Top 20 places in Beijing.
In 2016 I did an internship in China, in the city of Taiyuan, and I couldn’t help but take the chance to visit Beijing. In 4 days I saw all the standard sights and even prepared a post, but… A year later I moved to Beijing to work and lived there for a year and a half. I settled in, made friends, made a list of favorite places and in general – lived almost like a local. So the post once-a-tourist became completely irrelevant, on the contrary, a much more substantial and informative list of places in Beijing for all tastes in random order has matured.
Nowhere without the classics, so:
1. Tiananmen Square / 天安门广场 / Tiān’ānmén Guangchang
The heart of Beijing. The square itself is nothing special, but it can be a good starting point. Nearby are the Mausoleum of Mao Tse Tung and the Forbidden City, which is described below.
Getting to the square is super easy. All subways in Beijing are duplicated in English and the subway station of the same name is “Tiananmen Square”. No matter which exit you take, you won’t get past it. Moreover, on the way you are likely to stand in line, just like that, on the sidewalk.
On the Chinese New Year (one of its days) on the square there are fireworks. Oh yeah, there’s also the famous portrait of Mao. The square is huge and usually pretty damn crowded. I recommend to have documents in case of inspections and not to have valuable lighters (in China almost everywhere they are taken away at inspections by security guards without return).
To orient yourself, imagine a tree. The root is the mausoleum, the trunk is the square, and the Forbidden City is the foliage. I don’t know where I got such comparisons in my head, but it really is all one solid line, look at the map. The subway stations are the same as before the square, but the entrance is tricky and underground in places, but the flow of tourists will take you where you need to go (to the gate of tranquility and the portrait of Mao), and you can also get a map (free) on the way.
Remember that in China the queue is always a long time, so I recommend to buy an admission ticket online (you can also do it as a student, they won’t check). You can do it here. Everything is in Chinese, but don’t panic, and turn on the built-in translator in your browser and translate the page. There may be subtleties of payment (eg, only a Chinese card or the requirement of the Chinese idi), but I remember it eventually managed to do, which means it is realistic. At the time the price tag was 60 yuan regular ticket, 20 yuan student ticket. I can not check the system now, unfortunately, as there are no dates available for obvious reasons. And here is the official website, you can read there in English, but for tickets it redirects to the site mentioned earlier. And yes, there will be many different queues at the entrance, you need the one for already booked tickets, not for purchase.
So, what’s inside the forbidden city of Gugun? The same Asian-style buildings. You can walk in a straight line, or you can look into every corner of this palace complex to look at the same structures from time to time. Inside, there are many seating areas. Without enthusiasm, I reached the imperial garden, took pictures, and walked out.
In fact, there are a lot of parks in Beijing, and they are all beautiful, peaceful, with sakura blossoms in the spring. The Jingshan Park is special in that it has a hill overlooking the Forbidden City, so it is easy to combine with other places of interest. The entrance fee is 2 yuan.
The entrance to the park is just across the street from the Forbidden City exit. There is a beautiful embankment around.
4. The Great Wall of China: Mutianyu (慕田峪) and Badaling (八达岭) sections
Go to Dongzhimen subway station and follow the signs to go straight to the bus hall (if you get lost, go outside and see a shopping mall with an entrance in the middle, go straight ahead). The bus you need is 916, there will be a separate line for each bus and big signs with numbers, ignore the cab drivers. If you can’t find it, BaiduMaps and the Chinese are always helpful!
The bus will stop along the way, but don’t poke around, sit until the end. After a 2 hour trip the bus will come to Huairou village and at the exit you will be met by a lot of bus drivers willing to take you there. Knock down the price to at least 30 yuan and get on (no other options anyway).
20-30 minutes by car and you arrive at the tourist center, where everything is duplicated in English. There you buy an entrance ticket and a ticket for the cable car (there and back): 45 and 100 yuan respectively. And also a ticket for the shuttle to the cable car – 15 yuan. Save all your tickets before you go!
By the way, you do not need to take the cable car if you are confident in your abilities and can climb the high trail.
We made it. The section of the Wall, which is 4 kilometers long, is in front of you. There is a toilet and some shopping areas where you can buy water, ice cream, and souvenirs at unreal prices. Haggle.
