Beijing is one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world and has been the economic and political center of China for centuries.
It’s a fascinating city full of beautiful historical attractions and rich culture, all intertwined with progress and buzzing modern life. For travelers, this offers the perfect mix of the new with the old.
In Beijing, you can find ancient temples next to new flashy malls, top-rated restaurants hidden in old Hutong neighborhoods and art galleries opening up in abandoned military factories.
There is just so much to see and do in this city that even after two weeks I felt like I had only scratched the surface. I visited elaborate Imperial palaces, camped on The Great Wall of China and ate some of the best food of my life.
In this post below I have rounded up all of my favorite places and attractions that I visited during my two weeks in Beijing, China.
If you are planning a trip to Beijing, here are 15 of the best things to do in Beijing that you simply can’t miss:
- Forbidden City
- Great Wall Of China
- Summer Palace
- Temple Of Heaven
- Tiananmen Square
- Jingshan Park
- Peking Duck
- Lama Temple
- Drum Tower And Bell Tower
- 798 Art Zone
- Beihai Park
- Houhai Lake
- Ming Dynasty Tombs
- Peking Opera
Note that you will need your passport to purchase tickets and visit most of the attractions and temples mentioned in our Beijing article below.
If there’s one place that you shouldn’t miss on your trip to China, it’s the Forbidden City Palace in downtown Beijing.
Forbidden City is an ancient imperial complex that served as the main residence for China’s emperors and their families up until 1912. Located in the center of Beijing with more than 17 million visitors a year, the Palace Museum is by far the most popular attraction in all of Beijing – for local and international visitors alike.
Forbidden City is quite big and it’s almost impossible to see it all in one visit. If you plan to visit the Palace Museum, I highly recommend taking a tour to make the best of your time there.
I’ve been to the Forbidden City a couple of times and my favorite tour was with a company called Beijing Postcards. It’s run by historians that will dive into interesting stories about what life was like in ancient China. But Beijing Postcards tours only take place a few times a month so if none of these tours fall on your trip dates, check out these Get Your Guide Forbidden City tours that take place almost daily.
If you’re visiting Beijing over a short time, you can certainly see the Forbidden City on your own as well. We squeezed in a 2-hour visit to The Forbidden City during our 24-hour layover in Beijing and we were able to quickly walk through the Forbidden City and visit most of the major buildings and attractions within.
Cost: Entrance ticket to The Forbidden City costs 60 Yuan ($8 USD) from April to October and 40 Yuan ($6 USD) from November to March.
Hours: Opening hours vary depending on the season.
From April to October, the Forbidden City is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
From November to March, the Forbidden City is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Time Needed: 2-4 hours
Great Wall Of China
You can’t really plan a trip to Beijing and not visit the Great Wall Of China. Along with the Forbidden City, The Great Wall Of China is another bucket list spot that you should definitely try to cross off during your time in Beijing.
BUT the Great Wall Of China is HUGE and it can be quite difficult to choose which section to visit.
Two of the most popular Great Wall locations for tourists are Mutianyu and Badaling. I’ve been to both and personally they looked very similar. Both are renovated, very scenic AND extremely crowded.
Both Badaling and Mutianyu Great Wall sections are located a few hours away from Beijing so you’ll need to arrange a driver or a tour bus to get there.
On my last visit to Beijing I signed up for a Get Your Guide tour to Mutianyu Wall and I really enjoyed it. This was by far the cheapest tour I could find and along with a visit to Mutianyu Wall our tour included a stop at the Ming Dynasty Tombs, jade factory, lunch, and tea sampling, all for less than $40 USD.
This Mutianyu Tour was kept pretty small (less than 10 people) and we were given almost 2 hours on the Great Wall to take photos and walk around, which I felt was plenty of time for me personally. Our guide was very friendly and gave us a quick history lesson on China before visiting the Great Wall.
If you’re looking for a more unique experience, I highly recommend an overnight backpacking trip on the Great Wall of China.
My sister and I backpacked a section of the Great Wall of China over a weekend in Beijing. We got to hike one of the more rugged sections of the Great Wall and camp in an old watchtower. This backpacking trip costs a lot more than a regular day tour, but it was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget.
Badaling Tour: Badaling: Great Wall and Ming Tombs Bus Tour
Mutianyu Tour: Mutianyu Great Wall & Ming Tombs Bus Tour
Beijing has quite a few elaborate Chinese imperial palaces.
While the Forbidden City was the main residence for imperial rulers, the Summer Palace was their “vacation” getaway spot. Located on the outskirts of Beijing, Summer Palace is where emperors and their families would go to rest, relax and enjoy nature.
