Looking for things to do in Beijing, China? Read on and discover all you need to know about this fascinating city!
Beijing is the capital city of the People’s Republic of China. Formerly known as Peking, it is one of the most significant cultural places in China and has been the political seat for centuries.
Having lived in China for six years and taken many trips to the capital, I’ll give you the lowdown on the best places to visit in Beijing, the best tours, attractions and more. You’ll also benefit from my insider info so you can see the sights like a local.
With so many incredible Beijing tourist attractions to see, this is one of the best destinations in China for first-time visitors. Explore ancient temples, dine on tasty Chinese food and get lost in Beijing’s hutong alleyways.
Boring stuff: I have visited each of the places I recommend and give you my honest opinion, warts and all. All photos are my own unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission. Affiliate links may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
You might be interested in some of my other China guides:
The Best Things to Do in Beijing
Some of the best things to do in Beijing include visiting the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Lama Temple and Summer Palace. The Great Wall is also an easy day-trip from the city. There are plenty of top Beijing attractions, here are 15 of the best.
1. Take a Full-Day Tour of Beijing
This full-day (9-hour) tour of Beijing includes pick-up from any central hotel or hostel and travel between sights in an air-conditioned minivan.
You’ll get to see the top Beijing attractions including the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace Museum, the Temple of Heaven and the gorgeous Summer Palace.
The tour includes all transport, entry tickets, a Chinse-style lunch, and an English-speaking guide so you can learn something of the history of the places you visit. Click here to book your tour now.
2. Marvel at the Forbidden City
During the time of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1420 to 1912), the imperial seat of China was located in Beijing at the Forbidden City (forbidden because normal people could not enter). Surprisingly the city escaped the destruction of the Cultural Revolution and many of the hundreds of buildings remain intact.
The Forbidden City (or Forbidden Palace as it’s also known) is one of the top places to see in Beijing and the site covers a whopping 720,000 square metres (so bring comfortable shoes). I’ev visited the Forbidden city on my many trips to Beijing and it never fails to impress.
The best way to see the Forbidden Palace and learn about its history is to take a guided tour with an English-speaking guide. This 4-hour tour includes entry to the palaces, museums and includes a visit to Tiananmen Square. Click here to book.
If you want to explore the city on your own you can buy a “skip the line” ticket online to save queuing. Click here to book now.
Address: 4, Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng, Beijing, PRC, 100886. Click here for directions.
Nearest Metro: Take line 1 to Tiananmen East (Exit A) or Tiananmen West (Exit B)
Opening Hours: 8:30am to 5pm daily
Ticket Price: ¥40 ($5.60) from Nov to Mar and ¥60 ($8.35) from Apr to Oct
Buy your ticket online: Click here to buy your ticket online
Official Website: dpm.org.cn
3. See Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is located in the centre of Beijing. The vast square measures 765 by 282 metres and is flanked by many of China’s most important buildings and museums.
Around the square, you can find the Great Hall of the People, Mao Zedong’s mausoleum, the National Museum of China and the Forbidden City.
Tiananmen is best known in the West as the site of protests and the subsequent crackdown, however it remains an important cultural centre for China, and no visit to Beijing is complete without visiting.
As Tiananmen Square is centrally located it makes a great starting point for exploring the city and the many tourist attractions in Beijing.
This day tour of Beijing’s top attractions includes a visit to Tiananmen Square. Click here for more info.
Insider’s Tip: Be aware that thee is high security to get into Tiananmen Square. You’ll need your passport and don’t have any perceived weapons on you from pocket knives to cans of deodorant or hairspray.
Address: Tiananmen Square, Dongcheng, Beijing, PRC. Click here for directions.
Nearest Metro: Take line 1 to Tiananmen East (Exit A) or Tiananmen West (Exit B)
Opening Hours: 24/7
Ticket Price: Free
4. Visit Jingshan Park
A real hidden gem of Beijing, Jingshan Park is directly north of the Forbidden City and offers gorgeous views of the palaces, Beihei Park, city skyline and misty mountains in the distance. The views are really the best in the city and it’s surprising this little park is not more popular.
Insider’s Tip: Sunset is the best time to visit for spectacular views. Definitely one of the best things to do in Beijing, and one of my favorite places in the city to relax. This is also a great vantage point to see the rooftops of the Forbidden city.
Address: 44 Jingshan W St, 景山 Xicheng District, Beijing, China, 100009. Click here for directions.
Nearest Metro: Take line 5 or 6 to Dongsi (Exit A). It’s a ten-minute walk to the west.
