by Aaditee Kulkarni Updated on 13 Oct 2018
China’s capital Beijing is a mix bag of ancient sites and modern architectural wonders. The political, economic, and cultural centre of the nation, Beijing is located in the northern part of China. Beijing is one of the oldest cities in China, and today attracts more than 4 million international visitors in a year.
Beijing is home to some of the best-preserved palaces, gardens, and temples that China has ever seen. Apart from the sightseeing, Beijing also has some of the best dining options and shopping centres. Moreover, the nightlife of Beijing, whether it is the concerts, pubs, clubs, or Chinese folk culture, you are in for a surprise.
Here's the list of best things to do in Beijing:
1. Explore the sprawling campus of the Forbidden City
Centrally located in Beijing, the Forbidden City, which is also called the Palace Museum, and Gu Gong in Chinese has served as a palace for the 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties between the 14th and the 20th century. One of the top attractions in Beijing, the Forbidden City is visited by millions of visitors annually. Located north of the Tiananmen Square, this palace has many intricately designed squares, halls, gates, pavilions, sleeping quarters, and temples. While at the Forbidden City, make sure that you do not miss out on visiting the Meridian Gate, the Turret, the Antiquarium, and the Imperial Garden. The Forbidden City is also many a times refereed to as the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.
2. Click a selfie at the iconic Summer Palace
Also known as the ‘Yiheyuan,’ the Summer Palace is a palace complex that houses the serene Kunming Lake and the Longevity Hill along with many other attractions. One of the best historical sites in Beijing, the Summer Palace has many gates, pavilions, halls, and towers that constitute to the unique history of this beautiful palace. Apart from the historical appeal of this places, what draws tourists here is the garden. The Summer Palace is home to the largest imperial garden in China that was built during the Qing Dynasty. The impressive Seventeen-Arch Bridge extends over the lake and offers excellent views of the garden.
3. Find your way through the massive Tiananmen Square
One of the most famous squares in China, the Tiananmen Square is a city square and one of the most famous sites in Beijing. The square features a portrait of Chairman Mao which is regarded as the symbol of Beijing. Also called the “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” this square is located right next to the Forbidden City. Thousands of people visit this monument every day to witness the Tiananmen Tower, Monument to the People's Heroes, Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall and see the national flag raising ceremony. The Tiananmen Square will welcome everyone with its openness and grandeur.
4. Wonder at the grandeur of the Great Wall of China
Situated 75 kilometres north of Beijing, the Great Wall of China is not only one of the best places to visit in China, but also one of the wonders of the world. This 5,500-mile-long series of fortifications is made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials. It is impossible to see all of the wall, and hence the wall has been divided in many sections, so the visitors can enjoy its grandness. The most convenient portion from Beijing in the Badaling. This part of the wall has many souvenir markets and a gondola ride that will whisk you up and down the wall. Another section of the wall is the Mutianyu that has many mountainous vistas. But if you are looking for more adventurous sections of the wall, you can visit the Juyongguan, Simatai, Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng, Jiankou, and Gubeikou sections.
5. Make your way through the lush landscapes of the Jingshan Park
One of the best imperial landscape gardens in Beijing, the Jingshan Park covers 57 hectares of land and is situated north of the Forbidden City. This garden has served as an imperial garden for the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and had many pavilions and amusement areas for the emperors to enjoy. This garden was opened to public in 1928 and was later rebuilt in the year 1949. The Jingshan Hill (Long Live Hill) is located inside the park which is also the highest point in Beijing. From the top, you will be treated to a full and clear view of the Forbidden City. The Jingshan is also the biggest peony rose garden in Beijing.
6. Visit the Yonghegong (Lama Temple)
The Yonghe Temple, popularly called the Lama Temple is built by merging the Chinese and Tibetian styles of architectures. The Yonghe is a temple and monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. This temple was built during the Qing dynasty in 1694 and has served as an official residence for many princes throughout the history. After the Chinese Civil War ended, this temple was declared a national monument. One of the best Beijing points of interests, this temple has many beautiful artworks that include three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages, Five-Hundred-Arhat-Hill, and 18m tall White Sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha.