This section was not crowded, unlike the Badalin section. This section is the most popular with tourists and it’s where you’ll be walking at a speed of 2 meters per minute, bumping into the backs (or not) of those ahead of you. Is it worth it? I don’t know, my feeling is that the views are the same as on the Mutianyu stretch.
The way is the same: go to Jishuitan subway station, look for something called Deshengmen Square and take bus #877 for 12 yuan. From there it is very clear on the spot.
Tourists probably won’t find it so interesting, but what if they do? Yabalou is the Russian Quarter in Beijing. It has a Soviet feel about it, and a bit of borscht. There are several market-style shopping malls, a few restaurants serving Russian food, and so-called stalls selling Russian products. The only thing that makes sense is to laugh at the names of the departments and maybe chat with the Chinese/Russians/Kazakhs who work there.
The restaurants of Russian cuisine are delicious! The assortment is quite large, the prices, however, overpriced (which is understandable). The stalls called Yura (they even have delivery) are a godsend for expats, they have gingerbread, condensed milk, and even Rolton.
A seaside resort within Beijing. Usually it’s common to fly to Hainan for beaches, but if you’re in Beijing, why not combine? There is a train to Beidache, about 2 hours away, and voila – popular beaches among Russian bureaucrats. It’s not the Caribbean, of course, but the variety – for sure. For details about how to get there, what beaches are and if it’s worth it, I wrote here.
7. Happy Valley amusement park 北京欢乐谷
Prices range from 160 to 250 yuan, you can look and / or book on the official website (caution, only the Chinese version is available).
I went there twice, lots of impressions, rides for every taste (water, roller coaster of different sizes, and entertainment for small children), but, of course, do not forget about the huge queues. The park is divided into themed areas, you are there as if making a circle, passing them all.
I don’t have any pictures at all for some reason.
It is not open on Mondays, admission is free (take your passport with you). And yes, the box office is separate from the entrance, so you have to stand in two lines. The building is two stories with four themed rooms on each floor. Seems small, but in fact I would have three hours to spare: there are dinosaurs, and fish, and victims of toxidermy, and of course the souvenir shop!
If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know that I often resort to this format of accommodation. And you’ve probably heard about this service more than once yourself. This application is known to all as a free night stay with locals or the opportunity to stay with foreigners. However! Couchsurfing is not only about free lodging, in large cities it is also a gathering of tourists and expats!
In Beijing, there are two official Couchsurfing meetings: Tuesdays and Thursdays. At first I was angry for a long time that it was not on weekends, but then I realized that on weekends you want to mind your own business and see your friends, but in the middle of the week to meet new people for a couple of beers is great. And it’s especially cool and helpful for solo travelers.
I’ve regularly attended meetings on Thursdays because a) it’s closer to home b) it’s more popular with expats and tourists for some reason. A detailed description of the meeting, locations, and how to get there is here. Also, for the regular participants we have created a general chat in WeChat, I can add you on request.
Why go there and what do they do? Well, in general, 20-30 people from all over the world for various reasons who happen to be in Beijing meet at the bar and chat. That’s how I made friends in a foreign country, that’s how I found leisure time and learned a lot of useful things and tips. People gather there “on the same wavelength”, so even introverts will like it. In my opinion, it is a very cool thing, especially for those who have moved and do not know how to make new acquaintances. I know the organizer personally, very cool guy. So this recommendation is from the heart.
10. Atmosphere Bar.
Even if you do not drink and at night you prefer another kind of leisure, I still highly recommend to drop in to this bar. For the view from the 80th floor. The bar is in the hotel, but separate from the hotel. There is no dress code, although it is quite an elite bar with live music and overpriced. When I go there I always order one beer and stretch it out for an hour so I can enjoy the night time in Beijing longer.
Love Beijing: 29 best sights
Falling in love with Beijing is easy! Learn about popular attractions like the Forbidden City and offbeat places where tourists rarely visit. We share tips on the best times to visit Beijing’s palaces and parks.
