Beijing, China offers visitors an incredible journey through the history and culture of China, where you can walk in the footsteps of emperors, holy men, communists, and those seeking democracy on Tiananmen Square. This famous city landmark is where you will find some of the best must-see attractions, such as the Forbidden City, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the National Museum of China, and the Great Hall of the People. No visit would be complete without walking along part of the Great Wall of China or spending some time admiring a few of the many splendid palaces and temples. For a change of pace, you can visit Olympic Green, site of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and then shop until you drop at Silk Street.
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Perfectly located right in the center of Beijing, Beihai Park is the largest and also the oldest imperial garden in China and is a must on any visitor’s itinerary. There are several separate temples and pavilions to explore, including Circular City, Qionghua Isle (Jade Island), the Nine Dragon Screen, and the Five Dragon Pavilions. If you arrive early, you can watch the local visitors practicing tai chi or other martial arts, and the park is a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city – a boat trip on the lake is very relaxing. Spring to autumn are the best months to visit to see the gardens in bloom but winter has its own charm and you can watch the ice skating on the lake.
2.Beijing Ancient Observatory
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At the Beijing Ancient Observatory you have the chance to see one of the world’s oldest and longest-working pre-telescopic observatories, an absolute must-see for history buffs and anyone interested in astronomy. The observatory dates back to 1442, a full two centuries ahead of the famous Greenwich Royal Observatory in London. There are eight intriguing star-gazing instruments to be admired, including an ancient sextant, a theodolite, and an armillary sphere, all beautifully decorated with ornate Asian artistic flourishes. The Ancient Observatory is located in a historic building that now forms part of the Beijing Planetarium, and you can also explore the on-site Chinese Astronomy Museum.
Beijing Ancient Observatory, 2 Dongbiaobei Hutong, Jian Wai DaJie, Dongcheng Qu, China, 100005, Phone: 86-10-65-24-22-02
3.Beijing Museum of Natural History
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The Beijing Museum of Natural History is home to a very highly respected collection of over 200,000 specimens that will delight and educate visitors interested in learning about the evolution of our planet. Principally a research facility, the museum has amassed a particularly intriguing collection of rare anthropological specimens with an emphasis on the Jurassic Era. As you make your way through the museum, you will have the chance to try out the many interactive exhibits in the various sections, which include the technologically advanced Mystery of the Animals exhibit and the very popular Dinosaur Park. The museum is suitable for all ages and children will particularly love the dinosaurs and the “Animals – Friends of Human Beings” exhibit.
Beijing Museum of Natural History, 126 Tian Qiao Nan St, Dongcheng District, Beijing, 100050, Phone: 86-10-67-02-77-02
4.Beijing National Stadium
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A striking landmark in the Olympic Green Village in Chaoyang District, the Beijing National Stadium was built to serve as the main arena for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The unusual construction of the stadium, which is largely composed of a network of steel frames, has earned the venue the nickname of “the Bird’s Nest”. Now used as a popular venue for all kinds of sporting events, visitors are welcome to come and explore both the stadium and the adjoining National Aquatic Center, also known as the Water Cube. In winter the stadium is transformed into a winter-sports complex where you can try ice skating, snow tubing, ski jumping, and much more. The National Stadium is included in several guided tours of Beijing.
Beijing National Stadium, 1 National Stadium S Rd, Chaoyang Qu, China, 100101, Phone: 86-10-84-37-30-08
5.Beijing Temple of Confucius
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Architecture enthusiasts and admirers of ancient Chinese philosophy and culture will find it hard to resist a visit to the beautiful and serene Beijing Temple of Confucius. The ancient temple dates back to around 1302 and was used as a place of homage to Confucius during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties (1271 to 1911). Confucius is still considered to be one of the greatest minds in ancient China and it is appropriate that the Guozijian Imperial Academy, the highest institute of learning in China, is located next door. You can tour both centers of culture on your own (there are a fair number of plaques in English) or by joining a guided tour, before exploring the attractive and interesting streets and eateries around the temple.
