Beijing Top 20 Sights - Global Storybook

Beijing: The Top 20 Attractions

Beijing, which means “Northern Capital”, is one of the 6 ancient capitals of China, which it remains to this day.  It is currently the second largest city after Shanghai, though it has a lot more cultural and historic sights, waiting to be explored.  While, it is practically impossible to see all of its main sights in one trip, unless you spend at least one whole month there – one week should be good enough to see and understand what this beautiful city is about.

There are a number of great museums, historic buildings, parks, famous streets, and even day trips that are a must for any first visit to Beijing.  One thing to also keep in mind – this capital is a very popular touristic destination, especially with its own citizens, and therefore be prepared to see long lines (and huge crowds) at almost any location.

1. The Great Wall 

Unarguably, the number one sight to see in Beijing is the breathtaking and World famous, Great Wall.  Stretching across almost the entire country, for over 6,000 km (almost 4,000 miles) this beautiful construction – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built between 14th and 17th centuries, to defend the country against any possible intruders.

There are several trips that one can go on from Beijing to explore the different sections of the Great Wall – the most famous of them is located in Badaling, on about a 40-minute drive from the city center.  The Badaling section is also, unsurprisingly, the most touristy.  Other popular and accessible sections of the Great Wall include: Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Simatai, Juyongguan, and Jiankou.

  • Time required: minimum 4-6 hours
  • Hours of operation: (Badaling) every day: 7:30am – 6pm
  • Price: (Badaling) Cable Car: 100 Yuan (one-way), 140 Yuan (round-trip)
  • Official website: (Badaling) http://www.badaling.cn/language/en.asp

2. Forbidden City

This beautiful palace was used by several royal dynasties for almost 500 years, since it was built in 1420.  It took 17 years to construct – beginning with the Ming Dynasty, which built this new residence and moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing.  The Forbidden City is now also known as the Palace Museum since 1925, the year it was first opened to the public.  Selling more than 14 million tickets annually – it is now one of the most visited museums in the World.

There are around 8,800 rooms, though it is widely believed that there once were 9,999 rooms located in the palace.  The Forbidden City is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and is known as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the World.  It is divided by several outer and inner courtyards, and there are some additional museum halls (with interesting collections of royal items – from jewelry to pottery) housed on both sides of this palace, though a small, separate entrance fee is required.

  • Address: 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng Qu
  • Time required: 2-3 hours
  • Hours of operation: April-October: 8:30am – 5pm; November-March: 8:30am – 4:30pm; last entry – 50 minutes prior
  • Price: April-October: 60 Yuan; November-March: 40 Yuan
  • Official website: http://en.dpm.org.cn

3. Tiananmen (Tian’an Men) Square  

Also known as the ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’ – this is the square where Mao Zedong, the famous Chinese leader, proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.  There is now a giant (6 x 4.5 meters) portrait in his memory and honor hanging from the famous Tiananmen Gate, where he made his speech.

This huge square (one of the largest in the World) is also infamously known as the place where peaceful student protests turned violent in 1989 – on a day when the Chinese government violently massacred hundreds of innocent people.

In addition to the Tiananmen Gate – there’s the Forbidden City (just behind the Gate), the National Museum of China (sight #11), Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, and even the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong (where his embalmed body is displayed) located in this square.

  • Address: Dongcheng
  • Time required: 1 hour or less
  • Hours of operation: 24/7
  • Price: free

4. The Temple of Heaven

This beautiful, Daoist temple was commonly used by the Ming and Qing royal dynasties as the place where the emperors fasted and prayed for a good harvest to be had every upcoming year.  It is now a charming complex with several ancient pagodas, a beautiful green park, and several tiny museum halls dedicated to the history of the Temple.

It is also one of the most beloved places for the locals to hang out in – dance, practice tai chi, play chess or cards, or simply sit on a bench and catch up with old friends.  You can buy one ticket that will cover the entrance to all of the sites within the complex, just make sure to keep it with you as you will need to re-use it at different points.