7. Pray at the Temple of Heaven
Built in 1420, the Temple of Heaven is one of the largest sacrificial buildings in China. A venue where the emperors of the Ming and the Qing Dynasty held the Heaven Worship Ceremony, the Temple of Heaven is spread over 2,700,000 square meters that makes it larger than the Forbidden City. This temple complex has three main groups of constructions: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, The Imperial Vault of Heaven, and The Circular Mound Altar. The park that surrounds this temple is quite extensive and has many recreational zones apart from well laid out garden areas.
8. Make way through the many complex of palaces and gardens at the Old Summer Palace
Often described as the “Versailles of the East,” the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) was a complex of palaces and gardens. The imperial residence of Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty and the ones that followed him, this palace was widely recognised as the pinnacle work of Chinese imperial garden and palace design. One of the best places to visit near Beijing, the Old Summer Palace was referred to as the "Garden of Gardens" during its prime days. During the Second Opium War in 1860, this palace was sacked and the Qings relocated to the Forbidden City. Today, the ruins of this palace are open to public.
9. Go up and down on the Dragon Escalator
Located in the Longqingxia Scenic Area, the Dragon Escalator is the world's largest outdoor escalator. This 258-metre-long yellow dragon will usher you up and down to the top of the largest dam in China. Located 85 kilometres from Beijing, this dragon only goes up. While coming down, you will have to take the stairs. This dragon will take you to the entrance of the Longqing Gorge where activities include boating, fishing, bungee jumping, cable car rides, and many more.
10. Visit the National Museum of China
Established in 2003 and directed by the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China, The National Museum of China aims to educate people about the arts and history of China. This museum was formed by merging of the Museum of the Chinese Revolution and the National Museum of Chinese History and is one of the best museums in Beijing. The National Museum is positioned on the eastern side of the Tiananmen Square and received a massive renovation in 2011. With a permanent collection of 1,050,000 items, this museum covers the history of the country right from the Yuanmou Man till the end of the Qing Dynasty. This museum houses some of the most exclusive artefacts that are found no where else in the world.
11. Explore the 1000-year-old Beihai Park
Considered among the largest of all Chinese gardens, the Beihai Park is a public park that is nothing less than a breath of fresh air. The green spaces of this park have been preserved for more than 1000 years. Often called the Winter Palace by the westerners, this park is the former imperial garden that contains many structures, palaces, and temples. Sprawling over more than 170 acres of land, the lake inside the park covers more than half the park. At the centre of the park, an island called the Jade Flower Island is as high as 105 feet. Some of the unmissable sights of this park include the Temple of Everlasting Peace, White Dagoba, and the Circular City. Beihai Park is the oldest imperial garden in the world and one of the largest gardens in China.
12. Explore the Beijing World Park
Beijing World Park is a theme park that treats visitors to the views of miniature versions of the many international landmarks from around the world. This park is spread over 46.7 hectares and is located at about 17 kilometres from the city centre. The Beijing World Park opened in 1993 and has since then been one of the top attractions in Beijing. The park has a Gothic castle, a Roman corridor, grand staircases, fountains, and sculptures at its entrance. Also located here are 100 famous statues from around the world including American Statue of Liberty, Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, and Michelangelo’s David. The monuments present here include Egypt’s Great Pyramids, France’s Eiffel Tower, India’s Taj Mahal, A Netherlands windmill, Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, The United States’ Manhattan with Empire State Building and World Trade Centre, and The United Kingdom’s Big Ben Clocktower and Tower Bridge.
13. Discover the astronomical technology at the Beijing Ancient Observatory
One of the top museums in Beijing, the Beijing Ancient Observatory is an observatory from the pretelescopic era and was built in the year 1442. Considered one of the oldest observatories in the world, the Beijing Ancient Observatory covers the area of 10,000 square meters, while the observatory itself is located on a 40 by 40-meter-wide and a 15-meter-tall brick tower. Some of the many astronomical instruments at this observatory are ancient bronze astronomical instruments, armillary spheres, and sundials.