Beijing Temple of Confucius, 15 Guozijian St, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing, 100007, Phone: 86-10-84-02-72-24
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No visit to Beijing would be complete without taking the time to see one of the world’s most charismatic and rare animals, the giant panda, at Beijing Zoo. Besides viewing the exotic and rare collections of animals from China, the zoo also showcases animals from all over the world in 16 different exhibition areas, which have been carefully constructed to offer the animals a comfortable environment. The most popular exhibit is without doubt the Panda Hall, which covers an area of over 2.5 acres and contains an air-conditioned section to help the animals cope with the heat. The adjoining Beijing Aquarium is one of the largest in the world and hosts a popular Ocean Theater, where you can watch seal, dolphin, and whale performances.
Beijing Zoo, 137 Xizhimen Outer St, DongWuYaun, Xicheng Qu, Beijing 100037, Phone: 86-10-68-39-02-74
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The Capital Museum is located in Beijing’s financial quarter and will impress anyone interested in Asian art and Chinese culture. The museum is spread over eleven floors and is home to an impressive collection of ancient Chinese art, including paintings, calligraphy, various bronze and jade ornaments and utensils, and a diversity of other ancient cultural relics of old Beijing operas.
You can explore most of the collection for free but will need to pay if you want to visit one of the temporary exhibitions, which are hosted on the first floor and basement level. You can hire an English audio guide at the entrance. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Capital Museum, 16 Fuxingmenwai Dajie, Xicheng Qu, Beijing, Phone: 86-10-63-37-04-91
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Probably the most-visited tourist attraction in Beijing, the Forbidden City (aka the Palace Museum) was the imperial palace from the Ming to the Qing dynasties (1420 to 1912) and is one of China’s most beautiful and well-preserved heritage sites. Even if you’re not really into museums, the Forbidden City is a must-see attraction, covering over 75 hectares, and is the largest palace complex in the world with over 900 individual wooden buildings. It would be impossible to see all the 8,700 rooms, but a 2 to 3-hour tour will show you most of the highlights of this amazing museum. Since the museum is extremely popular, you need to book online to avoid disappointment unless you are joining a tour group.
Forbidden City (Palace Museum), 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing, 100006, Phone: 86-10-85-00-74-21
9.Fragrant Hills Park
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Lying at the foot of the Western Mountains in the northwestern part of Beijing, the Fragrant Hills Park is a great place for visitors to escape the hustle and bustle of Beijing city for a few hours. Formerly an imperial garden established in 1186, the park is now an urban oasis covering over 160 hectares and is ideal for walking and hiking. You can explore not only the beautiful forests of maple, pine, and persimmon trees but also the several interesting relics dotted around for you, including villas, lakes, monasteries, and pagodas. When you’ve had enough of walking you can get a great aerial view from the cable car ride.
Fragrant Hills Park, 40 Maimai St, Haidian Qu, Beijing 100042, Phone: 86-10-62-59-12-64
10.Great Wall of China
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The legendary Great Wall of China is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Asia and several of the most popular sections of this incredible 13,000-mile-long fortified wall are easily accessible from Beijing. Which part of the wall you decide to tour will largely depend on your fitness level and what you want to see – some sections such as Badaling, Mutianyu, and Juyongguan have good tourism facilities and are suitable for families and senior visitors but are inevitably more crowded. Solitude-seekers will probably prefer Simatai, Jinshanling, or Shuaguan, which are also developed but a little less crowded, while hikers can take on the wild and undeveloped areas of the wall. Find out which suits you best on the website.
11.Golou and Zhonglou
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The historic Drum Tower (Golou) and neighboring Bell Tower (Zhonglou) stand at the northern end of the central axis of Beijing’s inner city, where they were employed to keep local residents on time for several hundred years. The Drum Tower was built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan and at one time housed 24 huge drums, which were beaten to announce the time. The Bell Tower was a much later addition and contains an enormous cast bronze bell that can be heard over 12 miles away. For a small fee you can explore both of these historic structures, and your climb to the viewing platform will be rewarded with sweeping views over the city.
