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The Top 12 Must-See Attractions in Beijing

The Top 12 Must-See Attractions in Beijing

Written by Kimi HuangUpdated Oct. 26, 2021

Beijing’s attractions are second to none in China, with famous tourist spots of various types: historical, cultural, scenic, and modern. The capital is home to some of the country's best-known tourist attractions, such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven.

Here we introduce the 12 best must-see attractions in Beijing to help you better plan your trip, according to our first-hand experience and customers’ ratings.

  • Top historical sights: the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Lama Temple, the Temple of Heaven, the Ming Tombs, and Jinshan Park
  • Top cultural sights: the hutongs, Tian'anmen Square, Gubei Water Town
  • Top modern sights: Beijing Olympic Park, 798 Art Zone
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1. The Forbidden City

Panorama of The Forbidden City

Open: 8:30am–5:00pm Apr.–Oct.; 8:30am–4:30pm Nov.–Mar.; closed on Mondays

Recommended visit: 2 hours

Entry: CN¥60 (US$9)

The Forbidden City was for almost five centuries the palatial heart of China. Constructed in 1420, it is China's best-preserved imperial palace, and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. It is also a magnificent treasure trove, which holds more than a million rare and valuable works of art. The collection includes ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, bronzes, timepieces, jade pieces, ancient books, and historical documents.

There, you can witness the grand architecture, learn about China’s royal culture inside the city walls, and appreciate the precious treasures of the royal court.

More on The Forbidden City >>>

How to make the most of your time in this huge imperial palace complex? Visiting halls along the central axis from The Meridian Gate to the Gate of Devine Might is the most common route. Some of the most important buildings are located on this axis, such as the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, Hall of Preserving Harmony, and Palace of Heavenly Purity.

However, you might want to travel with us for a deeper Forbidden City exploration. Rather than simply taking you round to see the buildings, and giving you textbook recitals or routine guide presentations, we attempt to bring the emperors’ lives to life for you, through fascinating stories with original iPad pictures and videos. You will be taken to see places that you would never find by yourself or on a standard tour.

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Tips:

For the protection of relics and visitors’ safety, there is a restriction on daily visitor numbers. As tickets are limited, they are always sold out quickly, so it is not wise to wait to buy them on the day. It is highly recommended to book entry tickets in advance. You can scan the QR code on the right with WeChat or send us a quick inquiry to book the tickets.

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2. The Great Wall of China

 Jinshanling Great Wall section

Open: 8:30am–5:00pm

Recommended visit: 2 hours for sightseeing, half a day for hiking

Entry: Prices vary for different Great Wall sections.

The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest sights in the world. Over 6,000 km (4,000 miles) long, its winding path over rugged country and steep mountains takes in some great scenery.

The most popular Great Wall sections are in the mountains north of Beijing:

  • The Mutianyu Great Wall section (2 hours’ driving from the center of Beijing): With less crowding and children-friendly facilities, it is the most popular section among foreign travelers. You can take the cable cars up/down, and the “toboggan” ride down is great fun, suitable for both adults and children.
  • The Badaling Great Wall section (1½ hours’ driving from the center of Beijing) is a restored Great Wall section that is somewhat disabled-friendly, there are lifts and elevators available to get onto one part of the Wall. It is very popular among Chinese tourist groups, hence it’s the most crowded by far.
  • Jinshanling Great Wall section (3 hours’ driving from the center of Beijing) is regarded as the most photogenic and most beautiful section of the Great Wall, replete with many original features. It is the photographers' favorite. As it is further from Beijing, it has fewer crowds.

Jinshanling is also the most popular Great Wall section for hiking. The walking difficulty on this section is graded as moderate.

  • Jiankou Great Wall section (2 hours’ driving from the center of Beijing) is an unrepaired Great Wall section built on towering ridges with cliffs on each side! This is also the most challenging section. It is only recommended for experienced and sure-footed mountain hikers.
  • Huanghuacheng Great Wall section (2 hours’ driving from the center of Beijing) is divided by a lake, and some parts are even immersed in the water. It is the only "Great Wall in Water". During summer, this Great Wall section is swathed in yellow, as masses of wildflowers come into bloom (hence its name ‘Yellow Flower Wall’).

There is no cable car available, so this uncrowded Great Wall section is more popular with hikers. It provides a challenge for hikers because the paths are steep and out of repair.

More on The Most Recommended Great Wall sections>>>

Hiking on the Great Wall

Hiking the Great Wall is another popular way to explore the Great Wall. Tread the centuries-old bricks and walk-through watchtower ruins. Take your time and feel history come to life. Our two most popular hiking routes suit different hikers:

  • Hiking from Jinshanling to Simatai West — 6 km (4 miles), 4 hours:
    It is a moderate hiking route that is suitable for most common visitors. This section has breathtaking views and offers stunning photo opportunities that vary with the seasons.
  • Trekking from Jiankou to Mutianyu — 10 km (6 miles), 5 hours:
    This is a route for experienced and sure-footed mountain hikers. It allows you to see the spectacular cliff-top ruined towers at Jiankou and the restored wall at Mutianyu. This is a challenging section of the Great Wall. You'll need to be in good health to negotiate the steep ascents and descents on rocky trails.