We’ll tell you why you should love Beijing! China’s capital is a huge world that contains ancient monuments, beautiful palaces and towering skyscrapers. The city has streets of bustling traffic and quiet corners of beautiful gardens. See the unique sights of Beijing and your heart will melt.
The first place worth seeing in China’s capital is the enormous historic square. Tiananmen is spread out over 400,000 square meters and holds up to 1 million spectators. Such a crowd of people is even difficult to imagine, but that is how many Chinese gather here during parades.
To the west of Tiananmen is the House of People’s Assemblies, the place where the country’s parliament meets. To the east is the National Museum, the tall Monument to the People’s Heroes and Mao Zedong’s mausoleum.
The square is not a modern Beijing landmark. It appeared in the 15th century. Since the Middle Ages, the Main Solar Gate and the Archers’ Tower have stood here. You’re advised to get to the area early before there are too many tourists.
Tiananmen Square. Photo: kitsanchez / unsplash.com.
Gate of Heavenly Serenity
Want to see the landmark in Beijing that is depicted on the emblem of the PRC? The sacred symbol of power is located to the north of Tiananmen Square. The front entrance to the Imperial City was built in 1420. Over 700 years, the sacred gate has been repeatedly destroyed in natural disasters and riots, but each time it has been rebuilt.
Get there early! Every day at sunrise there is a spectacular ceremony at the gate as the military raises the national flag.
Popular excursions in Beijing:
This is the name of the palace complex of the Ming and Qing dynasties who ruled China from 1420 to 1912. The Forbidden City is home to the Gugong Museum, which houses about a million artifacts.
The largest palace on the planet is surrounded by a protective wall. On the way to the Forbidden City, tourists pass through three gates. In the center is the Hall of Supreme Harmony – the Taihedian Pavilion. Admission costs CNY 60 from April to October and CNY 40 from November to March.
Don’t expect to see all the attractions of the Forbidden City in one day! It will take at least a week.
The Forbidden City. Photo: maxvdo / unsplash.com.
The Palace of Prince Gong (Gongwangfu)
Not far from Qianhai Lake is the beautiful palace of Prince Gong. On its scale, Gunwangfu is second only to the Forbidden City. The area of the princely palace occupies 60,000 square meters and is divided into two parts – a park and a residential area. The complex includes a museum and an ancient theater. On the platform, which is decorated with a screen of boxwood, performers of the Beijing Opera and Chinese circus. An entrance ticket to the museum costs CNY 40 and a guided tour costs CNY 70.
Summer Palace (Yheyuan)
In the East, they like to express themselves beautifully, so the Emperor’s summer palace is called the Garden of Peace and Harmony. Iheyuan is nothing like the austere Forbidden City. The ornate buildings and luxurious park are Beijing’s landmarks that set you up for relaxation and contemplation.
Try counting the lion figures on the Shiqiquan Bridge and admiring the Zhihuihei Temple! During high season, admission to the palace costs CNY 30, and a ticket to see all the attractions of the complex is CNY 60.
Summer Palace (Yheyuan). Photo: kitsanchez / unsplash.com.
Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan)
The Emperor’s Old Summer Palace is no less beautiful than the Yiheyuan. Its name means “Gardens of Perfect Clarity” in Chinese. The picturesque stone ruins in the shade of the trees are a reminder of the fleeting time that even the world’s most powerful rulers were unable to cope with.
To learn about the history of the most populous nation on the planet, go to the museum in Tiananmen Square. The National Museum of China has exhibits that are found nowhere else in the world.
Look at the sacrificial tripod weighing 800 kg and more than 3 thousand years old. One of the most famous artifacts is the “Jade Prince”, a funerary garment sewn with gold thread from polished pieces of jade. You can see these treasures for free.
Temple of Heaven
The ancient Chinese believed that their emperor was a messenger of heaven, so such power needed a feedback. Every year during the winter solstice, solemn prayers were performed in the majestic Temple of Heaven.
The circular-shaped building resembled a decorative box. The three-tier roof is supported by 28 pillars. In the middle there are four pillars representing the seasons, and around them there are 12 columns which symbolize months. The next row of 12 pillars means 12 hours.
It costs 30-35 CNY to enter. Come early in the morning and you will watch the Chinese do oriental gymnastics in the gorgeous park.
