Beijing is becoming a dynamic, global city you have to explore. The capital city of China, Beijing been mentioned as a worthy competitor of Silicon Valley. Unlike many other Chinese mega-cities, Beijing retains its tradition and culture. The city provides a range of mouthwatering cuisines that tantalises the senses, and a deep and rich history that will leave you filled with wonder. However, interested travellers should note that the best time to visit Beijing is during the spring (April - May) or fall (August - September), when the air quality is at its best (though there are perks to bad air quality as well!). That aside, brace yourself for an adventure for the mind, soul, and taste buds. These are 20 top things to do in this city:
My take from being there: Beijing is the only true competitor to Silicon Valley. Cyriac Roeding
1. Stand in the heart of Beijing - Tiananmen Square
Located at the heart of the city, Tiananmen Square is the symbol of Beijing, and the site for China’s most important historical moments. Gaze upon the structures that have been standing since 1415. The buildings include the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong where one can catch a glimpse of the most respected man in China - an opportunity not to be missed!
Admission is free for the square, but costs 15 CNY (approximately 2.29 USD) to ascend the Tiananmen Tower.
Opening hours depend on the schedule for the flag raising and lowering times, which can be accessed here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/beijing/tiananmen/
2. Glimpse into the past - The Forbidden City
Previously exclusive to only the royal family and their guards and servants, the Forbidden City is now open to the public. Be awed by the grandeur of the palace and its ornate designs on pillars, cross beams, walls and ceilings. Admire the numerous rare relics that were once used by the royal household. The palace consists of the Outer Court, where official ceremonies were held and from where the emperor would exercise his power, and the Inner Court, where the royal family would dwell. A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, the Forbidden City is definitely worth the visit.
Admission fees cost 60 CNY (approximately 9.15 USD) per person from April to October, and 40 CNY (approximately 6.10 USD) per person from November to March. Admission is free for children under 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) tall.
Opening hours are from 8.30 am - 5.00 pm from April to October, and 8.30 am - 4.30 pm from November to March.
3. Get the royal experience - The Summer Palace
Continuing the royal experience, the luxurious Summer Palace is another mandatory visit in Beijing. Considered to be the most well-preserved royal garden in the world, the Summer Palace was once the go-to destination for emperors to escape to. Gaze at the beautiful view of hilltops and lakes, which will almost seem like you are stepping into a painting. Also, walk along the Long Corridor, which holds the Guinness World Record for the longest covered promenade. The corridor is decorated with over 10,000 paintings on the ceilings, pillars, and crossbeams, which portray famous landscapes and narrate famous folk tales.
Admission fees cost 30 CNY (approximately 4.58 USD) per person from April to October, and 20 CNY (3.05 USD) per person from November to March.
The opening hours are from 6.30 am - 6.00 pm from April to October, and 7.00 am - 5.00 pm from November to March.
4. Climb the stairway to heaven - The Temple of Heaven
Feel closer to the divine at the exquisite Temple of Heaven, which used to be the place where emperors prayed to heaven for a good harvest. Now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple of heaven is an important historic site that cannot be missed. Notice how the architecture of the temple is imbued with symbolism. The arrangement and layout of the temple reflect the understanding of the universe at the time it was built. Moreover, as the number 9 was said to be an auspicious number in Chinese mythology and representative of the emperor, the stone plates forming the circular altar were laid in multiples of nine. The amount of detail that went into constructing this holy site will astound you.
Admission fees cost 10 - 30 CNY (approximately 1.52 - 4.57 USD) per person during the low season, and 15 - 35 CNY (approximately 2.29 - 5.33 USD) per person during the high season.
Opening hours are from 8.00 am - 6.00 pm.
5. Cross the bridge over ‘not so troubled’ waters - Marco Polo Bridge
Named after the famous Italian explorer, the Marco Polo bridge is the oldest multi-arched bridge in Beijing. The most iconic features of the bridge are the 281 stone lions perched along the sides of the bridge. If you look closely though, you would notice that there are even more lions hiding behind the head, back, belly and paws of each lion! Up till today, the exact number of stone lions on the bridge have not been confirmed (perhaps you could rise up to the challenge and determine the answer once and for all!). The bridge has important historical significance in the Second Sino-Japanese War. You may consider stopping by the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression at the Wanping Fortress east-side of the bridge to learn more about the bridge’s history.
Admission fees cost 20 CNY (approximately 3.05 USD) per person. Admission fees for the Wanping City Hall cost 5 CNY (0.76 USD) per person.
