautiful piece of architecture and an incredible look into the spirituality of China. The round shape is a symbol of heaven and the main buildings are formed to replicate this shape perfectly. Its full of gorgeous colors and another UNESCO site. Half a day should be enough to visit.
Cost of a visit: 30RMB to 35RMB
A mix of Tibetan and Han Chinese architecture define this characterful Buddhist temple in Beijing. Called Yonghe Temple or Lama Temple, this is one of the best Buddhist temples you can find in town and probably one of the best examples of the steady return of religion to China.
It used to be an imperial palace before becoming the monastery it is now. Spend an hour there and add the nearby Hutongs to your visit.
Cost of a visit: 25RMB
At the heart of the city is the Forbidden City – if there’s just one place you have to go, it’s there! This city got its name because it was forbidden for commoners to enter during the emperors' reign. It has thousands of artifacts collected from ancient and more modern history. It’s an enormous space literally built for an emperor, so you’ll have an easy time getting lost in the culture and beauty there. Explore just the main parts in a couple hours or walk through all of it the entire day.
Cost of a visit: 40RMB to 60RMB depending on the season (April to October is usually the high season, note too that some room requires you to pay extra to enter)
A Beijing must do. It’s really easy to get to the square. You just take the subway to Tiananmen Station and follow the crowd from there. You should start here and then visit the Forbidden city that is just in the front.
It's one of the largest public squares in the world, a somber expanse bordered by the National Museum of China (a huge, well-curated museum that's free to enter and perfect if the weather turns) and the Great Hall of the People.
Beijing’s oldest residential neighborhoods around the Drum and Bell Towers and Houhai Lake are becoming a more popular destination with millennial travelers—though they're also being razed to fit in more skyscrapers. Get in now to enjoy the charming hutong alleys with their ramshackle, gray-brick courtyard dwellings and communal lifestyle before they disappear forever.
Narrow streets, old Chinese architecture, the Hutongs are becoming a big hit in Beijing and more and more art galleries and shop are moving to those areas. A lot of the Hutongs disappeared but a few have now been designated protected areas so you can have a chance to visit.
One of the busiest pedestrian streets in the world, Wangfujing is home to almost 300 brands of Beijing, including famous hat, shoe, and tea stores. The Night Market offers exotic street food that includes fried scorpions and unusual sea creatures – western stomachs, be warned
Qianmen, literally meaning “Front Gate”, is one of the only remaining gates of ancient Beijing’s city wall. It sits at the south entrance of Tiananmen Square, but security and traffic usually means that it’s difficult to walk from it to Qianmen.
Markets and Shopping in Beijing
For luxury brands, Wangfujing is the premier shopping street, closely followed by Sanlitun Soho, although be aware there’s a 50% luxury tax on many items so you’re unlikely to find a bargain.
For less authentic goods, try the Pearl Market or Silk Market. Haggling is essential here, but well-made fake clothes, bags, watches and jewelry can be bought very cheaply.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT
Beihai Park | Houhai | Temple of Earth | Thirteen tombs of the Ming Dynasty | Olympic Park |Panjiayuan Antique Market | Silk Road Market | National Center for the performing arts
THINGS TO KNOW
- Beijing has 72-hour visa-free policy, which means that citizens of 50+ countries can enter Beijing for 3 days without a formal China visa. If you’re just passing through, this might be a good option. If not plan in advance for a visa - China requires visitors from most countries to have an entry visa. It’s best to prepare your application at least two months prior to your trip.
- Cash is preferred.
- Don’t tip in China.
- Use your haggling skills.
- Make sure to get a VPN on your phone and computer before leaving.
- Prepare for the toilets—many are squat toilets without any paper. I suggest bringing your own paper and hand sanitizer along with you.
- You May Be the Tourist Attraction – Be aware that outside of the main cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the locals are not used to seeing Westerners. You may find that people stare at you and even take photos of you – smile pretty.
- The subway is cheap and easy to navigate. If you’re a first timer to Beijing you’ll have no problem navigating. You’ll find Mandarin and English on the subway map so take a photo of the train station you want to go to with your phone and show the person at the help desk. This is the most stress-free way because you probably won’t get the pronunciation right.
Last but not least it wouldn’t be complete without a day trip to THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA.
Have you been to Beijing? Which main attraction would you recommend to the first timers? Or which one would you like to visit?