12.Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Hall)
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One of the undisputed highlights of the incredible Forbidden City, the Hall of Supreme Harmony is a must-see attraction for all visitors to Beijing. Those who are in the know when it comes to Chinese architecture will immediately realize that the double-layered roof is a building style reserved only for the emperor, and thus indicates the lofty status of the building, which is the largest wooden structure in the world. As you tour the Hall of Supreme Harmony, you will see the emperor’s grand throne surrounded by six enormous gold pillars adorned with dragons, which symbolize the emperor’s power. Other highlights of the hall include carved gilt screens, beautiful cloisonné incense burners, and a variety of other sculptures and artifacts.
Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City (Palace Museum), 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing, 100006, Phone: 86-10-85-00-74-21
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Located on Jingshan Hill, opposite the north gate of the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park is an enormous 57-acre urban green space that offers a wonderful escape from the frenetic city hustle and bustle. Locals and visitors come to the park to walk and hike – there are great views of the city from the five summits in the park, each of which is topped by a pagoda built in 1751. In spring and summer the garden areas are superb and there are many exotic plants and flowers to admire. Dotted around the park you can find several pavilions, which were originally used by the emperors for worship. The park is easy to access using Sightseeing Bus 1, 2 or 3 to the Gugong (Forbidden City) stop.
14.Marco Polo Bridge
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History buffs and both architecture and engineering enthusiasts will find it interesting to pay a visit to the Marco Polo Bridge (aka the Lugou Bridge), which spans the Yongding River about 15 km southwest of Beijing City. The bridge got its name from the adventurer Marco Polo, who considered it to be one of the finest bridges of its kind in the world. The current bridge dates back to 1698, replacing the earlier bridge, which was constructed around 1192. The bridge has a unique construction and used extremely advanced construction methods and is enhanced by hundreds of stone lions from various eras. You can also visit the historic 17th-century Wanping Fortress, which stands at the eastern end of the bridge and now houses the Museum of the Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression.
15.Mausoleum of Mao Zedong
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Located east of famous Tiananmen Square you will find the impressive Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, also known as the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. Covering a massive area of over 57 thousand square meters and comprising 44 massive granite posts supporting a double-eaved roof, the distinctive structure was built to impress as well as to properly pay tribute to a national hero, and it thoroughly succeeds in this objective. The memorial hall contains a huge statue of Chairman Mao as well as his final resting place and visitors are encouraged to behave with respect and restraint while visiting. In front of the mausoleum you can admire two groups of statues, which depict the China Revolution.
16.The Ming Tombs
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The Ming Dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644 and visitors to Beijing can visit the final resting place of the thirteen emperors who ruled China during this period. Located 31 miles north of Beijing in the Changling area, the Ming Tombs cover over 46 square miles of well-preserved mausoleums and their various palaces, stone archways, and other structures. Your visit to the Ming Tombs will reveal the original Changling Tomb of the first emperor at the center of the site, surrounded by the other 12 mausoleums, which are spread out in a particular fan shape to be in harmony with nature and the environment. Currently four of the 13 tombs are open to the public.
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17.The National Center for the Performing Arts (CHNCPA)
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Art lovers should not miss the chance to visit Beijing’s wonderful National Center for the Performing Arts in the Xicheng District of the city. Housed in a striking modern dome-shaped building you will find five separate purpose-built spaces dedicated to showcasing the arts in the best possible way. You can take an English guided tour of the center (advance booking recommended) or, better yet, attend a performance in one of the concert halls or the majestic opera house. The center operates regular weekend concerts, workshops, and lectures. The center is closed on Mondays and is easily accessed using the bus or subway to Tiananmen West.
