Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, is an ancient city with a history of more than three thousand years. It has been known by different names in different dynasties, and it boasts a rich cultural and natural heritage. When you think of Beijing, you think of the majestic Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the bustling hutongs, and the 798 Art District. There are so many historical and artistic treasures waiting to be discovered and explored! Here, we recommend the top 10 must-visit attractions in Beijing, along with travel tips. Come and experience a Beijing you’ve never seen before!
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are must-visit attractions for anyone coming to Beijing. Located on the central axis of the city, with the People’s Great Hall and the National Museum of China to the east and west, and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and Tiananmen Gate to the north and south, the Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national 5A-level scenic area. It is the largest existing wooden structure ancient building complex in the world, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony is one of the three major halls in China. With over a million precious cultural relics, it houses one-sixth of the total national cultural relics. You may need more than a day to explore its essence.
- Tiananmen Square
A must-visit attraction for tourists in Beijing is Tiananmen Square, where you can witness the flag-raising ceremony in the morning. I remember getting up early to see the flag-raising ceremony when I visited. During the 70th National Day celebration, the world-famous five-starred red flag was raised here!
The Great Wall of China, often called one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national 5A-level scenic area. Among the various sections of the Great Wall in Beijing, Badaling, Ju Yong Pass, and Mutianyu are famous. Badaling, in particular, is one of the earliest sections of the Great Wall to be open to tourists and is considered the most essential part of the wall, known for its grandeur. The famous inscription “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” is located at Badaling, attracting people from around the world to become true men and women by visiting. Even though it can get crowded during holidays, it proves the reliability of ancient architecture. Badaling is one of the best-preserved sections of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, with steep terrain and sturdy fortifications.
- Nanluoguxiang (South Luogu Alley)
Nanluoguxiang is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Beijing, preserving the largest and highest-quality courtyard-style traditional alley residences from the Yuan Dynasty. It has been developed into a commercial street, where the collision of history and modern culture has made it a new landmark in Beijing.
- Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven was where emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties performed ceremonies to pray for good harvests. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national 5A-level scenic area. The Temple of Heaven consists of the Altar of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar, with two surrounding walls forming an inner and outer altar. The southern wall is round while the northern wall is square, symbolizing the heavens and the earth. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, used for the daily worship of the gods, is the core building of the Temple of Heaven. It is supported by a three-tiered white marble terrace and harmoniously integrated with the surrounding environment. The coffered ceiling is magnificent. One of the special features of the Temple of Heaven is the Echo Wall, a circular wall that reflects sound, creating a unique auditory experience. It’s definitely worth a visit!
- Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is a royal garden built by Emperor Qianlong to honor his mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing. It is modeled after the West Lake and incorporates elements of Jiangnan gardens and famous scenic spots. For example, the Fenghuang Mound is modeled after Taihu Lake, the Jingming Tower after Yueyang Tower, the Wangchanguo Market Street after Suzhou Water Street, and the Xisu Market Street after Yangzhou’s Twenty-Four Bridges, and so on.
- Olympic Park
The Olympic Park, which served as the main venue for the 29th Olympic Games in 2008, is now a national 5A-level scenic area. It features iconic structures such as the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, making it an excellent attraction. The park is open to the public for free, and you can enjoy the exterior views of the venues, which have unique architectural characteristics and a dragon-shaped water system. Inside the Bird’s Nest, there is a 3D art museum, the Olympic Tower, which offers panoramic views of Beijing. The night view is especially stunning, especially the Bird’s Nest at night when the colors are vibrant. It’s definitely worth seeing in person!
- Jingshan Park
For most tourists, the main significance of Jingshan Park is the panoramic view it offers of the Forbidden City. It also has historical significance, as it was the site where Emperor Chongzhen of the Ming Dynasty committed suicide in 1644 when Li Zicheng breached Beijing.
- Beihai Park
Beihai Park, along with Zhonghai and Nanhai, is collectively known as the “Three Seas.” It is an ancient imperial garden, originally built as a royal palace during the Liao, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties. It was later converted into an imperial garden during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Beihai Park is famous for its White Dagoba, and from the top of the hill, you can overlook the entire Beihai Park. There are also unique attractions like Jingxinzhai, which has a distinctive Suzhou-style garden, and the Nine-Dragon Wall adorned with colorful glazed tiles. All of these are worth visiting, but be prepared to spend half a day exploring.
Shichahai, also known as “Ten Temple Lakes,” originally had ten Buddhist temples around it, giving it its name. The area is surrounded by many royal mansions and traditional Beijing hutongs, telling the history of old Beijing. The mansion of Gongwang, the corrupt official of the Qing Dynasty, is also located here.
Here are four recommended travel routes for Beijing:
Day 1: Tiananmen Square → Qianmen Street → Forbidden City → Jingshan Park
Day 2: Temple of Heaven → Yonghegong (Lama Temple) → Confucius Temple and Guozijian (Imperial College)
Day 3: Prince Gong’s Mansion → Shichahai (Houhai Lake) → Nanluoguxiang → Houhai Bar Street
Day 1: Tiananmen Square → Forbidden City → Jingshan Park → Nanluoguxiang
Day 2: Peking University → Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) → Summer Palace → Bird’s Nest
Day 3: Badaling Great Wall → Qianmen Dashilan
Day 1: Forbidden City → Jingshan Park → Wudaoying Hutong
Day 2: Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) → Tsinghua University → Bird’s Nest
Day 3: Mutianyu Great Wall → 798 Art District
Day 1: Temple of Earth → Yonghegong (Lama Temple) → Confucius and Guozijian Museums → Wudaoying Hutong
Day 2: Forbidden City → Jingshan Park → Beihai Park → Shichahai
Day 3: Liulichang Cultural Street → Eight Great Hutongs → Temple of Heaven Park
Day 4: Summer Palace → Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) → Peking University → Tsinghua University
Day 5: Mutianyu Great Wall → 798 Art District
Enjoy your trip to Beijing!