8 Things To Do In Beijing

1. The Forbidden City

Constructed in 1420 the Forbidden City is the largest palace in the world. It is huge, you can really see why they call it a city, there are over 980 buildings all enclosed in a 10m high wall that is 3.4km in length. Now this place is spectacular, but BUSY! 14 million people visit the Forbidden City each year with 80,000 maximum allowed to visit per day. As you wonder around keep in mind that all you are seeing accounts for just 60% of the Forbidden City, with the other 40% being being closed to the public. Talking of the public let me just give you a warning about the Forbidden City. It doesn’t matter when you go, it will be busy. Whether it’s a weekday or a weekend, August or December there will be people everywhere. I would recommend to avoid going on Chinese public holidays, but that is my advise for all places in China. So mentally prepare yourself for the crowds, the people asking for your photos, and shuffling to get through door ways. For reference I went to the Forbidden City in August 2018 and I was there at opening and this is how busy it was.

To get tickets for the Forbidden City you can purchase them online from the Palace Museum website or for those understanding some Chinese you can even book on Taobao. I’d advise booking online so you don’t have to waste time queuing.

Opening Times: CLOSED on Monday. Open 8:30am-5.30pm during peak season and until 5.00pm in off peak season.

Entry Price: 60RMB (US$9) April – October 40RMB (US$6) November – March

Time Needed: 2-3 hours

Getting There: By subway take Line 1 to Tiananmen West and leave from Exit B

2. Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple)

One of the most admired Tibetan Buddhist temples outside of Tibet itself Lama Temple is a beautiful and serene place to spend an hour exploring. Lama Temple was originally a royal residence but is now an active place of buddhist worship and a popular tourist site. Not as busy as the aforementioned Forbidden City this is a very beautiful way to spend an hour or so. As with all attractions in Beijing you need to get there early, but at Lama Temple theres no need to purchase your ticket in advance you can pop to the kiosk before you enter.

Opening Times: Open 9:00am-4.30pm (April – October) & 9.00am – 4.00pm (November – March)

Entry Price: RMB 25 (US$3.80)

Time Needed: 1 hour

Getting There: Take the subway to Yonghegong station and take Exit C. Then turn left and you’ll find yourself walking alongside a large red wall. Then on your left after about 400m you will find Lama Temple

3. Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is really beautiful and was one of Beijing’s most important imperial temple. Emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties went to the temple to worship to the heaven god for a productive harvest. Again this is very popular spot so get there very early. These photos were taken the moment the area was open at 8am to give you some reference for how busy it was on a weekday in August.

Opening Times: Gates open 6.00am-10.00pm attractions open at 8am till 5.30pm

Entry Price:

Combo ticket: RMB 34 (US$ ) Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Circular Mound Altar, Imperial Vault of Heaven & Echo Wall

Admission ticket: RMB 15 (US$ ) Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Circular Mound Altar & Echo Wall

Time Needed: 1 1/2 hours

Getting There: By subway take line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen station and then leave from Exit A, this will lead you to the East Gate. To get to the North Gate take subway line 7 to Qiaowan station and leave from Exit C.

4. Jingshan Park

Want some fantastic views of the Forbidden City? Then head to Jingshan Park to see the roof tops of those 980 buildings. Jingshan Park is a royal landscape garden. The park is located on a hill and forms the highest part of Beijing.

Opening Times: 6am – 9pm (April to October), 6.30am – 8pm (November to March)

Entry Price: 2 RMB (US$0.30)

Time Needed: 1-2 hours

Getting There: Take subway line 8 to Shichahai station and depart at Exit C, then you’ll need to walk for about 900m where you will find the north gate of the park.

5. Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is just that, a palace, boasting a park, temple and a lake.

Opening Times: Gates open at 6.30am but most attractions open at 8.30am

Entry Price: 30 RMB (US$4.60) this includes most attractions but the full ticket is 60RMB (US$ 9.20) which allows you to see everything

Time Needed: 2 or 3 hours

Getting There: Take line 4 to Beigongmen and depart at Exit D, head west and walk for about 3 minutes and you will reach the north palace gate.

