Many visitors seek out Beijing for its cultural reputation on the world stage, while others are interested in its traditional charm. For 3,000 years cities have risen and fallen on the land that now makes up Beijing, but the city as it stands today largely began during the 13th century, when the Mongol Kublai Khan established his Yuan Dynasty capital there.

Beijing has long played a significant role in China’s political and historical landscape. Well-recognized as having a deep respect for the preservation of traditions and culture, Beijing is truly a step back into time, while surrounded by the modern era.

Top 5 Attractions in Beijing

  1. Great Wall of China

    Originally built to defend Chinese kingdoms and dynasties from northern invaders, the Great Wall of China (长城) is an architectural marvel. While parts of the Wall date back more than 2,500 years, most of what remains was first built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

    The main wall spans nearly 3,500km in length, with more than an additional 2,800km of offshoots. As the longest man-made structure on Earth, UNESCO deemed the Great Wall one of the world’s greatest historical sites. While the Wall stretches from Liaoning to Xinjiang, the sections closest to Beijing are some of the most well-preserved and tourist friendly. Two of the more prominent sections of the wall to visit are Bādálǐng and Mùtiányù. Badaling is slightly more crowded, and touristy, but an easier visit. Mutianyu, while also popular with tourists, is a bit less so than Badaling, and offers more spectacular views at the cost of being a steeper/harder climb.

  2. The Forbidden City

    The Forbidden City, or “Palace Museum” (故宫博物院, is a massive complex where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties lived and carried out their official government duties. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, visitors can tour many of the original buildings, as well the museum exhibits that house ancient Chinese artwork and artifacts. The site is surrounded by a wall that reaches 30 feet in height, as well as a moat that spans 20 feet in depth.

    Originally built for the royal family and operating as the centre of the government, the palace was constructed to be impenetrable by commoners and uninvited guests. With the buildings arranged in alignment with the north-to-south axis of Beijing, the Forbidden City adheres to the rubrics of feng shui, ensuring good luck and energy. Visitors should enter in through the southern gate which is adjacent to Tiananmen Square, in order to gain access to the palace. Open all year to visitors, the Forbidden City is closed on Mondays, with the exception of Chinese national holidays and peak visitation months of July and August.

  3. Tiananmen Square

    Located in the centre of Beijing, Tiananmen Square (天安门) is one of Beijing’s most recognizable tourist destinations. In addition to being flanked by the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum of China; the square also hosts the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, featuring the embalmed body of Chairman Mao.

    It was in Tiananmen Square, on October 1, 1949, that Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China; and also in and around the square that pro-democracy protests were violent quashed by the Chinese government on June 4, 1989. While still a common point for airing grievances, these days security personnel assure visitors to the square are just there to fly kites, socialize, and take pictures in front the monuments and the iconic portrait of Chairman Mao. If possible, try to visit the square during sunrise or sunset to catch the daily flag raising or lowering ceremony.

  4. Temple of Heaven

    Another of Beijing’s collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Temple of Heaven (天坛) is regarded as Beijing’s most sacred imperial temple. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, emperors arrived at the temple during the winter to worship ancestors, as well as pray for an abundant crop harvest. The architecture of the temple is influenced by mystical philosophies. Located in the Dongcheng District, the buildings were designed and arranged to mimic the interplay between Heaven and Earth, with many deliberate patterns present throughout. Visitors will note that the number nine, considered a powerful number, is purposefully integrated into designs. Early morning guests will see local residents taking part in tai chi. If interested, visitors can sign up for an instructional class and learn about the practice of tai chi within the backdrop of the royal garden.

  5. Summer Palace

    Located 9 miles from central Beijing, the Summer Palace (颐和园) is the largest royal park in China. Constructed in the mid-18th century, the Summer Palace was a sanctuary for imperial families to relax and entertain dignitaries. The palace has a somewhat contentious place in Chinese history, as it suffered damage and looting by the French and British during the Second Opium War in the mid-1800s; and again at the end of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 by the Eight-Nation Alliance.

