The Great Wall is one of the most popular attractions in all of China, receiving more than 10 million tourists each year. It has undergone several fortifications since its original construction in 771, increasingly built up to keep out enemies. The 21-kilometre-long structure has remained impressively intact, with only a handful of sections fixed up for tourists. The most popular spots to hike along the wall are Badaling and Mutianyu, which tend to get pretty crowded. If you decide to hike up at Mutianyu, you have the option of hopping into a roller-coaster cart to whizz down the valley. They don’t call it “great” for nothing.
Once upon a time, this breathtaking estate was used as a royal getaway to escape the scorching Beijing summer. Today, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the city’s most scenic attractions. The Summer Palace is a bit out of the way for visitors, sitting beyond the northwest corner of the sixth ring. But it’s worth the effort. The pavilions and palace are beautiful, with sprawling nature including the picturesque Kunming Lake and the very tidy landscaped gardens, making the Summer Palace an oasis of calm.
Built during the Ming Dynasty, the Temple of Heaven is a beautiful and elegant piece of Chinese architecture. Emperors once came here to pray to the heavens for a good harvest. There are many different parts of the temple, each with their own significance and purpose. Highlights include the Hall of Prayer, Danbi Bridge and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. We recommend shouting at the Echo Wall – your voice will bounce back!
From 1492 to 1912, the Forbidden City served as the Imperial Palace, housing a total of 24 emperors through five centuries of China’s history. The sprawling complex has a total of 980 surviving buildings, each of which with a multitude of rooms inside. Though the time of China’s emperors is now a thing of the past, it has become a museum, displaying a fascinating collection of artefacts from the imperial vaults. One of the gates of the Forbidden City leads straight to Tiananmen Square.
Tiananmen Square is located right beside the Forbidden City, known for its incredible political significance. This huge space is home to the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum of China, but the highlight is undoubtedly the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, which houses the former leader’s embalmed body in its crystal coffin. Admission is free (though bear in mind no bags or cameras are permitted inside), but long queues form very quickly each day, so aim to get there early.
If you only have time to visit one market in Beijing, make it this. Panjiayuan Antique Market is the biggest and most famous in all of China, covers 48,500 square metres with more than 3,000 antiques dealers setting up shop. Selling everything from calligraphy brushes to wooden furniture, porcelain vases and jade jewellery, this is a souvenir gold mine. You can easily spend an entire day here, meandering through the endless rows of crafts, collectibles and other Chinese treasures.
Nanluoguxiang is one of the most well-restored hutongs in Beijing. Even with the sea of tourists flooding its narrow alleyways, the area has still managed to preserve its old-school charms. The main walking path is lined with hundreds of bars, restaurants, clothing stores and souvenir shops. Culture Trip recommends branching off to check out some of the quieter alleys to discover pockets of local culture.
Shop until you drop (or at least until you get hungry) in Wudaoying Hutong. This area is a well-known shopping strip, sprinkled with charming restaurants, designer boutiques and eclectic vintage shops. The street itself isn’t very large or long, but it’s packed to the max with stuff to see, do and eat. For a caffeine top-up, check out Barista Coffee Roasters.
This bustling street stretches across 2,000 square metres, offering over 500 different types of snacks from all over China. Some are sweet (candied hawthorns), others are savoury (deep-fried spiralled potato on a stick), and others appeal to tourists’ sense of shock value (snakes on a stick, spiders, starfish). Lots of small restaurants and stalls are also here for bigger, sit-down meals.