14. Appreciate art at the 798 Art Zone
798 Art Zone, or the Dashanzi Art District is an exhibition centre for the Chinese culture and art. The area occupied by this art zone is a 50-year-old decommissioned North China Wireless Joint Equipment Factory. The exhibition centre is built using the Bauhaus architecture and has today become of the top attractions in Beijing. Today this art zone houses many art galleries, design studios, art exhibition spaces, artists' studios, fashionable shops, restaurants, and bars. Many international cultural organizations have also settled in this zone making this one of the top art zones in China.
15. Visit the birds’ nest - Beijing National Stadium
Lovingly called the “Bird's Nest,” the National Stadium is situated in Olympic Green Village and was designed as the main stadium of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. During the Olympics, the events of track and field, football, gavelock, weight throw and discus throw were held here. A group of architects including Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and Chinese architect Li Xinggang along with many others helped design and construct this large stadium. The construction of the stadium took over 4 years and is today used as a centre of international or domestic sports competitions. This stadium is also open for tourists and is considered one of the best places to visit in Beijing.
16. Shop at the Silk Street
One of the best shopping centres in Beijing, the Silk Street is also known by the name of Silk Market or Silk Street Market. Located in the Chaoyang District, this shopping centre was earlier an outdoor market which has now been turned into a shopping mall. The Silk Street is regarded as a symbol of Beijing and has been visited by many world-famous personalities. The most sought-after item here is the silk, but other items that you can buy here include antiques, calligraphy and paintings, tea, porcelain, folk handicrafts, rugs, cosmetics, watches, glasses, stationery, outdoor supplies, and electrical appliances among many others.
17. Marvel at the architectural wonder called the CCTV Headquarters
Located in the Beijing Central Business District (CBD), the CCTV Headquarters are a 44-storyed, 234-metre tall structure. Designed by architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, this building serves as a headquarters for China Central Television (CCTV). The building consists of a loop of six horizontal and vertical sections creating an irregular grid that forms a façade of the building with an open centre. One of the top attractions in Beijing, The CCTV Headquarters is best known for its noncompliant geometry and tubular structure. This cantilevered building is a local landmark and should not be missed.
18. Walk through the Beijing Botanical Garden
Approximately 30 minutes’ drive from downtown Beijing, the Beijing Botanical Garden is spread over the area of 500 acres of land. Established in 1955, today a total of 1.5 million plants from more than 10,000 plant species proudly call this garden their home. Various sections of this garden consist of Plant Exhibition Area (Lilac Garden, Chinese Rose Garden, Flowering Peach Garden, Peony garden, and many more), the Scenic Spot and the Historical Resorts, the Scientific Research Area and the Nature Reserve. The park is also home to numerous ornamental plants, along with many medicinal plants, aromatic plants, succulents, and carnivorous plants.
19. Buy yourself antiques at the Panjiayuan Antique Market
One of the best shopping markets in Beijing, the Beijing Antique Market, or the Panjiayuan Antique Market is one of the best-known arts, crafts, and antiques market in this capital city. With over 4000 shops, this market is located near the Panjiayuan Bridge. Items like large stone sculptures, traditional Chinese furniture, second-hand books, ancient scrolls, Chinese paintings, calligraphic works, bronze vessels, ceramic vases, Chinese ethnic minority arts & crafts, trinkets, antiques, apparel, along with many Chinese ceramics can be bought here. The first rule of this market is that you must haggle.
20. Treat yourself to a traditional Chinese massage
After all the sightseeing, hiking, walking, and shopping, you are going to need to relax. And what better way than getting a traditional Chinese massage in the country’s capital. There are many traditional massage clinics, parlours and spas that are spread over the city that will help you de-stress. The Beijing Massage Hospital is one of the pioneers in modern therapeutic massages. A traditional Chinese massage will constitute of either one or all of the following: herbal medicine, acupuncture, Tui na (Massage), Qigong (exercise) and dietary therapy.