Beijing is an enormous municipality abundant in history, culture, beautiful landscapes, and fine cuisine. One of the oldest and largest cities in the world, Beijing boasts a fascinating mixture of old and new, from ancient imperial palaces to modern shopping malls, providing one-of-a-kind insight into Chinese culture and daily life that you can’t get anywhere else.
As the cultural and political capital of the country, Beijing is an essential part of any Chinese itinerary. In fact, in 2017, more than 80% of our clients made Beijing either their only stop or one of their stops in China (see full report).
The Great Wall is often the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of China, and no stay in Beijing is complete without a visit to this amazing wonder of the world. Beijing is usually considered the main gateway to the Great Wall, due to its close proximity to several world-famous sections. Just a short drive from the city center are a number of scenic Great Wall segments that vary in levels of restoration and crowdedness, including Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Simatai, Gubeikou, and Jiankou.
If you only have half a day for the Great Wall, then Mutianyu would be the perfect choice — expect beautiful scenery and far fewer tourists than Badaling. If you can allow for one full day at the wall, then we highly recommend Jinshanling for its unbeatable scenery. If you’re feeling more adventurous and want to take a walk on the Wall’s wild, unrestored side, you may even want to venture farther out to the Gubeikou or Simatai sections.
North of Beijing lies another gem of Chinese history: the Ming Tombs, the final resting place of thirteen Chinese emperors from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In addition to offering unique insight into Ming history, the tombs feature numerous imposing halls and palaces, as well as an extravagant underground palace. The Mutianyu Great Wall and the Ming Tombs can be combined into a one-day tour.
Two of Beijing’s most popular attractions lie in the heart of the city: Tiananmen Square, a symbolic and historically significant public space, and the Forbidden City, the 600-year-old magnificent imperial complex that was once home to China’s emperors. Opposite the north gate of the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park (also known as Coal Hill Park), where you can take in bird’s-eye views of the whole Forbidden City.
The Temple of Heaven, an ancient religious complex where the emperor once held an annual ceremony to ensure a good harvest, is also located in downtown Beijing and is a popular attraction for visitors. Not far from the city center is another of Beijing’s best-known sites, the Summer Palace, which is home to impressive imperial buildings surrounded by serene, classical gardens.
For those who want to get off the beaten track, Beijing’s low-rise, narrow alleyways, known as hutongs, offer a more intimate glimpse into local culture and history. Strolling into a hutong, with its grey brick walls and upturned “artichoke-leaf” roofs, you disappear into the Beijing of old. The noisy city melts away and is replaced by sleepy seniors sitting and watching the world go by, people going about their daily business, and the curious and delicious smells of truly authentic restaurants. If you want to visit the hutongs, you can join a hutong tour (either on foot or by rickshaw) or one of our guides can come with you to act as a translator, because we’re sure you’ll want to ask lots of questions!
There are certainly plenty of historical attractions to put on your Beijing bucket list (check out more Beijing attractions here). However, if you have three or more days in Beijing, there are many ways you can slow down your sightseeing schedule and dip into local life and culture. For example, you could join the locals for some morning tai chi in the Temple of Heaven park, take a class in a local handicraft such as calligraphy or Peking opera mask painting, do some shopping in a local market, or relax in a tea house or Chinese medicine spa.
Three days is usually enough for most visitors to see all the must-see attractions, and will allow some time for you to catch your breath and enjoy some of Beijing’s excellent restaurants.
As the capital of China, Beijing is home to authentic restaurants serving cuisines from all around the country. Although we usually take our visitors to restaurants that serve local Beijing dishes, you can always ask your travel specialist or guide if you want to taste some other cuisines.
Speaking of local dishes, Peking duck is the one dish that you absolutely shouldn't miss. Whether you want to try upscale duck in a fancy restaurant or eat it with the locals in a tiny hutong hole in the wall, we can give you plenty of suggestions for the best places to eat this Beijing delicacy.
If you are a keen foodie, we can also arrange for you to try your hand at cooking some Chinese dishes or wrapping your own dumplings (another popular Beijing dish).
Although most of our guests prefer to stick to Chinese food while in Beijing, if you have a craving for Western food then you can find plenty of quality options thanks, in part, to Beijing’s large and diverse expat population. In fact, some of our travel specialists are expats who have been living in Beijing for years, so they can give you their honest opinion on any restaurant!
Ancient and modern collide in Beijing’s nightlife scene. You will never be short of choice on a night out in Beijing!
The area around Nanluoguxiang and the Drum and Bell Towers has plenty of hidden bars serving everything from craft beer to complex cocktails, while Sanlitun and the area around the Worker’s Stadium is the best choice for slick cocktail bars and nightclubs.
If you prefer something more culturally oriented, a Peking Opera show, the Chaoyang Acrobatic Show, and The Legend of Kungfu are all good choices. Beijing also has a number of live music venues that host shows by local and international artists (check expat listing websites like the Beijinger and Time Out Beijing for shows during your visits).
Beijing has a climate similar to Washington, DC. The weather is cold in winter with occasional snow, and hot and humid in summer. April, May, and June are particularly pleasant months to visit; in late April you can enjoy picturesque flowering trees in the city’s many parks. July and August, while still good, can be very hot. The fall weather, particularly in September and October, is pleasant, making this a popular time to visit (so do expect to encounter some crowds, especially during the week-long October holiday). November is still nice with a fall feel in the air. December through March are winter months, when there are usually fewer tourists at all the attractions.
Beijing Capital International Airport is the busiest international airport in China and one of the busiest in Asia. Most China travel destinations are easily accessible from Beijing via flight or bullet train (for example, both Shanghai and Xi’an are around five hours by train and 90 minutes by air from Beijing). All of this makes Beijing an ideal first stop for visitors to China.