Top things to do in Beijing China for first time visitors
While visiting Beijing, I wanted to see all that the capital of China had to offer within my limited time there.
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So, I strategically picked the places I dreamt of seeing since planning my trip to Asia. I’ve had a vision of standing on the Great Wall of China, looking out on the vast vegetation surrounding the wall.
This was the first stop on my list, I also want to see the intricate and detailed designed of the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven and learn about the bloody past of Tiananmen Square.
The list of things to do and see in Beijing is endless, but if you’re like me with only 2/3 days to discover the Red Capital.
Try starting with the activities below and include more things if you have more time so not to get overwhelmed. This is a list of amazing things to do in Beijing.
Things To Do In Beijing
1. The Great Wall
I’m sure most people travel to Beijing with the hopes of seeing and walking the Great Wall of China. Has one of the most famous UNESCO world heritage site, the Great Wall of China is an integral part of China’s history.
With the most popular section being Badaling, which is the frequented by large tour groups (both Chinese and foreign groups).
I visited the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which is the longest fully preserved section of the Great Wall.
This section of the wall is less crowded (3.4 miles total in length), easily accessible and will give you a good workout when hiking the wall.
The Mutianyu section of the wall has 23 watchtowers, towers one to 20 are hike-able (tourist zones) and towers 21 to 23 non-tourist zones. This section of the Great Wall is a 90 minutes drive from Beijing city centre.
There are three options of getting up the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall:
- The first is for the fitness amongst us and that is to hike from the bottom of the mountain (yes the great wall was built on a mountain to protect China from invaders) to watchtower 6 and then walk to watchtower 20.
A cable car up to watchtower 14 and hike up to watchtower 20.
A chairlift to watchtower 6
I visited this section of the wall with a guide and we got the ticket for a chairlift up to watchtower 6 and completed the incredible experience with a toboggan down the mountain from watchtower 6.
Bear in mind that the cable car and chairlift are run by two different companies and tickets aren’t interchangeable.
If you are like me and have a need for speed. I recommend taking the chairlift up and toboggan down the wall, as this will be the cherry on top of cake for the hike to watchtower 20 and back.
Plus you can pretend you are bobsledding and go as fast as you can if the slide is not crowded, just don’t crash into people like I did (multiple times). If you’re planning your trip to China why not read this one week in China itinerary and travel guide to get some ideas on how to plan your trip.
2. Summer Palace
If you’re pressed for time you can do both the Great Wall and the Summer palace in one day. Do wear comfy shoes as you will be walking the whole day.
The summer palace is also on the UNESCO world heritage site. The natural landscape, garden, lakes, combined with artificial features such as the pavilions, the hall and temples provides the perfect scenery for how regaland opulent China was.
The palace is a beautiful display of Chinese design, illustrating the Chinese philosophy of striking the balancing between nature and man’s creation.
The Summer Palace was first built in 1750, but most of the palace was destroyed in the war of 1860 and later restored in 1886.
A whistle stop travel of the palace can be done in an hour if you are time poor, but the palace covers such a vast area and the detailing and design on the building are so intricate that you might want to take more time to savour it.
3. Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is another UNESCO world heritage site. Originally built in the 1440s by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty and served as a sacred place where the Heaven worship ceremony was held.
The temple of heaven is a Chinese architectural masterpiece and provides a glimpse into the spirituality of China. The temple is painted in a vibrant red colour to represent the dignity of the imperial court in ancient China.
The temple is China’s largest and one of the best representation of Chinese ancient sacrificial buildings. It’s said, that the location of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest was determined by the emperor’s Fengshui masters as the exact point where heaven and earth met.
The architectural style of the temple of heaven is similar to that of the forbidden palace as the creation of both sites was overseen by the same emperor.
Arriving through the gates of the Temple of Heaven and seeing this circular blue, red and gold building on a marble stone base, glowing in the sunlight left an everlasting impression on me.
4. The Forbidden City
I did a tour of both the Forbidden palace and Tiananmen Square on the same day, because of my limited time in the China. Tiananmen Square is across the road from the Forbidden Palace.
The orange coloured walls of the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace), causes it to stand out like a beacon for incoming tourist. The palace served as the magnificent home to emperors for over 500 years.
The palace was ‘forbidden’, as commoners couldn’t enter the building during the emperor’s reign. Hence, the name Forbidden City.
The palace built in 1406, four years after the capital of China moved from Nanjing to Beijing. The palace ground has approximately 1000 rooms, 980 building and numerous courtyards.
The palace is a UNESCO world heritage site and a testimony to Chinese culture during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Best time to visit is April to October. Not all rooms are opened to the public and others may require you to pay an extra fee to enter.
Don’t forget to bring your passport when visiting the Forbidden City.
No passport, No entry.
5. Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen is one of the largest squares in the world, a historic site remembered for the pro-democracy protest of 1989.The square is surrounded by the National Museum of China (free to enter), the Great Hall of the People and Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Tiananmen Square is separated from the Forbidden City by the Tiananmen Gate. The word Tiananmen means ‘gate of heavenly peace’.
Making your way through the square you will feel a slight tension lingering as you watch steeled face police march along the square, chasing away hawkers selling their wares. This is a momentous site and worth visiting even if only to learn more about the 89 democracy movement.
From Tiananmen Square, you can see the prominent portrait of Mao Zedong before entering the Forbidden City.
Visiting these sites you’ll definitely see why they’re listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. These sites are not only beautiful to view but within a limited time will also teach you about China’s glorious and regal past.