As the capital, Beijing is the entry point to the People’s Republic of China for many visitors. It’s hard to believe that despite a population of nearly 22 million people, Beijing is only China’s second largest city (after Shanghai, which has 24 million). You could of course spend weeks in a city of this size and discover something new everyday.
However, there’s the infamous pollution, the traffic, the crowds of people and the sheer size of the city. All of this can make a visit to China’s capital hard work, but nonetheless rewarding.
Top places to visit during a short stay in Beijing
If like us, you only have a couple of days to spend in Beijing, here are some of the highlights you may want to visit:
Tiantan Park, also referred to as the Temple of Heaven, the most important temple during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Its ceremonial centre piece is the circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests – The building is constructed entirely from wood without the aid of a single nail.
Tiantan Park offers a little respite from the busy city. Retired Chinese come here to play games, exercise and socialse.
The Summer Palace in the North West of Beijing is one of the most impressive sites the capital has to offer. The imperial complex of palatial buildings, gardens and a large lake covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers. Depending on how much time you have you can spend anything from a couple of hours to a whole day here.
Kunming Lake with its 17-arch bridge is the centre piece of China’s largest royal park, the Summer Palace
The beautifully painted Covered Walkway, or Long Corridor, leads along the north shore of Kunming Lake, allowing the Emperor and his family to enjoy the tranquil views over Kunming lake even in the rain.
This marble boat is actually a lakeside pavilion and known as the Boat of Purity and Ease
The Confucious Temple in Beijing, is the second largest of the temples dedicated to China’s greatest thinker. Built in the early 1300s, people worshipped here for many centuries.
Wandering the streets of Beijing, which are lined with men enjoying chess and card games, like here on Dongsi Da Jie, on the way to Confuscious Temple
It’s difficult to grasp the size of the Imperial Palace, also known as the Forbidden City. Encased by a moat, the Forbidden City encompasses more than 800 buildings within its walls, the earliest dating back to the 15th century and Emperor Yongle.
One can spend hours exploring the over 800 buildings of the Imperial Palace. The three main ceremonial buildings of the complex are the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony.
The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, where the embalmed body of Mao Zedong is displayed to the public.
A glimpse of Tian’anmen Square and the People’s Monument through the smog from across the road – taken just before the police closed the square and its surrounding streets to the public.
The Birds Nest, the focal point of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
Not only is the Water Qube in the Olympic Park an architectural delight to look at, it also changes colour every few seconds.
The Great Wall of China – a must-see stop of any first time visit to China. The Mutianyu part of the wall is c. 1.5 hours drive from the city and offers fantastic viewers over both restored and original sections of the wall.
At the Mutianyu part of the Great Wall, visitors can take either a cable car or a chairlift to the top and back down. Those who fancy it can also choose to toboggan back down.
Beijing is world famous for its duck dish, Peking Duck, which is served all over the city and well worth a try. In fact, duck is ever present in Beijing, in all shapes and forms.
You can read more about a 2-3 day itinerary suggestion for Beijing in this post.
Planning a longer visit to China?
Read here about our two week itinerary covering the highlights of China, Macau and Hong Kong.