Just like the Forbidden City, Summer Palace was built in a traditional Chinese architectural style with detailed wooden buildings and temples. But unlike other Chinese imperial palaces, Summer Palace grounds include a lake, meandering rivers, parks and lots of green space.
While most people visit the Forbidden City because of its historical significance, in my opinion, the Summer Palace is more scenic of the two. But the Summer Palace is located on the outskirts of Beijing which makes it a bit more difficult and time-consuming to visit.
I visited the Summer Palace on my own but this imperial complex is GIANT and I spent an entire day exploring it.
I recommend setting aside plenty of time if you plan to come on your own or sign up for a Summer Palace tour like this one that will take you to all of the main highlights and help you navigate this imperial complex so you don’t feel lost (like I was).
Cost: You have the option to get a basic ticket for 30 Yuan ($4 USD) but this ticket doesn’t include entrance to a few of the main attractions within the Summer Palace. I recommend getting the all-inclusive Through Ticket for 60 Yuan ($8 USD).
Summer Hours (April – October)
- Park Gates: 6:30 am to 6 pm
- Attractions: 8:30 am to 5 pm
Winter Hours (November – March)
- Park Gates: 7 am to 5 pm
- Attractions: 9 am to 4 pm
Time Needed: 3-4 hours
Temple Of Heaven
Another popular attraction to visit in Beijing is the Temple Of Heaven.
Temple Of Heaven is a beautiful park housing multiple elaborate temples where China’s emperors would come and pray to gods asking for rain, good weather, and healthy crops.
From all of the traditional Chinese imperial temples that I visited in Beijing, Temple Of Heaven is by far the easiest temple to visit on your own. This temple complex is easy to navigate with one main walkway traveling north to south and can be seen in about 2 hours.
One of the most picturesque buildings at the Temple Of Heaven is The Hall Of Prayer For Good Harvest.
I actually came to Temple Of Heaven right at opening in hopes to catch this hall completely by myself and get a few good photos with beautiful morning light. While I was able to get a few shots of The Hall Of Prayer For Good Harvest without too many people in it, within a few minutes the whole courtyard was flooded with tourists – even at 8 am!
The park surrounding the Temple Of Heaven is very beautiful and well kept. If you come early in the morning, this is a great place to do some people watching. Many of the locals come to the Temple Of Heaven Park to practice Tai Chi, play badminton, or participate in group dances.
Location: 1 Tiantan E Rd, Dongcheng, China, 100061
Cost: It costs 15 Yuan ($2 USD) to enter the Temple Of Heaven park. But if you want to access any of the temples within (like Hall Of Prayer For Good Harvest), the “Through Ticket” costs 34 Yuan ($5 USD).
Hours: The park is open from 6 am to 9 pm. The temples open to visitors at 8 am and close at 5 pm.
Time Needed: 2-3 hours
Tiananmen Square is Beijing’s main square located right in the center of the city.
Tiananmen Square is one of the largest and most iconic public squares in the world especially after the protests that took place here in 1989.
As one of the most important political and cultural landmarks in China, Tiananmen Square gets super crowded. If you enjoy history the Tiananmen Square is one of those bucket list spots that you can’t miss during a visit to Beijing, although the plaza itself isn’t too picturesque.
To enter the Tiananmen Square you will need to pass through long lines, a security check and register your passport.
Tiananmen Square is located right in front of The Forbidden City so most people combine a visit to both on the same day.
Once you enter Tiananmen Square, all foot traffic can only travel one way towards The Forbidden City and it can take about 30 minutes to walk through this square.
Location: In front of the Forbidden City
Hours: 5 am – 10 pm
Time Needed: 30 minutes – 1 hour
While Tiananmen Square is the main attraction in front of the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park is the main attraction behind it.
Jingshan Park is a small park located on a hill behind the Forbidden City that offers some of the best panoramic views of Beijing from the top.
I came to Jingshan Park twice during my time in Beijing. Entrance to Jingshan Park was included as part of my Beijing Postcards Forbidden City tour so the guides brought us here at the end of our tour.
But during my first visit, Jingshan Park was super crowded so I returned another morning on my own to capture sunrise photos of the Forbidden City and Beijing from the viewpoint here.
Jingshan Park is pretty small so you can visit the park and hike it in about 30 minutes to enjoy beautiful panoramic views of Beijing – as long as the weather isn’t too smoggy.
Cost: 2 Yuan (30 cents)
Hours: 6:30 am – 9:00 pm
Time Needed: 30 minutes – 1 hour
No trip to Beijing would be complete without trying Beijing’s famous Peking Duck dish. When I travel to Beijing, it’s one of the things that I look forward to the most.
