Beijing’s rich culture and powerful atmosphere offer travelers a sensory feast.
A must-see for history buffs, the Ming Tombs scenic area contains the mausoleums of 13 of the 16 emperors who ruled China during the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644. Three of the 13 mausoleums are open for visitors and offer an intriguing glimpse into Chinese history, grand Chinese architecture, and the cultural importance of ancestor worship. The Ming Tombs are located close to some entry points to the Great Wall, which makes it easy to combine the two sites during the same day trip.
The Forbidden City, today also known as the Palace Museum, was the home of Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors for 500 years until 1911. Located in the very heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is a remarkable portrayal of Chinese history, culture, civilization, and architecture. The Palace Museum is the world’s largest palace complex and is said to have almost 1,000 buildings and 9,999 rooms.
To get a glimpse of a Beijing before its magnificent glass buildings and skyscrapers, head to Gulou Street to explore one of the city’s remaining traditional neighborhoods, the hutongs. Hutongs are areas with narrow lanes and single story courtyard houses, but the city’s rapid modernization has left only a few of these historic neighborhoods standing. Go back in time and explore the hutongs around the Drum and Bell Towers, two landmark buildings that were used for telling time since the 13th century.
Best Day Trip
Even though the Summer Palace is located just 15 kilometers outside of central Beijing, a visit there is like entering another world. Consisting of palaces, lakes, and gardens, the Summer Palace was an imperial garden built by the Qing Dynasty for royal families to rest and entertain. It is the largest and best preserved imperial garden still in existence in China.
Most Iconic Place
The Great Wall of China is certainly not to be missed during your visit to Beijing. More than 27,000 people visit on an average day, which is an excellent reason for considering the less famous entry points, such as Jinshanling and Simatai. Some sections offer unique hiking opportunities with breathtaking landscapes of the surrounding mountains with the deserted wall snaking mysteriously into the horizon. For an experience you’ll never forget, consider camping out for a night at one of the watchtowers.
For an endless choice of restaurants and bars, visit Sanlitun in Beijing’s modern Chaoyang District. Beijing’s first bar community, Sanlitun Bar Street, is located in Sanlitun, which over the years led the area to become the city’s center for shopping, food, and nightlife. Sanlitun is particularly enjoyable in the warmer months with its numerous rooftop restaurants.
The Temple of Heaven is a collection of stunning ancient sacrificial buildings where emperors came to worship heaven and pray for good harvest. It is considered the most holy of Beijing’s imperial temples, but today welcomes visitors to enjoy the vast green grounds covering an area larger than the Forbidden City. The best time to visit is early morning as the park fills with locals socializing and doing morning exercises.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Take an early morning stroll in one of Beijing’s many public parks, and you’ll get a glimpse of the healthy morning routines of China’s senior citizens. Witness everything from people practicing tai chi, playing badminton, walking backwards, and flying kites to dancing, singing, clapping, and exercising on gym equipment fixed to the park grounds. Many locals also have pet birds that they bring along in cages to socialize. The best park to get inspiration for healthy morning habits is the Temple of Heaven.
Neighborhood to Explore
Shichahai is a famous scenic area just north of the Forbidden City consisting of three lakes and loads of entertainment. It used to be the imperial back garden as well as the center of Beijing’s most important commercial activities, but is today a charming area surrounded with historic sites, hutongs (traditional Beijing alleys and residences), temples, restaurants, and bars.
Know Before You Go
The biggest challenge international travelers face in Beijing is the language barrier. English isn’t widely spoken, so it might be helpful to write down a few basic words and phrases to carry with you in your pocketbook or smartphone. When taking a taxi, make sure to have the names and addresses of your hotel and destinations written in Mandarin to show the driver. Beijing is generally a very safe city, but as you would anywhere, be mindful of valuables and pick-pockets in crowded areas. And do note that many international websites including social media sites are not accessible in China.