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20 Ultimate Things to Do in Beijing

20 Ultimate Things to Do in Beijing

Written by Carol WangUpdated Nov. 2, 2021

Having served as the capital of China for more than 800 years, Beijing is best known for having the finest remnants of China's imperial past and being a China culture hub.

The most popular thing to do in Beijing is to visit the Forbidden City, the Great Walls, and other famous attractions, in addition, many experiences in Beijing are worth your time.

Our local experts have journeyed to every corner of the city and uncovered the most enjoyable and discovery-filled things to do in Beijing. Here we describe for you the top 20 things to do in Beijing, a wide variety of experiences to cherish forever, including something for everyone.

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1. Admire the Majestic Great Wall

Recommended stay:1–3 days

Great WallsDifferent Sections of the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China extends 4,000 miles. Visiting the Great Wall is one of the top things to do in Beijing. There are several Great Wall sections around Beijing to choose from, both restored sections and rugged sections. Choose your way to enjoy a Great Wall trip.

  • Take the cable car and enjoy an easy walk at Mutianyu. It is the most popular section among our customers and is perfect for ordinary travelers and children.
  • Enjoy night views at the Simatai Great Wall, the only section open at night, with tasteful lighting allowing you a romantic or pleasantly different evening tour.
  • If you are interested in hiking, the Jinshanling Great Wall is considered the best section. It’s half restored and half-wild. It is also a good place for photography. >> Check more on Great Wall Hiking
  • If you are an adventurous traveler, go to the awesome wild wall of Jiankou. It is the most precipitous section of the Great Wall, where you can enjoy some serious hiking.
  • If you are a marathon runner, why not try it on the Great Wall? Every year a marathon race is held on the Great Wall, usually on the Huangyaguan or Jinshanling section. 

Travel Tips: When you visit sections of the Great Wall with fewer tourists such as Simatai and Jinshanling, having a picnic seems a cool thing to do. There is the little option of restaurants near the Great Wall.

Touring with China Highlights, our tour guide will help prepare food and drinks and carry them for you to a perfect spot on the Great Wall.

Best times to visit the Great Wall: April to May, September to October

>>Check out more on Sections of the Great Wall in Beijing.

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Best Time to Visit Beijing
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2. Discover Traditional Beijing Life

Recommended stay: 1–2 hours

Hutongs

The Beijing Hutongs are mazes of narrow alleyways linking old single-story traditional courtyard houses. Hutongs give a wonderful glimpse into the world of yesterday in Beijing.

Find your own way to discover more of your interesting things to do in the Hutongs with China Highlights. We can provide you with an authentic and customized Hutong experience.

  • Your kids can be like Chinese children living in a hutong as they experience how they study and play and taste the snacks they love. Learn something about Chinese calligraphy. Try to write some simple characters with a brush. Play with a Chinese yo-yo made of wood or bamboo in the courtyard.
  • Take a rickshaw through the Hutongs and visit a hutong family living in a traditional quadrangle dwelling. It is an authentic way to discover traditional Beijing life.
  • Or you can check out our Hutong walking routes to help you discover the most interesting hutong lanes. >> See our Beijing-Life Discovery Walk Tour
  • Taste fine rice wine in a hidden Hutong. In a traditional Chinese alleyway, Nuoyan Rice Wine House offers a pleasant atmosphere where travelers can taste traditional rice wine.

Best time to go: each season has its good points.

>> Also to find our Things to Do in Beijing Hutong

3. Hunt Old Beijing Food 

Recommended stay: 3 hours with walking

Hunt Old Beijing Food

If you like delicious food, a food hunt is one of the particularly enjoyable things do to in Beijing. Beijing is famous for many character-filled foods such as fried dough rings, doornail pasties, sugarcoated haws, and 'rolling donkeys'.

You can taste these famous Beijing snacks in Nanluoguxiang, Ghost Street, and Wangfujing Snack Street. Some authentic snacks are tucked away in the Hutongs.

Touring with China Highlights, we select small restaurants loved by locals and restaurants with time-honored reputations, where you can admire traditional cooking skills, rather than a night market or a snack market full of tourists.

Your guide will walk with you and tell you the stories behind the food.>>Read more about The Top 5 Beijing Snack Streets

Best times to go: April to May, September to November

>>See our Beijing Foodie tour.

