When most people think of Beijing, they think of the Great Wall of China. But the truth is, Beijing is so much more than just the great wall. China is known for it’s rich history and culture, and to experience that history and culture, there is no better place to head to than the heart of it all, Beijing. Beijing to us, is one of the “must-visits” of China. Aside from being the Capital, Beijing is also home to the biggest events of China’s history. There’s so much to do in Beijing and because most of us wouldn’t visit beijing more than once in our lives (aside from work), here’s our Travel Blog‘s guide on 8 Things you MUST do/try when in Beijing to make your trip worthwhile.
(1) Tiananmen Square
Located right in the heart of the capital, Tiananmen Square translates directly to the “Gate of Heavenly Peace”. This monumental square spans a total of 109 acres of land, and is one of the largest city squares known to the world.
There are a few attractions in Tiananmen Square itself, mainly (i) Monument to the People’s Heroes, where the building of a ten-storey tall obelisk, in commemoration of the major revolutionary events that happened between the 1800-1900s; (ii) National Museum of China, and lastly the one you shouldn’t miss (iii) Mausoleum of the late Chairman Mao.
The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall is a widely popular attraction that gathers plenty of citizens and tourists daily. Chairman Mao’s remains lay in resting, embalmed, and on display for public viewing in a crystal coffin.
Do note that proper smart or smart casual attire is needed for entry. Vest and slippers will be denied entry, and all visitors will have to take off their hat/cap to pay their respects.
Operating hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8:00 to 12:00, and 1st July to 31st August, 7:00 to 11:00
(2) Forbidden City
Conveniently located around Tiananmen Square is the largest imperial palace in the world, the Forbidden City. History has it, that the palace earned its name as it was forbidden to all to enter or leave the palace without permission granted from the Emperor himself.
The imperial palace, also known as the palace museum, was in existence since the 1300s, and it served as the home for 24 Emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is located to the north of Tiananmen Square, and it is built with 8,700 rooms in total.
(Check out just how big the entire forbidden city area is, photo taken at Jingshan park)
The north and south ends of the wall surrounding the palace has 2 doors, the southern door is called the Meridian Gate, and the northern door the Gate of Divine Prowess.
All visitors must follow the unidirectional itinerary in the palace, where everyone enters from the Meridian Gate, and leaves through the Gate of Divine Prowess. In the main central area, approximately 4-5 hours is needed for you to admire and screen through the palace rooms.
Inside the palace, you will see that the dominant color in the palace is yellow. As yellow signifies the royal family, you can find décor, bricks and even roof tiles are glazed with the color yellow. In addition, you will find exquisite architecture and buildings that will blow you away and wonder how amazing it is for people in their era, construct the palace without any modern construction tools. Most parts of the palace have been knocked away and only key buildings are preserved. With that said however, the entire area is still enormous and is takes more than a day to finish walking (half) the palace, as the other half is under reconstruction.
Tourists may rent the portable audio guides that comes in various languages to cater to the influx of tourists from various countries at a nominal rental fee. We do highly recommend the audio guides as it helps in giving detailed explanations on the various rooms and the purpose of the rooms to the Emperor or royal family.
(The Audio Guide hung around the neck that automatically starts speaking when you get close to a particular area)
Your visit to the forbidden city is not quite done even after you exited the area. Directly north of the forbidden city is Jingshan park. It is where one of the emperor, whose forces has fallen, retreated to the mountain and committed suicide there. Today visitors can climb up and have a overview of the entire forbidden city area.
Closed on Mondays, Chinese National Holidays and summer vacation from 1st July to 31st August.
Operating hours: Apr to Oct 8:30-17:00, Nov to Mar 8:30-16:30.
(3) Summer Palace / “Yiheyuan”
The Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is undoubtedly one of the largest garden I have ever seen in my life. The construction of the Summer Palace started back in 1750, initially to serve as the royal garden for royal families to enjoy and rest. Later towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, it slowly became the home of royal members. Words cannot describe the picturesque scenic views and landscape offered by the Summer Palace.
History has it, that part of the garden was damaged by fire during the rampage of the Anglo-French Allied Force, and was reconstructed in 1888. During the reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, it was known that she embezzled navy funds to revamp and reconstruct the Summer Palace into a resort for her own interest, for the purpose of spending the rest of her life there.
The Summer Palace is mainly made up of Longevity Hill, and Kunming Lake. From the map, the place is sectioned mainly into 4 areas namely (i) Court Area, (ii) Front Hill Area, (iii) Rear Hill Area, and (iv) Lake Area.
The layout mimics that of the Forbidden City where the palace is situated in front while the garden is at the back.
The Court Area was where the Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager Cixi conducted state affairs. This spot is perfect for visitors that would love to take in the mesmerizing view of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill.
The Front Hill is decorated with the most man-made constructions and important buildings in the garden.
The Rear Hill area is less crowded compared to the other two before mentioned. Due to the many damages due to wars and etc over the years, only a few key ruins could be restored. Visitors can cross the Seventeen-Arch Bridge and overlook the lake and enjoy the views from atop.
Operating hours: Apr to Oct 6:30-18:00, Nov to Mar 7:00-17:00.
(4) Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site in China. It was built during the Ming Dynasty by the imperial family for the purpose of prayers, religious activities and worshipping. It is considered a sacred place and in the past. Emperors visit the Temple of Heaven during the winter solstice, to pray to Heaven for a good harvest for the year. The Temple ground is made up of three main complexes that cater to specific philosophical requirements.
The most magnificent one would be the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, which is the main triple gabled circular building, that is built with an impressive 38 meters tall and 36 meters in diameter. The hall is built entirely from wood and not a single nail in the architecture.
To the south is the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a smaller circular building that has distinct similarities to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, and it is built on one piece of marble stone base.
