[Beijing] I joked that I wanted to be a ”hao han” (好汉) twice. There is a saying that goes “不到长城非好汉”, which means that you need to get up to the Great Wall to be a Great Man.
The first time I climbed up, and it took a hike from wee hours of the morning till mid noon, and only made it less than half way.
The second time, the older me decided to go straight for the cable car.
Dear friends, great man or not, it is worth to make it up there at least once this lifetime.
(Click PLAY for highlight of Beijing.)
Beijing has changed quite a bit over the years, though not as much as its sister city Shanghai. (You can still pay by cash at many places, cab drivers are still elusive, air is still bad.)
Travellers go for traditional architecture, learn more about Chinese history, visit the one-of-a-kind restaurants, hutong (traditional alleys) and street markets.
The unique culture and landmarks are largely due to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties that laid the groundwork for current-day Beijing.
You will be able to find the influences of both eras all around the city, from the historical storefronts to massive gardens and clusters of Imperial tombs.
So whether you choose to bask in the history or explore new-age shopping centers, here are the 10 must-see places in Beijing:
Forbidden City 紫禁城
4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100006
Tel: +86 10 8500 7421
Opening Hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm (April-October), 8:30am – 4:30pm (November-March), Closed Mondays
The largest ancient palace in the world
China’s Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum has been named: one of the world’s top 5 important palaces of all time, the largest ancient palace in the world, a UNESCO heritage site, and one of the world’s largest cultural museums.
It houses 9999 rooms across a total of 980 wooden buildings, which all come together to form the ancient Imperial palace.
9 is an auspicious number for emperors.
All rooms are packed with historical artefacts, from wooden structures to hand-woven rugs and carefully crafted tapestries. However, there is a huge fence around, so you cannot really see anything (even if you manage to squeeze to the front) unless you get super zoom camera.
The palace itself was home to 24 Chinese emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasty, the last of whom was abdicated in 1912.
The Forbidden City took over 1 million laborers to complete the structure, including the décor and murals dotted around the area. Just be sure to bring your most comfortable walking shoes—the city is twice the size of the Vatican and over three times the size of the Kremlin, coming in at over 180 acres (7.8 million square feet!).
Some of you may have romanticised views of the Forbidden City due to a staple of popular Period Dramas. The Last Emperor was one of the first movies I ever caught on the cinema screen, and I often imagined what it would be like to be here.
Let’s just say it is beautiful, but I wished there was more.
Many of the rooms remain out-of-bounds, and palace can get very touristy (ie noisy, crowded and everything) due peak seasons. If you would really like a bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City, get up to the vantage point of Jingshan Park.
Great Wall of China 万里长城
Mutianyu Road, Huairou District, Beijing, China
Tel: +86 10 6162 6022
Opening Hours: 7:30am – 5:00pm (Mon – Fri), 7:30am – 6:00pm (Sat – Sun)
The longest landmark on Earth
The Great Wall of China is one of the world’s most famous landmarks—and the longest. No, you cannot see it from space. Realised it was an urban legend.
The series of ancient walls and fortifications spans more than 4,000 miles across Northern China. Due to its length, the Great Wall of China is best explored in sections. Juyongguan, Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, and Simatai are the most popular areas to visit for both tourists and locals due to the various attractions offered.
Consider signing up for one of the many day tours offered online, which would usually include mini-bus transportation with an English-speaking guide for under USD30.
This time round, I visited the Mutianyu – which was a lot less touristy. If you are in luck, you can almost take a photo without any other visitors at a particular section.
Hiking up can take a couple of hours, the return cable car trip would cost you RMB100 – that excludes the admission price of RMB45. The more adventurous tourists may choose to take a Toboggan slide down.
It was a magnificent sight, and you cannot imagine the grandeur till you are here yourself.
Summer Palace 頤和園
19 Xinjiangongmen Rd., Haidian District, Beijing, China
Tel: +86 10 6288 1144
Opening Hours: 6:30am – 8:00pm (April to October), 7:00am – 7:00pm (November to March)
The best preserved Imperial garden in the world
My mind kept going ”Huan Zhu Ge Ge” because the Supper Palace was originally built in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong, and is the largest existing Imperial garden in China.
The palace covers over 70,000 square meters, including 3,000 houses and innumerable garden areas. The landscape is a masterpiece of Chinese architecture, and an unfathomably large man-made lake. It is a certified UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitors can explore more than 100 buildings, 3 thousand pavilions, and 20 courtyards. The Seventeen-Arch Bridge stands out across Kunming Lake to connect the eastern shore and South Lake Island.
At the heart of the Summer Palace stands The Tower of Buddhist Incense, which is an ornately decorated religious building open to visitors of all backgrounds. The Long Corridor, Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion, and the Jade Belt Bridge are other popular attractions open year-round.
You can hop on the ferry for under USD5 BUT the queue of tourists is unimaginably long.
I quite enjoyed the walk here, actually spent about 3 hours just doing short strolls around here, watching Chinese families and couples do all kinds of #OOTD shots.
Tourist tip: Getting a cab outside here is near impossible. BUT don’t get up those illegal ones.
Temple of Heaven 天壇
Tiantan Road, Dongcheng District, Beijing 1000050, China
Tel: +86 10 6702 8866
Opening Hours: 6:00am – 8:00pm (April-October), 6:30am – 9:00pm (November to March)
The largest sacrificial site in the world
First built in 1420, the Temple of Heaven has been proclaimed a “masterpiece of architecture and landscape design” by UNESCO.
The landmark is the largest sacrificial site in the entire world, opened to the public in 1988 as a park dedicated to ancient philosophy, religion, and the history of Chinese culture in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
This landmark covers more than 2.7 million square meters, making it larger than the entirety of the Forbidden City.