  • Address: 1 Tiantan E Rd, Dongcheng Qu
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Hours of operation: March-June 8:00am – 5:30pm; July-October: 8:00am – 6pm; November-February: 8:00am – 5:00pm
  • Price: 10 Yuan for the park entrance only; 34 Yuan to access the entire complex
  • Official website: http://en.tiantanpark.com/default.aspx

5. The Summer Palace

Covering the distance of almost 3 kilometers (more than 1 mile) this huge complex consists of several royal temples, beautiful pagodas, small opera houses, gorgeous lakes and gardens.  Its origin dates back to the mid-12th century, and as the name implies it was the official residence to several royal dynasties living periodically within its majestic quarters.

One of its most famous features is the Longevity Hill, from where an amazing, panoramic view spreads across the beautiful Kunming lake and the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha, located right in front of it.  One can also take a scenic boat ride for a small fee, around the park area.

  • Address: 19 Xinjiangongmen Rd, Haidian Qu
  • Time required: 2-4 hours
  • Hours of operation: April-October: 8:30am – 5pm; November-March: 9:00am – 4pm
  • Price: 50 Yuan (Nov-March) or 60 Yuan (Apr-Oct) to access the entire complex
  • Official website: http://www.summerpalace-china.com/ywy/
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6. Beijing Opera

Famous for its expressive face paintings and incredible costumes, the Beijing Opera dates back to the late 18th century when it was first introduced.  It became widely popular since the mid-19th century and has remained one of the most beloved forms of entertainment for Chinese people.

In addition to singing, there’s also a form of elegant dancing accompanying almost every opera performance.  One of the most popular (and traditional) shows can still be enjoyed in the Liyuan Theater, inside the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel, which has compiled short scenes from several famous operas that serve as a great, quick introduction to the Beijing Opera.

  • Address: 175 Yongan Road, Xicheng District (Metro – Line 7 to Hufangqiao Station, exit C)
  • Time required: less than 2 hours
  • Hours of operation: 7:30 – 8:40pm
  • Price: 100-400 Yuan (depends on the seat)
  • Official website: http://www.liyuantheatreopera.com

7. Lama (Yonghe) Temple 

Built in 1694, during the Qing Dynasty, Lama Temple (also known as Yonghe Temple) was once a royal residence before it was converted into a temple and a monastery, or lamasery.  It belongs to Gelug, a school of Tibetan Buddhism, and is one of the few remaining religious temples fortunately not destroyed during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

This beautiful temple is still a functioning temple, conducting religious ceremonies to this day.  Some of its most notable artwork includes the three bronze statues of Buddhas of the Three Ages, the statues of the Maitreya Buddha and Wei Too, and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses.

  • Address: 12 Yonghegong St, Dongcheng Qu
  • Time required: 1 hour or less
  • Hours of operation: April-October: 9:00am – 4:30pm; November-March: 9:00am – 4pm
  • Price: 25 Yuan

8. Beijing Hutong (Traditional Courtyard Houses)  

Beijing’s Hutongs are the fast disappearing cultural neighborhoods, that are in reality just slums, which are important historic dwellings, being progressively demolished by the government.  Most of its residents live in very poor conditions, and a walk through its narrow alleys and streets will not only provide one with a dose of history, but will also serve as an eye-opening experience.

If you would like to read more on the subject – there’s a great book (“The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed”, by Michael Meyer) written by an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, who spent several years teaching English, while living in one of these historic hutongs, in the heart of Beijing.

  • Time required: 1 hour or less
  • Hours of operation: from sunrise to sunset
  • Price: free

9. Beijing Bell and Drum Towers (Gulou and Zhonglou)

The Drum Tower (Gulou) and the Bell Tower (Zhonglou) are two very important historic landmarks located on a 20-30 minute walk from the Forbidden City.  Originally constructed in the 13th century, as the music instruments, they were later converted and mainly used as the official timekeepers – to announce time for the local residents, from Yuan to Ming, to the Qing Dynasties.

There are great, 360-degree, panoramic views that open up from the top of both towers, which also still have some of its remaining, original instruments inside.  In addition, there’s also a short “drumming” performance inside the Drum Tower that takes place at certain hours of the day.  Please note – one entry ticket includes access to both towers.

  • Address: Gulou Xidajie, Dongcheng District
  • Time required: less than 1 hour
  • Hours of operation: 9:00am – 5pm
  • Price: 30 Yuan (for both towers)

10. Jingshan Gongyuan Park 

Offering some of the best views over the Forbidden City, and Beijing in general – this small and charming park is not to be missed.  Located right behind the Forbidden City, the park’s main feature is the artificial hill, named Jingshan (‘Coal Hill’ or ‘Prospect Hill’) – from where these stunning views can be seen.  In addition to the views, there are several gorgeous pagodas and beautiful, small gardens that offer a relaxing atmosphere away from the buzz of the big city.