There are other buildings in the Temple of Heaven and similarly to the Forbidden City, there are audio guides available for you to understand the architecture and interior works of the buildings.
Operating hours: 8:00-18:00
(5) Great Wall of China
As you will come to know, everything is China is massive. Their architecture is impressive and mind blowing on all grounds. But one well known wonder of the world that you should never miss, is visiting the Great Wall of China. It spans 21, 196km from the start to the end, and it is the one and only man-made architecture that can be viewed from space, hence earning its title as one of the wonders of the world.
It is a fortified wall built by men, brick by brick and completed after decades. The Great Wall was built as a means of border defense against invasions and raids from other invaders.
(Check out how long does the wall go)
Over time, the wall has gone through tumultuous times and some sections are in disrepair. But massive works to reconstruct certain parts of the Great Wall has been made and open for tourist to visit. Currently, there are 10 sections open to visitors and they each have their own pros and cons, that you should read up before deciding which part of the Great Wall you would like to visit.
(Lush Greenery on both sides of the wall)
We personally visited ‘Mutianyu”. It is slightly further from the city which also means there are less tourist and we could actually take photos without anyone photobombing us. Tt is a restored area of the wall that I would say is pretty good for beginners as the steps are not too steep, and the best part is, it’s the only section of the wall that is equipped with a toboggan! And it comes with a cable car so its family friendly (for all ages).
(Empty Wall means better pictures without Photobombs)
We actually rode on a toboggan from the top of the tourist center down to the steps of the Great Wall! It was a lot of fun and a great experience and definitely a must try for everyone.
There are 9 other sections to the Great Wall, all with its own unique levels of hiking difficulties. You are encouraged to research and take note of the wall conditions before making a decision on which section to visit as some parts are less restored and are left in ruins that are open for experienced climbers.
(6) Beijing National Stadium/Beijing National Aquatics Center
Of Course, no trip to Beijing is complete without uploading a picture of yourself at the iconic bird nest. The Iconic Stadium better known as the “Bird’s Nest”, was built for the Beijing Summer Olympics back in 2008.
The stadium is mostly unused, other than a couple of concerts. You may visit for some photo opportunity and if you’re lucky, there may be some flea events or roadside stalls around the area.
(Visit in the evening where they would turn on the lights for a better picture)
At the other end, you can find the Beijing National Aquatics Center, better known as the Water Cube, which was used for the Summer Olympics’ swimming competitions. After the swimming games, funds were pumped in to reconstruct the interior of the water cube into a water park.
We also recommend visiting in the evening as the lights help make for a better picture.
Both the stadiums will be back to host the Paralympics and Winter Olympics in 2022.
(7) Peking Duck (Li Qun Roast Duck)
You didn’t think our singapore food blog would recommend things to do in beijing without anything that is food related did you?
You’ve definitely heard of or even tried Peking Duck in your home country. But what better place to try the authentic charcoal roasted Peking Duck than in Beijing itself! With that being said, being spoilt for choice by one too many restaurants around the streets, it is difficult to decide which ones to try.
So here’s one good recommendation that we have personally tried ourselves and it definitely deserves a two thumbs up, “Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant”. In our opinion, it taste way way way way wayyyyy better than the much more popular Quan Ju De franchise that can be found throughout beijing.
Located in a Hutong, which basically means in layman’s terms, many lines of alleys joining together to make up a neighborhood. This is prevalent in ancient times, before technology and wide roads came along, thus it is now preserved as an aspect of the Chinese cultural history.
This restaurant is not your fancy upscale franchise restaurant providing quality customer service, but the food and price tags more than makes up for it. As it is located inside a Hutong, it may be physically challenging to find your way to the exact location even though you may be Google mapping it. But fret not, when you’re close by, follow the adorable duck drawings on the wall and the direction they’re heading to and you will reach Liqun.
As with most restaurants, prior reservations for the Peking Duck is highly recommended to ensure you get to taste it after finding your way there. The Peking Duck is freshly roasted and sliced in front of you, with the meat prepared to your liking, whether it is cooked with noodles or in a soup.
The skin of the Peking Duck was roasted to perfection. It was crisp and not too oily unlike the ones I’ve tried before. Have it your way by wrapping it with cucumber and the popiah skin, or have it alone with the sauce. Either way, you wont be able to stop.
Their other signature dishes are the duck intestines with green pepper, or braised duck gizzards, for the more adventurous ones who are keen to try.
Address: 11 Beixiangfeng, Zhengyi Lu (Northeast of Qianmen), Dongcheng District.
Contact No.: 6705-5578
Operating hours: 10:00 – 22:00 daily
Reservations for seats and Peking Duck is highly recommended, and all major credit cards are accepted.
(8) Roast Lamb leg (Zhang Ji Roast Lamb)
You might think roasted lamb isnt anything special, but wait till you get to try the roasted lamb in Beijing. One of the best lamb dishes we’ve had and there hasn’t been a close second.
There are quite a number of such shops around China, but from reviews and recommendations by locals, we went to the one at Zhang Ji.
The order is served as a whole lamb leg on a charcoal barbeque. Yes, you read that right. An entire lamb leg on a barbeque, right in front of you, waiting to be savored. It is as authentic as it can get for a table barbecue.
You are provided with a pair of elongated metal fork and knife, so that you can slice the meat of the leg while it is slowly bbq-ing over the charcoal. You can either choose to slice it and continue cooking it on the wire until its well done, or just slice it directly off the leg and dip it into the sauce to enjoy the succulent piece of protein.
It is best paired with iced cold beer and savored in large groups! Fret not, beers are cheappppp so don’t spare your wallets!
Address: No. 86, Alley Bei 2 Alley, Jiaodaokou, Dongcheng District
Contact No.: 010-64012860