Our trip to China was an unforgettable one and one of the many places we visited was Beijing.
Beijing, China’s bustling capital, is a city full of culture and activities just waiting for you to get stuck into so I’ve taken the time to note down the top 8 attractions and sights (in no particular order) that you must go and explore when you make the trip to Beijing.
8 Things You Must do in Beijing
1. Forbidden City and Palace Museum
The Forbidden City, constructed in 1420, is the world’s biggest imperial palace, occupying 720,000 square metres. Boasting more than 14 million visitors yearly, Forbidden City is China’s most popular single-sight tourist attraction – even more than sections of the Great Wall of China! This does mean that there were will be hefty queues but don’t let that put you off as they won’t take as long as you may expect to go down.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the city was home to 24 Chinese emperors. It contains 90 courtyards and palaces, 980 buildings with over 8,700 rooms and is surrounded by a 52-metre moat.
The Forbidden City is split into 3 sections: The Defenses, The Outer Court and The Inner Court.
The Defenses contains the moat and the 4 palace gates – The Meridian Gate, Gate of Devine Might (main exit gate), East Glorious Gate and West Glorious Gate. It’s likey you will enter the palace from Tiananmen Square through the Gate of Heavenly Peace which will take you to the Meridian Gate.
Surrounding the whole palace is a 10-metre high defence wall with a watchtower in each corner.
The Outer Court contains 3 main buildings where the emperors would attend ceremonies.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the first and happens to be the vastest structure within the city.
The second is the Hall of Central Harmony which is situated behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony and was used for emperors to practice their speeches before delivering them.
The final hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony which was used for grand banquets.
Going through the Gate of Heavenly Purity will take you into The Inner Court. Again, there are 3 main buildings here for you to view. These are the Palace of Heavenly Purity which was the emperors’ sleeping quarters, the Palace of Union and Peace and the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility which is where the emperors would be married.
In addition to these buildings, the inner court also contains 6 eastern and 6 western palaces and the imperial garden.
2. Tiananmen Square
You probably know Tiananmen Square from the well-known protests against the Communist party that occurred here in 1989 where many civilians were killed. You might even remember the dark image of one sole man standing in from of multiple tanks.
Asides from this, Tiananmen Square is as it sounds, a city square, and a large one at that.
The square contains the Monument to the People’s Heros, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, who announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China at Tiananmen Square in 1949. His body lies in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong today.
Entry to Tiananmen Square is highly controlled with police guarding the entrances at all times. You will need your passport to obtain entry or to even just walk near the square.
3. Summer Palace
The Summer Palace, first built in 1750 before being destroyed in a war and rebuilt in 1886, is an immense landscape of traditional halls and pavilions set within the Imperial Garden.
Consisting of 4 areas, the Summer Palace is a great way to spend a day.
The Court Area, spanning from East Palace Gate to the northeast coast of Kunming Lake contains several structures including the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity which served as an office for the emperor, Hall of Jade Ripples where Emperor Guangxu lived and Yiyun Hall where Empress Longyu lived. As well as this, the court area also contains the Garden of Virtue and Harmony and the Hall of Joyful Longevity.
The Front Area of Longevity Hill is an extravagant area that is laid out symmetrically with numerous buildings and gardens with sights such as the Long Gallery which is a 728-metre long corridor, overlooking the lake, adorned with Chinese paintings and the Hall of Dispelling Clouds.
Kunming Lake is the third area where you will find several arch bridges over the lake and the Marble Boat which, again, is as it sounds – a boat made of marble.
The final area of the Summer Palace is the Rear Area of Longevity Hill. This area doesn’t have as much to see as many structures weren’t able to be repaired after damage from wars. However, here you will be able to view Four Great Regions which is a Tibetan Style Temple, as well as Suzhou Market Street which is a market street surrounding a lake. Be careful walking around the market. The paths are slim, there is bound to be a crowd and there is no railing to stop you falling into the lake.
4. The Great Wall of China
This magnificent wall is one that is a firm favourite in our China memories. The Great Wall of China, one of the great wonders of the world, is a mammoth wall that winds around for 21,196 kilometres.
It was built over 2,700 years ago and much now lies in ruin. However, there are several sections of the wall that have been reconstructed and made suitable for visiting.