  • Address: Xicheng
  • Time required: less than 1 hour
  • Hours of operation: April-October: 6:00am – 9pm; November – March: 6:30am – 8pm; ticket office closes 30 minutes prior
  • Price: 2 Yuan

11. National Museum of China

National Museum of China, Beijing, China - Global StorybookLocated in the Tiananmen Square (sight #3), the National Museum of China is dedicated to art and history of China, and it is one of the largest museums in the World.  Covering a period of history from 1.7 million years ago to the end of the Qing Dynasty (early 1900s) – this is one of the most important cultural museums of China.

The museum’s permanent collection includes over a million artworks and therefore please be ready to spend at least 2-3 hours here.  From pottery, statues, calligraphy to burial suits, from bronze to porcelain, one will find a range of important, historic artifacts housed in this museum.

  • Address: 16 E Chang’an Ave, Dongcheng Qu
  • Time required: minimum 2-3 hours
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday-Sunday: 9am – 5pm; tickets issued until 3:30pm; closed on Mondays
  • Price: free (bring your passport to collect your free ticket)
  • Official website: http://en.chnmuseum.cn

12. Confucius Temple 

Confucius Temple BeijingThis beautiful temple is located not far from the Lama Temple (sight #7), and it is the second largest Confucian temple in China.  Built in the early 14th century, this site has four courtyards, and a beautiful statue of Confucius at the main entrance.  It also contains almost 200 stone tablets with more than 50,000 names of various scholars (jinshis) from the Yuan, Ming, and the Qing Dynasties.  It is one of the most beautiful, historic, remaining temples in Beijing.

  • Address: 13 Guozijian Jie, Dongcheng
  • Time required: 1 hour or less
  • Hours of operation: May-October: 8:30am – 6pm, November-April: 8:30am – 5pm; ticket office closed 30 minutes prior
  • Price: 10 Yuan

13. Ancient Observatory

Ancient Observatory BeijingOne of the oldest observatories in the whole World, the Beijing Ancient Observatory was built in 1442, during the Ming dynasty.  It currently has a number of interesting astronomical instruments displayed on its main platform, including: Quadrant Altazimuth, Altazimuth, Celestial Globe, Azimuth Theodolite, Armillary, Ecliptic Armilla, Sextant and Equatorial Armilla.  The observatory itself is 58 feet high and in addition offers nice panoramic views from its top platform.

  • Address: 2 Dongbiaobei Hutong, JianWai DaJie, Dongcheng Qu
  • Time required: 1 hour or less
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday-Sunday: 9am – 5pm; closed on Mondays
  • Price: 20 Yuan
  • Official website: http://eng.bjp.org.cn
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14. Beihai Park 

Beihai Park, Beijing, China - Global StorybookBeihai Park is one of the largest public parks in Beijing, located right in the heart of the city, on a short walk from the Forbidden City (sight #2) and the Jingshan Gongyuan Park (sight #10).  In addition to being one of the most beautiful and charming parks, with a huge lake, several gardens and pavillions, it includes a number of interesting attractions, such as: White Dagoba Temple, Quiet Heart (Jingxin) Studio, Hao Pu Creek (Haopujian) Garden, Nine-Dragon Screen, Five-Dragon Pavilions, and the Circular City.

  • Address: 1 Wenjin St, Xicheng Qu
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Hours of operation: April-October: 6:30am – 9pm; November-March: 6:30am – 8pm; ticket office closes 30 minutes prior
  • Price: April-October: 10 Yuan (or 20 Yuan to include Qionghua Islet and Circular City); November-March: 5 Yuan (or 15 Yuan to include Qionghua Islet and Circular City)

15. 798 Art District (Zone)

798 Art District ZoneThis district, also known as the Dashanzi Art District, is a complex of old, decommissioned factory buildings which were converted into various art galleries, now widely used by modern artists.  It is also the place with a number of chic galleries, luxury shops, publishing and design firms, cafes, restaurants, clubs, and many other interesting venues.  It’s a great place to experience the ‘modern face of Beijing’.

