As the capital of China, Beijing has a history of more than 600 years, and so it contains many historical and cultural sites. To enjoy all the main sights in Beijing, you would need to spend at least 5 days in the city.
But if you can only stay one day in Beijing, the best way to plan a day in Beijing is to visit the top attractions in the city center by walking from south to north.
Start from the Temple of Heaven, proceed to Jingshan Park, and go through the Forbidden City — a total distance of about 8 kilometers (5 miles).
We suggest this route as the attractions on this route can be reached within walking distance so it can save you a lot of time due to traffic problems in the city.
One Day in Beijing: The Best 1-Day Itinerary
Start early: To maximize a day trip in Beijing, start as early as possible so that you have the flexibility to control the pace of your tours, such as avoiding long queues at entrances or crowded times at the attractions that might spoil your experience.
But don't forget to ensure plenty of time for your breakfast. In Beijing, hotels normally offer breakfast from 7:00 am, and then you can start your tour at 8:00 am from there.
1. See a Classic Beijing Morning at the Temple of Heaven
Beijing's mornings are full of local smells. There are groups of retired seniors who like doing morning exercises in the streets and parks. The Temple of Heaven is not only a royal historical site but also a local park where many locals start their daily life with traditional exercises.
Many people join groups in Temple of Heaven Park early in the morning to practice Tai Chi or take a place in square dances. Would you like to join in? You will be able to practice Tai Chi and dance with them or separately under the guidance of a teacher.
2. Going through a Local Area around Qianmen Street
Qianmen Street is about 1½ km (1 mile) from the Temple of Heaven. It takes about 20 minutes to get there, no matter whether on foot or by public/private transport.
With a long history and many time-honored brands, redevelopment has restored its streetscape to that of the early twentieth century. You will see enough awe-inspiring architecture here to fill any Instagram in style.
Shanxixiang Hutong is a residential area near Qianmen Street — a group of houses built in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Walking along the lanes, enjoy the brick buildings that reflect the prosperous part of old Beijing.
Most of these buildings were opera gardens, tea houses, or brothels during the beginning of the 20th century. They are now mostly converted into residential houses or hotels.
When you find yourself surrounded by fantastic buildings in the traditional Chinese design, be sure to try these delicacies Beijing foods: old Beijing hotpot, Beijing duck, siu mai (sticky rice dumplings), wontons, and plum syrup, or you could have a charming coffee break.
At the end of the street, you will find a small workshop hidden in a residential community named Kuideshe (魁德社). There is a mini-theater only 10 m2 (110 sq. ft.) in area.
There is a row of benches for the audience, but only one actor, who is one of Beijing's last folk stalwarts, and a consummate hand on several ancient stringed instruments.
There is a mini-show there that normally starts at 1:00 pm. After the 20-minute performance, the actor will talk with you for a while about his story.
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3. Discover Imperial Beijing at the Forbidden City
Tian'anmen Square is about 3 km (2 miles) further north from Qianmen Street — about 45 minutes walking. We suggest you take a taxi (10 minutes) to get there to save time and energy for walking around the Forbidden City for about 2½ hours.
Tian'anmen Square is a huge space in front of the Forbidden City. To get into the square, you have to go through a security check.
Standing at Tian'anmen and facing the Tian'anmen Rostrum, you can see the Great Hall of the People on the right, the National Museum of China on the left, and to the far south the national flag stage, the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and Zhengyangmen in that sequence.
If you want to include a visit to any of the places around the Square, you had better skip the tour of Qianmen Street.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tian'anmen), behind the flagpole stage, is the main gate to the Forbidden City. Remember to take your passport for picking up your ticket, which you should book in advance and the security check.
Entrance tickets have only been available online in recent times. You can book tickets on the official website of the Palace Museum (only in Chinese so far). You are suggested to book via a travel agency like China Highlights.
Please note: the Forbidden City is closed every Monday except for public holidays.
You can rent an audio guide or hire a guide at the museum, based on their availability. A knowledgeable and well-spoken guide is essential to helping you discover the stories and culture behind the imperial halls, making your trip more fun and inspiring.
It is highly recommended to book an English-speaking tour guide in advance through a reputable travel agency. Contact us to book your personal guide
A popular route for visiting the Forbidden City is walking along the south-north axis, which is also the briefest route, giving you a quick snapshot of the Forbidden City.
This 2-hour route follows the central axis to see the largest, but nevertheless similar, six halls along with some museum displays to the left and right of this main axis, and a garden at the end. See our Forbidden City Maps.
If you wish to stay away from the regular tourist route and see some lesser-known palaces, you should arrange 4 hours there and skip the rest of the itinerary for the day.
