You’re planning a trip to Beijing and you’re not sure on how to spend your time in China’s capital? We’ve got you covered! We picked for you 10 activities that you shouldn’t miss and why. From famous day trips like the Great Wall, to great gems like a Side-car tour of the town, there are plenty of activities for the first timers who want to get a good look at the Red Capital and what it can offer. Doing them all might be a bit too much, so make your choices and come and discover one of China’s tourist favourite towns. Here is our list of the top things to do in Beijing for first timers.
1 / A Trip to the Great Wall
It’s hard to resist this one! If you’re coming to China it’s most likely on the top of your to-do list and if it’s not it might have to be! The UNESCO site is huge but the best and easiest part to visit are located near Beijing and it can be done on a day trip or even better: go camping on or near the wall! You’ll find a few companies that give you this opportunity.
The Great Wall was built and rebuilt a few times in China’s history to protect the kingdom from invaders. At 5,500km in length, it is one amazing man-made site that can be seen when spending time in the North of China, and one first timers shouldn’t miss out on!
How long should you plan there: Up to 2 days
Cost of a visit : Up to 150RMB including entrance fee and a cable car round trip.
2 / The Forbidden palace
Imperial palace from the Ming up to the Qing Dinasty, the Forbidden Palace is one of those amazing places that seems to hold thousand of secrets and mysteries. A visit in Beijing wouldn’t be complete without stepping back in time and getting inside this huge palace. It’s not a surprise to know that it made, too, its way to the UNESCO list.
Built in 1406, the Forbidden Palace was there to follow the move of the capital of China from Nanjing to Beijing. It is said that there is 9.999 rooms in this construction and you will quickly see that the number 9 is of great importance there since so much follow the pattern of being replicated 9 times. (9 is the number of the Emperor)
How long should you plan there: From half a day to a day.
Cost of a visit: 40RMB to 60RMB depending on the season ( April to October is usually the high season, note too that some room requires you to pay extra to enter)
3 / Temple of Heaven
Built for the Emperor to show respect to the gods giving him responsibility on Earth, the Temple of Heaven is a beautiful piece of architecture, and an incredible look into the spirituality of China. The round shape is a symbol of heaven, and the main buildings are formed to replicate this shape perfectly. Full of gorgeous colours, this UNESCO site (yes again…) is located in the South of Beijing and is surely worth your time too!
How long should you plan there: Half a day should be enough.
Cost of a visit: 30RMB to 35RMB
4 / Tienanmen Square
Fourth largest square in the world, Tienanmen attracts foreigners and Chinese in a very different way. Guards constantly parade on this square where a big portrait of Mao is hung and many families go there to celebrate their country.
How long should you plan there: An hour or two should do. Add it to your visit of the Forbidden Palace.
Cost of a visit: There is no fee to enter the square.
5 / Summer Palace
And one more for the UNESCO list in Beijing! The Summer Palace is a beautiful piece of Chinese design. The gardens, landscapes, lakes and temples make for stunning scenery and are well worth spending a bit of time in.
Sadly the Summer Palace was destroyed a few times and some of the local sculptures and artefacts stolen but it still makes for a beautiful walk near the lake. Get there around sunset to fully appreciate the surroundings.
How long should you plan there: If you are in a rush, an hour, if you want to take your time and enjoy your visit, get there at the end of the day and relax for a while on a bench.
Cost of a visit: 20RMB to 30RMB
6 / Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple)
A mix of Tibetan and Han Chinese architecture define this characterful Buddhist temple in Beijing. Called Yonghe Temple or Lama Temple, this is one of the best Buddhist temples you can find in town, and probably one of the best examples of the steady return of religion to China.
It used to be an imperial palace before becoming the monastery it is now, and it is worth your time.
How long should you plan there: Spend an hour there and couple your visit with a visit of the nearby Hutongs.
Cost of a visit: 25RMB
7 / Visit the Hutongs
Narrow streets, old Chinese architecture, the Hutongs are becoming a big hit in Beijing and more and more art galleries and shop are moving to those areas. A lot of the Hutongs disappeared but a few have now been designated protected areas so you can have a chance to visit! Get there on a cycle-pousse, walk or enjoy a ride, you can also stay in a few hotels in the area (we would recommend that!), there is many ways to enjoy them!
How long should you plan there: A day, a night, pick whatever you like.