  • Address: 1 Qixing W St, Chaoyang Qu
  • Time required: 2-3 hours
  • Hours of operation: depends on a venue
  • Price: depends on a venue
  • Official website: http://www.798art.com

16. National Art Museum of China

National Art Museum of China BeijingOne of the largest art museums in China, the National Art Museum contains over a 100,000 different important artworks spread around its 21 main exhibition halls.  From oil and traditional Chinese paintings, to sculptures and caricatures – this beautiful museum has it all.  In addition, the museum continuously runs a number of interesting temporary exhibitions, which are listed on its official website.  Be prepared to spend at least 2-3 hours here.

  • Address: 1 Wusi Dajie, Dongcheng
  • Time required: 2-3 hours
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday-Sunday: 9am – 5pm, no entry after 4pm; closed on Mondays
  • Price: free (bring your passport to collect your free ticket)
  • Official website: http://www.namoc.org/en/

17. Beijing Capital Museum 

Beijing Capital Museum, China - Global Storybook

photo copyrights: china.org.cn

Spread across 6 floors, including a basement – this large museum is dedicated to the study of art and history of Beijing.  It includes over 200,000 art pieces, including porcelain, bronze, jade; calligraphy, sculptures and paintings – most are from China, but some were imported from other Asian countries as well.

Some of its most interesting permanent collections include: “Ancient Capital Beijing— History and Culture”, “Ancient Capital Beijing — Urban Construction”, “Old Stories of Beijing — Exhibition of Old Beijing Folk Customs”, and others.

  • Address: No.16, Fuxingmenwai Street, Xicheng District
  • Time required: 2-3 hours
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday-Sunday: 9am – 5pm, no entry after 4pm; closed on Mondays
  • Price: free (bring your passport to collect your free ticket)
  • Official website: http://www.capitalmuseum.org.cn/en/

18. Central Radio and TV Tower

Central Radio and TV Tower, Beijing, China - Global StorybookThe tallest building in Beijing, the famous Central Radio and TV Tower, offers amazing, 360-degree panoramic views from the top of its observation deck, located at 238 meters.  Though the views over Beijing are stunning, we recommend to visit this sight on a clear day, or just before the sunset – to get the most of it.  There’s also a revolving restaurant on top of the tower, and a small aquarium – the ‘Underwater World’, located at the base.

  • Address: 11 W 3rd Ring Rd Middle, Haidian Qu
  • Time required: 1 hour or less
  • Hours of operation: 8:30am – 10pm; the restaurant hours: 11am – 2pm, 5pm – 10pm
  • Price: 70 Yuan

19. Ming Tombs

This famous sight located on an hour drive from Beijing city, is a beautiful complex of different mausoleums built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).  It is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Thirteen Tombs of the Ming’ since 13 emperors were buried in this location, according to fen shui principles.

A wide, and 7-kilometers (4 miles) long road leads to the entrance of this site, lined with beautiful statues of governors and animals, protecting the entrance.  Unfortunately, only 3 tombs have been fully excavated and are open to the visitors, those of Chang Ling, Ding Ling, and Zhao Ling emperors.  This site has also been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2003.

  • Address: Changchi Rd, Changping Qu
  • Time required: 2-3 hours
  • Hours of operation: April-October: 8:00am – 5pm; November-March: 8:30m – 4:30pm
  • Price: April-October: 130 Yuan (a combo ticket that includes access to all 3 tombs); November-March: 100 Yuan

20. Beijing Zoo

If this is your first visit to China, you cannot leave it without seeing one of its most famous icons – the panda bear!  Founded in the early 20th century, Beijing Zoo is one of the oldest zoological parks in the country, as well as one of the largest (it measures over 200 acres).  The park includes over 450 different species of animals, including giant pandas and polar bears, golden monkeys, zebras, kangaroos, and tigers, and it’s a great place to visit with kids.

  • Address: 137 Xizhi Men Wai Dajie, Haidian
  • Time required: 3-4 hours
  • Hours of operation: April-October: 7:30am – 6pm; November-March: 8:30am – 5pm
  • Price: April-October: 15 Yuan (or 19 Yuan with the “panda hall”); November-March: 10 Yuan (or 14 Yuan with the “panda hall”)
  • Official website: http://www.beijingzoo.com (Chinese language only)

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Beijing Top 20 Sights - Global Storybook

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