A traditional Peking Duck plate typically consists of a slow-roasted duck that is served along with a few sides like onion, celery, and hoisin sauce. When cooked correctly, the duck meat should be very tender and come topped with crispy fatty duck skin.
Chefs will usually cut the cooked duck in small pieces so that it can be rolled up and stuffed into a thin crape-like pancake along with the garnishings.
You can find traditional Peking Duck restaurants throughout all of Beijing.
One of the most popular Peking Duck restaurants for international travelers is Duck De Chine. Duck De Chine is an upscale restaurant where chefs will put on quite the performance when serving your duck plate.
At Duck De Chine your Peking Duck plate will be brought out to the table and announced by a loud gong. Then the chef will cut it in front of you in a very entertaining way. But while Duck De Chine restaurant was fun for its presentation, the food itself lacked a bit in flavor and taste.
For a more low key experience, try one of the smaller “mom and pop” restaurants. My favorite was Xiao Wang’s, a local home-style restaurant that serves delicious juicy duck and other traditional plates.
Lama Temple is another beautiful temple located in the center of Beijing.
From its layout and vibrant architectural style, Lama Temple looks very similar to the Forbidden City, but entrance tickets to the Lama Temple are much cheaper and it’s less crowded than other major attractions in Beijing.
Lama Temple was originally built to serve as living chambers for the imperial prince but later this palace was converted into a Tibetan Temple. Now Lama Temple is one of the most important Tibetan Temples in China and even houses a giant 3-story tall sandalwood statue of Buddha that is quite impressive to see in person.
Unlike other temples that mainly serve as tourist attractions, Lama Temple is very much an active temple. Locals travel from all over China to visit the Lama Temple, burn incense and pray to various Tibetan Buddhist deities here.
Cost: 25 Yuan ($4 USD)
Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Time Needed: 1-2 hours
After visiting the Lama Temple you can spend an hour or two exploring the nearby Hutong areas.
Hutongs are decorative narrow alleyways in old residential neighborhoods that have often been converted and turned into small shops and eateries.
Hutong neighborhoods are located in different parts of Beijing but one of the most popular areas is the Nanluoguxiang district that starts on Di’anmen Street and travels north along the S Luogu Lane.
In this narrow alley-like street visitors can find a variety of stores and souvenir shops lined up on both sides selling clothing, tea, jewelry, snacks, and other unique souvenirs.
Besides traditional eateries, here in the Hutong neighborhoods, you can also find some cool trendy restaurants and hotels. My favorite was The Orchid that serves Mediterranean brunch food in a modern, laid back setting.
Location: Nan Luo Gu Xiang
Time Needed: 1-2 hours
Drum Tower And Bell Tower
Another attraction that you can combine together on the same day with the Lama Temple and Hutongs is a visit to the Drum and Bell Towers.
The Drum and Bell Towers are located in the center of Beijing and in ancient China this is how the local time would be announced. The ringing of the Drum and Bell Towers would indicate the start of the day, closing of the city gates and when it’s time to go to sleep.
The Drum and Bell Towers are located within the same plaza so you can see both towers within an hour or two.
The Drum Tower is now a museum housing replicas of drum sets that were used to announce the time in Imperial China along with different relics to keep track of time. At the Drum Tower visitors can also enjoy a quick traditional drum performance that takes place a few times a day. If you have time, I recommend sticking around for this show.
The Bell Tower is located across from the Drum Tower and it houses one of the biggest and heaviest bells in all of China. This bell is quite giant and became famous because once it was rung, people could hear it even miles away.
Cost: 30 Yuan ($4 USD) for a combined entrance ticket with access to both Drum and Bell Towers.
Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Time Needed: 1-2 hours
798 Art Zone
After visiting so many historical attractions, I wanted to take a little break from the traditional touristy spots and see something different. A few Beijing locals recommended for me to check out the up-and-coming 798 Art District in the northeast part of Beijing.
The 798 Art Zone is an arts neighborhood that was started in an abandoned military factory zone. In recent years these old factories have been slowly renovated and turned into art galleries, hip restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops.
The 798 Art Zone is located outside of the downtown area but it’s well worth it to spend the afternoon here especially if you love art and good food.
Time Needed: 2-4 hours
Although Beijing is one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world, there are quite a few parks and green spaces throughout Beijing where locals can go to escape the busy city life.
One of those places is Beihai Park, a beautiful park in downtown Beijing that was built nearly 1000 years ago for the imperial family and now is open to the public.
