16 Unmissable Things to Do in Beijing

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Beijing is the largest capital city in the world, a sprawling metropolis where centuries-old Hutongs stand in the shadow of new Chinese developments that have sprung up in the wake of the country’s rapid development.

It’s a city though, that despite a rush towards modernity resulting in rapid expansion, has let to lose its traditional charms, and there are still thousands of years of local heritage waiting to be uncovered here.

Beijing is the cultural heart of China and you can find centuries-old palaces and tombs, detailing the impressive history of one of the world’s oldest cities. You can visit the iconic Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and just a short journey away, you can even explore parts of the Great Wall of China.

There’s a lot to do in the Chinese capital, and to inspire your trip, here are the best things to do in Beijing!

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Beijing (Travel Guide)

16 Things to do in Beijing, China

Tiananmen Square - Things to do in Beijing

1. Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square is one of the most iconic destinations in Beijing, although this central square is perhaps not always remembered for the best of reasons.

Exploring the square is one of the best things to do in Beijing, because here you can find many of the city’s best attractions, from museums and temples to the Forbidden City.

The square is hugely symbolic, because it’s here that Mao Zedong announced the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and it’s here where many such proclamations, protests, and events have occurred through Chinese history – including the infamous events of 1989.

Our top recommended tours of Tiananmen Square:

The forbidden City in Beijing

2. The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is a sprawling palace complex that’s found by Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing. It’s a maze of walls, towers, palaces and buildings, all constructed in uniquely Chinese styles.

This was the primary palace of both the Ming and Qing dynasties and has been here since the 1400s.

After the fall of the last Qing ruler in 1912, the Forbidden City – so named because your average citizen would never be allowed within its walls! – was turned into a museum, and is now one of the best things to do in Beijing.

Our top recommended tours of The Forbidden City:

Mao Zedong Mausoleum in Beijing

3. Mao Zedong Mausoleum

Mao Zedong was the divisive leader who led the communists to victory during the Chinese Civil War, paving the way for the country you see today. After his death in 1976, Mao Zedong’s body was embalmed and publicly displayed at a purpose-built mausoleum which was constructed in the middle of Tiananmen Square.

It’s a popular place for both locals and foreigners to visit, and you must dress respectfully to be allowed inside. Expect long queues too, in order to gain access and to see the great chairman in his final resting place.

Our top recommended tours of Mao Zedong Mausoleum:

National Museum of China in Beijing

4. National Museum of China

Also found by Tiananmen Square, one of the best things to do in Beijing is to visit the National Museum of China. The huge building is very socialist in look and design and attracts millions of visitors every year.

It’s one of the world’s largest museums and is home to over a million exhibits.

The museum focuses on both culture and heritage, and there are extensive displays that will take you on a journey through the country’s long history, from prehistory through to the modern, socialist era.

You can spend hours exploring the different sections and galleries, so save plenty of time if you really want to delve into the museum!

Our top recommended tours of the National Museum of China:

Temple of Heaven in Beijing

5. Temple of Heaven

South of Tiananmen Square, you can find the impressive Temple of Heaven. This sprawling complex was built at the same time as construction began on the Forbidden City, and it was to serve for the next 500 years as an important place of worship for the Ming and then the Qing emperors who ruled over China.

The distinctive, round temple is the centerpiece of the complex, and the whole area is inscribed as an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main function of the Temple of Heaven was for the emperor to make annual dedications in the pursuit of a good harvest for their realm.

Our top recommended tours of the Temple of Heaven:

Ming Tombs in Beijing

6. Ming Tombs

Just outside of Beijing, you can find one of the most important historical sites in the area. The Ming Tombs are a collection of royal burials and mausoleums which date back to the 14th century.

The Ming Dynasty began to construct their burial chambers in the nearby hills, and the lavish tombs became grander and grander with each passing emperor.

Historically, the tombs were forbidden ground for anyone of common birth, but today, the tombs are open to the public.

Our top recommended tours of the Ming Tombs:

Summer Palace in Beijing

7. Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is a beautiful collection of gardens and royal buildings, and visiting here is one of the most pleasant things to do in Beijing. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built during the Qing Dynasty, in the mid 18th century.

It was constructed away from the city center, to provide a cooler retreat for the royalty during the sweltering heat of summer.

Gardens were landscaped and lakes were sculpted and filled to become large water reservoirs and to look good for the emperor. The Summer Palace suffered heavily during the wars and invasions of the late 19th century and had to be rebuilt from the ashes.

Our top recommended tours of the Summer Palace:

Beijing's Hutongs

8. Check Out the Hutongs

Beijing wasn’t just the realm of emperors and ruling dynasties however, and there is much of historical interest to explore in the city relating to the common folk as well! Hutongs are traditional alleyways, with houses and shops on either side, forming narrow walkways through the city.

The Hutongs date back to the 12th century and are some of the most ancient parts of Beijing. With the recent, fast-paced development in the capital though, many are under threat, but there are still some wonderfully authentic areas to visit in the city.

Hutongs are alive with local culture, are packed with locals, living, eating and getting on with daily life. If you are after an authentic look at Beijinger life, then get exploring the historic lanes and alleyways!