Badaling is the section closest to Beijing but due to this, it is also the most crowded. We decided to give Badaling a miss for this reason and headed to Mutianyu instead, which is an extra hour away but so worth it. It is far less crowded and serves breathtaking scenery.
Watchtowers split up each section of walkway that contains more steps than you’ve ever climbed in your life. Walking The Great Wall of China is NOT easy, it’s a hard day’s work, but so worth it. We ended up racking up almost 30 thousand steps that day according to my trusty Fitbit.
If you aren’t up for the tiring walk, you can also take a cable car up to the highest point of the Mutianyu section and if you want to go a stage further, you can even toboggan down back.
Beijing is known for its hutongs, which are essentially alleys. Getting lost in the hutongs is a great way to experience traditional Beijing and its culture. You’ll see single storey homes, quaint restaurants and corner shops. Each hutong is close to another which forms a sense of community between the locals which is certainly unique to any community I’ve ever experienced before.
Nanluoguxiang is one hutong that deserves a special mention. It is 768 metres long and wider than most hutongs. We spent an evening here exploring all of the unique shops, eating glorious street food and relishing in the experience.
6. Pedestrian Streets
Pedestrian Streets are found all over China and Beijing sure does have a good few to choose from.
Perhaps one of the most known walking streets in Beijing, Dashilar is one I must mention. Constructed over 500 years ago, it’s filled with ancient Chinese architecture that is well looked after.
Dashilar will have you stumbling across local shops such as silk and shoe shops.
Closeby is Qianmen Street which was our favourite and one we would walk through most days while staying in Beijing.
Here you will discover local shops selling Peking Duck in bags as well as other Beijing delicacies, cute tearooms, delicious and authentic restaurants. There is even a small tram for visitors to hop on to take you from one end of the street to the other.
7. Silk Street Market
If you are after souvenirs, both Chinese and universal, Silk Street Market is the place to visit. With a shopping mall with about 9 floors, you are bound to find what you are looking for here.
You will find counterfeit designer bags, clothes and belts, jewellery, tea sets, trinkets and so much more. You can even have a suit tailored for you if you have the time.
The tactic here is to bargain. They put up a tough fight but you will get there in the end!
8. Peking Duck
Last but certainly not least is to go for Peking Duck at a specialist Peking Duck restaurant. The process of Peking Duck is an interesting one and one I do wish I hadn’t read before going to the restaurant (I’ll leave that one to you to research) but it did encourage us to eat up every last bite of the duck.
Peking Duck can be an expensive meal, especially compared to how cheap cuisine usually is here, so it’s good to do your research first. But if you are after a more budget-friendly option like ourselves that will not sacrifice on taste, then head to Siji Minfu restaurant.
Siji Minfu is a busy duck restaurant that you are bound to love. This is an incredibly popular restaurant so arrive with plenty of time as you are going to be queuing a while. We went along on a Saturday afternoon and probably had to wait about an hour but we were quite thankful as it meant our appetites were increasing so we could eat a whole duck between us (usually recommended for a family of 4).
There is plenty of nuts and tea to keep you going during the wait for your table if your hunger does get carried away.
We chose the Whole Peking Duck with pancakes and condiments, as well as a side of Fermented Soybean Paste noodles. I was sceptical about the noodles with such an off-putting name but they are divine. Please give them a go, it’s delicious.
Your duck is sliced and diced out on the restaurant floor by chefs before being served to your table. You are given several plates of nicely displayed duck meat, one containing the crispy skin and a plate containing the leg bones and the duck’s head. Yes, the head. The brain of the duck is considered a delicacy and is meant to be eaten at the end of your meal. As mentioned earlier, we told ourselves we were 100% eating every single piece of duck which, much to our dismay, also meant the brain. It was a strange experience but you’d be surprised just how nice duck brain is. It tastes just like pate, but, I still don’t think I would eat it again for obvious reasons.
Beijing is a great place to visit in China with plenty to see, eat and do. You won’t be disappointed. If you want even more recommendations, feel free to get in touch. I have plenty of info to share about this enormous city.
Next up on the China Travel Guide agenda is Xi’an so stay tuned for that!
While you are here, why not also check out some Japan posts like this one about What to do in Osaka, Japan
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