Recommended Tours:

4. Feast on Peking Duck

Recommended stay: 2 hours

Beijing roast duckBeijing roast duck

A saying that is often heard is: "There are two things you must do in Beijing: eat Beijing Roast Duck and see the Great Wall."Beijing roast duck is the epitome of Beijing cuisine. The dish is mostly prized for its thin, crispy skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat.

Your Beijing trip is not complete if you have not enjoyed an authentic Beijing roast duck dinner in a time-honored brand restaurant. The famous roast duck chains of restaurants are Quanjude (全聚德) and Dadong (大董).

Best time to eat: it’s great all year round!

>>Find out more about The Best 10 Roast Duck Restaurants in Beijing>>>

5. Discover the Forbidden City Like an Emperor

Recommended stay:4 hours with walking

Forbidden CityA Corner of the Forbidden City

No one should leave Beijing without visiting the Forbidden City. Walking through the Forbidden City is atop your buck list of things to do in Beijing. The Forbidden City is the best-preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.

Travel with an experienced guide to avoid the crowds and explore the hidden treasures of the palace. Discover the history and culture behind it, spanning the emperors’ personal lives, imperial examinations, and heaven worship.

China Highlights' tour guide will help you explore 12 carefully selected places in the Forbidden City, while group tours routinely visit only 6–8 spots briefly.

Travel Tips: Entrance tickets have only been available online. You can book tickets on the official website of the Palace Museum, but only in Chinese. You are suggested to book via a travel agency like China Highlights.

Best times to go: All year round is good, except for China's golden week (Oct 1–7), which is most crowded.

Recommended Tours:

6. Admire the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube in Beijing Olympic Park

Recommended stay: 1 hour

Water CubeWater Cube is Ready for the 2022 Winter Olympic

Beijing Olympic Park, also known as the Olympic Green, will host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The Bird’s Nest is the world's largest (non-linear) steel structure and the most complex stadium ever constructed.

The Water Cube was built to a unique and inspired design, based on the way soap bubbles come together in a 12-or-14-sided cell structure.

Travel Tips: The best view of the Beijing Water Cube and Bird Nest can be seen in the evening. If you wish to take the best photos, make sure you go there at night.

Best times to go: April to May, September to November

7. Stroll in the Restored Summer Palace

Recommended stay: 2 hours

Summer PalaceWalk along the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace

The Summer Palace, also called Yiheyuan, is the best-preserved imperial garden in the world, and the largest of its kind still in existence in modern China.

The most notable sight in the summer palace is its ‘long corridor’, a decorative walkway that is 728 meters (796 yards) long with 548 columns. There are more than 14,000 colorful paintings on each beam in the corridor, which are bright and magnificent.

With us, you can walk along the long corridor and listen to tales described by the paintings. Relaxing on a boat on Kunming Lake is a highly recommended way to continue your tour.

Best time to go: April to October

Recommended Tour:

8. Explore the Old Summer Palace

Recommended stay: 2 hours

 Old Summer Palace Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace was the resort for emperors in the Qing Dynasty. It was the grandest imperial garden until it was destroyed in 1860 by French and English troops. You will have a different experience when visiting the Old Summer Palace.

There used to be thousands of palaces, most of them made of wood. These were burned to the ground and now only European-style stone structures remain.

Travel Tips: The Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace are 3 kilometers from each other. You can visit both in one day. They are two different gardens, but both are worthy of your time.

Best time to go: April to October

9. Discover the Temple of Heaven along with a Tai Chi Experience

Recommended stay: 1–2 hours

Tai Chi Experience

The Temple of Heaven, the royal altar where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven, is seen as the holiest of Beijing's imperial temples. It has been described as "a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design".

Temple of Heaven Park is a great place to see the locals doing their morning activities such as practicing tai chi. It is really one of the fun things to do in Beijing!

To give more people access to authentic tai chi and the underlying culture, our partnered professional tai chi master shave carefully designed a culture communication program for Westerners at the Temple of Heaven, where you can approach the locals and experience their quintessentially Chinese exercises.

Travel Tips: Qianmen Street is about a 20-minute walk from the Temple of Heaven. You can take some photos of the awe-inspiring architecture here to fill any Instagram in style

Best time to go: April to October

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10. Attend a Flag Raising Ceremony on Tian'anmen Square

Recommended stay: 2 hours

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Tian'anmen Square is the world’s largest famous square and can accommodate a million people. Like Times Square in New York and Red Square in Moscow, Tian’anmen Square is a must-visit place for travelers to Beijing.