6. Tiananmen Square

The famous Tiananmen Square, where the Chinese army cracked down on a formerly peaceful protestors in the most devastating way by mowing down hundreds to thousands of its own citizens. I think foreign tourists visit this site with emotion and shock at past events that took place here. This 40 hectares public square name ironically means “Gate of Heavenly Peace” and was once the main gate of the Forbidden City. This place is heavily guarded, you really feel like you’re in a military city and it is super super busy, at times you will have to queue just to get out of the subway stations.

Opening Times: Same as Forbidden City

Entry Price: Free

Time Needed: Not so long more a route to other places (1 hour or so)

Getting There: You can take subway line 1 to Tiananmen East or Tiananmen West. Then just follow the crowds, because it will be too busy to read any signposts.

7. Olympic Park

I am a big sports fan and the Beijing 2008 Olympics, though not my first Olympic viewing, was the one I remember most. Therefore I just had to take a look around the Olympic Park, to see the famous Bird Nest Stadium and the Water Cube. Strolling around really transported me back to the games.

Opening Times: 6am – 9.30pm

Entry Price: National Stadium RMB 50 (US$7.70) , National Aquatics Centre RMB 30 (US$4.60), Olympic Forest Park (Free)

Time Needed: 2-3 hours

Getting There: You can take Subway Line 8 and depart at the following stations: Lincuiqiao, Senlin Gongyuan Nanmen (South Gate Forest Park), Aolin Pike Gongyuan (Olympic Park), Aoti Zhongxin (Olympic Sports Centre).

8. Hutongs

The Hutongs is a residential area of Beijing, defined by their narrow streets and alleyways that provide an example of traditional Chinese living. Located in central Beijing you can take a tour or wander the streets yourself. Just remember to be respectful as these are just residential areas, so people will be trying to about their daily lives, and don’t necessarily want your camera shoved in their face or into their house. The Jiuwan Hutong and Wudaoying Hutong are a good choice to visit for teahouses, restaurants and shopping. You can check out this link below for the top 10 Hutongs in Beijing.

Opening Times: Any (but it is a residential area)

Entry Price: Free

Time Needed: couple of hours

My all round opinion of Beijing…

I went to Beijing just 2 weeks after I arrived in China, in late August. I was so excited to travel and explore this new country I would be calling home. I will be honest though (I always am) about Beijing there were definitely things I sincerely hated about the Chinese capital. Despite the above places of interest the vibe I got from Beijing was not overall pleasant. The same cannot be said for Shanghai for instance. Shanghai was incredible, the vibe, the atmosphere coupled with all the things there were to do. But Beijing I had 3 main problems with this city.

In no particularly order, firstly the heat. It was insanely hot. I appreciate I went in August but the humidity was insane, you were just dripping wet from the moment you stepped outside. A very uncomfortable way to travel. At this point, although I had not been in China very long I had just been living in Vietnam for a year where the temperature and humidity is similar. I had also been in my city of Changsha for two weeks and it just was no where near as uncomfortable. I guess a the buildings, dense population and urban surfaces make for a more sweaty trip!

Secondly the pollution. It is literally as bad as you read about. This was a trend across China, in Changsha people took photos with excitement of blue skies when they finally appeared. But Beijing felt like you were pushing against a cocktail wall of humidity and pollution. Vehicles are the leading contributor to pollution in Beijing, accounting for nearly 70% of the cities air pollution. Beijing’s population has increased by 2.12% from 2020 to 2021 with a metro area population of 20,897,000 people.

Thirdly Beijing felt like you were walking into a Communist Party State. I mean obviously, because you are. Beijing evidently epitomises the Chinese Communist Party but it feels a little overboard. Mao Zedong is looking at you inside buildings and even on the street, he is everywhere. This is the same guy that promoted his Great Leap Forward policy which lead to the deaths of 45 million people between 1958 and 1962. I am not naive I knew Beijing would be a place of homage to the “great” man, but it was forced and overwhelming at times and it felt very different to my experiences

A trip to China is probably not complete without visiting the capital, and the architecture and culture is beautiful. I was happy that I went and saw this iconic place, and I know that many love this city, however I was much more accustomed to cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

Check out my other blog posts on more cities in China.

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