CHNCPA, No. 2 West Chang’an Avenue, Xicheng District, Beijing, 100006, Phone: 86-10-66-55-00-00
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18.The National Museum of China
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Home to over 1.3 million exhibition pieces, the National Museum of China is a treasure trove of rare Chinese art, which has been painstakingly accumulated over 100 years since the museum’s inception in 1912. As you walk through the extensive halls and galleries you can follow the path of 5,000 years of Chinese culture and civilization. The massive collection is spread over five levels, which you can explore in your own time using an English audio guide. The museum is located opposite the Great Hall of the People on the east side of Tiananmen Square and is easily accessed using the bus or subway. Entrance is free (bring your passport) and the museum is closed on Mondays.
The National Museum of China, 16 East Chang’an Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100006, Phone: 86-10-65-11-64-00
19.Niu Jie Mosque (Cow Street Mosque)
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It may come as a surprise to some visitors that the predominantly atheist and Buddhist country of China has a significant Muslim population (around 2%). The Niu Jie Mosque is the oldest, largest, and most elaborate in Beijing and boasts some rather unusual cross-cultural architectural elements that would be of interest to anyone with some knowledge of Islamic and Chinese architecture. The mosque covers an area of over 6,000 square meters and is composed of several separate buildings, including the prayer hall (off limits to non-Muslims), the Bangge Lou (minaret), and a moon observation tower. Although the outside of the mosque is deceptively Chinese in design, resembling the city’s many Buddhist temples, the interiors are more representative of Islamic architecture.
Nui Jie Mosque, 18 Cow Street, Xuanwu District, Beijing
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Olympic Green is another name for the Beijing Olympic Park, which was built to host the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and Paralympics. Visitors to Olympic Green can walk in the footsteps of the thousands of athletes and admiring spectators who brought the park to life in 2008, as they tour the enormous 1,135-hectare park. Highlights of your visit will be the fabulous Bird’s Nest (the Beijing National Stadium), which is where all the track and field events took place, the Water Cube (the Beijing National Aquatics Center) and the Folding Fan (the Beijing National Indoor Stadium), where the gymnastics and trampoline events took place. At the center of the park you will find the traditional Chinese architecture of the Ling Long Pagoda.
Olympic Green, Chaoyang, Beijing, Phone: 86-10-84-99-20-08
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Visitors wanting to get a glimpse of historical Beijing should head to the Shichahai area in northwest Beijing, which covers a large area of about 146 hectares, home to several temples and remnants of historical buildings and residences. The area is also home to three lovely lakes popular with the locals for fishing, swimming, and boating. You can hire a tricycle or tandem bicycle to explore the area, stopping to admire the highlights, which include Gong Wang Fu (Prince Gong’s Mansion), Chun Wang Fu (Prince Chun’s Mansion), and the Guang Hua Temple. It is also possible to see the sights from an entirely different perspective by taking a boat trip on the lakes. There are dozens of wonderful water-side restaurants where you can relax and enjoy a meal.
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Silk Street, aka Silk Market, is a Beijing institution and no visit to the city would be complete without spending a few hours at the market honing your bargaining skills. The market was once an open-air market place but is now a popular shopping mall that is home to over 1,000 retailers, many of which still practice age-old crafts. Here you can have a beautiful tailor-made suit, shirt, or outfit made especially for you, buy beautifully crafted silk items, or stock up on Chinese tea, porcelain, and other locally produced souvenirs to take back home. It’s important to know that the first two floors of Silk Street are filled with imitations of famous brand goods, which can be bought at bargain prices. To learn about the origins of the silk industry you can visit the Silk Museum on the third floor.
