Beijing holds a lot of fond memories for me as it’s one of the first places I traveled to back in 2010. Therefore I was super thrilled that this fall I got to visit once again. So, having spent a collective 10 days exploring Beijing, I have put together some of the Top Things to Do plus my recommendations on each.
798 Art Zone
Call this the hipster paradise of Beijing. 798 is a grouping of decommissioned military factory buildings that have been transformed into Art Galleries. They house dozens of unique, beautiful, odd and fascinating paintings, sculptures and many other means of artistic expression. Plus there are many coffee houses, shops and vegetarian restaurants! A very pleasant surprise and a wonderful place to visit, I highly recommend.
Temple of Heaven
The royal altar where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven. It’s also a large park with several temples, green space and great ancient architecture. Very easy to get to on the metro, photographs great and can take as little or as long as you want it to take.
Hou Hai (Back Lakes)
Shops and restaurants galore. If you are looking for a great place to eat and shop outside of the main big box stores, come down to the lakes. Heck, you don’t even need to shop, you can just walk around the lake or take a boat. Very cool area that really lights up at night. Hip, fun, all around I really enjoyed Hou Hai.
Prince Gong’s Mansion
A 10 minute walk from the lakes is Prince Gong’s Mansion, second only to the Forbidden City. Not gonna lie, when I visited it was very busy so I didn’t get a huge chance to explore, but from what I did see it look pretty nice and since it’s right near the lakes you can do the two of them at the same time.
These are the royal gardens built in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong for his mothers birthday. If you ask most people in Beijing what their favour cultural and historical attraction is, they say Summer Palace. I second this choice and it’s also one of my favourites. Perched temples over looking the lake and the city of Beijing. From every angle it really is a stunning place to visit. You can be high up on the mountains, down around the lake, or even on the lake.
The main shopping street and where you can find souvenirs, large electronics brand, high end luxury goods, hotels and restaurants. This street has it all! Plus on one of the side streets is a night market and all the strange, “unique” foods you can think off. I’m talking about bugs here. So, if you need shopping done and can deal with a bit of a crowd, head on over.
The Forbidden City
Also know as the Palace Museum. This place is MASSIVE, it served as the Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Most of the palaces, temples, and large attractions that I visited in China are from either the Ming(1368–1644) or Qinq(1644–1912) Dynasty, as they where the most recent and most things have since stayed in tact.
The Forbidden City contains over 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 rooms! Needless to say, I did NOT walk into every room. If you are up for a walk and major architecture, head over here.
Cemetery of the 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. It’s a little ways from Beijing, about 50km so it’s best to do it on a trip out of the city. I did it along with the Great Wall of China. The site itself is pretty cool, you get to go underground and learn a lot about the Emperors so if you’re into history this is for you. If not, I’d probably skip it.
Yes it is not the Olympics anymore, however, that is no reason NOT to visit the Olympic Park in Beijing; which is actually a huge city park. If you ARE an Olympics fan, there are of course two very famous landmarks, the Birdsnest Stadium and the National Aquatics Center. I really enjoyed the Olympic Park for the sole purpose of being a really nice park. If you’re looking for a less crowded, casual place to stroll definitely stop by for a visit.
The Great Wall of China
Establish in the 14th century the Great Wall of China is over 6000km long. Obviously, you cannot see it all. Not only that, many parts are still in ruin and have not been restored, as well as are not open to the public. When visiting Beijing you have to decide which section of the wall to visit. Luckily I have visited 4 different sections so here is my comparison. Note: Regardless of what section you do choose, you’ll still be amazed by the Great Wall cause well, it’s the Great Wall.
The easiest section of the wall to get to from Beijing not to mention the closest. It’s also the most restored section and as you can thus imagine, it is also the most busiest. If you are looking for a solo photo of yourself on the great wall this is not where you are going to find it. I would only recommend if you are pressed for time in Beijing and you are just looking to check off the bucket list.
- Distance from Beijing: 60 km northwest of central Beijing, approx. 1½ hours drive.
A note about the pictures, taken 5 years ago in the winter… things are MUCH busier now.
Mutianyu is the longest fully restored Great Wall section open to tourists. Beautifully restored with 23 original-style watchtowers. This is a very lovely section that is not nearly as busy as Badaling, plus there is still many tour buses that will take you there. One of my favourites sections and everything you would expect from the great wall and I very much recommend to visit.
- Distance from Beijing: 73 kms, 1½-2 hours drive.
Juyongguan and Juyong Pass
Technically, the closest section to Beijing, this section contains one of the greatest forts defending ancient Beijing: The Juyong Pass Fort. But aside from that, this section isn’t vast, like the others. And prepare yourselves for stairs, lots and lots of ups and downs on stairs. You don’t really get a sense of the length of the wall at this section. However, it is wheelchair-friendly, so suitable for older or disabled travellers, but only the lower parts. It’s also close to the Badaling section, so you can always hop on over there and do both sections at once, like we did. Overall, not my favorite section at all, I would only do this if you are also going to visit another section as well.
- Distance from Beijing: 60 kms , 1½ hours’ drive.
The Simatai section of the Great Wall is one of the most unique sections that retain the original look and appearance of the Ming Dynasty. It is also hands down my favourite section. Several reasons, even in the busiest tourist days it is still not crowed on the wall. This is because they limit the amount of people each day that can visit this section, since it hasn’t been fully restored and it is more rugged and therefore cannot handle the amount of volume the other sections can. It’s small, intimate, the scenery is breathtaking and it has a secret gem attached to it call Gubei Water Town: an ancient village that’s been restored and transformed into a resort town. Water Town is a wonderful area of shops, restaurants, hotels and more.
- Distance from Beijing: 120 kms , 2 -3 hours drive.
There’s my list! If you’ve been to Beijing before, what were some of your favourites?