Previously the administrative center of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and now the capital city of China, Beijing boasts a fascinating mixture of old & new. This mixture brings about plenty of cool things to the city from well-preserved imperial palaces, ancient temples to cutting edge structures. This blog will showcase my list for Best things to do in Beijing.
* Keep in mind this is only a list (with random order) not a ranking.
How to find best things to do in Beijing
Before sharing my recommendations for the best things to do in Beijing, let’s take a look at how I research and make my own list.
Searching for the best things to do in Beijing or China is not easy at all since the most popular search engines (Google) and social media (Facebook & Instagram) are blocked.
But don’t worry, you can still find things to do and places to see in Shanghai via these chanel:
- TripAdvisor & Google: Search for the most recommended places and activities from tourists. However, information (opening hours) may not be updated.
- Pinterest: Pins some ideas.
- Instagram: Instagram is blocked in China. However, young people find their own way to access Instagram. And this would be some of the best ways to search for things that the locals crave for.
- Dianping: TripAdvisor of China. But almost all contents are in Chinese and of course, you have to know Chinese to use this app.
- Mafengwo: Mafengwo is a Chinese travel SNS website that enables users to share travel experiences with each other. However, almost all content is written in Chinese.
1. See what is inside Forbidden City
Forbidden City is an imperial palace complex which was previously the home of 24 emperors (14 of the Ming Dynasty and 10 of the Qing Dynasty).
As its name suggests, Forbidden City is such a micro-city in its own right which is surrounded by red walls. Life inside the red walls is something mysterious to common folk for over 500 years. Once the palace opened to the public in 1925, it soon attracted a huge number of tourists and became a favorite destination in Beijing.
Everyone is curious about how the imperial family lived and so am I. I had to admit that my trip to Beijing was for the Forbidden City. If you wish to visit the palace, spend at least half a day as Forbidden City is huge and every corner here has a story.
2. See Forbidden City in panoramic mode at Jingshan Park
After touring the Forbidden City, don’t change your direction to another tourist destination. Walk five more minutes to Jingshan Park.
Jingshan Park is an imperial park located north of the Forbidden City. The park has nothing to see but panoramic and unobstructed views of the Forbidden City. The view is out of this world and it only costs you 2¥.
You can visit this park anytime of the day, except midnight (it opens from 06:00 to 21:00). However, the best time would be golden hours when the light effect adds more hues to Forbidden City.
Sunrise may be a better choice, compared to sunset as you don’t need to compete for places. I went there during sunset and the terrace area on top of Jingshan Park was full of people (and I finally got a good shot after some attempts).
3. Step on The Great Wall of China
“If you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you aren’t a real man,” Mao Zedong once said. For me, if you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you haven’t visited China. As a result, stepping on the Great Wall of China is a must for first-time visitors in China.
Keep in mind that the Great Wall of China is not a single structure wall, it includes beacons, towers, barracks which covers up to 15 provincial-level areas in China. Yes, the Great Wall of China is huge and it is impossible to visit the whole structure.
If you wish to visit the Great Wall of China, pick one section. There are 10 sections which are close to Beijing including Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Jiankou, Simatai, Huanghuacheng, Gubeikou, Juyongguan, Huangyaguan, Shanhai Pass, Badaling.
Among those, the Mutianyu section is the most well-preserved and scenic one. And it is also my pick for a day trip near Beijing.
The Great Wall of China once hindered the Mongol’s step, now will be a challenge for visitors. A visit to The Great Wall of China is not just a visit, but a trek. Steppy stairs and cobble stones are common things to see and no shades are found along the way, though Mutianyu section has a low level of difficulty.
4. Admire the masterpiece of Chinese garden design in Summer Palace
Being listed as World Heritage in 1998, Summer Palace is another not-to-miss place in Beijing.. Previously the royal retreat for emperors during summertime, Summer Place boasts a vast ensemble of natural landscape and artificial features which create an outstanding aesthetic value.
A visit to Summer Palace will let you know why this place is renowned as a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. Tower of Buddhist Incense, Suzhou Street, Kunming Lake Palaces, The long corridor, and the marble boat are some of the best things to see here.
As a result, it is recommended to spend half a day in Summer Palace and visit early in the morning to avoid crowds.
5. Walking on the Milky Way in Galaxy Soho
Galaxy SOHO is an urban complex building located in Beijing, China. This building is considered one of the most controversial structures in Beijing as it forms a significant contrast with the surrounding area.
When the night comes and the lights turn on, the whole complex looks like a space station. And it makes anyone feel like walking on the milky way.
First time I saw Galaxy Soho on Instagram, I had to say, “Is this place real?”. And after doing some research, Galaxy Soho claimed a place in my things to do in Beijing’s list.
