Located in Northern China, Beijing is the capital and has been for 800 years, forming the hub of this BRIC booming nation, which is seeing tourism shoot through the roof in the past few years. Combining the traditional sights of previous dynasties, with bustling markets and modern culture, Beijing has so much to offer. So read on to find out my list of things to do in Beijing.
1) The Great Wall Of China
Recognised as one of the modern wonders of the world, the wall is so great you can see it from space! Almost symbolic, the walls curve like the skeleton of a dragon, stretching over 13,000 miles. Not all of the wall is in perfect condition, considering it has stood for over 2,000 years, however I doubt you plan on walking the entire wall!
2) Relax Next To Houhai Lake
This lake is a great sight through the day, however it really comes to life at night, as all the restaurants and bars open up. You can get a seat right alongside the lake (if you get there early enough), listen to the street performers playing their guitar or dancing, while finishing off with some candy floss. This is also one of the best spots to go to if you have had a good day of exploring and want a cheeky beer.
3) Dumpling Cooking Lessons
Ask the hotel or hostel you are staying in and they will be able to direct you to a local chef who runs classes. This will be something you can take home and impress your friends, as you roll the dough to perfection. Be warned, it does take quite a few times to perfect. Most will run this in their own homes, meaning you will also get to see a greater insight into how people live and what their own homes look like.
4) Eat A Scorpion On A Stick
I feel like this is something normally found on a list for Thailand, however soon as you reach a market, you will see these on display, even if largely for daring tourists. Most locals will actually be tucking into dim sum, but there will be many options on a stick, including starfish and snakes!
5) Tiananmen Square
When I was just two years old, Tiananmen Square was the scene of one of the most brutal massacre’s of protesters in modern history. As the citizens performed a peaceful protest against the government, they responded by shooting them down in a disgusting and deeply upsetting scene, but if you’d like to learn more then I recommend watching this documentary. The scene of the man standing up to the tank is still embedded in my memory.
Beyond this slightly sour point, this is still a great public space where you can people watch and relax. It won’t take more than 1-2 hours of your time, however it is a good chance to grab a coffee and reflect on everything you have done that day.
6) Forbidden City
Still kept in great condition, this palace housed a large number of emperors throughout China’s history. This is where you can truly admire Chinese architecture, with 870 building to glance over. It was actually nicknamed the Forbidden City as it was off limits to the public for 500 years, meaning a very limited number of people laid eyes on this beautiful palace. Obviously the tourism in the area is blossoming, therefore it would be inconceivable to hide this beauty anymore.
7) The Summer Palace
This is the largest royal garden in the whole of China, however it is a bit of a journey from the centre of town and is absolutely giant, so this will probably be a full day adventure, so make sure to keep time free for this one. The palace was built in 1750, making it relatively young compared to most of the buildings that will make this list. I’d also recommend taking a boat ride along the river, while you can also watch a show at the theatre.
8) Panda House
Aaaah how did I wait till number eight till I wrote about Panda house?! This is a section within Beijing Zoo, which holds various different animals, however a large number of them you can see back home. Panda’s on the other hand are very rare to see for us in Europe. But it isn’t just the giant panda this place holds, it is also the incredibly rare red panda! My friend even got the chance to feed one of the panda’s…I hate her for this!
9) Capital Museum
Based in Fuxingmenwai Dajie, this museum will take up most of your day (about 4-5 hours) to completely get around, depending on how much energy you have and whether you give in half way around. The entrance is dirt cheap (about £2) while you will get to see the evolving works and culture of this mesmerising nation.
10) Hire A Bike
They actually have a number of tandem bikes, but ummm I don’t want a tandem bike, I want my own one! Many people cycle in Beijing, meaning there are plenty of cycling lanes, while the area is also very flat, meaning you shouldn’t overly tire yourself out. Considering how big this city is, this is definitely the best way to get around if you just want to see plenty of spots from the outside. On the other hand, you can also pay for a guided bike tour, which sounds pretty cool.
11) Yonghe Lama Temple
Considered the most important religion in China, Buddhism spread through the nation in around 67 AD. The temples are what stand out the most for me, as the buildings just look so frickin cool!! The Yonghe temple also has a giant statue of Buddha, however you might have to wait a bit to get a photo without other tourists caught in it.
12) Jingshan Park
Situated just north of the Forbidden city, the hilltop allows you to look over the colourful rooftops. Unsurprisingly, this also makes it a popular resort for sunrise or sunset, so I’d recommend packing some food and finding yourself a good spot early.
13) Panjiayuan Antique Market
Read pretty much any of my lists and you will see the common denominator is a highlight of how you must visit a market. Well this is even more so in Beijing, with the Panjiayuan antique market stretching 26,000 square metres and over 4,000 shops, not bad when I compare to the Shepherd’s Bush market back in London. This is the perfect spot to find some gifts for friends and family back home, while also picking yourself up a souvenir.
14) Wangfujing Snack Street
Which ever country you visit in Asia, people always go on about how ‘you haven’t had the REAL experience unless you try the street food’. It is also the quote that leaves us glued to the toilet for days at a time, but the important thing to remember when travelling is that it is better to take a risk and laugh it off than hide away and always look back with regret. Life experiences are at the edge of your comfort zone. So head on to Wangfuking snack street to try just about everything. Seriously, I’m a fan of food, I reckon it is all worth a try!
15) Watch A Movie At The Cinema
Right, you might be wondering why I have put this on the list. It isn’t for the great films on offer. In fact, you probably won’t understand a word unless your Mandarin is truly up to scratch. No, the reason I want to recommend this is purely for the culture clash you will feel when you enter some of these buildings. Sit in the Cinker pictures and you can sip on a cocktail in an armchair. The Orange Cinema Club has sofas for you to relax on while watching the big screen, however the price is through the roof. Either way, none of the cinema’s seem to look anything like back home.
16) Sing At Karaoke
Leave your self conscious thoughts at the door, as you get the chance to sing your heart out. Or just get a karaoke room for you and your mates. One of the favourite evening activities in China, you have to give it a go. You can even order food and eat while singing away in your private booth. Look out for the signs saying KTV.
17) Watch An Opera
It isn’t just the amateur singing on offer, you can watch a scintillating performance at an opera house, leaving your heart in your throat. Admittedly, the story line is very hard to follow, but if you look past that and just enjoy the experience then it will leave a huge grin on your face.
18) 798 Art District
The first ten on this list largely focused on the traditional, however I also want to highlight the modern side to this city, which is perfectly embodied by the contemporary art at the 798 Art District. The buildings used to be factories, which is why you get these cool and ridiculously high ceilings. If you’re a modern art fan, then this is a must.
19) Confucius Temple
Probably the most well known figure globally to come from this area, it is hard to hear a motivational talk or philosophical speech without hearing a quote from Confucius. Unlike the other temples, which are dedicated to religious figures of belief, Confucius was actually a mortal, who people now worship and offer gifts to.
20) The Tombs
The Eastern Qing Tombs are a bit further out, so this will take a slight journey, meaning you will want to spend a full day on this. Devoted to the previous emperors and empresses of the Qing dynasty, the elaborate grounds and tombs are quite a sight to see.
So did you think I left anything off the list? Let me know in the comments below!