China, the land in the far east. One of the biggest populations in the world and bordered by 14 countries. The capital is Beijing, one of the most populous cities in the world, with over 21 million residents in its metropolitan area. It is located in the northeastern part of the country and serves as the political, cultural, and educational center of China.
There are a lot of things to do in Beijing and we managed to put them in a “10 things to do in Beijing” itinerary. This might help you decide what you want to do and plan your trip to this immense and diverse city.
1. The Chinese Wall
One of the things you really need to see once in your life is the Chinese Wall. A part of this wall runs just outside Beijing. You could just go to the main entrance and see hundreds of people on the same little piece of wall. Or you could take a “secret Chinese Wall experience.” Guess what we did? Yup, the experience.
It basically means you get picketed up and driven to a remote area of the wall. No tourists, except you and the people from the small bus and some locals. We, 6 people in total, were all alone on the wall. If you think about walking for a bit because it looks easy… It isn’t. The steps are uneven which makes it really hard to walk normally.
There is not much to tell about it, you need to experience it.
2. The Forbidden City
In Beijing is a city, which is the Forbidden City. For 500 years common folk had no idea what was happening in this city. Even though they could look over the city from Jingshanpark, the buildings were built and placed in a way you can’t see inside the city. But now everyone is welcome to take a peek, as long as you bring your passport.
There are many things to see, but it can be really crowded. if you walk alongside the outer skirts of this immense city you will see a lot and avoid the busy crowd.
Some buildings are closed and some are open. Most open buildings are little museums that give you some idea of how this city was run and how people lived here. But most buildings are stuffed with Buddha sculptures. We thought it was enough after 2 buildings.
It took us a day to visit the Forbidden City and we didn’t see it all. Bring enough water, since there aren’t many shops inside.
3. The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is visited by millions of tourists each year. Not only tourists will visit this enormous garden, but a lot of locals as well. The palace was built in the 12th century, but it was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries.
The current Summer Palace was rebuilt in the 18th century during the Qing dynasty and is considered one of the finest examples of imperial garden architecture in China. It was designed to be a retreat for the imperial family to escape the heat of Beijing’s summers and features a large lake, several pavilions, and numerous gardens.
It is a huge area with a lot of things to see and do. When you enter you will first see Suzhou Street. This is a street that runs around the canal and has over 60 shops with souvenirs and other small stuff. A bit further and up is Longevity Hill, which houses the Tower of Buddhist Incense and the Pavilion of Precious Clouds. From there you have a beautiful view over the city before you walk down again.
The palace is situated at Kunming Lake, which you will arrive at after Longevity Hill. You can go up this lake in small boats or bigger and cheaper boats. You can go back and forth with the boat before you continue to the net area.
Once back on shore, we walk towards the Garden of Virtue and Harmony. Here you’ll find a big theater with 3 floors and 21 meters high. This is where the emperor and his wife could enjoy a show. This theater was its time ahead with sound and techniques.
There is much more to see and you could spend a whole day here and it’s worth your time. You will get a map at the beginning, but after a while, we were lost and just followed the crowd.
4. Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is a Taoist temple located in southeastern Beijing, China. It was constructed in the early 15th century during the Ming dynasty and was used by emperors for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for a good harvest. The temple complex covers an area of 273 hectares and is surrounded by a large park.
It’s not just a temple, but a large park too. Tourists and locals come here to look at the great architecture, relax, or do some Qigong. We came here to visit the temple.
Here you will find the round building called the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. They used it for making sacrifices and prayers for a good harvest. The building itself is spectacular to see, from the outside and inside.
Behind the Hall of Prayer, you will find a door which is placed in 1779 for the emperor Qianlong. Because of his age, the distance between the buildings was too big, so he added this door. To make sure people don’t abuse it, he made the rule that only his children can use this door when they turned 70. Emperor Qianlong was the last emperor, so the door has never been used ever since.
A bit further is the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It looks like the Hall of Prayer, but a bit smaller. This building is surrounded by the Echo Wall. This wall is round and it allows sound to travel further. If you stand on both sides you could talk to each other. In theory, because there was so much noise from tourists we couldn’t try it.
Next up is The Circular Mound Altar. This is where the emperors made their sacrifices. It consists of 3 platforms, marble circles that get smaller and higher. The number 9 is incorporated everywhere, including the number of steps to climb, and the decorations. On the highest platform right in the middle is the Heart of Heaven. Every Chinese will stand exactly at that point to take a picture, and most of them also pose nicely. Let’s leave this for what it is, otherwise, we’ll be waiting for a while.
