Looking for things to do on your trip to Beijing? If so, you have come to the right place. We’ve rounded up a list of top things to do during your visit. Whether it’s seeing The Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City or The Temple of Heaven, this city has an array of things to do from imperial palaces, ancient temples, and cutting-edge architect to keep you gazing all day. So grab your camera and get to snapping. Here are the 10 things to do in Beijing:
1. The Great Wall
At over 2,000 years old and one of the 8 Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China is quite simply unmissable from any itinerary in the ‘Middle Kingdom’, and especially from a visit to Beijing. The Wall is 5,500 miles long and officially the longest man-made structure on earth. Yet, to get to see the Wall itself takes some planning. Most visitors opt for the tourist-friendly sections at Badaling or Mutianyu, and these are arguably some of the most striking and best-preserved parts. Just beware that it will be thronged with tourists every day of the year, so expect a queue.
To experience the ‘Wild Wall’ as its known, without having to dodge souvenir-hawkers, head to one of these incredible alternatives. Huanghuacheng is the best option for a day-trip, and while slightly more difficult to reach, is still only a 2-hour bus ride away. For those who have a little more time on their hands, the deserted portion at Chenjiapu is hard to beat. ‘Great Wall Fresh’ offers cheap sleeping accommodation, incredible home cooking and guided tours of the Wall, but book in advance to make arrangements. (http://www.greatwallfresh.com/ )
2. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square is nothing if not a contradiction: simultaneously the epicentre of the Chinese state and its empty heart. Home to the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and a reminder of the ‘incident’ of 1989. Only one of which you will find remembered here in the world’s largest public square. Beijing itself was built around this square, every metro line and ring-road orbiting this vast empty space. A trip to the ‘Mausoleum’ is worth the time for those with a passing interest in Chinese history (or Chinese present) while the endless palaces of the Forbidden City is truly unique. Although the best view of the whole area lies inside Jingshan Park, directly over the road from the Forbidden City exit.
3. Temple of Heaven
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, grand though they may be, are forever associated with oppression and imperial power. The Temple of Heaven and its large complex in south-east Beijing was also built during the Ming Dynasty but is a much more colourful and uplifting building. Built to worship the Heavens and believed to be the exact point where they meet the earth, it is now one of Beijing’s most distinctive sights.
4. Summer Palace
Beijing has a discernible lack of parks and green spaces but it makes up for this with the spectacular Summer Palace. Climb to the top of Longevity hill for a great view over Northern Beijing, explore Nanhu Island and take a paddle boat on Kunming Lake in summer (or ice-skate in winter). The nearby Fragrant Hills combines with the Summer Palace to make up the lungs of Beijing, a city famous throughout the world for its struggles with air pollution.
5. Lakes Beihai and Shichahai
The twin lakes of Beihai and Shichahai are located near the fortress of the Forbidden City and provide a little light relief from the heavy significance of Chinese history and power. Beihai Park is the more picturesque of the two with its gleaming White Pagoda and Buddhist temples while Shichahai is actually made up of three lakes. By day the cafes of the area are filled with people eating local delicacies such as the sickly-sweet ‘t醤gh鷏u’. By night, the bars and karaoke joints take over as central Beijing lets its hair down.
6. 798 Art District
The D鄐h? nzi complex in the Chaoyang district was once the site of a huge number of factories set up as a collaboration between the Chinese, the Soviets and the East-Germans. Abandoned in the 1990s, the high-ceilinged factories made a perfect art space and it slowly became home to Beijing’s ever-expanding contemporary art scene. Today it is a city-within-a-city, a pedestrianised area totally unlike anywhere else in Beijing and indeed, China. The European-style cafes, large-scale public artworks and countless galleries (some free, some not) make for a relaxing afternoon. Visit the nearby Caochangdi district established by the world-renowned artist (and former political prisoner) Ai Weiwei if 798 is too mainstream for your tastes.
7. Shopping in Beijing’s ancient Hutong – Gulou
The ‘hutong’ (not ‘hutongs) are one of Beijing’s most historic and most iconic sights. The narrow alleyways that were once so prevalent throughout the capital now make up a tiny portion of what they used to. Ring roads and expressways are the new norm and the city is far poorer for it. To get a taste of the old Beijing, come to her most culturally diverse area, Gulou. The twin Drum and Bell Towers are the area’s main landmarks while Nanluoguxiang is arguably the city’s best (and busiest) shopping street. However, there is much more to trendy Gulou and it takes a long time to explore all its bars, underground clubs, vintage game shops and traditional restaurants. Try ‘Capital Spirits’, the world’s first ‘baijiu’ (rice-wine) bar for a taste of the old (and the new) and ‘Little Yunnan’ for the best food from China’s south-west province.
8. Eating and drinking in Beijing’s ‘party district’ – Sanlitun
Putting all the foreign embassies together in one area may have made things more convenient for diplomats but did lead to the growth of what is now the city’s chief nightlife area. Imposing department stores such as Uniqlo or Adidas are what draw in customers in the afternoon, but it’s the super-clubs of Beijing’s (affectionately named) ‘Dirty street’ which attract thousands of party-goers by night. The ‘Bookworm cafe’ is the best place for stand-up comedy, ‘Da Dong’ the go-to spot for Beijing duck and the ‘Kokomo’s’ rooftop the ultimate final destination for any night out in the capital.
If you’re looking for something more cultural than ‘Sanlitun’, then Beijing provides plenty of options. While ‘Peking’ opera is arguably the most famous of the city’s cultural exports, the nightly acrobatics performance is a much more enjoyable show. Too much information would ruin the surprise but prepare to be amazed by acrobats balancing on high-chairs, forming human pyramids and swapping bicycles mid-cycle. The death-defying motorbike finale will stay with you for a long time, I assure you. Tickets are available here.
10. Football Beijing Guoan
Football is China’s national sport and with more and more of the world’s top footballers being brought over to play in the Chinese Super League, there has never been a better time to go cheer on the Beijing Guoan football team. Tickets are available online but you’ll need to speak Mandarin to order them, so just head to the Workers’ Stadium a few hours before kick-off and buy one off a tout. The quality of play may not be the best but the atmosphere inside will surprise you so wear some green Guoan merchandise and cheer on the city’s pride and joy.
Honourable mentions: the students’ area of Wudaokou is a relaxing spot North of the centre, while a walk around the Olympic Park and its visually stunning Bird’s Nest stadium is a treat for sports fans.
If you enjoyed reading this blog, why not book a holiday to Beijing and experience it live in action.