9 Things to Do in Beijing
Featured destinations: Beijing
Published 30 March 2017
Fly into Beijing and you’ll arrive into a teeming pass of people, beeping horns, interweaving bicycles and general craziness. It can be somewhat overwhelming at first, especially if it’s your first time in Asia, but give it time, visit a few of the city’s historic sights, and you’ll soon come to love the freneticism, bright lights and endless chitter chatter. After all, that’s what makes Beijing Beijing. Here are our favourite things to do while you’re in town:
Spend the day at the Forbidden City
Set aside at least a day to see the Forbidden City; it’s enormous! In fact, this former imperial palace spreads over 74 hectares and is home to 8,700 rooms. Oh and its moat is 52 metres wide. Since 1420, no less than 24 Chinese emperors have lived here, with the last leaving in 1924. Today, it is known as the Palace Museum, and it’s Beijing’s top sight, with over 14 million visitors a year flocking to glimpse its priceless antiques, intricate décor, grand hallways and fine architecture.
Stand in the centre of Tiananmen Square
Right next door to the Forbidden City, you’ll find Tiananmen Square, the seventh largest city square in the world. Famous for all the wrong reasons, the square was the site of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, and the following day when an unknown man stood in front of a line of tanks in protest at the atrocity. As well as the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square is home to the mausoleum of Chairman Mao, who governed China from 1945 until his death in 1976. If you’re curious, you can view his rather waxy looking embalmed body.
Walk on the Great Wall of China
If you want to see the Great Wall of China, and quite frankly, you’d be crazy not to, then you have a few choices to make. Either take short route from Beijing to the wall’s easiest accessible point at Badaling or Juyongguan, popular with day-trippers, or head further afield to Jinshanling, around three hours’ drive from Beijing. Here you take a cable car to the top, soak up the views and then, if you’re feeling up to it, walk along the wall for 6.5 miles to Simatai. There’s some scrambling involved, plenty of steep bits and lots of avoiding the postcard sellers, but it’s worth it for views of the wall and the surrounding mountains.
Kick back at the Summer Palace
Nine miles from Beijing’s city centre, but worth the effort to reach, the Summer Palace is a delightful spot to while away a sunny (or not so sunny) afternoon. Made up of the huge Kunming Lake, pretty landscaped gardens, numerous pavilions and bridges, and a boat made of marble, the Summer Palace complex is best explored at slow place, taking the time to wander the pathways or perhaps hire a pedalo or a dragon boat to explore the lakeshore in more detail.
Admire the Temple of Heaven
Built in 1420, the Temple of Heaven is notable for having been constructed without the use of nails. It’s a vast complex, larger than the Forbidden City, with many buildings to explore and plenty of open spaces where you might spot locals singing, dancing or playing musical instruments. The most famous sight is the Circular Mound Altar, but look out too for the ‘Centre of the Universe’, according to the Chinese at least, where you can pose for photos on a raised mound. Don’t miss the Echo Wall, where you can talk to your friends from opposite sides of a large circular wall.
Feast on Peking duck
Peking duck, a seasoned, hung and roasted duck with a deliciously crispy skin, is well known from the menus of the UK’s Chinese restaurants. But to try it in Beijing, where it originated, is something else entirely. Served with pancakes, cucumber and hoisin sauce, it’s succulent and juicy, a true taste sensation. The best place to sample it is Quanjude Roast Duck, established in 1864 and something of an institution in Beijing. There are five branches in this city alone, one of which is seven storeys high, seating over 2,000 diners.
Take in a Beijing opera performance
A form of Chinese opera that consists of singing, dancing, acrobatics and elaborate costumes, Beijing opera performances are easy to find in the city. It might not be to everyone’s taste but Beijing opera is an important part of Chinese culture, having been popular during the Qing dynasty. Head to the teahouse-style Li Yuan Theater or the Zheng Yici Opera Theater, the oldest one in town, to see the performers sing in their uniquely-styled high-pitched voices. Don’t worry about following the story though, as there are usually English subtitles.
Watch an acrobatics show
If the Beijing opera doesn’t take your fancy then perhaps take in a Chinese acrobatics show instead. These shows, first performed over 2,000 years ago, are pretty impressive, and very popular for their death-defying feats of balance and skill. Popular acts include balancing on seemingly impossible objects, juggling, martial arts and use of props such as hoops, vases and chairs. The shows are so popular that the best acrobats can even become minor celebrities. Catch it at the Chaoyang Theatre and prepare to be amazed.
Smell the incense at the Lama Temple
Also known as the Yongehegong Temple, Beijing’s Lama Temple is a wonderfully preserved example of a lamasery. Built in 1694, the temple includes various courtyards, gates and archways, all beautifully decorated; think dragons, lions, Buddhas, and plenty of use of red. Inside, you’ll find gold statues, and yet more intricate decoration, while outside, worshippers turn prayer wheels and fill the air with the scent of incense, thought to purify the mind and soul.
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