Our top recommended tour of Hutongs:

Lina & David Stock at Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, China

9. See the Bird’s Nest Stadium

For a look at one of those modern developments in the capital, then head over to the National Stadium, otherwise known as the Bird’s Nest for its distinctive, architectural design. The stadium was built as the main stage for the 2008 Olympics, one of the biggest sporting events that the city has ever hosted.

You can visit the stadium and tour through the grounds – you can even ride a segway around the athletics track! – while you can also explore the nearby Olympic Park, including other event spaces used in the Olympics too.

Our top recommended tours of the Bird’s Nest Stadium:

Lama Temple in Beijing

10. Lama Temple

One of the best things to do in Beijing is to visit the Lama Temple. This impressive temple is built in a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese styles, and it dates back to the 17th century when the Qing Dynasty was in power.

It’s one of the largest Tibetan temples outside of Tibet itself, and it’s still very much a working, active place of worship and ceremony.

Our top recommended tours of Lama Temple:

Temple of Confucius in Beijing

11. Temple of Confucius

If you’re not quite over temples yet, then call into the nearby Temple of Confucius, which is one of the largest Confucian temples in the world.

The extensive temple grounds are packed with religious buildings, courtyards, and shrines, the earliest of which date back to the early 14th century. It’s a wonderful place to learn more about a way of thinking that has shaped Chinese thought for hundreds of years.

Our top recommended tours of the Temple of Confucius:

Beihai Park in Beijing

12. Beihai Park

Beihai Park is located on the edge of the Forbidden City, and although it’s now a public garden, it was for hundreds of years the domain of royalty alone. The impressive gardens date back to the 11th century and consist of beautiful landscapes and calm lakes.

It’s a huge, green space, that’s as historic as it is well maintained. Amongst the gardens and ponds, you can find shrines and pagodas, and it’s a wonderful place to explore.

Our top recommended tours of Beihai Park:

Sculptures in 798 Art District of Beijing

13. 798 Art District

For a look at more contemporary history and culture in the city, then head to the 798 Art District, which is one of the best things to do in Beijing. This is an artistic venture that’s housed in an old factory, which had the denominator of number 798.

The art district is very unique in the city, offering a fresh and modern take on Chinese culture, while the space frequently hosts more alternative festivals and shows that you may expect to find in the capital.  

Our top recommended tours of 789 Art District:

Peking Roasted Duck in Beijing

14. Try Peking Roasted Duck

Beijing is a city of culinary delights, and you’ll be eating your way through the capital as much as you will be sightseeing. If there’s one iconic dish that you have to indulge in when you are visiting though, it’s Beijing Roasted Duck – oftentimes called Peking Duck too.

In the heart of Beijing’s Wangfujing area, you can find one of the most sought after Peking duck restaurants in China. Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant is arguably the best Peking duck restaurant in all of Beijing. 

The dish itself dates back to the imperial days and is now touted as the signature dish of Beijing. If you have a group of 4, you can order a whole duck. The staff will then serve the entire duck at the table.

They will bring it out on a cart, sliced and served. Traditionally, you eat the Peking Duck with thin white pancakes, scallion, cucumber and hoisin sauce.

The duck is known more for the skin than the meat and careful preparation goes into making it light and crispy. The servers tend to serve mainly skin and little meat.

I am not a huge fan of skin on my meat but put in a pancake with hoisin and scallion, the dish was pretty darn good. I would recommend it and would visit again.

Our top recommended tours including Beijing Roasted Duck:

Wangfujing Night Market Beijing

15. Visit the Wangfujing Night Market

Whether you plan to partake or not, a visit to the Wangfujing Night Market in Beijing is worth a visit just to take in the culture. You will find a variety of crazy things here! Scorpions? check. Seahorse on a stick? check. Spiders, snakes, squid? triple check.

Try to plan your visit to Wangfujing in the evening so you don’t miss out on this market.

Formally known as Donghuamen Night Food Street by the locals, the snack street is 100 meters long and is open from 6 pm to 9 pm every day. You will have a chance to check out 100 stalls featuring over 100 snacks from the many areas of China.

All the food stalls are organized and clean due to strict hygiene requirements, feature signs telling what food is available and the name of the stall owner. In addition, all vendors will be attired in clean uniforms and red caps.

The overall theme is composed of Beijing, Shandong, Yunnan and Canton foods. It is a typical street food environment, so don’t expect to find seating. Everything is served on a stick and can be consumed while you wander from stall to stall.  The street itself offers some protection from the traffic, with designated areas for people to walk and take in the market.

A visit to this area is an absolute must, even if you are not up to partaking in the offered food. Grab your camera, walking shoes and prepare yourself for a cultural delight.

Great Wall of China - Things to do in Beijing

16. Visit the Great Wall of China

One of the best things to do in Beijing is to take a day trip to the Great Wall of China. This is a Chinese icon, and the wall is one of the longest man-made structures in the world, built to defend the empire against invasions from the north.

From Beijing, you can visit well-restored sections of the wall at Badaling, which is just a short journey away from the capital.

If you’re up for a real adventure and some real intimacy with the Great Wall, consider a multi-day hiking trip on the Great Wall of China

Our top recommended tours of The Great Wall of China:

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16 Unmissable Things to Do in Beijing


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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