Beijing or Peking is just beginning to become a popular tourist destination, thanks to all the technical and cultural improvements to make the city a more welcoming place for tourists thanks to the Beijing Olympic Games. The communist regime of the country and the tourist visa requirements are also reasons which may dissuade many to visit, but on the contrary Beijing is one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful historic cities in the world which makes Beijing worth visiting.
The capital city is the former seat of many Chinese emperors who used to rule the Chinese Empire. Being as big as a continent and the Great Wall are motivating factors for your visit in China. It houses treasures which are several thousand years old and it’s so huge that it takes time to fully discover. Let’s see what Beijing has to offer for tourists and what’s worth seeing and doing there.
The best places to visit
1. The Forbidden City:
This is in fact a city within the city, the former seat and home of the Chinese Emperor and his family. It’s a huge area, consisting of several buildings with the large Imperial Palace among them and this is where the emperors’ family used to spend their daily lives without ever having to go outside except for ceremonies. This area was closed for ordinary people for over 500 years, so it’s really a privilege to see it now. The 720 thousand square foot complex is protected with 10-meter-high walls and is reinforced with bastions. Unfortunately, many of the buildings and historical remains fell victim to Mao’s revolutionary armies, but luckily there is still plenty to see here. Make sure you arrive well before 5 pm as the majority of the area closes down from 4:30 PM. The entrance fee is very cheap. The key sites to visit include the Golden River Bridge, Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Heavenly Purity and the majestic Imperial Garden.
2. Tiananmen Square (The Square of Heavenly Peace)
The enormous square has served for gatherings for thousands of years and it can really accommodate tens of thousands of people. The highlight of the square is the Tiananmen Gate that was built in 1417 which long served as the entrance gate, connecting the square with the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City. Check out the Museum of Chinese Revolution and the Mao Mausoleum while you are here.
3. Beihai Park
There is no rival to the beauty of the classic Chinese gardens and one beautiful example to that can be seen in Beihai Park, which is near the huge Tiananmen Square. You can see several traditional Chinese stile buildings in the park, many of which belonged to local celebrities and famous politicians. The highlight of the park is the White Pagoda which you can see at the Island of Exquisite Jade.
4. Temple of Heaven:
This is a real trademark building of China, one of the most beautiful of its kind. The temple which has a rectangular and a semi-circular section is among the oldest and most important temples of Beijing. It was built around 1420 and its uniqueness is, that it was built without the use of any nail! Another extremely interesting feature you ought to experience is the temple’s echo wall that would echo anything you say, even if you only whisper it.
5. The Lama Temple - Yonghe Temple:
This is a unique temple as in being not merely Buddhist but Lama Buddhist in religion. It served as the way of giving respect to Tibet, which China annexed as a Chinese region in 1745. This way, China offered a seat for Tibetan Buddhist or otherwise known as the official seat of Lamaism in Beijing. Some of its most beautiful and imposing parts include the Hall of the Kings of Heaven, the Pavilion of the Four tongued Stele and the hall of the Buddhist Wheel. Its most important building is the Pavilion of Four Thousand Fortunes that also houses an 18-meter-high statue.
6. Beijing Capital Museum
If you are in a country which has the oldest culture and historical resources in the world, then you really must visit its historical museum, which is a surprisingly ultramodern building that resembles a spaceship. The museum gives home to hundreds of thousands of important, beautiful, historical artefacts from all historical seasons. The largest statue of the museum is the stele of Emperor Qian Long that’s 7 meters high and weighs more than 40 tons.
7. Fayuan Temple
It is one of the rare old temples which survived time and it’s also among the best-preserved ones of Peking. It was built around 645 AD, it’s packed with ancient inscriptions, sculptures and other religions decorations, artefacts and documentation. Today, the temple gives home to Beijing’s Buddhist Academy and with its several halls and buildings it’s well worth visiting. Check out its Mahvira Hall and the Hall of the Kings of Heaven
8. The Beijing Temple of Confucius
It’s extremely rare to visit or even see a strictly Confucian temple in person, therefore, don’t miss out on visiting this picturesque temple that’s dedicated to Confucianism.
Other things to do in Beijing:
This city is the place where you can never get bored. There are so many things to do here that I had difficulties to differentiate between the things to see and the things to do.
- Check out the 798 Art District: an upcoming modern district it’s very popular for the younger generation.
- Check out the Drum and Bell Towers: the historic tower used to govern time for centuries in the capital city.
- Shop as much as you can. It’s a great city for shopping handmade Chinese artefacts.
Family programs in Beijing:
If you are a fan of Pandas then you ought to visit the Beijing Zoo where they are very well taken care of, living in peace and harmony. It also hosts South China Tigers and other rare species from across Asia by taking great measures to help them survive time and to help them grow in numbers even in captivity.
Beijing World Park:
A beautiful fun park for kids of every age, Beijing World Park is one of the best daily entertainment centres to visit with kids and toddlers.
Shijingshan Amusement Park
Beijing’s version of Disneyland, this huge park sure is a fantastic place for a daily program. And it was designed to look like Disneyland all the way.
Shopping in Beijing:
Beijing is full of great old markets and flea markets which you can explore while walking around the city. You can haggle the price by showing numbers with your hand or writing it down. If you want a more modern shopping atmosphere check out the very new and modern Sanlitun Village, that’s a huge modern shopping mall, packed with great stores of the leading brands. The shopping mall is situated at Sanlitun Road near the Clothing Market. Sanlitun Village is also an excellent choice for tourists to eat out and enjoy local shows and performances.
Check out Panjiayuan Market otherwise known as Dirty Market or Antiques market for great souvenirs, Liulichang Street for a great deal of handmade artefacts from all across China and if you want to see a great traditional market with cafés and restaurants then Nan Luo Gu Xiang is the best place to explore.
The Pearl Market is one of the most popular places for tourists to go buy quality pearls for a good price. Don’t forget to haggle hard.
Another notable place to visit is the Wangfujing Night market which is a huge marketplace selling all sorts of fantastic stuff and which has a snack street selling local specialties you really ought to check out
Getting around Beijing:
Beijing has an excellent subway system, so you can get around with the help of that. If you want to go further make sure your hotel gets you a taxi driver and you negotiate the price before taking the taxi. Also, ensure you have your hotel’s name and address written in Chinese in case you can’t find your way back.
Expert advice on visiting Beijing:
- Obtain your visa well before visiting along with your flight booking to make sure everything is set before your visit.
- Although it’s much more modern than in the dark Mao times. Act moderate and watch what you say, if you talk in English. Refrain from talking badly about the communist regime or any past events. Do not ask any locals’ opinion on these events or ask them to take any political stand, refrain from politics all in all.
- Language barriers make life for tourists challenging in Beijing where people mostly don’t speak English. Whenever possible, try to get a paid guide or go on paid guided tours.
- China has banned the main social media sites and apps to keep its citizens safe from Western news and media. This makes the country and the people isolated. Don’t expect to be able to use your normal social media apps from China at all.
- It’s best to purchase tickets directly where you go or from your hotel and not at street side stalls.
- Take care in traffic as most signs don’t work and the cars usually don’t stop.
- There is a great deal of tourist scams across town so don’t exchange money or buy any tickets from street stalls and avoid fake tourist programs, such as tea ceremony