We have more Great Wall hiking tours to choose from.

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3. The Temple of Heaven

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Open: 6:00am–5:30pm Apr.–Oct.; 6:30am–5:00pm Nov.–Mar.

Recommended visit: 2 hours

Entry: CN¥34 (US$5)

The Temple of Heaven is an imperial worship site where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties took part in annual ceremonies to pray for a good harvest for the next year. The annual sacrificial ceremonies at the Temple of Heaven were the emperors' most important religious and political activities.

The Circular Mound Altar and The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests are the must-see highlights, you can learn about the culture of heaven worship, architectural geomancy, and the medieval China’s sacrificial rites.

If you’re travel with kids, a visit to the Echo Wall is strongly recommended. Your kid(s) will be surprised by the magic of the echo. If you say something to him/her quietly at one end of the wall, they should hear your message even though standing 100–150 meters away.

Nowadays, the Temple of Heaven stands in a public park that is full of life. In the morning lots of local elderly people meet there to sing, exercise and do tai chi. The park is south of Central Beijing, about 15 minutes south of the Forbidden City by car.

More on The Temple of Heaven>>>

4. The Summer Palace

Seventeen-Arch Bridge

Open: 6:30am–6:00pm Apr.–Oct.; 8:30am–5:00pm Nov.–Mar.

Recommended visit: 1½ hours

Entry: CN¥30 (US$5)

The Summer Palace is 15 kilometers (9 miles) from downtown Beijing. It was a summer retreat for the royal family of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). It is also the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China, with famous landscaped views and cultural points of interest. The Summer Palace has greatly influenced Chinese horticulture and landscape gardening.

The Long Corridor in the Summer Palace gardens is the most notable sight, with every on beam decorated with colorful paintings — more than 14,000 in total. You can stroll around it and listen to tales described by the paintings.

Tip: If you have plenty of time for a visit and do not mind waiting in line for a while, relaxing on a boat on Kunming Lake is a highly recommended activity.

More on The Summer Palace >>>

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5. The Hutongs

Beijing Hutongs

Open: open all-day

Recommended visit: 2 hours

Entry: free

With over 700 years of history, the hutongs represent an important stage in the development and evolution of Beijing's history and culture. They showcase the traditional daily life of ordinary people in Beijing and give a glimpse of old Beijing as it was.

Of all the hundreds of hutongs in Beijing, Tobacco Pouch Street (烟袋斜街) and Nanlougu Hutong (南锣鼓巷) are two of the most famous and interesting hutongs that stand out from the rest. Both streets preserve the character of a commoners’ street in Beijing and highlight some of the city’s traditional customs.

In the hutongs, you can hop on a rickshaw to ride through the narrow alleys, appreciate the well-preserved courtyard residences and their long histories, sample great street food, experience local handicrafts, do a cooking class...

See more on Beijing’s Hutongs >>>

Our Hutong tours focus more on local cultural experiences. You can explore a non-commercial hutong and discover what ordinary people’s lives are like.

On our 1-Day Beijing Hutong Tour, you will have a chance to walk into a traditional courtyard residence and visit a hutong family. Learn about the architectural features of traditional residential houses in old Beijing and the customs of their residents. Chat with your hosts and get an idea of the hutong lifestyle.

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6. Lama Temple

The prayers are praying at the Yonghe gate

Open: 9:00am–4:30pm Apr.–Oct.; 9:00am–4:00pm Nov.–Mar.

Recommended visit: 1½ hours

Entry: CN¥25 (US$4)

Yonghegong (‘Harmony Temple’) in Chinese, Lama Temple is one of the most famous Tibetan Buddhist lamaseries outside Tibet. Today, it is not only a museum of Tibetan Buddhism but also a functioning temple where people pray.

This temple was formed from a royal palace conversion. Its buildings are a combination of imperial Qing and Tibet style. While visiting, you will not only able to get a rough understanding of Tibetan Buddhism, but also you can appreciate wonderful architecture and a variety of Buddhist statues, especially the 18-meter (59-foot) high Maitreya Buddha in Wanfu Pavilion. It was carved from one precious white sandalwood log from Nepal.

See more on Lama Temple >>>

7. Gubei Water Town

Sunset of Gubei water town

Open: all day

Recommended visit: a full day

Entry: CN¥150 (US$23)

Gubei Water Town is a large resort and town in traditional Chinese style that nestles below the Simatai Great Wall section. Its buildings have been built in the traditional Beijing courtyard style. It boasts a combination of mountain views, quaint waterways, and ancient village ambience.

An overnight stay in the water town is highly recommended, which will offer you an opportunity to enjoy the stunning night views of the tastefully-lit and cable-car-accessed Simatai section of the Great Wall.

