The best things to do in Beijing

There’s plenty to see in Beijing so here’s a guide of some of the best things to do on any visit to the Chinese capital.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


What are the best things to do in Beijing?

Beijing is one of the most exciting cities on the globe. It’s the capital of the world’s new superpower and, although it’s being heavily-influenced by its transition to a modern world city, it hasn’t let go of heritage or tradition.

A great way to get a sense of the city is to walk through the streets and watch life take place around you. Having said that, it’s not a city where you can walk all day and see everything you should. It’s a big city and you’ll need to use transport and have a good idea of where you want to go to.

Here are some suggestions for the best things to do in Beijing, that’ll help you plan any trip there.

Tiananmen Square

The outside world still associates this site with the pro-democracy protests and deaths of 1989 but for Beijingers it is the heart of the city (geographically, at least). The only sense you get of its violent history is the security check as you go in and the guards who keep a watchful eye for anyone who’s going to go all political on them!

It’s the world’s biggest square and you can definitely feel the scale of it.

Best things to do in Beijing, China

The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is also in the square and you can go inside and see his body. You’d better get there really early, though, and be prepared to wait a long time with the thousands of Chinese people who have made the pilgrimage there. By the time you actually get inside you might feel like a bit of a corpse yourself.

Here are the Chinese characters, if you’re getting a taxi there:


And here’s a map:

View Larger Map

The Forbidden City

This is right next to Tiananmen Square and the obvious thing to visit right after you’ve paid your respects to Chairman Mao (or decided not to because you’ve got better things to do than wait in that line for hours). Don’t be scared by the name – lots of things in China are forbidden but not this place and it’s a must for any visitor.

Best things to do in Beijing, China

The Forbidden City was the Imperial Palace for almost five centuries but now it’s essentially a huge museum. It’s a massive area and you could spend hours exploring the place if you were interested. As well as the buildings and temples themselves, there are lots of rooms on the sides of the complex that have got displays of artifacts.

Best things to do in Beijing, China

Just a tip if you’re going in a group or need to meet someone – you have to enter from the southern gate and can only leave from the northern gate.

The Lama Temple

This doesn’t need to take too long but is a fantastic stop if you’re in the area or passing though. It’s a beautiful temple with a real sense of serenity. Although there are quite a few tourists who come along, it’s also very popular with locals, so you’ll experience some of the rituals and customs of real people.

Best things to do in Beijing, China

Here are the Chinese characters, if you need to direct a taxi driver:


And here’s a map:

View Larger Map

Temple of Heaven

I know what you’re thinking – “Oh no, not another temple, please!”. This is no ordinary temple, though, and it could well end up being a highlight of your trip to Beijing. Every morning, before the sun rises too high in the sky (in summer, at least), hundreds of local people come to the park around the temple for their morning exercise.

By ‘people’, I mean senior citizens and by ‘exercise’ I mean anything from ballroom dancing to sword twirling to opera singing.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing park with old people exercising

Try to get there before 9am for the best action. Be warned – there’s a good chance someone will try to pull you into a game with them so be prepared to get involved.

For more info, you can read my story about the Temple of Heaven.

The Great Wall of China

No trip to Beijing is complete without checking out the Great Wall of China. It can’t even be seen from space (despite the myth that it can) so getting up close and personal is your only option.

This is pretty much a day trip, though, so make sure you leave time. It is technically possible to get there by bus and arrange everything yourself but the best advice is to save yourself the time and effort.

Best things to do in Beijing, China

Either arrange for a driver to take you out there (affordable if there are a few of you) or go on an organised tour. Most hotels, hostels and tourist offices will be able to sell you the ticket.

There are closer and more touristy options to see the wall, like Badaling. But if you’re in the mood for adventure, it’s probably better to head to Jinshanling and do the walk to Simatai, where you’ll be picked up a few hours later.

For a bit of history, check out my story about the Great Wall of China.

Panjaiyuan Market

There’s heaps of shopping to be had in Beijing. For clothes and accessories, you could head to the Pearl or Silk Markets. But for the ultimate Chinese experience, you’ve got to explore the Panjaiyuan antiques market. It’s open only on the weekends.