Opening hours are from 7.00am-8.00pm from April to October, and 7.00am-6.00pm from November to March.
6. Roll around the old town - Sanmiaojie Hutong
Visit the traditional Chinese streets lined with quaint little houses called siheyuan (traditional courtyard residences). Hutongs are important links to the past for the Chinese, as they preserve many traditional practices and architecture. The best way to explore the old neighbourhood of Sanmiaojie Hutong is on a pedicab tour to guide you through the intricate, maze-like streets, and drive beside some lakes so that you can enjoy the stunning view. Some locals also open their houses for tourists to visit and experience life in a hutong. Also, you can learn to make some delicious, authentic dumplings (jiaozi) from the locals!
The tour package (consisting of the pedicab tour, local family visit, and dumpling-making experience) costs 505 CNY (approximately 77 USD) for Sanmiaojie Hutong, the oldest hutong in Beijing. Different packages and prices may apply for different hutongs.
7. Feel like a champion - Beijing Olympic sites
Built specially for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the magnificent Beijing National Stadium and National Aquatics Center continue to attract attention even after the games. Modelled after a bird’s nest (hence the stadium’s nickname of the Bird’s Nest) to nurture humans and nest people’s hopes for the future, the gargantuan stadium cost a whopping 33 million USD to build. Presently, the stadium serves as the largest ski resort in Beijing, until 2022 when it will host the Winter Olympic Games. Located west of the stadium is another building that is worth a look: The National Aquatics Center (also known as the Water Cube). Inspired by traditional Chinese beliefs of a square Earth and round Heaven, the design of the Water Cube amalgamates traditional Chinese values and modern technology. The venue photographs beautifully at night as the building lights up. Also, you may consider visiting the indoor water park inside!
For the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest), admission fees cost 50 CNY (approximately 7.62 USD) per person, while for the Water Cube, admission fees cost 30 CNY (approximately 4.57 USD), and 50 CNY (approximately 7.62 USD) per person for the indoor pool. Alternatively, combination tickets for the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube cost 80 CNY (12.20 USD) per person.
Opening hours for the Bird’s Nest are from 9.00 am - 7.00 pm from April to October, and 9.00 am - 5.30 pm from November to March. Opening hours for the Water Cube are from 9.00 am - 8.00 pm from May to October, and 9.00 am - 6.00 pm from November to April.
8. Visit the house of black and white - Beijing Zoo, Panda House
Did you know that Beijing Zoo was originally built in 1906 during the Qing dynasty? Back then there were only a few pavilions that housed the animals, but now the zoo is home to more than 5,000 animals from over 450 different species. The zoo also houses the rarest species in China, such as the famous giant panda, Manchurian tigers, the red panda, the golden monkey, and yaks from Tibet, to name a few. The stars of the zoo, of course, are the giant pandas at the Panda House, which bred the first giant panda in captivity. Be sure to meet Pan Pan and Jing Jing, the mascots of the 11th Asian Games and 29th Olympic Games respectively.
Admission fees cost 15 CNY (approximately 2.29 USD) per person from April to October, and 10 CNY (approximately 1.52 USD) per person from November to March. Admission fees for students and seniors cost 8 CNY (approximately 1.22 USD) per person from April to October and 5 CNY (approximately 0.76 USD) per person from November to March. The admission fees for the Panda House cost 5 CNY (0.76 USD) per person.
Opening hours are from 7.30 am - 6.00 pm from April to October, and 7.30 am - 5.00 pm from November to March.
9. Savour the original Peking duck - Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant
A dish served since the imperial era, Peking duck was established as a national symbol in the 20th century. Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, located in Wangfujing shopping street, is known to serve the best Peking duck in Beijing. The skin, though, is the main part of the dish, and is usually eaten with condiments, such as cucumbers, scallions, and radishes, wrapped up in a pancake. The first bite of the crispy, crunchy skin, followed by the rich flavours flooding your senses will leave you craving more.
The cost for the whole duck is 288 CNY (approximately 43.91 USD), including condiments.
For the Wangfujing branch, opening hours are from 10.00 am - 8.30 pm.
10. Challenge yourself to exotic snacks - Wangfujing shopping street
The distinguished gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Indeed, food is an intrinsic part of a person’s cultural profile, and it is the best and most direct way to experience the local culture. The Donghuamen night market in Wangfujing shopping street sells all kinds of bold snacks for brave, adventurous souls. Ever wondered how scorpions, snakes, centipedes, and larvae taste? You need not wonder any more!