However, it is not easy to find this Instagram hotspot (I had to come home after the first attempt). This spot is located in the opposite building called Chaoyangmen Soho. First go there and then take the lift to level 5 (not remember the exact level).
6. Have a taste of Peking Duck at Quanjude
Peking Duck is renowned as the most symbolic dish of Chinese cuisine. Having a taste of this famous dish during a trip to Beijing is considered a must.
Used to be a royal dish in medieval China and gradually spread to civil society later, Peking duck requires a high standard restaurant with skillful chefs and professional equipment. As a result, there is only a few restaurant served this dish, Quanjude
Quanjude is one of the oldest Peking duck restaurants which has been open for business since 1864. There are about 10 Quanjude branches spanning across the city of Beijing and I choose the Wangfujing branch.
One whole roasted duck costs about 298 RMB (43 USD). Once the order was submitted, the chef wheeled out a trolley and carved the duck, the waiter then rolled them with the pancakes, cucumber, onions and sauce (make sure to turn your camera on to film this process as it will rock your Tik Tok up).
|Quanjude – Wangfujing Branch (全聚德-王府井店)
7. Visit the heart of China – Tiananmen Square
Lying at the center of Beijing, Tiananmen Square is considered the political heart of China as it has been the site of several important events in Chinese history (the declaration of the People’s Republic of China by Chairman Mao in 1949, The May Fourth Movement…).
The 400,000 square meters square has a number of sights including the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and can hold over one million people.
The area around Tiananmen Square remains high level security which requires security and passport checks at every entry point (make sure to bring your passport along).
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8. Admire the Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is an imperial complex of religious buildings which was previously the place where emperors of the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty held the Heaven Worship Ceremony.
As the ancient Chinese people have strong beliefs in “feng shui”, the architectural design of the whole complex was based on ancient tenets relating numbers and spatial organization to beliefs about heaven and its relationship to people on earth.
Every building here, even the encircled wall has its own meaning. Therefore, it will be a good place to admire the masterpiece of Chinese ritual architecture.
9. Memorizing the 2008 Olympics memory
As the 2008 Olympics was the first time ever China hosted the most awaited international sporting event, the Chinese wanted to make the world “Whoa”. A huge number of striking structures was built to commemorate this event. And Beijing National Stadium was one of those.
This stadium took the honor to stage the 2008 Olympics opening and closing ceremony. At that time, the weird shape (bird nest lookalike) was such a hot topic in the media. Many people criticized the design of Beijing National Stadium and called it a failure.
However, the Bird Nest Stadium caught my eyes for the very first time on screen. Later I found out that the weird design follows the Yin and Yang Theory of Chinese philosophy. When the 2008 Olympics were over, what I missed most was this stadium.
And after ten years, I finally had a chance to see Beijing National Stadium in real life. But the feelings were still the same.
10. Catch a glimpse of Beijing’s local life inside “Hutongs”
Hutong is a type of narrow street or alley commonly seen in Beijing. A huge number of hutongs were demolished to make way for new roads and buildings in the mid-20th century. Only a few hutongs remain and are designated as protected, in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history.
Being a representative of Beijing’s cultural element, a trip to a hutong will show tourists a glimpse into local life. Believe me, you will definitely immerse in the peaceful atmosphere.
Each of 1,000 hutongs left has its own uniqueness and characteristics, it will not be easy to pick one during your 3-day trip. So pick the most distinctive one namely Dongjiaomin Xiang (the longest hutong), Sanmiaojie (the oldest hutong), Jiuwan (the most tortuous hutong), Nanluogu Xiang (the most famous hutong).
Summary: Best things to do in Beijing
Beijing travel tips
– Always bring your passport along as you can be checked by the police while strolling around the street (electric version is acceptable).
– Install Dianping (TripAdvisor of China), Didi (hail taxi), Trip.com (book tickets, accommodations) and Baidu Maps on your phone. Believe me it will help you a lot.
– Learn some basic Chinese phrases to communicate with vendors and taxi drivers.
– Many hotels in Beijing (any also in China) don’t accept foreigners. Make sure to check (read if there are any reviews from foreigners or not) before marking a reservation.
I wish I had more time in Beijing as three days was not enough to see all aspects of Beijing. Here is my list for Best things to do in Beijing. I hope you can make your own list for the upcoming Beijing trip.
If you need any further information, kindly see other posts below:
- Beijing travel guide & Best places to visit
- Shanghai travel guides and tips
- What to eat in Shanghai: Shanghai food guide?
- The ultimate guide to Shanghai Film Park
– MUST-USE WEBSITE TO PLAN YOUR NEXT TRIP –