Look no further, these are the top things to do in Beijing to make the most of your stay.
Whether you are passing through and taking advantage of the 144-hour Visa-free transit policy or visiting China and making a stop in Beijing, this guide showcases all the things to do in Beijing plus tips and advice for places to say, how to get around and where to stay and how to avoid Internet censorship.
Things to do in Beijing
Did you know you can now visit Beijing without a visa for 144 hours.
That's six days to spend in Beijing and the surrounding area without having to jump through hoops of paperwork.
If you are visiting other parts of China and are staying for longer than six days, you will need a visa. But the good news is your visa is now valid for 10 years of multiuse entry!
We're here to help you decide what to do in Beijing to fill up your 6 days of Visa-free travel.
Beijing - Table of Contents
If you want to skip directly to Beijing's attractions you can click on the links below.
- Forbidden City - World Heritage Site and 598-year-old palace to the Emperor and his subjects spanning 180 Acres
- Tiananmen Square - Largest square in the world where 1989 protests took place killing an unknown number of students
- Great Wall of China - World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
- Hutongs - Beautiful neighborhoods dating back to 1206, designated historical residences with rickshaws weaving through narrow streets
- Temple of Heaven - Temple for worship by previous Emperors to sacrifice and pray for a good harvest
- Lama Temple - Our favorite temple to visit in Beijing. Tibetan Monastery dating back to 1695
- Jongshan Park - High hill looking over the Forbidden City offering panoramic views of Beijing and the palace rooftops.
- Bell and Drum Tower - Two large buildings representing the symbol of the Old City.
- Silk Road - Multilevel shopping mall and an excellent place to barter and buy both real and fake brand name watches, handbags, sunglasses, and silk.
- Bird's Nest Stadium - Olympic Stadium offers tours and is a nice neighborhood to visit.
- Peking Duck - Food is a large part of Chinese culture and you must try it all, but most importantly Peking Duck.
Where to Stay in Beijing
There are many neighborhoods to stay in Beijing. But the three main that we recommend are near the Hutongs; Shichahai Sandalwood Hotel is an authentic hotel set in a former palace/
Downtown in the Business District right in the heart of skyscrapers and shopping malls. There is a beautiful Ritz Carlton.
Near the Forbidden City is an excellent choice for neighborhoods to be near the sites and plenty of dining options.
There is a nice hotel we stayed at on the edge of town and close to the airport. Other tour groups stayed here as well.
Why Visit Beijing?
Beijing is a massive city with a population of 21 million people. It is the capital of China filled everything from ancient monuments to modern skyscrapers.
The host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing will once again be welcoming the world in 2022 for the Winter Games. 2019 will see the World Expo.
There are many direct flights to Beijing from cities around the world including Toronto, London, New York, and Sydney.
Beijing is filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, World Wonders and some of the best shopping in Asia.
Getting Around Beijing
Beijing is a huge city that is spread out over 16,807.8 km2 (6,489.5 sq mi)
Traffic can be heavy and most people do not speak English, so we suggest hiring guides to take you to the top sights of Beijing.
Get Your Guide is a great tour company that offers many day tours within and around Beijing.
There is no Uber or Lyft and the Chinese ride sharing is complicated without a local number and being able to speak Mandarin. But Taxis are cheap.
- Tip: Keep a business card from your hotel so you can give it to taxis to get home at night. If you need to go somewhere, have the Concierge at your hotel write down the address in Mandarin for you.
The subway is easy to navigate and is very reasonable, but it is crowded and closes at 11:00 pm. Cost is cheap at 3-7 Yuan
You cannot access Google or social channels like Facebook or Twitter. We used KnowRoaming SIM cards on our phones and it worked better than our VPN on our computer.
The KnowRoaming SIM is hosted outside the country giving you access to Gmail and all other social channels with ease. PlanetD readers receive 50% credit when ordering with promo Code DDSave50: Visit KnowRoaming for details.
Plus for a limited time, KnowRoaming is offering a free Global SIM Card with the purchase of a Global SIM Sticker or SIM Card.
We know many don't travel alone, so it's great to have two phones working overseas. How many times have you gotten lost and need to text one another?
If you don't use KnowRoaming, you must use a VPN. It is impossible otherwise to access your accounts.
1 USD = 6.92 Yuan - Check XE Currency Converter for updated conversion.
The best time of year to visit Beijing is in September or October. Pollution is low and the weather is very comfortable.
To chat with anyone in China, WeChat is the preferred social network.
Get your Lonely Planet Pocket Travel guide to Beijing for quick reference and tips
Wifi is easily accessible at hotels, coffee shops and places like McDonald's.
What to do in Beijing
1. Great Wall of China
There is no doubt that the star attraction for people visiting and looking for things to do in Beijing is the Great Wall of China. It's a wonder that has fascinated the world for centuries.
It is beautiful and impressive, but expect large crowds.
It is accessible by local bus, tourist bus. Line 877 from Deshengmen or tourist bus line 1 from Qianmen.
The Mutianyu is another hour farther from Beijing, but you will see far fewer crowds and it is just as impressive and stunning.
Mutianyu isn't as easy to access and it is recommended to hire a driver or take a tour.