The temple itself is divided into two sections: the inner and outer sections. Each section houses different buildings, rooms, bridges, and areas for visitors to explore. Some of the most popular attractions are the Circular Mound Altar, Imperial Vault of Heaven, Danbi Bridge, and Palace of Abstinence.
However, if you come here without much knowledge of Chinese history or a knowledgeable tour guide with insights, it can get rather boring as most of the rooms are closed and you can only take peeks into through small windows.
Tiananmen Square 天安门广场
West Changan Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100006, China
Tel: +06 78 745798
Opening Hours: 5:00am – 10:00pm Daily; Individual locations may vary
One of the largest public squares in the world
Built in 1958, Tiananmen Square was constructed for large-scale gatherings and official ceremonies. Since then, it has been expanded to over four times its original size.
The square now covers 440,000 square meters and can hold up to 1 million people—making it one of the largest public squares in the entire world.
Tiananmen Gate stands at the northern end, which doubles as the entrance into the Forbidden City and Palace Museum.
If time allows, you can also explore the National Museum of China, Monument to the People’s Heroes, Great Hall of the People, and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall.
There are changing of guards ceremonies happening at specific times, but getting a view of these are usually hard due to the sheer number of visitors.
Ming Tombs 明十三陵
Changchi Rd, Changping Qu, China
Tel: +86 10 6076 1422
Opening Hours: 8:00am – 5:30pm Daily
The Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty
The historical significance of these tombs is quite fascinating. But if you are not that into Ming Dynasty history, then it would be akin to visiting an undergound empty tomb.
The Ming Tombs are the final resting place for 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses, and countless concubines.
The tombs were added to the UNESCO list of historically important sites in 2003, where they remain to this day.
Currently, visitors can only visit that one tomb, the Ding Ling Tomb. Other mausoleums are closed for historical preservation.
In summary, poor Emperor! He spent a good part of his life planning for this tomb (after they all believe in after lives), but little would he have known it would become a tourist site.
Most of the accompanying artefacts and precious jewels were unfortunately destroyed during the Cultural Revolution; even the Emperor’s remains were burnt. Oh well.
Wangfujing Main Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100006, China
Tel: +86 158 0153 5506
Opening Hours: 9:30am – 10:00pm Daily
One of the most famous shopping streets in all of China
I somehow landed up at Wangfujing countless times during both my trips, also because the restaurants I wanted to visit were here. (Hello, Hai Di Lao!)
Wangfujing Street, often called the heart of Beijing, was constructed over 700 years ago. It used to be a private area where princes and princesses lived during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Now it is the place to go for snacking, dining, and shopping for local and Western brands. It is called the “Fifth Avenue”. Hmmmmmm…
The area has been blocked off for pedestrian traffic only (no cars, no cabs!), so you can safely take a stroll from one end of the 800-meter street to the other.
Visitors will enjoy shopping at the many different stores, boutiques, and shopping centers.
At night, make your way to Wangfujing Snack Street. You will find a handful of vendors and stands serving everything from traditional Chinese street food such as candied fruits to foreign favorites.
A number of stalls were selling creepy crawlies such as scorpions, cocoons and grasshoppers. Yikes.
Due to a challenge, I had the deep fried scorpions (yucks, but were like prawn crackers), cocoons (mushy) and praying mantis (smelly). No more, ever.
Beijing Olympic Park
Beisihuanzhong Rd, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100101, China
Tel: +86 10 96105
Opening Hours: 6:00am – 9:30pm Daily
Bird’s Nest Stadium and Water Cube Aquatics Center
Beijing Olympic Park was repurposed after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games into a 2,864 acre comprehensive activity center that the public is encouraged to visit.
There are numerous sights to see at this enormous park. Number one on many tourists’ lists of things to see inside the park is the National Stadium, better known as The Bird’s Nest.
It is one of the most well-known attractions to tourists and natives alike in Beijing. I think this place would look much, much better at night though.
There are also the Water Cube Aquatic Center and the China Science and Technology Museum, which are favorites of many Chinese parents and children.
Tourist tip: Please wear a mask at all times. (Air pollution.)
No.46 Jiuba Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, China
Tel: +86 10 6415 5812
Opening Hours: 24/7 Daily; Individual shops may vary
Used to be famous bar street, now more for shopping and hipster cafes
Sanlitun used to be an area known for its bar street, though there was a clean-up campaign and many of the bars are now gone.
However, it is still a place for staying out late, upmarket shopping, or exploring international cuisine and hipster cafes.
Taikoo Li is where the young (they look rich) and “fashionable” hang out. Fashionable is subjective lah.
This is also the birth-place of the famed instagrammable dirty buns. Surprise, surprise.
Qianmen Main Street, Beijing 100050, China
Tel: +86 10 6511 8110
Opening Hours: 24/7 (Daily); Individual stores may vary
Beijing’s oldest shopping street
Qianmen Street was once a historical staple in Beijing, beginning in 1300 until the entire street was burnt to the ground in the early 1900s.
It was then rebuilt to resemble old Beijing, though the influence of the 1920s and 30s is apparent.
The modern streetcars serve the pedestrian-only area at no cost to visitors. The historically accurate architecture houses everything from modern souvenir shops to traditional Chinese candy and snack stalls.
Many are really here for the famed Peking Duck Restaurant Quanjude Roast Duck 全聚德.
Brands like Zara, H&M, and Sephora are located in the shopping zone. Starbucks, KFC, MCDondalds and Haagen-Daaz are found nestled amongst local eateries. You may also enjoy a visit to the world-famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds, for under USD30.
MUJI Hotel Beijing, will also be at Qianmen. Exciting.