The cost for snacks is about 10 CNY (approximately 1.52 USD).
Opening hours are from 9.30 am - 10.00 pm.
11. Go back in time at teahouses - Lao She Teahouse; Sentosa Teahouse
Named after a famous Chinese artist, Lao She Teahouse is guaranteed to provide the authentic Chinese tea house experience. Travel back in time while sipping tea in a traditional and elegant tea house decorated with lanterns, tea tables, and paintings. Also, enjoy folk art performances like the Handeng drums, face changing, opera, ventriloquism, and martial arts performances. On the other hand, Sentosa Teahouse is also worth a visit for tea-lovers yearning for a more luxurious experience. Indulge in the warm, romantic atmosphere, and enjoy performances by national artists in the concert hall.
For Lao She Teahouse, the average price per person is 103 CNY (appproximately 15.70 USD).
Opening hours are from 9.00 am - 9.20 pm.
For Sentosa Teahouse, the average price per person is 286 CNY (approximately 43.60 USD).
Opening hours are from 10.00 am - 12.00 midnight.
12. Shop till you drop - Wangfujing shopping street
One of the most famous shopping streets in Beijing, Wangfujing is definitely an important stop for shopaholics. The street is filled with upscale and pedestrian shopping malls, restaurants, street food, arts and crafts shops, and stylish boutiques. Notable places to shop at are the Beijing Department Store, which houses many trendy boutiques, and the Foreign Language Bookstore, which is a haven for bookworms. Be sure to visit Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant for the best Peking Duck in Beijing, and Wangfujing Snack Street for a tantalising experience.
Most of the stores close at 9.00 pm, though there is a small 24/7 night market.
13. Splurge shamelessly - Solana Lifestyle Shopping Park
Stroll through Solana Lifestyle Shopping Park, a beautiful mall that provides a luxurious shopping experience amidst a tranquil landscape. Admire the sophisticated architecture, saunter down romantic walkways, and dine by a restaurant by the lake. Shop in over 600 famous retail shops before relaxing at one of the numerous restaurants or bars. This park is a great place for families and friends to visit.
Opening hours are from 10.00 am - 10.00 pm.
14. Discover little treasures - Panjiayuan flea market
If you wish to collect an antique souvenir or two, you definitely cannot miss Panjiayuan flea market. The market is famous for selling intriguing second-hand collectibles, souvenirs, and antiques. Ditch the mundane key chains and bookmarks for your friends and relatives. Instead, return with souvenirs that truly capture the essence of Beijing, such as calligraphy brushes, musical instruments, jewels and jades, porcelains or other craft-works. Also, why not purchase some antique furniture for a more rustic, homey feel?
Tip for shopping: bring a magnifying glass or an expert to examine more pricey antiques and steer clear of counterfeits!
Opening hours are from 8.30 am - 6 pm from Monday to Friday, and 4.30 am - 6 pm on Saturday and Sunday.
15. Ascend the great wall - The Great Wall of China
One cannot claim to have truly explored Beijing without climbing the wondrous Great Wall of China. Challenge yourself to climb the magnificent 8,851.8-kilometre-long (5,500.3-mile-long) structure, and marvel at the workmanship by labourers who lived in the Qing dynasty. With the view that surrounds you during the climb, it will be well-worth the effort. The beauty and splendour of the Great Wall was aptly captured by a cover of the Kung Fu Panda’s main theme by renowned YouTubers - The Piano Guys.
Admission fees depend on the entrance point:
At Juyongguan, admission costs 45 CNY (approximately 6.86 USD) per person. Opening hours are from 7.30 am - 5.30 pm.
At Badaling, admission costs 40 CNY (approximately 6.10 USD) per person. Opening hours are from 6.40 am - 6.30 pm,
16. Descend the snowy mountains - Huaibei Ski Resort
Huaibei Ski Resort is worth visiting for two main reasons. Firstly, it is the largest ski resort in Beijing, and secondly, the resort is surrounded by the Great Wall of China on three sides, so you can enjoy a great view while skiing. If you do not ski, do not fret! The resort is the only one in Beijing with chairlifts for beginners to enjoy the skiing experience. Furthermore, the resort provides top-notch, advanced facilities, including a ski park, a “magic carpet”, VIP rooms, a services hall, and more. Tourists may stay at one of the 12 rooms in the resort, or a farm house or hotel nearby.