Temple of Heaven. Photo: c_b_a / unsplash.com.
Confucius Temple (Qiufu).
One of the most notable landmarks in downtown Beijing has graced the city since the early 14th century. The picturesque temple is divided into four courtyards and surrounded by 189 stone stelae with quotations from the writings of Confucius. Everything about this place is very philosophical!
Ticket prices vary depending on the time of year – 15-30 CNY. Some Chinese people order ceremonial music for a fee.
Lama Temple (Yongheggun)
The colorful temple in the northern part of the Imperial City represents the most significant milestone in the history of Chinese Buddhism. Yongheggun was built during the reign of Yong Qingwang, who called for harmony and justice.
The main part of the temple, the Hall of Ten Thousand Fortunes, houses a sandalwood statue of the Buddha of the Future over 25 metres high. If you come here, your luck might just explode out of the horn of plenty. Entrance to the Buddhist monastery costs 25 CNY.
Lama Temple. Photo: jsalvino / unsplash.com.
Lugou Bridge (Marco Polo Bridge).
This is one of Beijing’s oldest landmarks. The old bridge over the Yundinghe River has always existed. In 475 BC there was a wooden bridge that connected the two banks of the river at a distance of 16 km from the historical center of Beijing. At the beginning of XII century the bridge was built of stone and made arched. This is how the traveler Marco Polo described it.
Today, the bridge with 500 stone lions can be used only on foot or by bicycle. There is a strip of old masonry in the middle with traces of carts and horses’ hooves. Real seals of the times! There is a fee to enter the bridge, 20 CNY.
Among the main attractions in Beijing is a chain of artificial lakes, which in the XIII-XIV centuries were dug next to the Imperial Palace. These beautiful lakes are still kept in perfect condition.
Houhai Lake is connected by channels to Xihai and Qanhai Lakes. The picturesque shores with weeping willows, restaurants, bars, stores, and souvenir shops on the waterfront attract many tourists. Very cool on the lake in the evening, when the nightclubs open and the air fills with the aromas of different cuisines of the world. Walk through the narrow streets – hutongs, and you can easily feel the spirit of the old city!
The attraction, which is worth seeing in Beijing with children, is located at the level of the second ring road. The zoo is home to over seven thousand different animals – crocodiles, elephants, snub-nosed monkeys, giant salamanders, cranes, rhinos and tigers.
The Beijing Zoo also keeps and breeds the giant pandas, animals that China considers national treasures and gives away on special terms to zoos around the world. There are a lot of people interested in coming here, so plan your visit for a weekday! A full ticket to the Panda House, Zoo and Oceanarium is not cheap at 170 CNY. But kids will be admitted for free!
A bear at the Beijing Zoo. Photo: aervea / unsplash.com.
If you’re interested in the architectural sights of Beijing, don’t miss the unique temple that was built in the city in 996. The first Islamic missionaries came to China in the 7th century. Gradually a Muslim community emerged in the capital of the country.
The Chinese mosque was built according to the national canons. The red-green facades are covered with carvings and the building has a practical tile roof. The interiors are in the strict traditions of Islam. Tourists are only allowed inside on Sundays.
If you dream of seeing the sights of Beijing from a bird’s eye view, take a scenic view of the city from the Beijing Television Tower! You can see the streets and buildings of the capital from a height of 238 meters. If you want to see everything in detail, you can do it with a telescope. A ticket to the TV Tower costs 99 CNY.
At the height of 221 meters there is a restaurant on a rotating platform. The average bill here is quite democratic – 200-300 CNY. Under the tower is an entertainment center “Underwater World of the Pacific”, where you can see the funny penguins, jellyfish and fish. Admission for adults costs CNY 150.
Wangjing SOHO Skyscrapers
The skyscrapers in the Wangjing district are an ultra-modern landmark in Beijing. The pride of Chinese high-tech is three mountains of glass and concrete that rise to a height of 118, 127 and 200 meters. The air conditioning, power and water supply are so good that the Beijing high-rises consume 40% less than skyscrapers elsewhere in the world. Admire the elegant curves of the skyscrapers that look up into the sky!
