In a city with over 20 million people, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in this frenetic and enchanting city.
Beijing is a city of chaos and juxtaposition. From the majestic imperial buildings to the narrow traditional hutongs, you are never short of options when planning what to do in Beijing.
To make the most of your experience, here are the top 5 things to do when in Beijing:
1. Visit the Hutongs
Hutong is the name given to the narrow alleys and single story traditional courtyard houses that originated in the Ying dynasty and have now become a true representative of Beijing’s culture. With many people still living in the hutongs today, there are a variety of food stalls and inexpensive shops selling all kinds of kitschy knick-knacks. My personal favourite was the Nanluoguxiang hutong, where you will find lots of cool souvenirs for your loved ones back home.
Top tip: Skip the overpriced tours and hire a bike from one of the numerous small bicycle shops and get lost in the back lanes of these enchanting back streets.
2. Tiananmen Square
If you only have time to do one thing in Beijing, then I highly recommend a visit to Tiananmen Square. This is a must for any history buff wanting to explore Chinese imperial and communist history.
Located in the heart of Beijing (It’s impossible to get lost finding it), a visit here can take up a whole day as the square is surrounded by ancient structures that stretch from the north to south of the city. South of the square is the Qianmen Market Street, which is a recreation of an ancient shopping street while to the north is the entrance to the Forbidden City. The centre of the square is what attracts the most attention as the Monument to the People and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong can be found here.
Top tip: Dress for comfort not style and go early to avoid the crowds. Also make sure you get an audio guide in English for the Forbidden City.
3. Temple Of Heaven
I know what most people are thinking – “Oh great another temple”, but The Temple of Heaven is a real highlight for anyone visiting Beijing. Known as one of the most holy places in China, the temple was used as a sacrificial building during the Ming and Qing dynasties and is surrounded by a lush green park well known for its 60,000 varieties of trees.
Every morning the park surrounding the temple is filled with senior citizens doing their morning excersise – from sword fighing to tai chi. This place is sure to bring a smile to anyones face.
Top tip: Visit the Temple Park when you’re jetlagged or lacking energy, as the peaceful surrounding is the perfect escape from the chaos of Beijing.
4. Dong Hua Men Night Market
If you’re looking for something to do in the evening then a visit to the Dong Hua Men Night Market is a must. This place is a real treat for the senses and has to be seen to be believed. Well known for its unusual food options, this is where you can try various creepy crawly delicacies such as scorpions, seahorse, grasshoppers, lizards, and even snakes. And everything is on a stick for your convenience!
Top tip: This place is a tourist trap and is very overpriced. Practice your bargaining skills!
5. The Great Wall Of China
A trip to Beijing isn't complete until you visit The Great Wall Of China. Like Tiananmen Square, a visit to The Great Wall takes up pretty much the whole day, so make sure you allocate plenty of time. Whilst there is adequate public transport, I highly recommend organising a tour through your hotel or motel, as most places will be able to pick you up from your door and drop you back off.
Known as one of the seven great wonders of the world, there are 3 popular sections to choose from, Badaling, Jinshanling and Mutianyu. Whilst Badaling is often the number 1 choice due to its proximity to the city, I recommend visiting Mutianyu as it is less crowded by tourists and souvenir sellers. No matter which section you choose, you are guaranteed a mind blowing experience!
Top tip: If you visit Mutianyu, make sure you check out the toboggan ride back down to the bottom.
By: Francisco Torres