Silk Street, 8 Xiushui E St, JainWai Da Jie, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing, Phone: 86-10-56-76-77-66
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Located in the Haidian District about 9 miles from downtown Beijing, the Summer Palace is a magnificent royal park that has been open to the public since 1924. The Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for all nature, architecture, art, and culture enthusiasts who visit Beijing. The Summer Palace was originally constructed in 1750, but most of the structures you see today date back to around 1900. The impressive gardens encompass Longevity Hill, Kunming Lake, and over 3,000 ancient man-made structures including pavilions, towers, and more. You will need about 3 hours to properly explore the palace and surrounding gardens and lake. You can easily access the Summer Palace by bus or by subway.
Summer Palace, 19 Xinjiangongmen Rd, Haidian Qu, Beijing, Phone: 86-10-62-88-11-44
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Tiananmen Square is the most famous landmark in Beijing, site of the notorious 1989 uprising, and a must-see attraction for all visitors to the city. Within the enormous 109-acre site you will be able to visit several of the most popular tourist attractions in Beijing, including the Great Hall of the People, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the National Museum of China, and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. If you are an early riser you can come and watch the daily flag raising ceremony, which takes place just before dawn. Directly adjacent to Tiananmen Square you will find the Forbidden City, which is another of Beijing’s must-see attractions.
25.Yonghe Lama Temple
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The Yonghe Lama Temple stands out from the many other Buddhist temples you may encounter on your travels around China and Beijing. What makes this particular temple so special is that it was originally built as emperor Yongzheng’s residence back in 1694 and is therefore appropriately impressive, featuring architectural styles that were only used for imperial palaces. Architecture enthusiasts will notice the imperial double-layered roof, red walls, and stone lions, which were only used for emperor’s dwellings. In 1744 the residence was converted into the well-preserved lamasery you can see today. Inside the splendid building you can admire a drum tower, a bell tower, and two octagonal stele pavilions – it is a must-see site for admirers of Chinese/Buddhist architecture.
Yonghe Lama Temple, 12 Yonghegong Dajie, Beixingiao, Dongcheng, Beijing, 100007, Phone: 86-10-84-19-19-19
25 Best Things to Do in Beijing
- Beihai Park, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Beijing Ancient Observatory, Photo: Courtesy of wizdata - Fotolia.com
- Beijing Museum of Natural History, Photo: Courtesy of Björn Wylezich - Fotolia.com
- Beijing National Stadium, Photo: Courtesy of oak5 - Fotolia.com
- Beijing Temple of Confucius, Photo: Courtesy of smej - Fotolia.com
- Beijing Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of Fotokon - Fotolia.com
- Capital Museum, Photo: Courtesy of joeycheung - Fotolia.com
- Forbidden City, Photo: Courtesy of jptinoco - Fotolia.com
- Fragrant Hills Park, Photo: Courtesy of xixinxing - Fotolia.com
- Great Wall of China, Photo: Courtesy of 9parusnikov - Fotolia.com
- Golou and Zhonglou, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Hall), Photo: Courtesy of superjoseph - Fotolia.com
- Jingshan Park, Photo: Courtesy of Fotokon - Fotolia.com
- Marco Polo Bridge, Photo: Courtesy of nyiragongo - Fotolia.com
- Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, Photo: Courtesy of BRIAN_KINNEY - Fotolia.com
- The Ming Tombs, Photo: Courtesy of fuyi - Fotolia.com
- The National Center for the Performing Arts (CHNCPA), Photo: Courtesy of Bruno Bernier - Fotolia.com
- The National Museum of China, Photo: Courtesy of Stripped Pixel - Fotolia.com
- Niu Jie Mosque (Cow Street Mosque), Photo: Courtesy of claudiozacc - Fotolia.com
- Olympic Green, Photo: Courtesy of Patrick G. - Fotolia.com
- Shichahai, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Silk Street, Photo: Courtesy of ping han - Fotolia.com
- Summer Palace, Photo: Courtesy of Fokussiert - Fotolia.com
- Tiananmen Square, Photo: Courtesy of nyiragongo - Fotolia.com
- Yonghe Lama Temple, Photo: Courtesy of BRIAN_KINNEY - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of merydolla - Fotolia.com