    Visitors to the Summer Palace can enjoy the meticulously maintained gardens that the complex is so well-known for. Divided into four sections – Court Area, Lake Area, Front Hill Area and Rear Hill Area – guests can tour craftsman structures, towers, bridges and altars of worship. At 2,232km², visitors should identify points of interest to view at each of the sections. Recommended attractions include Tower of Buddhist Incense (Front Hill Area), Suzhou Street (Lake Area), Garden of Harmonious Interests (Rear Hill Area), as well as the Hall of Jade Ripples (Court Area).

  6. Beijing Opera

    For a true Beijing experience, the Beijing Opera (京剧) is an event not to be missed. Also referred to as “Peking Opera”, it is a blend of music, prose, martial arts and dance. Visitors not fluent in Mandarin need not worry – stories are told through physical movements and expressions, and at larger venues contain video screens with English translations.

    Created during the Qing Dynasty, Beijing Opera is acknowledged as a classical art form. Legendary for opulent costumes and intricate face paint designs, the performances are beloved across generations, with traditional plays, as well as contemporary storylines appealing to all. Visitors to Beijing have options to choose from, with the highly recommended theatres being Liyuan Theatre in Qianmen Jianguo Hotel and Huguang Guild Hall in the Xuanwu District.

Shopping in Beijing

Looking to score Chinese artwork and antiques? Pānjiāyuán is a must visit market. Located just east of the Temple of Heaven, the weekend is the best time to visit, as most merchants will set up shop during this time. Shoppers can browse artisan designs, statues, vases, jewellery; as well as many items featuring Chairman Mao. Hard bargaining is recommended.

The Silk Market is a requisite stop. The centre truly has everything that a shopper could hope for. With seven levels of shopping, visitors can find contemporary jewellery, handbags, home décor, clothing, and electronic goods. Also available are traditional garments, artwork, and craftsman items. Many visitors clamour for the opportunity to have a custom made suit or dress, made-to-order onsite by one of many tailors. Since the Silk Market is regularly visited by foreign tourists, most merchants in the complex are able to communicate in basic English. As this is a frequently visited centre by tourists, merchants price their wares high. Dealers tend to be insistent, but don’t be afraid to bargain. The prices often start higher than what the merchants are actually willing to sell for. Open daily from 9:30am to 9pm, visitors can take the subway to Yong’anli station (永安里站), leaving through Exit A for nearly immediate access to the market.

For shoppers looking to snag some tea or tea paraphernalia — such as original Chinese tea cups, tea tables, or speciality blends of Chinese loose leaf tea — Tea Street is the place to go. Merchandise ranges from inexpensive, factory produced tea cups and pots; to high-end, expensive hand-crafted tea items. A complete range of loose leaf teas are available, as well as tea accessories, such as loose leaf tea steepers, brewing gadgets, as well as decorative tea ceremony items. Located in the Xicheng District (西城区), most shops are open from 8am to 6:30pm.

Food & Drink in Beijing

Beijing cuisine has a strong representation of dumplings, meat and hand-pulled noodles. As the cultural and political hub of the country for more than 700 years, the capital features an eclectic mix of some of the best foods from across China. While heavily influenced by Shandong Cuisine, the Beijing menu is made up of hearty items, well-suited to harsh winters and hot summers. Bold in flavour with hints of richness, the preferred cooking methods of Beijing cuisine are braising, stir frying, deep frying and roasting.

Beijing Roast Duck (Běijīng kǎoyā), known more-commonly in English as Peking Duck, is a must-try dish for any visitor to Beijing. The dish is renowned for the delicate, crispy duck skin, a thin layer of flavourful fat and juicy meat. Assembled and eaten by each diner, Peking Duck is served with steamed think pancake-like wrappers that hold the meat, fresh cucumber and scallions, as well as a dollop of sweet and salty Hoisin sauce. It is truly the perfect bite, delighting in both taste and texture.