Cost of a visit: None
8/ Visit the Olympic Park
You might remember the Olympic Games in Beijing… Since 2008 you can now visit the Olympic Village and Park in town! Discover the amazing swimming pool (that has been rearranged and is known to be a lot of fun, we sadly didn’t try it… yet), the impressive Bird’s Nest stadium and walk around the strange futuristic buildings that were created only for this event. It’s best to visit at night to enjoy all the lights coming up.
How long should you plan there: Maybe an hour or more if you want to tour it all. At night is better.
Cost of a visit: None except if you want to visit the stadium or enter the swimming pool.
9 / Tour the local food markets
In Beijing, sampling the local food is paramount, and the famous ‘Peking Duck’ is not the only thing you’re going to want to try. The variety is pretty big and the Arabic influence is strong on the food scene in the North of the country, as the juicy kebabs and sugar ears will attest(what’s a sugar ear? You’ll have to read our article about Beijing’s food scene!). If you get to the night market or try street food you’ll also recognise the usual dumplings and more well known local dishes. Go on your own or pick a tour, this is a must do in the Red Capital.
How long should you plan there: As long as your stomach can handle it. A few hours should be more than enough.
Cost of a visit: Depending on how much you can eat, the final bill can vary wildly.
10 / Discover town with a Side-car Trip
We’d actually put this as a first on the list if you just made it to Beijing: get on a side-car (we’d highly recommend Beijing Sideways) and explore town on an old motorbike! This was, for us, the best possible introduction to the town! We were taken on a night tour (tour are usually during the day but you’ve got to thank local airlines for that…) and discover a lot of spots of Beijing thanks to it, before picking our favourites to explore later on our own.
If you don’t know where to start this is the perfect introduction to a big and, maybe, a bit scary town.
How long should you plan there: Those tours are usually up to 2 hours but can be longer if you decide.
Cost of a tour: 1.100RMB for the first passenger, 600RMB for the second. While it might sound expensive it’s worth the experience.
Bonus / Splurge in one of Beijing’s finest hotels or Spas.
After all those visits you might want to relax for a while and what’s best than a good night stay in a fancy hotel or some time in a Spa? If you’re off season there is a chance you’ll find some great deals and after all of those visits you sure deserve it! The town has some of the best hotels in the country and there is a big chance you will find exactly what you need for a bargain price if you shop around a little! I did splurge at the Grand Millennium Hotel but the location can be a bit tricky. The Ritz-Carlton is a bit old but still charming. If you are looking for a cheaper hotel with good location we do recommend the Nostalgia located near the Temple of Heaven.
All those attractions will probably take up a few days of your agenda or maybe even a week, but they are some of the must-do in town if you are a first timer in China and in the capital! Pick your favourites and make up your own itineraries!
Where to stay in Beijing
Looking for some advice on where to stay in Beijing? Here are 3 options for everyone’s budget: from cheap to luxury, we’ve picked hotels based on the price of a room for double occupancy. Please note that the following links are affiliated and help us support our website.
$ (Under 60USD)
Available in a few different locations, the Nostalgia is a good option if you’re looking for a cheap and good hotel in Beijing. This is a hotel chain mainly targeting Chinese customers (so expect a glass bathroom and staff who don’t speak much English), but the nostalgic theme is a lovely touch (don’t miss out on the “White rabbit” sweet on the bed!) and the room is nice and clean. We love the one located in the Hutongs and the one near the Temple of Heaven but pick whatever takes your fancy!
$$ (From 60USD to 120USD)
If you are looking for a mid-range option then you should probably look into the Hutongs! Bursting with life, art and most of Beijing’s new trends, this is the place to be and the hotels know that too. You’ll find many independant boutique hotels. They’ve kept the particular design of the area and added a touch of luxury to it all. If we had to recommend one it would be the Hotel Cote Cour. Rooms are lovely and the staff are very helpful. Like with every hotel in the Hutongs though, be careful, they can be tricky to find.
$$$ (From 120USD upwards)
Luxury is an easy thing to find in China if you’re looking for it, and Beijing has plenty of options. Some brands are always a safe bet (Westin, St. Regis, Shangri-La, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton) but in Beijing it’s the NUO that takes the prize with a beautiful design and some highly recommended food at their buffet. Another option for an independent luxury hotel in Beijing is the Opposite House.
Have you been to Beijing? Which main attraction would you recommend to the first timers? Or which one would you like to visit?
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