If you are done with all that old history you can always go shopping. There is much to see and buy. Just be careful with your credit card; there are some pretty expensive shops in Beijing.
There are many big shopping areas in Beijing. To name a few: Wangfujing Shopping Street, Qianmen Street, The Nanluogu Lane and Drum Tower Area, and Jiamao Shopping Center at Xizhimen. It really depends on what you are looking for.
When browsing the shops in the streets it can be worth walking through little streets around the big, expensive shops. You might end up in a local Chinese market. Just be aware they do things a bit differently here and so are the wares they are selling.
This public park is on the north side of the Forbidden City. When you leave the Forbidden City you can just cross the street and enter this park. It is 23 hectares and was opened to the public in 1928 while it was built in the 12th century. It is in this park where Chongzhen Emporer, the last ruler of the Ming dynasty, hanged himself from a tree after Beijing fell to Li Zicheng’s rebel forces in 1644.
Apart from this history, you can climb the stairs to get a great view of the Forbidden City. Looking at this immense city you get a pretty good idea that people really couldn’t look into the city and see what was happening. For the best view, walk up to Wanchun Pavilion, which is the highest peak.
There is also a 15th-century Zhenjue Temple. If you walk through the park, you will see a lot of locals enjoying the peace and quietness of this park. Maybe a group doing Tai Chi or picnicking.
7. Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is a large city square located in the center of Beijing, the capital of China. It has been the site of numerous important political and cultural events throughout Chinese history.
The square is named after the Tiananmen Gate, which is located on the northern side of the square and serves as the entrance to the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace of China. The square itself covers an area of approximately 109 acres (440,000 square meters) and can hold up to one million people.
One of the most significant events in modern Chinese history associated with Tiananmen Square is the 1989 pro-democracy protests, which culminated in a violent crackdown by the Chinese government. On June 4th, 1989, the Chinese government sent troops and tanks to clear the square of protesters, resulting in the deaths of hundreds or possibly thousands of people.
Despite its controversial history, Tiananmen Square remains an important symbol of Chinese nationalism and pride and is a popular tourist destination for visitors to Beijing. It is also the site of numerous important political and cultural events, including military parades, political rallies, and public celebrations.
8. National Museum of China
The National Museum of China is located on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. It is one of the largest museums in the world and is considered to be China’s premier museum. The museum was formed in 2003 through the merger of two previous museums, the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution.
The National Museum of China has a collection of over 1.3 million objects, including many important artifacts from China’s long and rich history. The museum’s exhibits cover a wide range of topics, including Chinese art, calligraphy, archaeology, ethnography, and history.
The museum is housed in a building that covers an area of 200,000 square meters. The building has two main floors and 48 exhibition halls, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive museums in the world. Some of the most popular exhibits include ancient Chinese bronzes, the terracotta army from the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and various exhibits showcasing the history of Chinese civilization.
Hutongs are narrow alleyways that are unique to Beijing and are an important part of the city’s cultural heritage. These traditional courtyard houses, known as siheyuan, are arranged along narrow streets and alleys.
The Hutongs have a long history that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) when they were first built as residential areas for the aristocracy. Over time, the Hutongs became more densely populated and were home to a range of social classes, including merchants, artisans, and workers.
They are everywhere in the city, usually a bit outside the city center. It can be a nice walk through the Hutongs to get a glimpse of the day-to-day life of the locals and the history of the city and China.
A great way to explore these narrow streets is by bicycle and there are many tour operators that offer these tours.
10. Food (tour)
We all “know” Chinese food from back home, but real Chinese food is so much different from what we know. It’s worth taking a food tour to explore the local cuisine and learn more about Chinese food traditions.
Beijing is famous for its Peking Duck. Which is a roasted duck that is traditionally served with a sweet bean sauce. The recipe goes back to the Ming Dynasty.
But there is much more to discover. Best is to book a food tour and let someone explore, and taste, Chinese food, and delicacies. It’s also a great way to learn how you eat with chopsticks.
Done with Chinese food? There are plenty of fast-food chains all over the place and it’s pretty easy to get western food if you want it.
That concludes our 10 things to do in Beijing. There is so much more to do in this city. Stay at least a week or two in this city to get a good feel of what’s happening and don’t rush yourself. Accept the culture shock and move with the locals.
This list is not complete, there are a lot more fun and free things to do in Beijing. Please share your favorites in the comments below and let us know what we need to visit next time we’re in Beijing. We’d love to hear about your favorite restaurants, cafes, and hotels.
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