Different from an ordinary visit to the square, we recommend attending a flag-raising ceremony, held every dawn on the famous Tian'anmen Square. The flag’s guard of soldiers marches out at a slow and stately pace.

Everybody starts to sing when the Chinese national anthem plays. The short yet touching ceremony gives you an insight into the country and its people.

Travel Tips: The time for the flag-rising is determined according to the sunrise and sunset time in Beijing. The specific time is specially calculated by astronomers. You had better know the exact time of the rising flag in advance. Please contact us to check it.

Best time to go: July to August

Recommended Tours:

11. Hunt for Treasure in the National Museum of China

Recommended stay:2 hours

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The National Museum of China is a merger of two museums: the Museum of the Chinese Revolution and the National Museum of Chinese History. It contains over 600 million historical and cultural items, many of which are rare and precious.

Travel with China Highlights, and your personal guide will help you trace China’s history and present you with an easy-to-access outline of Chinese civilization’s development. Have a clear idea of the history of China in just half an hour!

In the exhibition hall for ancient China, you could go on a treasure hunt prepared by your guide (particularly recommended for kids). Find the 10 celebrated objects described on the task list that unlock the “code” for their splendid dynasties.

Travel Tips: Photography is allowed inside. Personal items, tripods, and equipment may have to be left at the entryway.

Best time to go: great all year round

12. Enjoy an Evening Show in Beijing

Recommended duration: 1½ hours

Beijing operaBeijing opera 

It is one of the fun things to do in Beijing. Several evening shows in Beijing are recommended depending on your interests.

Beijing opera is regarded as a Chinese cultural treasure. 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.

Watching a Kung Fu show is an exciting way to spend a night. The Legend of Kung Fu Show is the best one. It is visually stunning with a fast-paced plot and impressive martial arts skills. Children might like it. 

The acrobatic show in Chaoyang Theatre is another breathtaking display of agility and flexibility.

Travel Tips: You can book tickets on the official website of Theaters, but only in Chinese. You are suggested to book via a travel agency, like China Highlights, which can also provide a private transfer.  

Best time to go: All year round they’re great!

13. Cycle along the Central Axis of Beijing

Recommended duration: 1 day

Cycle along the Central Axis of BeijingCycle along the Central Axis of Beijing

Really one of the cool things to do in Beijing! Many important buildings are located on the central north-south axis. With the Forbidden City at the center, the central axis extends to the Bell and Drum Tower in the north and Yongdingmen in the south, with a straight-line distance of about 7.8 km (4.8 miles).

On this central axis, you will not only visit the historical sights, including Yongdingmen, the Temple of Heaven, Qianmen, the Forbidden City, and Jingshan Park, but you can also admire outstanding architectural patterns and the overall layout.

>>See more on the Best Beijing Cycling Routes

Best time to cycle: September and October

Recommended Tours:

14. Take a Cooking Class in a Courtyard

Recommended duration: 3 hours

Cooking Class in a Courtyard

If you want to make your tour more impressive, don’t miss the chance to take a cooking class with a local family. Experiencing the local lifestyle will increase the joy of your tour.

Visit a local family living in a Hutong, learn to cook traditional Beijing dishes, and talk with the local people. We believe you can have a cool experience that you can’t get simply from visiting architectural structures.

Best time to cook: recommended all year round

15. Enjoy Nightlife in Sanlitun

Recommended stay: 2–3 hours

Sanlitun

It is really safe at night in Beijing. Sanlitun is the best place where Beijing people usually walk for fun. It is also the most popular place for foreigners and young Chinese people, as it is lined with countless clubs, bars, and shopping malls.

You can relax by dancing in a party bar or finding a quiet bar where you can have a cocktail and listen to music. 

Best times to go: April to May, September to November

>>Find out more on Things to Do at Night in Beijing

16. Discover Beijing’s Time-Honored Brands

Recommended duration: 3 hours including walking

Qianmen Avenue

Beijing, the capital of seven dynasties, was for centuries the center of politics, the economy, and culture in medieval China. The time-honored brands of Beijing witnessed the glory days of the city. They bear the marks of the history, culture, and folk customs of Beijing.

There are three famous places in Beijing that have time-honored-brand shops:

Liulichang Street, Dashila’r Street, and Qianmen Avenue. A visit will enrich your understanding of China’s literature and art, traditional Chinese medicine, clothing, and food.

