In many ways, Beijing is China. So much of the way people perceive the Middle Kingdom is wrapped up in the Chinese capital, and with good reason. You’ll find history dating back thousands of years, yes, but you’ll also find places where that same history meets the present, often in wondrous and surprising ways. With that in mind, here are our top ten places to visit in Beijing:
Explore a Certain Magnificent Wall
Beijing is the best place to access the Great Wall of China, and you can visit it at several different sites. Baidaling is the most restored section of the wall, which also makes it the most popular with tourists. For a less crowded option, consider visiting Mutianyu. Both of these sections are quite navigable and feature cable cars and slides to get up and down from the wall. A true must visit!
Take in the Sights of Tiananmen Square
Located at the heart of the city, Tiananmen Square is the best place to get pictures of the Forbidden City’s facade. What’s more, the square also provides access to the tomb of Mao Zedong and is a great place to people watch.
Wonder at the Majestic Temple of Heaven
In a city full of icons, the Temple of Heaven stands apart thanks to its beautiful circular architecture and unique no-nails construction. Used since 1420 as a site to pray for good harvests, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is now a gorgeous park that is not to be missed.
Dig In at Mr. Shi’s Dumplings
While there are certainly fancier dumpling restaurants in the city, nowhere can quite match Mr. Shi’s Dumplings when it comes to sheer variety. Try Chinese staples or new age creations – including dessert dumplings. Don’t forget to sign the wall!
Run a Lap at the Bird’s Nest (and Other Olympic Parks)
Many of the sites from the 2008 Beijing Olympics are still standing, and several of them have been repurposed in surprising ways. The Bird’s Nest is now a beautiful modern stadium that is easily accessible via the city’s metro system, while the Water Cube is now an indoor waterpark that provides a great alternative for those looking for a break from exploring the city’s ancient history. There is also a great number of good hotels and hostels around the “Olympic Village” if you are wondering where to stay in Beijing.
Enjoy a Holiday at the Summer Palace
A mountainous lakeside retreat for countless members of the imperial family, the Summer Palace provides an excellent change of scenery from the rest of relatively flat Beijing. The area has plenty of unique architecture to see, but is also notable for the merchants and music that give it a truly vibrant ambiance.
Tour the City’s Hutongs Before They Disappear
Away from the palaces that once housed emperors lie the hutongs that once housed the city’s large peasant population. Many of these alleyway houses have been repurposed into businesses and restaurants, and can be explored at your leisure. Be sure to see them now – the government is demolishing these historic houses at an alarming rate.
Enter the Fabled Forbidden City
Perhaps Beijing’s most enduring icon, the Forbidden City is packed with centuries of history and beautiful architectural details. The main courtyards are simply resplendent, but the side courtyards are equally moving, and often less crowded. Be sure to visit them and make the most of your time here.
Pay Your Respects To Dynasties Past at the Ming Tombs
More than simple graves, the Ming Tombs complex provides beautiful gardens, walking paths, statues, and architecture. Of course, the tombs and the treasures they showcase are worth checking out as well.
Meditate on Life at Lama Temple
Yonghe (or Lama) Temple is one of the only places in the city fully dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism. As a result, this repurposed imperial complex has a personality all its own. Explore the monastery’s nooks and crannies, or hang back and simply watch the monks go about their lives. Either way, you’re sure to have a moving experience.
Header photo by 3D_Maennchen on Pixabay