No trip to China is truly complete without visiting this amazing city – eclipsed only by the enormity of Shanghai, Beijing is the third most populous city in the word with an estimated population of 21 million inhabitants.
The history of Beijing spans back three millennia and it has served as a cultural and economic center of China for thousands of years. This ever-expanding city is a true delight to visit and offers a vast amount of attractions both old and new – in other words, whatever kind of travel you’re into, you’re likely find it here! (Serious, it doesn’t matter if you’re more spa break incline or more prone to moment of athletic dexterity trekking the mountains, Beijing is where you should be headed).
From the modern towering skyscrapers to the ancient religious temples and the monumental great wall (arguably one of the biggest attractions in all of China), Beijing has something for everyone and is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.
To that end, here are 9 places you absolutely have to visit when you’re in Beijing.
1.) The Forbidden City
Beijing is basically created around the Forbidden City/Imperial Palace and this complex lies at the heart of the city. Dating back to the 13h century, this palace is truly immense and is an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Separated from the city by a large moat, and enclosed within 10m high walls, when entering the palace, it feels as if you are entering another world. Highlights of this significant complex include the Golden River bridges, the Hall of Military Courage and the hall of Supreme Harmony.
2.) Tiananmen Square
This unbelievable public space was built to hold a million people and you can really feel the scale of Tiananmen when you step inside its boundaries. Located adjacent to the Forbidden City, this is another highlight of Beijing. Many significant political events have been held here and in the center of the square is a 38m high marble obelisk. Other sights within the square include the beautiful Tiananmen gate and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution.
3.) Beihai Park
As one of the oldest public gardens in the city, Beihai Park offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of Beijing and is a delight to explore. Climb to the top of the central Hall of Enlightenment for fantastic views across to the Forbidden City, or admire the beauty of the 13th century Round Fort and the elegance of the 17th century White Pagoda on the Island of Exquisite Jade.
4.) The Temple of Heaven
This amazing complex dates back to the 15th century and features a range of beautiful temples and shrines. The main attraction is the central temple that is absolutely bursting with colour, decorations and Asian artwork.
Additionally, you can see the surreal Echo Wall that amplifies even the slightest of sounds and creates a series of exaggerated echoes. The surrounding parkland also provides an opportunity to enjoy nature and explore at your own leisure.
5.) The Lama Temple
Also known as the Yonghe Temple, this monastery is one of the best-preserved examples of Han Chinese and Tibetan architecture found in Beijing. Created in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, the temple served as a royal court and residence. The main section of the temple is absolutely fantastic and the architecture is absolutely amazing – every inch of the building is covered with colorful decoration and typical Chinese designs. Furthermore, the interior features a myriad of golden statues and shrines dedicated to the Buddhist religion. There are a fair few temples in Beijing but if you’ve only got enough time to see just one, it’s gotta be the Lama Temple!
6.) Beijing Capital Museum
For an intriguing insight into the history of China’s capital, the impressive Capital Museum offers a staggering collection to admire. You could literally spend hours wandering through the many different exhibits and rooms. Important collections include a display of traditional Chinese calligraphy, a huge 40t stele of the Emperor Qian Long, famous porcelain from the Ming Dynasty, and a vast array of cultural artefacts gathered from around the country.
7.) Beijing Zoo
Something of a more controversial one (and perhaps one you’re more like to do if you haven’t seen Pandas in China yet), come Beijing Zoo. I’ve had friends say this was perhaps one experience they would have skipped and others who loved the sheer diversity of animals they’ve seen so do your research (check out the reviews on TripAdvisor here) and decide if you’re comfortable before you decide to part with you cash and visit.
Spanning over 220 acres, this is one of the oldest Zoos in the country and is home to nearly 15,000 animals from over 1,000 different species. It would be easy to spend a day walking through this expansive zoo as you spot the different animals. Memorable characters include the South China tigers, the Golden Snub-nosed monkeys, the unforgettable Giant Pandas, and the extremely rare Red-crowned Crane. Aside from the animals, there is also an impressive aquarium and acres of parkland and woods to explore.
8.) Mutianyu Great Wall
No trip to Beijing is complete without a visit to at least one section of the legendary Great Wall of China. The section at Mutianyu is one of the best preserved and also the least busy so if you want to take some epic photos of the wall without a hundred other tourist stood next to you, then come here! (Also, when I say ‘best preserved’, just googling some of the lesser preserved part of the wall will show you why this is a part of the wall you’ll definitely want to visit. With a total of 23 watchtowers at this section of wall, the photographic opportunities are endless, as are the hiking trails to meander through.
9.) The Old Summer Palace
This expansive complex was constructed in the 18th century and is located to the northwest of the Forbidden City. Yuanmingyuan originally served as the residence of Qianlong Emperor and the successors of the Qing Dynasty and now serves as a public park. Here you can find a dazzling display of rustic Pagodas, beautiful water features, and even European style ruins. The various ruins of the palatial complex provide an insight into its past, and the beauty of the gardens and park is a testament to this dynasty’s power.