There are 5-star hotels/resorts and hundreds of economical inns, which cater to different tastes and interests. Do not miss the natural mineral hot spring experience there. When you check in, most hotels will give you complimentary vouchers for one of the springs in Gubei Water Town.

Contact us for a bespoke visit or see our Cultural Experience in Gubei Water Town and Great Wall Night Tour if you are interested.

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8. Tian'anmen Square

Beijing Tian'anmen Square

Open: all day

Recommended visit: 1 hour

Entry: free

Tian'anmen Square is the largest famous city square. In the center of Beijing, it sits to the south of the Forbidden City. Tian'anmen Square is very symbolic for Chinese people, as it was the site of several key events in Chinese history, such as the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Nowadays, it is still the most significant square in China, where grand ceremonies and National Day anniversary parades are held.

Each morning, the flag-raising ceremony is held at sunrise, which is open to the public most of the time. On the night before Chinese National Day, many Chinese even sit up near the square for a whole night just to watch the flag being raised the next morning. Join us to witness this solemn ceremony in Beijing.

Tian'anmen Square is surrounded by many imposing buildings including the ‘Heavenly Peace Gate’ (Tian’anmen — entrance to the Forbidden City), top museums, government buildings, and Chairman Mao's Mausoleum.

See more on Tian'anmen Square >>>

9. The Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs

Open: 8:00am–5:30pm Apr.–Oct.; 8:30am–4:30pm Nov.–Mar.

Recommended visit: 2½ hours

Entry: CN¥110 (US$17) includes Dingling, Changling, and the Sacred Way

The Ming Tombs is where 13 out of the 16 emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1367–1644) were buried (along with 23 empresses and several concubines, princes, and princesses). Thus, it is also known as the ‘Thirteen Tombs’. It is the best-preserved Chinese imperial tombs complex and has been recognized by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage.

Currently, only three tombs (Changling, Dingling, and Zhaoling) are open to the public. Leading to the tombs, the Sacred Way offers a reverent and interesting stroll between animal and human statues. In Changling, you can see magnificent architecture and learn about Chinese fengshui theory. The highlight of Dingling is the stone underground palace. Zhaoling stands out for its above-ground architecture.

The Ming Tombs are 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Beijing city. As the Badaling Great Wall section is not far away, the tombs are usually visited as part of a Great Wall day trip. Please feel free to contact us for a customized Ming Tombs private tour.

See more on The Ming Tombs >>>

10. Jingshan Park

The summit of the Jingshan Park

Open: 6:00am–9:00pm Apr.–Oct.; 6:30am–8:00pm Nov.–Mar.

Recommended visit: 1 hour

Entry: CN¥10 (US$1.5)

Jingshan Park used to be a part of the Forbidden City. Its front gate faces the north gate of the Forbidden City.

The hill in the park is the highest point in Beijing City (apart from the modern tower buildings), made with the earth removed to create the palace moat. It is well worth a climb on a clear day for a panoramic view of the Forbidden City and Beijing. The path to the top of the hill is a little steep, and may not be suitable for seniors or those who have difficulty with hundreds of steps.

The park is also a place to experience local culture, as many local people go there to play interesting traditional instruments etc. every day.

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11. Beijing Olympic Park

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Open: 6:00am–9:00pm

Recommended visit: 1 hour

Entry: free

Beijing Olympic Park is a spacious park built for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. It contains the main venues used during the 2008 Olympics and Paralympic Games, The Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube are the outstanding highlights of this park, which has become a landmark of Beijing.

  • The Bird's Nest Stadium: Its outer shell is the world's largest steel structure, forming part of the most complex Olympic stadium ever constructed. The opening and closing ceremonies for the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be also held there. Click here for the latest on tickets for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
  • The Water Cube: It was the venue for the 2008 Olympic swimming and diving competitions, and continues to host events. It got its name due to its huge blue cube structure with a soap bubble design. At night, it turns into a glowing blue cube alongside the fiery red National Stadium. It is to be the curling venue for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

See more on Olympic Park >>>

12. 798 Art Zone

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art

Open: 10:00am–6:00pm

Recommended visit: 2 hours

Entry: free

Converted from an old factory compound, nowadays this zone has become synonymous with art and originality. There are a range of contemporary art galleries, stylish boutiques, creatively designed architectures, and cafes. No matter whether you are an art enthusiast or not, 798 Art District will show you a different Beijing.

Top art exhibitions and fashion shows are frequently held in 798, where there are more than 500 art studios from all over the world. Ullens Center for Contemporary Art is a must-see highlight in the Zone. An exciting collection of local and international artists exhibit in an atmospheric three-story Bauhaus structure.

See more on 798 Art Zone >>>

Discover Beijing Attractions with Us

Beijing is such a large and complex city that going with a tour guide and driver helps make your visit less stressful and more rewarding. Contact us for a well-designed tour plans cover the highlights of Beijing in the best possible ways.

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