In cities as big and busy as Beijing, it can be challenging to get your bearings. Start your visit with one of these tours to get to grips with the Chinese capital’s history, food and culture.
The capital city of China has developed rapidly in the past several decades. Traditional heritage sites are juxtaposed against futuristic buildings, intersected by old alleyways that hide culinary gems. However, its sheer size can be overwhelming; let the insiders help you navigate and appreciate the nuances of China’s language, history, architecture and culture. Here are nine of Beijing’s best tours for a deep dive into the capital.
Old Beijingers continue to live along the hutongs – Beijing labyrinthine alleyways – around traditional Chinese courtyards. The way of life here is very much as it was centuries ago, with a strong community spirit and shared facilities outside the home. The narrow hutongs are unique to Beijing’s urban architectural layout, and the best way to understand the city’s cultural history is by letting a guide lead you through the maze-like neighbourhoods, passing landmarks such as the Confucius Temple, Drum Tower and Shichahai as you go.
Beijing Sideways takes you on an adventure through the city seated in a vintage sidecar. Jump in for a two-hour tour of Beijing (day or night), or enjoy the wind in your hair and unrivalled views of the countryside and mountains on a day trip to the Great Wall. Stop for a hike on a quiet part of the wall with no tourists in sight and then tuck into a picnic with the Great Wall views all to yourself, before heading back into the city.
Join Bespoke Beijing for a window into the unusual side of daily life in the capital on a Beijing Hutong Tour. Uncover a different side of the city as a local expert provides anecdotes about everyday life and introduces you to a cricket trainer, who can talk you through cricket fighting – a sport and ancient pastime in Beijing. The Meandering Mandarin Hutong Tour is equally intriguing and demystifies the complex characters of the Chinese language, taking you to meet an artisanal calligraphy brush maker.
Visitors should experience breakfast in Beijing properly, and a tour is the best way to dive into the city’s most intriguing meal. Eat side by side with residents and see a new side of the capital with Lost Plate Food Tours, which will introduce you to staples like steamed buns, fermented soy milk and savoury pancakes, plus lead you to a hip, hidden coffee shop with views over the hutongs.
Maliandao is a huge wholesale market selling more than 3,000 kinds of tea leaves from all over China, as well as teaware. Tea lovers shouldn’t miss the opportunity to explore it with an expert. Taste different kinds of tea and take part in a traditional tea ceremony, where you can learn about how different varieties are brewed as well as the best teapots and teaware for each type of leaf.
Beijing is a city made for biking – it’s the best way to explore the hidden gems in the hutongs. This small-group tour will have you pedalling through the backstreets and alleyways around the Forbidden City and will take you to share a meal with a local family in their home. You’ll also pass through a local market and learn about traditional Chinese ingredients, perhaps pausing for a game of mahjong along the way.
The best of regional Chinese cuisine can be found in the capital, where street-food stands showcase the depth and breadth of flavours that the country has to offer. This walking tour takes you through Beijing snacks and street food, including the traditional jianbing (a Beijing breakfast staple of stuffed savoury crepes). You’ll also discover seasonal produce at the local wet markets and learn about different regional cooking styles on this family-run tour, which puts its profits back into the local community.
Get local insight into Chinese contemporary art with an art curator and writer on the 798 and Gallery Tour. Dive into Beijing’s art scene and navigate the galleries and studios of the 798 Art District – a former factory compound designed by Bauhaus architects. The raised walkways that meander through the industrial complex are a highlight, offering a different view of the famous district.
This tour by Wild China is the perfect adventure for fans of Beijing’s imperial history. The tour starts in the morning with a private tai chi lesson in the court of the Temple of Heaven with a Shaolin monk, followed by privileged access to the Forbidden City’s Chonghua Palace, where Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty grew up. Enjoy an imperial lunch at one of the capital’s best peking duck restaurants as you listen to the politics, tales and scandals of the imperial family over the centuries.