While the Summer Palace was built as the summer getaway spot for the imperial family, the Beihai Park was their “Winter Palace”. Known as the world’s oldest imperial park, Beihai Park is where the emperors would go to attend government affairs, hold religious ceremonies and rest.
The main attraction of Beihai Park is the White Pagoda, a tall white structure dedicated to Dalai Lama that soars high above the trees and can be spotted from far away.
If you’re looking for a relaxing place to enjoy nature in between sightseeing tours, I highly recommend to visit and take a stroll through the serene Beihai Park.
Location: 1 Wenjin St, Xicheng, China, 100034
Cost: 20 Yuan ($3 USD) for an all-inclusive “Through” ticket
Hours: Beihai Park opens at 6:30 am but the White Pagoda and other temples inside the park open later from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Time Needed: 1-2 hours
After visiting Beihai Park, you can keep walking north and within a short 20-minute walk you will reach Houhai Lake, another scenic area in downtown Beijing.
Along the Houhai lakefront, visitors can find a variety of restaurants and shops selling souvenirs and other local goodies. This area also has a lot of cool narrow Hutong streets that are fun to explore.
Houhai Lake is quite big so if your feet start getting tired you can rent a little carriage to take you around the lake for sightseeing.
One of my favorite spots at the Houhai Lake was Maoxiaoyuan Cat Cafe. I unexpectedly came across this café while searching for a lunch spot in the area. Maoxiaoyuan Café is a restaurant where you can hang out with cats while enjoying lunch or coffee.
I had heard of these cat cafes but I had never been to one before. The kitties at Maoxiaoyuan cat café were super cute and you can even buy lunch for them – which I recommend if you want the cats to come and sit next to you.
Location: Shichahai, Xicheng, China
Cost: Free to walk around the lake
Time Needed: 1 – 2 hours
Ming Dynasty Tombs
Ming Dynasty Tombs is an attraction that most people either really enjoy and find it fascinating or wish they had skipped.
Ming Dynasty Tombs is a mausoleum dedicated to Chinese emperors. There are 13 different emperors buried at the Ming Dynasty Tombs but unfortunately, at this time visitors can only access and see one of these tombs. Because of this, unless you’re really into history, many people find a visit to the Ming Dynasty Tombs a bit overrated.
The Ming Dynasty tombs are located an hour drive outside of Beijing so it’s not super easy to get there. A stop at the Ming Dynasty Tombs was included with my Mutianyu Great Wall Tour so I was pretty excited that I was able to visit this location without having to arrange a separate tour there.
On the tour, we spent about 45 minutes at the Ming Dynasty Tombs. We explored the underground tunnels where the tombs are located, visited a museum showcasing different imperial artifacts and roamed through the park above the tombs.
Location: 212 Provincial Rd, Changping, China
Cost: Entrance to the Ming Dynasty Tombs was included with my Mutianyu Great Wall tour. Entrance on it’s own would cost around 100 Yuan ($14 USD).
Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Time Needed: Since only one tomb is accessible at this time, you don’t need more than an hour to visit and see this location.
If you’re looking for something fun to do at the end of the day after tours and sightseeing, watching Peking Opera is a great way to spend an evening in Beijing.
But most traditional opera houses have been closed or moved to other cities so there aren’t many Peking Opera locations left in Beijing.
A Beijing local recommended for us to check out Liyuan Theatre located inside the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel.
Liyuan Theatre puts on traditional Peking Opera shows every night at 7:30 pm. You can purchase the tickets online through their website and pick them up at the hotel lobby right before the show.
Visitors can also watch the performers get ready on stage with makeup and outfits 30 minutes before the show starts (at 7:00 pm).
The Liyuan Theatre Peking Opera show was quite entertaining and short enough that we didn’t lose interest in it. This show consists of a few 20-minute mini-performances that tell different stories through singing, dancing, comedy, and acting.
Location: 175 Yong’an Rd, Xicheng, Beijing, China
Cost: Tickets start at 110 Yuan ($16 USD) if you book directly. You can also book tickets through this tour company that includes entrance and transportation for $32 USD.
Hours: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Time Needed: The show is one hour-long
Looking for other interesting things to do around Beijing? Don’t forget to check out our other China posts below:
- Guide To Visiting The Forbidden City In Beijing, China
- 20 China Travel Tips You Should Know Before You Go
- Guide To Visiting Summer Palace In Beijing
- Tips For Visiting Temple Of Heaven In Beijing
- Guide To Hiking & Camping On The Great Wall Of China
- The Complete Guide To Visiting 798 Art District In Beijing
- The Ultimate Guide To Pingyao Ancient City In China
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for landscape and building shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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