Opening Hours: 7am to 9pm, Mon-Sun
Ticket Price: ¥10 ($1.40)
5. See the Bell and Drum Towers
The Bell and Drum Towers in central Beijing were constructed in 1272 (they have been rebuilt after several fires). These beautiful towers were used to mark time with a morning bell and a dusk drum.
The towers are impressive examples of typical Chinese architecture with layered sections and ornately decorated eaves. This is one of the top tourist attractions Beijing and just as impressive as the more famous bell and drum towers in Xi’an.
Drum performances are held throughout the day and you can catch these from 09:00 to 16:45.
Address: 临9号 Zhobglouwan Hutong, Andingmen, Dongcheng, Beijing, PRC. Click here for directions.
Nearest Metro: Take line 8 to Shichahai Station (Exit A2)
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 17:00 daily
Ticket Price: Bell Tower: 15¥, Drum Tower 20¥ (you can buy a combined ticket for 30¥)
6. Visit the Temple of Heaven
Another ode to the Qing and Ming Dynasties, the Temple of Heaven was the imperial place of worship and sacrifice. The beautiful round temple is situated in a large green park and offers a wonderful escape from the city.
The towering temple was constructed in 1420 to mark the eighteenth year of reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. Here sacrifices were made to ensure a good harvest.
The park in which the temple is situated showcases ancient philosophy art, history and religion. The Temple of Heaven is one of my favourite things to see in Beijing thanks to the incredible architecture (and the fact that it has a spooky association with human sacrifice, hah).
Address: 1 Tiantan East Road, Dongcheng, Beijing, PRC, 100061. Click here for directions.
Metro: Take line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen Station (Exit A)
Opening Hours: 06:30 to 22:00
Ticket Price: ¥34 ($5)
7. Visit the Yonghe Lama Temple
The Yonghe Temple in northwest Beijing was built in 1694 and the former home to Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty. In 1744 the use of the building was changed to a lamasery (monastery).
It is one of the largest and best-preserved lamaseries in China and one of the most impressive Buddhist sites outside of Tibet.
Visiting Yonghe Temple is one of the best Beijing things to do if you want to escape the hustle of the city for a small slice of tranquility. The temple is conveniently located close to some of Beijing’s hutongs which can be explored after a visit.
Address: 12 Yonghegong Street, Dongcheng, Beijing, PRC, 100007. Click here for directions.
Metro: Take line 2 or Line 5 to Yonghegong (Yonghe Temple) Station (Exit F)
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 16:30 daily
Ticket Price: ¥25 ($3.50)
8. Explore Beijing’s Hutongs
The hutongs represent the capital at its most traditional. Get lost in the winding alleyways and courtyards and marvel at the ancient architecture. A real taste of China and a must-see for anyone travelling in Beijing!
You can find many hutongs around Shichahai and Dashilar.
This small group tour will have you eating and drinking your way around Beijing’s hutongs and travelling between places on a private tuk-tuk. This tour is lots of fun and a great way to get a taste of Beijing. Click here to book.
Insider’s Tip: Be aware that people live within the hutongs and are going about their daily lives, so please be respectful when taking photos.
Metro: Take subway line 8 to Shichahai or lines 2 or 7 to Dashilar.
9. Take a Walk Around Beihai Park
One of the best-preserved imperial gardens in all of China, Beihai Park dates back over 1,000 years. This pleasant park and gardens is set around a large lake with temples, pagodas and pavilions. A great escape from the city.
I’ve been to Beihai many times (I took my dad there and another friend when they were visiting) and it’s a great place for a stroll and one of the most pleasant attractions of Beijing.
Address: 1 Wenjin Street, Xicheng, Beijing, PRC, 100034. Click here for directions.
Metro: Take line 6 to Beihai Bei Station (Exit B)
Opening Hours: Nov to Mar 06:30 to 08:00 and Apr to Oct 06:30 to 21:00
Ticket Price: ¥10 ($1.40)
10. Visit the Beautiful Summer Palace and Gardens
The Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies 15km northwest of central Beijing and is home to the beautiful Royal Gardens. Set on a tranquil lakeside, it makes a great escape from the city. The palace is especially beautiful in summer thanks to the many walkways around the lake.
This half-day tour from Beijing to the Summer Palace includes a private transfer from your hotel or hostel and an English-speaking guide. Choose from morning or afternoon options (the afternoon is usually less busy). Click here to find out more.
Address: 19 Xinjiangongmen Rd, Haidian District, China, 100091. Click here for directions.
