After a week in Beijing I was amazed at how much there is to do and see! There are countless travel guides, suggestions and recommendations out there to give you ideas of what to see in Beijing. There is Peking Opera, Acrobatics, world-renown tourist destinations, amazing food, parks, lakes, and the list goes on… This article is an attempt to narrow down the hundreds of options, to the Top 8 Things to See in Beijing.
It is impossible to visit the city without realizing you are in the capital of China. There is a self-assured confidence that radiates from the streets and a formality that is felt through the ever-present police and military personnel in tourist areas. The aura of Beijing comes thousands of years of invaders, dynastic rule, and a dramatic modern history that has evolved and molded it into the 20 million+ super city it is today.
1. The Great Wall of China:
Fully living up to it’s reputation, the Great Wall is a great way to spend a day. There are multiple tour companies and guides who will take you to the wall. Be prepared to walk and climb a lot of stairs. I highly recommend The Mutianyu Section of the wall because it has been partly-restored, it’s closer to Beijing than most sections, and there is a really fun slide (toboggan ride) to get down when you are finished!
2. Summer Palace:
Definitely a notable tourist destination in Beijing. Very scenic and outdoorsy; this is where royalty and emperors used to hang out! You could easily spend half a day walking around the massive lake, hiking up through rocks and caves to the Summer Palace, strolling the streets of Suzhou Street or crossing the bridge to the island. If you are planning on spending the day at the Summer Palace buy the combination ticket. If you only want to spend a couple hours I’d recommend buying an entry ticket plus the Summer Palace and Suzhou Street.
3. Tian’anmen Square:
Tian’anmen Square feels like it should be the safest place in China due to the overwhelming police and military presence; but you can’t help but feel their presence as an intimidating warning, rather than as a sense of security which undoubtedly justifies their presence. You have to see Tian’anmen Square if you are in Beijing; but don’t plan on spending a lot of time there. It is just a massive square of open space with one large building in the center that is guarded by military. There’s nothing to do in the square, nowhere to sit, and too many cameras for my liking.
4. Lama Temple:
Temples in China become fairly similar to each other after you see a lot of them. The Lama Temple is one of my top 2 favorite temples in China (Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai is the other one). The Lama Temple is massive, in a fun neighborhood in Beijing, and the most notable temple in Beijing.
5. National Stadium:
Beijing pulled off one of the most successful Olympics in history. The national stadium is where it all happened and it is incredible at night. There are many walking tours and night tours in Beijing and they will all include the National Stadium.
6. Drum Tower & Bell Tower:
These towers give some insight into the unique and creative ways that the Chinese have used to keep track of time throughout the ages. You can buy a combination ticket for the drum tower and the bell tower (30 RMB) and see them both in 1-2 hours. The stairs to get up both of them are comically steep, but both provide an amazing view of the city. If you only want to climb one tower go up the Drum Tower and catch the drum performance which is done every hour on the half hour. It’s short but it’s a fairly impressive performance.
7. National Museum of China:
The National Museum is free so it’s definitely worth poking around in. It’s located right next to Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City so you find yourself close to it at some point. Periodically, they have some good exhibitions and showcases. One room that is particularly fascinating is the room of gifts that other countries have given to China.
8. The Forbidden City:
The Forbidden City is almost as high on most tourists “to-do” list as the Great Wall. It is worth seeing if you are in Beijing just to say you have seen it; but aside from the massive influence on modern Chinese History I am at a loss of what to say about it. It is huge, packed with tourists, and you can’t get close enough to any of the historical relics to appreciate them. People say you need 4-5 hours to see the Forbidden City. If you are really into Chinese history and know all about the Mongols, Ming/Qing dynasties, and are fascinated by where all the emperors ruled China from; then maybe you can kill 4 hours. Otherwise 1-2 hours is enough to casually stroll through the throngs of tourists and get the overall feel.