Enjoy our Emperor's Tour to skip the lines and discover the Forbidden City in-depth. Your tour guide will help you explore 12 carefully selected palaces in the Forbidden City, while other group tours typically visit only 6–8 spots briefly.
4. Seeing Sunset at Jingshan Park
Coming out from the Forbidden City, you will be facing Jingshan Park, which is across the road. Climb for about 20 minutes to the top of Jing Hill.
There you can look out over the whole Forbidden City. Take in the spectacular scenery of the red walls and yellow roofs of 980 buildings. Also here is a great place to catch a picturesque sunset.
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Other Options for One Day in Beijing
Apart from the attractions on the central axis of Beijing, you can visit the northwest suburbs of Beijing for the Summer Palace, which is 20 km (12 miles) from the center, or go further north to the Great Wall, which is 1½ to 2½ hours' drive away.
1. Stroll around the Two Summer Palaces in Northwest Beijing
The famous sights in the northwest of Beijing are the Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), which are 3 kilometers (2 miles) apart. They are two different gardens and both are worthy of your time. A full day is needed to visit them.
They were built in the 1700s, in the Qing Dynasty, and the Old Summer Place was created prior to the Summer Place.
Now, the Summer Palace represents a well-preserved imperial garden with a lake, long corridor, and hills, while the Old Summer Palace contains original 18th-century relics and ruins.
When you finish the two summer palaces, you might like to pay a visit to the Olympic Green in the evening. It's on a northerly route back to Beijing city center.
It is not within walking distance, and you are suggested to use a taxi transfer or private car transfer, which takes around 30 minutes.
2. Admire the Majestic Great Wall
They are located north of Beijing within a driving distance of 60–75 km (40–50 miles).
Each Great Wall section has its own characteristics. For example, Huanghuacheng features parts of the Great Wall immersed in water. Juyongguan features a fort area, which is the most wheelchair-friendly part of the Great Wall.
Badaling is by far the most popular section with Chinese tourist groups, while Mutianyu is more favored by overseas visitors as it is less crowded.
If you wish to include any section of the Great Wall in a day trip from Beijing, you should ensure 4 hours for it at least, plus travel time. The open hours of the Great Wall sections are typically 7:30 am–5:30 pm.
You might arrange your morning in Beijing City and afternoon at the Great Wall, for example, Forbidden City + Great Wall or Temple of Heaven / Summer Palace + Great Wall.
Contact us for advice about designing a perfectly planned day in Beijing.
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Enjoy a Nighttime in Beijing by Sidecar Ride
Jump aboard a 1930's-style motorbike and sidecar to discover Beijing the way most never see it. The 2-hour night ride provides a fantastic way to experience the vibrant atmosphere of Beijing by night.
The suggested route for seeing Beijing by night is riding from east to west through the following sights (as you may have walked south to north in the daytime).
Riding east to west, you will first have a view of the National Grand Theater, then Nanluoguxiang — a "renovated hutong", the Drum and Bell Tower — one of the oldest sights in the city, the Houhai lakes, and Ghost Street, where you can find many local foods.
If you do not fancy a sidecar, you can tour by taxi, bike, or privately chauffeured vehicle. Contact us to book a sidecar tour or to make other arrangements for your evening in Beijing.
Alternatives for an Evening in Beijing
If you are not keen on visiting the city's bar streets and hutongs in the evening, we suggest these options of evening shows and shopping streets.
- The Kung Fu Show: This spectacular show is a combination of kung fu, acrobatics, and dancing. It is at the most popular place to enjoy a kung fu show — Red Theater.
- Beijing opera: The make-up, the face masks, the gorgeous costumes, the unique vocal style, and the demanding choreography make Beijing opera a high-class performance entertainment. The best place to enjoy Beijing opera is Li Yuan Theater.
- Wangfujing Street: is considered the heart of the city of Beijing (for shoppers at least). Along the 810-meter-long street there are over 200 shops, and an area of about 810 square meters (680 square yards) there are dozens of stalls selling street food.
>> Check more about Things to Do at Night in Beijing
Travel Privately to Make Smart Use of Your Time in Beijing
Although Beijing is accessible by public transport, the sights can be better visited with a private tour. It would save you time and enhance your experience, especially if a combination of attractions are visited.
Your private tour guide would make all the necessary arrangements to ensure that your stay is all you want it to be. She/he would also organize privately-driven transport to make the tour run in the most efficient way.
A private guide can give you the best in local knowledge regarding the history/background of what you are visiting, and a tailored variety of activities can be arranged according to your preferences and interests.