When visiting Beijing, China you will undoubtedly have a list of mandatory sights that you will want to see. This bustling city offers a mix of old and new and the longer you stay here the more you will want to discover. Fortunately, it’s a city where shops and entertainment are open until late so you can do the tourist thing during the day and still squeeze in some shopping and relaxation in the evening. If you have little ones, then pick and choose the venues depending on your child’s age and temperament. Most of the activities outlined below are suitable for children but you will need to adjust the time you spend there according to age and interest.
As an expat living in Beijing here is my list of top 10 things to do:
1. Forbidden City
Located in the heart of Beijing, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is great place to start to get a sense of the history of China and it’s architectural style from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The imperial palace is so called because it was off-limits to commoners for over 500 years. In 1925, the palace was opened to the public and now it attracts more than 14 million visitors annually. It is always very busy but the crowds do flow at a steady pace. If you have not paid for a guided tour, I would opt for an audio guide that comes in numerous languages.
2. Jingshan Park
If you have time, I would visit Tiananmen Square followed by the Forbidden City in the afternoon and then walk across to Jinghsan Park to watch the sun set. It has some of the best views of the city from every direction. Don’t forget your camera to capture the sun going down and also for a great view of the Forbidden City.
3. Beijing Planning and Exhibition Hall
If you (and your kids) enjoy museums then there are quite a few options in Beijing. These include the Capital Museum, National Art Museum of China, China Science and Technology Museum and more. One of the best places to get a sense of the scale of Beijing and its future plans is the Beijing Planning and Exhibition Hall. The highlight of the museum is undoubtedly the giant scale model of the city.
4. Ride Around the Hutongs
To get a sense of life in Beijing, you can organise a guided bike tour or alternatively hire a rickshaw from the Drum and Bell Towers or Houhai Lake in the Dongcheng District. You can negotiate where you’d like to go and for what timeframe. It’s a fun way to explore the city and a practical way to squeeze through some of the narrow hutongs.
5. National Performing Arts Centre
If you love modern architecture or the performing arts then this theatre is a must see! The Egg, as it is colloquially known, is also located on Chang’An Avenue next to the Great Hall of the People and near Tiananmen Square. It houses an opera house, concert hall and two theatres inside and is surrounded by an artificial lake.
6. Temple of Heaven
This temple that was constructed from 1406 – 1420 during the Ming Dynasty is set in a 267-hectare park. It was where the emperors went to make offerings to the heavens so that they could have good harvests. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is also a popular destination for young brides and grooms to capture their wedding photography. There’s a good chance you will see a young couple in their wedding attire posing for photos on the steps. Take your time to explore the different altars and large park areas.
7. Eat Peking Duck
It wouldn’t be a trip to Beijing without sampling the capital’s most iconic dish! There are many places to eat duck including Da Dong Roast Duck and Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant.
8. 798 Art District
If you need a break from the temples and want to emerge yourself in the art scene then the 798 Art District is a great place to go. This former industrial complex houses many contemporary art galleries, cafés, and gift shops. There are plenty of quirky sculptures scattered around the district to fill up your camera roll! Nearby is Indigo Mall if you want to do some shopping afterwards (with brands such as H&M, Gap, Page One Bookstore that has lots of English titles) or have a bite to eat in one of their many restaurants. The mall also has a large outdoor playground for kids if the weather is nice and they need a run-around.
9. Summer Palace
This imperial garden, situated in the northwest of Beijing was first built in 1750 as an escape for the imperial family during the hot and dry summer months. It’s not hard to understand why the Summer Palace is one of Beijing’s most visited sights. You can easily spend a day here strolling along the expansive Kunming Lake and walking across the Seventeen Arch Bridge, along the Long Corridor and climbing up Longevity Hill.
10. The Great Wall
A visit to Beijing would not be complete without a trek to some part of The Great Wall of China. Badaling followed by Mutianyu are the most visited parts of the wall and also the closest to downtown Beijing. However, if you go early in the morning on a weekday then you should avoid the large crowds that go there on weekends and public holidays. For more information, go to my earlier post regarding The Great Wall.
Finally, if you are hoping to purchase a Lonely Planet Beijing or China guide you are best to purchase it from your local country as they can be hard to find in China.