While in the city, along with the excellent cross-section of dishes from all around China, be sure to try zhá jiàng miàn, which literally translates to “fried sauce noodles”, and features a bowl of wheat noodles with a mixture of ground pork stir-fried with a salty fermented soybean paste and topped with fresh sliced cucumber. Also on the menu should be Northern-style hotpot, which is a much milder version of its south-western cousin, but likewise features dunking thinly sliced meat (usually mutton) into a hot soup. And finally, no visit to Beijing is complete without a plate of jīng jiàng ròu sī, shredded pork tenderloin coated in soy bean paste, served with thinly sliced leek and wrapped in tofu skin or a thin pancake.

Feeling hungry and adventurous? Explore Dōnghuámén Night Market at the north end of Wángfǔjǐng. Frequented by both locals and tourists alike, standard Beijing snacks and dishes are available, as well as interesting and unexpected food items. Alongside hand-pulled noodle dishes and pork dumplings, diners can find scorpions, snakes and other unexpected delicacies. Truly a feast for the senses, Dōnghuámén Night Market, and the whole Wángfǔjǐng, is a treat for the palette, as well as a wonderful environment to soak in the local culture.

Beijing Transportation

  1. Air

    With two passenger airports, Beijing is the hub of the country’s transportation. Capital International Airport is located in northeast Beijing, about 25km from central Beijing, while Nanyuan Airport is situated in southern Beijing, about 12km from the city centre. Capital International Airport is the country’s busiest, with over 223 domestic and international destinations; including: New York, Vancouver, Tokyo, Paris, Guangzhou and Shanghai.

  2. Train

    Four passenger railway stations are available in Beijing. Beijing Railway Station, West Station, South Station and North Station are accessible from all areas of the city. Beijing Railway station offers domestic trips to major cities, including Shanghai and Chengdu. It also has international destinations, such as Ulan Bator (Mongolia), Pyongyang (North Korea), as well as Moscow (Russia). West Station is Beijing’s largest station, offering access to most major cities throughout China, including Hong Kong, Chengdu and Xiamen. South Station operates bullet trains to domestic destinations including Harbin, Ningbo and Hangzhou. North Station is a small inter-city station servicing cities in the north and northwest.

  3. Subway/Metro

    There are 18 subway lines in operation, including one designated as an express route to the Capital International Airport. Totalling more than 500km of active lines, the subway is the most efficient way to travel the city. The subway system supports 10 million passengers daily. With additional lines under construction, the number of lines will total nearly 1,000km by the year 2020. At major stations, announcements are made in Mandarin and English. Infographics are well-designed, making it possible for visitors to steer themselves through the subway system without any difficulty. To reach the Forbidden City, take Line 1 to Tiananmen Square, with the exits of the station less than 900 feet from the main entrance.

    Don’t leave without the free Explore Beijing Metro Map app (Android/iOS) before you go.

  4. City Bus

    Beijing has the busiest bus system in the world, with over 700 bus routes in operation. To improve the use of public transportation, bus lanes and express bus services have been implemented. As a popular tourist city, a central hub has been established: the Beijing Tourist Bus Centre. Popular routes include the Badaling section of the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, as well as the Forbidden City. Visitors from all areas of Beijing can find several city buses to reach the Beijing Tourist Bus Centre, including Bus Lines 5, 8, 622, Special Line 4 and Special Line 7. To confirm the best line to take from your location, call the Beijing Tourist Bus Centre’s 24-hour hotline, at 010-83531111.

Beijing Photos

Beijing - Office Towers by cnmarkBeijing - Ugly Sky by cnmarkBeijing - CCTV Headquarters by cnmarkBeijing,Lama Temple-DSC_9708p by Milan TvrdýSummer Palace Area in Beijing by Milan TvrdýBeijing Olympiastadion by hph46Beijing by Rolandito.Beijing in ice! by grantthai
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