2. Forbidden City
It is the number one attraction in the city of Beijing and with good reason.
Built in the 1400s during the Ming Dynasty, the Forbidden City housed the ruling Emperors and their households for 500 years.
It spans 180 acres housing a whopping 980 buildings and over 8000 rooms.
It is best to take a tour of the Forbidden City to understand what the sections and rooms are.
Only the Emperor and his subjects stepped foot in the Forbidden City until 1925 when it was turned into a museum after the fall of the final Emperor. Watch The Last Emperor now to learn more.
It takes at a minimum of two hours to tour the Forbidden City, but it can easily be enjoyed all day.
This is something you don't want to miss when you are planning out all your things to do in Beijing.
You can book skip the line tickets in advance that can be easily canceled within 24 hours.
3. Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is often toured at the same time as the Forbidden City because of its close proximity.
It is the largest square in the world and there are many things to see.
Chairman Mao's tomb is located in the square. There's the National Museum, People's Monument, Railway Museum and views from the gates.
4. Hutong Tour
Visiting the Hutong's of Beijing are a must.
They were nearly destroyed to make way for skyscrapers and newer developments, but they were finally spared and the last of the Hutongs are sitting on protected land waiting for tourists to explore.
Take a Rickshaw tour through the Hutongs to feel what it was like centuries ago and for a fast overview of the area.
Walk along Pipe Street for shopping and snacking Beijing Food.
Stroll along the picturesque lake or take a boat ride to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Or simply walk through the alleyways and get lost absorbing the energy and beauty of Beijing's Hutongs.
5. Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is a wonderful stop in Beijing covering a massive area of 2,700,000 square meters.
Take a walk through the complex to see the mount prayer altar, the echo wall, The Imperial Vault and much more.
Be sure to spend time in the park to enjoy some Tai Chi or Chinese yo-yo.
6. Lama Temple
This was one of our favorite temples to visit in Beijing.
Built in 1694, it was an official residence for Eunichs of the Qing Dynasty.
Today it is a functioning school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was closed for 32 years after the Cultural Revolution, but it re-opened in 1981.
Today monks study and take care of the grounds as tourists come to see the massive sandalwood Buddha standing 18 metres (69 feet) high. It holds the Guinness Book of World Record's for tallest Buddha carved out of a single tree.
7. Jongshan Park
This is a pleasant park to visit where locals take badminton lessons, practice tai chi or simply relax in the bonsai tree gardens.
Tourists frequent Jongshan Park to climb to the top of the mountain for an overhead view of the Forbidden City.
The mountain was made from the soil taken from the moat that surrounds the Forbidden City creating a 45.7 meter high (150 feet) artificial mound that was previously home to the Imperial Gardens.
It is worth the walk up the steps to view the rooftops of the Forbidden City and take in the Panoramic views of Beijing.
8. Silk Street
This shopping mall used to be an open-air street filled with markets.
The vendors have been moved indoors, but it is no less fun to visit!
If you want to buy immaculate knock-off handbags, watches or sunglasses, this is the place to come.
Be sure to bring your wallet and a be ready to barter. You can walk away with bargains more than half their asking price if you know what you're doing.
Silk Street goods are considered some of the best and most authentic fakes of name brands in the world.
9. Bell and Drum Tower
These two structures stand above the Hutongs to represent the symbol of the Old City.
You can walk up for an overview of the area and see the largest and heaviest bell in China.
Built across the square is another tower standing 47 meters (157 feet) high containing one very large drum.
The drum and bell towers were used to tell time for centuries but was abolished after the cultural revolution. But in 2001 the drum and bell rang out the new year and have been used each year since to bring blessing to the people.
10. Bird's Nest Stadium
The Beijing National Stadium was designed for the 2008 Olympics and is worth a visit to admire the architecture created by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron to represent a bird's nest.
The surrounding architecture is just as impressive with the Cube Watercentre.
And the 7-star hotel and condo complex shaped as a Dragon's head.
Football events and concerts take place at the stadium, but you can take an architectural tour of Beijing to enjoy the modern designs of this growing city.
11. Peking Duck
No trip to Beijing would be complete without tasting its most famous dish.
Hua's Restaurant is one of the premier places to sample Peking Duck with four locations throughout the city.
Even if you are not a fan of duck, Peking Duck is something you must sample once.
Serving of the Peking Duck is an extravaganza as the chef brings out a large duck cooked to perfection and then slices it up with precision and artistry.
You are then shown how to eat it by creating a tortilla-like sandwich with all the fixings.
I don't normally eat duck, but when in Beijing, I always do!
Other Things to do in Beijing
Chinese Royal Gastronomy Museum - A restaurant extravaganza with fine dining, Dumpling making, dinner shows and a museum dedicated to food.
Learn Calligraphy - Set up a Calligraphy Class. Our hotel offered classes at the Sandalwood Boutique hotel in the Hutong district.
Take a Tai Chi Lesson - Go to the park and join a Tai Chi Class. The locals are very friendly.
Have a Beijing Hot Pot - Food glorious food. When in Beijing, delve into the food scene. A visit wouldn't be complete without a hot pot meal.
Visit the Central Business District - marvel at the five-star hotels scattered among skyscrapers, high-end shopping and fine dining.
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