Best times to go: April to May, September to November

>>Find out more Things to Do to Seek Out Old Beijing

Recommended Tours:

17. Shop for the Best Souvenir Deals in Local Markets

Recommended duration: as long as you like

Antique Market

Shopping is one of the foreign nationals' favorite things to do in Beijing. Beijing's outdoor markets sell a great variety of souvenirs and old arts and crafts. They are living museums of folk artwork, old articles for daily use, and antiques (though some of them are fake).

Panjiayuan Antique Market is the largest antique market in China, which is known for local specialties. The best souvenirs to bring back home are cloisonné, ivory carvings, jade pieces, lacquer carvings, antiques, and freshwater pearls.

Xiushui Street, also called Silk Market, is one of the major commercial streets in Beijing. You can find a variety of goods, such as clothes, bags, and suitcases, shoes and hats, pearls, and decorations.

Liulichang Street, there are many famous old stores at Liulichang selling books and ink, paper, and inkstones, including Huaiyinshan House, the Old Art House, Ruicheng House, Cuiwen Garret, Yide Garret, LiFishou Pen Store, as well as China Book Store —the largest old book store in China.

Best time to shop: all year round if fine

>> You may also be interested in knowing about The Best Souvenirs and Places to Shop or the Top 10 Shopping Areas in Beijing.

18. Relax in Romantic Landiao Lavender Garden

Recommended stay: half a day

Landiao Lavender Garden

One of the romantic things to do in Beijing! Landiao Lavender Gardens is known as a ‘blues dreamland’ in Beijing. It is in Chaoyang District, near many of Beijing's main attractions, and is one of the most romantic gardens in Beijing, covering twenty hectares (49 acres) with hot springs, a wedding hall, and a lavender farm.

The manor was designed by a French architect and the buildings have completely inherited the style of French farms. It would be a romantic experience to walk in the garden with your lover.

You will find many newly-married couples there taking wedding photos, and you may come across a wedding ceremony there. >>Find out more on The Best Lavender Gardens in Beijing

Best time to go: July and August

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19. Go Skiing at Nanshan Skiing Resort

Recommended stay: 1 day

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“Skiing is one of the best things to do in winter,” some would say. Beijing has become a popular place for skiing enthusiasts, due to the number of high-quality ski resorts in the area, especially after Beijing was selected to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Nanshan Ski Resort is one of the best skiing resorts in Beijing and also the largest ski resort of its kind in northern China.

It is located in Miyun County, only 1½ hours’ drive from Beijing. It is family-friendly with a mini-park containing a kids' ski learning area and practice trail plus a children's playground. It is good for advanced skiers and beginners.

Best time to go: December, January 

>> You may be also interested in knowing about other skiing resorts in Beijing.

20. Celebrate a Chinese New Year the Beijing Way

Recommended stay: 1day

Spring Festival

Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is the biggest holiday of the year in Beijing, which falls in January or February. Join in a local family for a Chinese New Year would be one of the greatest things to do in Beijing if your travel time is right during the Spring Festival period.

Most Beijing residents will make a traditional New Year's Eve family dinner. Touring with China Highlights we will enable you to experience this special date with a Beijing family.

Join your host family to prepare for the coming of the New Year. Learn how to write Chinese lucky phrases in Chinese calligraphy and join in preparations for the New Year's Eve dinner by making dumplings.

>>Read more about How Beijingers Celebrate Chinese New Year

Best time to go: Chinese Spring Festival (1st February 2022)

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What are things to do in Beijing during winter?

Wall section, at the Badaling Ski Resort and at the Forbidden City where you especially admire the beautiful snowy landscapes at the Meridian Gate Square and the Southeast Corner Tower out from Donghuamen (东华门).

See The Best Places to Enjoy Snow in Beijing.

2. What are romantic things to do in Beijing?

Take a boat on Shichahai Lake and enjoy the rich cultural landscapes and folklife on both sides.

Stroll around in the 798 Art District, a place where celebrities of art and culture in fashion gather.

Taste Red Wine at Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, the picturesque style of the castle makes you feel as if you have entered a fairyland.

Celebrate a Chinese Valentine's Day if you are traveling to Beijing in August. Also called Double Seventh Festival, it falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month Festival.

4. When is the best time to visit Beijing?

The best times to visit Beijing are spring (April, May) and fall (September, October) when the weather is most pleasant, and the views are most spectacular, on average. >>Read more about the Best time to visit Beijing

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