Admission fees cost 20 CNY (approximately 3.05 USD) per person. The rates for skiing are from 60 - 220 CNY (approximately 9.15 - 33.54 USD) on weekdays, and 80 - 360 CNY (approximately 12.20 - 54.88 USD) on weekends, depending on the package. These include a set of skis and ski trail transportation. Ski clothes, closet storage, and snow goggle rentals are not included.
Opening hours are from 8.30 am - 5.00 pm and 4.30 pm - 9.30 pm.
Arts and culture
17. Immerse yourself in Chinese culture - Li Yuan Theatre
Located in Jianguo Hotel Qianmen and the birthplace of Opera in Beijing, the Liyuan Theatre is the most famous theatre for tourists and opera-lovers to catch a classic show. The combination of antiquated Chinese culture and pleasant humour in the performances are guaranteed to leave you intrigued, entertained, and enlightened. Sip aromatic Chinese tea around a ba xian zhuo (an old-time square dining table), and if you are curious, visit the dressing room and watch the actors get ready for their next set.
Tickets cost 200 / 280 / 380 / 480 / 580 CNY (approximately 30.49 / 42.69 / 57.93 / 73.18 / 88.42 USD) depending on seat category.
Performances are put on daily from 7.30 pm - 8.40 pm, except for the eve of Chinese New Year.
18. Lighten up at the Lantern Festival - Qianmen, Changdian
Happen to be in Beijing during the Lantern Festival? The Lantern Festival celebrates the night of the first full moon after the Lunar New Year. Be sure to stop by Qianmen to witness the spectacular street parades, including lantern shows, dragon dances, and Peking opera performances. Also, wait till after dusk to get a dazzling view of Qianmen Street as it is illuminated by Chinese lanterns. Catch the lantern show that starts at night, which features amazing handmade lanterns by artisans from around the country.
19. Indulge in Beijing’s own concoctions - Jing-A Brewing Taproom, Capital Spirits Baijiu Bar
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
This could be the first time it’s been recommended to try craft beer in Beijing. The demand for craft beers in Beijing has been growing as people are beginning to enjoy western culture. If you are a beer-lover, or enjoy a good drink at a very reasonable price, you definitely have to try Beijing’s own concoctions.
“At the Jing-A Brewing Taproom in Beijing, the owners, transplants from Connecticut and Toronto, serve American-inspired beers with local flair, including Worker’s Pale Ale, Airpocalypse Double IPA and Mandarin Wheat.” - The New York Times
Jing-A Brewing Taproom is definitely worth a visit for beer connoisseurs. Jing-A is known for its delicious, hand-brewed, artisanal craft beers, blended with Chinese herbs and spices (such as Szechuan peppers, fruits and teas). A notable drink is the Airpocalypse double IPA, whose price decreases as the Air Quality Index (AQI) increases. When the AQI exceeds 500, customers can enjoy the beer for free!
Also, if you haven’t already, try some baijiu (sorghum wine) at Capital Spirits Baijiu Bar, a hutong bar that serves the most authentic baijiu in Beijing. Baijiu is a strong distilled spirit, a beloved drink by the Chinese, and is not for the faint of stomach!
For Jing-A Brewing Taproom, opening hours are from 5.00 pm - 12.00 midnight from Mondays to Wednesdays, 4.00 pm - 12.00 midnight on Thursdays, 11.00 am - 2.00 am on Saturdays, and 11.00 am - 12.00 midnight on Sundays.
For Capital Spirits Baijiu Bar, opening hours are from 8.00 pm - 12.30 am from Tuesdays to Sundays.
20. Take a chill pill - Shichahai
Unwind at Shichahai, a scenic area comprising three lakes - Qianhai (front sea), Xihai (western sea), and Houhai (back sea). Once an important commercial site consisting of temples and mansions, Shichahai is now a place for leisure, sightseeing, and relaxing under the wispy willow trees. Shichahai still retains many historic and cultural features, such as the hutongs and ancient structures like the bell and drum towers. Moreover, Shichahai is becoming a popular late-night drinking spot where people can enjoy a drink in tranquillity. Come during winter to enjoy a drink on a frozen lake!
In a nutshell...
Beijing has so much to offer for adventurous explorers - historic places, cultural destinations, retail therapy, and a wide spread of cuisines. Wherever you look, there is a hidden gem just around the corner, waiting to be uncovered. Brace yourself for an epic adventure through Beijing’s rich history, which takes root deeply in the city and the people’s hearts. Be awed by the shiny, modern capital city with ambitious aspirations. So book your air tickets and accommodations! Your adventure awaits!
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