The Wangjing SOHO skyscrapers. Photo: roadtripwithraj / unsplash.com.
To hear your native tongue and see the descendants of Russian immigrants, head to the colorful Yabaolu Market. Our compatriots settled here at the beginning of the last century. Look closely, haggle, and you will bring down the initial price by 3-4 times. But beware of pickpockets!
This five-story shopping complex has a very modern history. It was built in 1995 to gather all the traders under one roof and to clear the way to the Temple of the Sky. Today, the Pearl Market is the most popular place visited by tourists.
On the 1st and 2nd floors, they sell clothes and electronics. The third floor is reserved for pearls, on the 4th floor there are large trading companies, and on the 5th floor there are jewelry stores. Buy a string of real Chinese pearls and you will get a nice bonus – small pearl earrings!
A stall at the market. Photo: eprouzet / unsplash.com.
A paradise for connoisseurs of Chinese antiquities is just south of the Forbidden City. An antique and souvenir bazaar stretches the entire length of this picturesque street. Most of the houses on Lyulichang were built in the nineteenth century, and their roofs are decorated with gold or red tiles. On the first floors there are several galleries with works of Chinese calligraphers. Don’t want to take your eyes off the camera!
Digital Beijing Building
In direct contrast to the skyscrapers of Wanjing, Digital Beijing is a dark cubic building made by Chinese architect Pei Zhu. The angular shapes and gloomy color evoke responses ranging from admiration to total rejection of the project, but no one is indifferent.
We recommend to look at the original building in the evening, when the LED lighting is on. The green lights that crawl across the 13-story facades make them look like a bar code.
Another interesting building is the Headquarters of China Central Television. Photo: whatyouhide / unsplash.com.
Non-trivial attractions in Beijing
Mao Zedong Mausoleum . The Chinese leader is treated ambiguously in the world, but no one can deny Mao Zedong’s role in Chinese history. The line to the mausoleum in Tiananmen Square moves quickly. Admission is free, and you have to pay 15 CNY for the luggage room.
Shishikou Cathedral . Jesuit missionaries came to China in the 16th century. After doctors from Europe cured Emperor Kangxi, he gave the Jesuits a plot of land and allowed them to build a Catholic church. You will be surprised, but the Gothic cathedral is decorated with Chinese carvings and statues of stone lions.
Botanical Garden . Compared to the main attractions in Beijing, the botanical garden is young. It was founded in 1955. Come here to see the flower-shaped glass greenhouse building and relax in the wonderful park!
Qianmen Street . To see traditional and colonial houses from the 19th and early 20th centuries, walk along the street that runs south from Mao Zedong’s mausoleum. A rarity streetcar runs along it.
Silk Factory . The production, museum and store will interest anyone who wants to learn more about silk production in China.
Happy Valley Amusement Park . Tired of going around Beijing? Take a ride at China’s equivalent of Disneyland.
Jade Island at Beihai Park . The white Buddhist temple on top of the island is a symbol of China’s commitment to Buddhism. It offers wonderful views of the Forbidden City, green parks, and lakes.
Jingshan Park Arbors . Each structure has a poetic name – “Enjoying the Scents,” “Beautiful Views,” “Tower of Hope,” and “Contemplating Beauty. A walk in the beautifully landscaped park will easily make you forget what century it is!
Peace Park . To see sights from around the planet in Beijing, go to the Miniature Park. The 460,000-square-meter area features famous monuments and buildings from various countries. Admission costs CNY 80-100.
Qianmen Street. Photo: zhangkaiyv / unsplash.com.
What to see in Beijing in 1 day
- National Museum of China
- Tiananmen Square
- Forbidden City.
- Beihai Park
- Temple of Heaven
- Yheyuan Palace Complex.
What to see in Beijing in 2 days
To the sights we have written about above, add
- Yuanmingyuan Old Palace.
- Yabaolu Market.
- Lulichan Street
- Confucius Temple.
- Beijing TV Tower.
The nearest section of the Great Wall of China is 70 km from Beijing, near Badaling railway station. If you want to see the iconic landmark of China by all means, you will have to sacrifice something in the city.