Panjiayuan Market, best markets in Beijing, China

For more information on shopping in Beijing, check out my story about the best markets in Beijing.

The Hutongs

The tourist numbers are increasing and modernity is slowly creeping in, but the old hutongs of Beijing are some of the best examples of how the city once was. These are little alleyways with single-storey courtyard houses coming off them. The shops and restaurants are designed for the locals but are very welcoming of visitors.

Best things to do in Beijing, China

One of the best areas to experience the hutongs is around the Drum and Bell Towers. You can just wander and discover for yourself (if you find Mr Shi’s Dumplings then you’ve done very well!) or you can get a local to give you a tour and show you inside some residences.

To get a sense of what’s on offer, check out my story about the hutongs in Beijing.

Snack Street

Feel like tasting scorpion? Or maybe silkworm? Yes, then this is the place for you. No, then it’s worth going there anyway so you can be disgusted at the adventurous tourists.

Best things to do in Beijing, China
Best things to do in Beijing, China

It’s colloquially referred to as ‘Snack Street’ but its official name is Wangfujing.  There are all sorts of weird and wonderful foods to try. Some are surprisingly nice… some aren’t in our regular diet for a very good reason. There are normal meals there as well, though, so it’s not a bad spot for a lunch or a dinner.

Here are the Chinese characters, if you need to direct a taxi driver:


And here’s a map:

View Larger Map


And finally, the best thing to do in Beijing is to eat, eat, and eat some more. There are thousands of restaurants in this city and the food is amazing. There’s also a huge variety with cuisines from all over the country and abroad.

Where you should eat will depend on where you’re staying and the locals will be able to suggest some good places. Try a few different styles, though – a hotpot, a street stall, dumplings, and much more.

Best things to do in Beijing, China

For one particular idea you might like to consider, check out my story about the penis restaurant in Beijing.


Although it’s an enormous city, you’ll find most of the best places to stay in Beijing in the neighbourhoods to the east and northeast of the Forbidden City.


Although it’s more expensive than your average hostel, Peking Youth Hostel is definitely the best in the city, with a good location and helpful staff.


Although it’s great value, Sunworld Hotel Wangfujing feels quite upmarket, with lots of facilities and a good location.


Enjoy the stunning views from the spacious rooms at the Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, where there’s also a gorgeous indoor pool.


An absolutely gorgeous hotel, the Rosewood Beijing has impeccable service, an indoor pool, and excellent dining.

6 thoughts on “The best things to do in Beijing”

  1. Thanks for the tips, we will be heading to China some time next year and will definitely take your advice on visiting the wall. Can’t wait, happy travels. By the way, your blog is being featured on the Sydney writers’ centre’s newsletter. In case you wondered why weirdos are commenting on your blog.

    • Oh, I didn’t know about the newsletter. That’s great. So, well, welcome! 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to check out the blog and I hope some of those Beijing tips help.

  2. Have you even been to Beijing? All of the things you listed are very touristy, crowded, expensive, full of scammers and pickpockets.

    Why didn’t you mention any of Beijing’s dozens of fantastic parks? Or the nightlife in Wudaokou or Sanlitun? Or its fantastic temple fairs that are held often? Or any of the hundreds of real temples or markets that the locals use and that aren’t tourist traps?

    You should re-title this post, “Most Cliched Places For Tourists To Visit in Beijing”.

    • Hey JJ – thanks for the comment. It’s a fair point – most of the things suggested here are quite touristy. But I also think they should be high on the list for anyone who’s going to Beijing for the first time. The parks and the lesser-known temples are great suggestions but you’d be remiss to go to Beijing and not see the Forbidden City, the hutongs or the markets.

  3. Oh, and also:

    >It’s colloquially referred to as ‘Snack Street’ but its official name is Wangfujing.

    Actually, the official name is Snack Street, Wangfujing is the neighborhood of the city it is located in. 王府井小吃街, the official name, means Wangfujing Snack Street.


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