The large capital city of China (People’s Republic of China) and the country’s second-biggest city, Beijing is filled with an abundance of ways for visitors to fill their time and have fun discovering the city. With a long history and bursting with culture, you’ll also find plenty of places to shop and a wide selection of eateries. The food scene in Beijing is diverse, with dishes available from almost all over the country.
With many people agreeing that Beijing is a bit like a bubble within China, and not representative of the country as a whole, it is, nonetheless, a brilliant introduction to China. Visit a busy and lively place where ancient traditions mingle with an ambitious and forward-thinking approach, and where a strong sense of pride lives at the heart of local people.
Here are four of the many great things to do in Beijing:
1. Stand in the gigantic Tiananmen Square
One of the biggest public squares on the planet, Tiananmen Square is usually teeming with activity and is a popular place for locals to meet. The scene of several historical events and demonstrations, a number of interesting buildings surround the square. These include the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, the Zhengyangmen Gate, and the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen Gate), after which the square was named.
A towering monument, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, remembers revolutionaries who lost their lives. At the base you can see intricate carvings that show several of China’s revolutionary events between the 1830s and 1940s.
Another important building is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. The mausoleum contains the mummified body of Chairman Mao Zedong, the late communist leader. A large portrait of the formidable man watches down over the long queue of people waiting to enter the mausoleum, his eyes seemingly following you wherever you go. It is free to enter the mausoleum, although you must deposit any bags and cameras for a small fee of 4 - 5 CNY (approximately 0.60 – 0.75 USD). You also need to show your passport.
If you visit Tiananmen Square early in the morning, you can watch as guards hoist the Chinese flag to the top of the towering flagpole. Alternatively, you can see it being lowered in the evenings. The precise time varies each day so make sure you check the schedule in advance.
2. Admire the grounds of the Summer Palace and Kunming Lake
Originally built in the late 1700s as a beautiful royal garden, the Summer Palace was later used as the main home of the royal family. Destroyed by fire and rebuilt, the Summer Palace is now a popular tourist destination.
The large and elegant grounds contain many old structures, such as bridges, pavilions, pagodas, and towers. It is easy to spend several hours exploring the lush grounds, looking inside ornate halls, admiring the glorious views, and relaxing alongside the radiant Kunming Lake.
Admission costs 20 CNY (approximately 3 USD) between the start of November and the end of March, increasing to 30 CNY (approximately 4.60 USD) for the remaining months of the year. There are additional charges for some features, but you can buy an inclusive ticket for 50 CNY (approximately 7.70 USD) between November and March, and for 60 CNY (approximately 9.20 USD) between April and October.
3. Marvel at the grandeur of the Forbidden City / Palace Museum
Located in the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is often said to be like an entire city within a city. Surrounded by high walls and imposing gates, it was previously forbidden for uninvited persons to enter the complex. A deep moat along with the towering walls helped to keep unwanted people firmly outside. Any trespassers were executed! A grand royal palace, it was the home of the imperial Chinese family for hundreds of years. Today, the complex is also known as the Palace Museum.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Forbidden City contains more than 950 impressive buildings. You will also find gorgeous mesmerising pools, spectacular gardens, lots of gleaming marble, various cultural exhibitions, and numerous fascinating sculptures.
The biggest palace complex in the world, you could spend days exploring and still not cover everything in detail. It pays to be selective when visiting the Forbidden City. That said, you can enjoy many of the highlights in around four hours. Highlights include the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the sublime Hall of Supreme Harmony with its magnificent Dragon Throne, the Hall of Middle Harmony, the Hall of Preserving Harmony with its jaw-dropping carriageway, the Hall of Union, the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Treasure Gallery, the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, and the Imperial Gardens.
You will need to show your passport on entering the Forbidden City. Admission numbers are restricted each day, so you are advised to buy your tickets in advance or get there early. Entrance costs 40 CNY (approximately 6.15 USD) from November to March, and 60 CNY (approximately 9.20 USD) between April and October. There are extra charges for some attractions within the sprawling complex.
4. Walk along the Spirit Way and visit the sacred Ming Tombs
A collection of 13 tombs containing the remains of past emperors from the Ming Dynasty, the tombs are reached by walking along the Spirit Way (Sacred Way). The wide path is lined with interesting statues. Pose for a picture with a giant stone elephant, gaze at fierce-looking giants, and see various other large statues of people and animals.
Spread across the slopes of Tianshou Mountain, the tomb buildings are ornate and eye-catching. It is only possible to visit three of the revered tombs: Chang Ling, Ding Ling, and Zhao Ling. See how mighty leaders were honoured after their death and be impressed by the grandeur of the architecture and the beautiful natural setting.
Tickets for the Spirit Way are 20 CNY (approximately 3 USD) between November and March, and 30 CNY (approximately 4.60 CNY) during other months. There is a separate entrance fee for the tombs. The low season admission price is between 20 and 40 CNY (approximately 3 and 6.15 USD), and the high season price is between 30 and 60 CNY (approximately 4.60 and 9.20 USD).
Other top Beijing attractions and activities
Tour the traditional housing areas known as hutongs and lose yourself as you navigate the narrow and twisting streets. The Temple of Heaven is a popular recreation area for locals as well as a spectacular tourist destination, and the unusual National Stadium, built for the 2008 Olympic Games and nicknamed the Bird’s Nest, is worth a quick visit. There are many beautiful temples around Beijing, such as the Lama Temple, and the diverse markets and shopping centres make buying gifts and souvenirs easy. Several sections of the Great Wall of China, such as that at Badaling, are easy to reach from Beijing. Spend an evening at a traditional Chinese Opera, enjoy a thrilling Kung Fu show, or watch a captivating acrobatic performance.
Book your trip to Beijing and enjoy every moment of your stay in the fascinating Chinese capital city.
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