From centuries-old palaces to ultra-modern architectural marvels, Beijing is a feast of spectacular sights that will make your Instagram followers green with envy.
Palatial parks. Beautiful Buddhist temples. Colossal Communist constructions. Avant-garde architecture. The Chinese capital is home to more than 20 million people and an array of scenic sights. Don’t know where to start? Here are 20 Instagram-worthy places that’ll have your followers clicking that like button.
Beijing’s biggest attraction is naturally one of its most photogenic. Situated smack bang in the centre of the capital, the Imperial Palace – better known as the Forbidden City – is a tapestry of elaborate halls, gates and courtyards. But the best view might be from outside, gazing across the moat towards the turrets and the north gate.
Looming over the Forbidden City, this man-made mound provides the best panoramic views in Beijing. Jingshan was made out of rubble left over from the construction of the Imperial Palace, providing the perfect platform to admire the wonder from above.
Built on the northern edge of the city for the 2008 Games, Beijing’s Olympic Park is home to two eye-catching landmarks. One is the National Stadium – better known as the Bird’s Nest – which took its design inspiration from traditional Chinese ceramics. The other is the National Aquatics Centre – nicknamed the Water Cube – where see-through bubbles glitter after dark.
The most famous Buddhist temple outside Tibet is also Beijing’s most spellbinding religious monument. Located just north of the city centre, the Lama Temple attracts a steady stream of tourists to its decorative roofs, colourful frescoes and giant statues of Buddha.
Head a few blocks south and you’ll find a one-kilometre stretch of road bathed in red light. Gui Jie comes alive after the sun sets, when thousands of lanterns and neon-lit shopfronts glow with China’s lucky colour.
This thousand-year-old park on the north-west corner of the Forbidden City is dominated by the huge white pagoda on its hilltop. But explore more of Beihai Park and you’ll spot architecture imitating landmarks from around the country, such as Taihu’s serene lake, the classical gardens of Suzhou, and pavilions from Hangzhou and Yangzhou.
Follow the water north to Shichahai, which means ‘Ten Temple Lake’ in Chinese. Although not all 10 temples remain standing, there’s no shortage of ornate religious buildings, historic hutongs and charming courtyards lining the waterfront of the Houhai, Qianhai and Xihai lakes.
This Bauhaus-style military complex on the north-eastern outskirts of town was built by East German architects in the 1950s – but soldiers and guns have made way for artists and paintbrushes in the new millennium. The 798 Art District is brimming with avant-garde galleries, while the sculptures and murals down every street feel like an al fresco art museum.
Connected to the Imperial Palace, Tiananmen is the largest inner-city square in the world, spanning the size of 60 football fields. The plaza is loaded with Socialist landmarks – the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong – but Tiananmen’s sheer vastness is what makes it so scenic.
Only a couple of blocks from Tiananmen Square lies one of Beijing’s most mesmerising modern masterpieces. The PuXuan Hotel is the brainchild of cutting-edge German architect Ole Scheeren – a luxury hotel that fuses space-age geometric design with traditional Chinese touches.
Sitting in the shadow of the Central Radio and TV Tower, this park comes alive every spring when thousands of cherry trees bloom. Photographers flock to Yuyuantan Park each April and May to see the blossoming pink petals, a gift from the Japanese government back in the 1970s.
Perched on the Kunming Lake in north-west Beijing, this royal palace of the Qing Dynasty is a masterpiece of imperial Chinese architecture. The immaculate gardens are fit for an emperor, while the 17 Arch Bridge glows gold at sunrise and sunset.
Like a little slice of Las Vegas transplanted in the Chinese capital, this luxury mall in the heart of the upscale Chaoyang district boasts the biggest LED screen in Asia. The hanging screen projects a dazzling display of moving images above shoppers every evening, which is especially impressive in winter when the light shimmers off the pop-up ice-skating rink.
An hour’s drive west of the Chinese capital, Shihua is nicknamed the Stone Flower Cave for the gleaming colours that illuminate its stalagmites and stalactites. The caves plunge eight storeys underground, and visitors can delve into the first four levels.
The National Centre for the Performing Arts was unveiled in 2007 and quickly earned a reputation as one of Asia’s premier opera houses… as well as one of Beijing’s most Instagrammable landmarks. Found just west of Tiananmen Square, you can’t miss this giant theatre – it looks like a huge metallic egg parked in the middle of a lake.
Surrounded by luscious parkland just south of the city centre, this elaborate temple complex is an oasis of tranqulilty and beauty. The jewel in the crown is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a grandiose tower fashioned out of wood using no nails whatsoever.
Looking for a place to take a great pic of Beijing in autumn? Look no further than this shady street in Beijing’s embassy district. It turns into one of the capital’s most scenic spots every October, when bushes full of ginkgo leaves glow gold in the sunlight.
This Ming Dynasty-era Buddhist temple on the edge of Beijing Zoo now houses a collection of antique stone carvings sourced from all over the country. The 600 tablets, statues and tombstones sprinkled around five towering pagodas make up one of China’s most attractive open-air museums.
Located in the heart of Beijing’s financial hub, this gravity-defying structure looks more like an MC Escher sketch than a real-life building. The glitzy glass towers were completed in 2012, meeting at the top to form what looks like a giant pair of trousers, according to the local nickname.
This UNESCO World Heritage List wonder is a must-see when you’re in Beijing. Only an hour’s drive north of the city, every inch of the Great Wall is scenic – but escape the crowds at the Jiankou and Jinshanling sections to see the fortification at its raw, rugged and unvarnished best.