Metro: Take line 4 to Beigongmen, (Exit D)
Opening Hours: Nov to Mar 07:00 to 17:00 and Apr to Oct 06:30 to 18:00
Ticket Price: 60¥ ($8.50) for a combination ticket allowing access to all areas or 30¥ ($4.25) just the summer palace.
11. Try Peking Duck
One of the most famous foods from Beijing is the Peking Duck. Which has been a favourite of city residents since imperial times. The ducks are cooked in large stone ovens until the skin is crisp, and then served with a thin pancake, spring onion, cucumber and hoisin sauce.
I took my Dad to the Siji Minfu restaurant a stone’s throw from the Forbidden City and it was excellent (and cheap considering the prime location). There are many such restaurants serving traditional Peking duck around the hutongs and just off Tiananmen Square. Some of the best include:
12. See the Old Summer Palace
The Old Summer Palace is a controversial place and stirs strong feelings in many Chinese people. Yuanmingyuan as it was known in imperial times, was a beautiful series of palaces, gardens, pavilions and lakes that was looted and burned to the ground by the French and English during the Second Opium war.
All that remains of the palace now is rubble, making it more appealing to dark tourists like myself, but it’s still worth a look for its interesting history.
Address: Yuanmingyuan Park, Haidong District. Click here for directions.
Nearest Metro: Yuanmingyuan (line 4)
Opening Hours: 07:00 to 18:00
Entrance Fee: ¥10 ($1.50)
13. Check Out the 798 Art Zone
The hippest new part of the city is for sure one of the cool things to do in Beijing! Explore the area around disused factory number 798 which has now been taken over by Beijing’s urban art community.
Here you will find galleries, exhibitions, installations, graffiti, craft shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Although the area is free to walk around, some of the galleries and exhibitions will have a cover charge.
This is my favourite place for shopping in Beijing, having a pint of beer and or three and watching the world go by.
Address: 798 Art District, 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District. Click here for directions.
Nearest Metro: Wangjing Nan (line 14) then a 20-minute walk
Opening Hours: 24 hours
Entrance Fee: free
14. Baiwang Mountain Forest Park
A beautiful forest park in the hills above Beijing and very close to the Summer Palace. There are great views across Beijing and the surrounding mountains from the pavilion at the top.
I went hiking here on my last visit to Beijing and it’s amazing how much the scenery changes compared to the city.
Address: 19 Beibeikou, Heishan, Haidan District. Click here for directions.
Nearest Metro: Anheqiao North (line 4)
Opening Hours: 07:00 to 18:00
Entrance Fee: ¥30
15. Take a Day Trip to the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is one of the most iconic historical sites in the world. Many sections, restored and otherwise, are easily accessible from Beijing. Badaling and Mutianyu are the easiest sections to get to by bus and train from the city centre.
This private day trip to Mutianyu from Beijing includes an English-speaking driver. You’ll have plenty of free time to explore this section of the Great Wall on your own and is a great option for small groups or solo travellers. Click here to find out more.
Insider tip: Visit the wall late in the day. Even popular sections like Badaling can be all but empty. I’ve visited the wall a few times and always went later to avoid the crowds and morning tour buses.
Bus: Bus 877 from Deshengmen to Badaling takes 1.5 hours and costs 12¥. You can also take the daily Mubus which costs less than $20 return and includes an English-speaking guide on the bus. Click here to book.
Train: Take the fast train from Beijing North/Qinghe Station straight to Badaling. The journey time is 40 minutes and costs around 30¥.
Opening Hours: 06:30 to 19:00 daily
Ticket Price: ¥40 ($6)
Read my guide to the Badaling Great Wall for full info on how to visit this section easily from Beijing.
Plan Your Trip to Beijing
Getting to Beijing
Beijing is served by two main airports; Beijing Capital International Airport and Beijing Daxing International Airport. Both operate domestic and international flights. Each airport has an airport Express service that links up with the Beijing metro system.
Beijing is serviced by four main railway stations; Beijing Railway Station (Central), Beijing West Railway Station, Beijing South Railway Station and Beijing North Railway Station. All four stations are connected to the metro system.
Visa Free Transit
It is possible to get a VISA exemption for 144 hours if you are transiting China through Beijing. You can apply for this at the counter as soon as you exit the plane. Once you have your exemption you can go to immigration to exit the airport (Do not go to International Transfer).
Getting Around Beijing
Travelling in Beijing On Foot
Beijing is a massive metropolis, but it’s possible to walk the central area between some attractions on foot (for example The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and some of the old Hutongs are all in working distance from each other).
Getting Around Beijing by Bus
Beijing has a great bus network covering the city, but unless you speak Chinese and know the city well, they are probably best avoided as it can be a little confusing to non-Beijing natives. The airport shuttle buses are a different matter though and easy to take from the main stations to the airports.
Taxis in Beijing
Beijing’s taxis can be hit or miss. Unlike other cities in China, it’s often hard to find a taxi, and especially one that is willing to take foreigners. Fares are cheap if you can find one, or if you are staying in Beijing then ask your hotel or hostel to book you a taxi using Didi (Chinese Uber).
Traffic in Beijing can be very heavy so all in all, it’s not the best method of transport and better to rely on the metro.
The Beijing metro (subway) is massive and has 17 lines covering metropolitan and suburban areas. Tickets are extremely cheap by world standards and cost just 3 to 9 RMB (less than $2 to travel anywhere, excluding the airport express).
Ensure you have small denominations of coins or cash and buy your (one way) ticket at the machines in the station. All machines have an English language option. Most metro stations also have a manned ticket office if you get stuck.
When is the Best Time to Visit Beijing?
Beijing typically experiences long, hot summers with plenty of downpours. Winters are cold with snow typical from December to February. I’ve visited the Beijing tourist attractions at all times of the year and definitely prefer the shoulder seasons in spring and autumn (fall).
Try and avoid travelling to the famous places in Beijing during peak holidays like Chinese New Year in January/February (it’s based on the lunar calendar so check the data) and Golden week in October.
Safety and Scams
Travelling in Beijing is very safe by world standards, but there are some scams to be aware of.
Only take official taxis from the rank at airports and stations. Ignore people who try and offer you a taxi service as you will likely be charged anything up to 10 times the official rate.
Tea House Scam
In areas with a lot of tourists, especially at the exit of the Forbidden City, be aware of “friendly” locals who will strike up a conversation and offer to take you to drink tea and leave you with a massive bill.
I was approached by a well-dressed, chatty man, but I knew of this scam so was able to see through it. Increasingly the scam uses attractive women to lure unsuspecting backpackers or lone travellers.
For more detailed information check out my guide to safety in China.
Eating in Beijing
Beijing is famous for its roast duck (Peking duck) and for those that eat meat, no trip to the city is complete without trying this local dish that dates back centuries.
There are many places to eat in Beijing around Tiananmen Square, the Bell and Drum Towers and the Hutongs.
Try one of the Gualin Home Style Restaurants that can be found across the city including at Fangzhuang, Zhongguancun, Wudaokou and Xuanwu.
Street food can be found on Gui Street in Dongzhimen. This kilometre-long area of stalls and restaurants is a must for any foodie!
Where to Stay in Beijing
There are plenty of places to stay in Beijing to suit all budgets and tastes. I usually stay at the Nostalgia Hotel as it’s reasonably priced and has a great location close to the Lama Temple.
Happy Dragon Hostel is a great place to stay for those travelling in Beijing on a budget. There is a small bar/restaurant on site and it’s very close to a large open-air market. I’ve stayed here a few times and love the location. Click here to book.
The Nostalgia Hotel (Zhongye Temple) is a wonderful place in the Hutongs a stone’s throw from the Lama Temple. This charming boutique hotel will greet you with a cup of traditional tea and leave you with a small gift. Excellent price for the service and location. Click here to book.
The Peninsula is a 5-star hotel in central Beijing close to the Wangfujing shopping area. The hotel combines classical Chinese elements with cutting-edge technology and a host of services. There is an indoor pool and an onsite restaurant. Click here to find out more.
Things to Do in Beijing FAQs
The large palace complex in Beijing is called the Forbidden City as no one was allowed to enter. The palace was for China’s emperors and dignitaries and the common people were forbidden from going inside.
Beijing is best for food (the Peking duck is a must-try), culture, historical places of interest and Chinese architecture.
Beijing is an excellent place for tourists with so many wonderful attractions, temples, parks and day trips. It’s also a great destination for shopping and food.
Beijing is more fun than Shanghai and more of a “real” Chinese city compared to the shiny, modern buildings of Shanghai. You can experience Chinese culture more in Beijing than shanghai and get a real feel for the Middle Kingdom.
Now You Know What to Do in Beijing China
With so many amazing attractions in Beijing, it should be high on the list of any adventurous traveller. I’ve visited the city more times than I can remember and each time discover something new and interesting.
Whether you want to see the big hitters like the Forbidden City, Great Wall and Summer Palace, or escape the hectic pace in one of the many temples or parks, there is something for everyone to do in Beijing. So, what are you waiting for, book that trip today!
Read my guides to other cities in China
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.
Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