There are plenty of additional historic and cultural attractions worth your while, but if visiting Beijing for the first time, here are 10 must-see sights to get you on your way.
Planning a Beijing vacation? There is so much to see and do in China’s capital city that it’s hard to know where to start. After a recent trip with my husband and 4-year-old daughter, we came up with this list of Top 10 must-see sights.
I had wanted to see this since I was a 9-year-old, and it exceeded all of my expectations when I finally stepped foot inside it’s massive gates. Home to 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the massive Imperial Palace, better known as the Forbidden City, still stands as a sshrine to China’s imperial past. Plan two full days if you want to see the entire complex, but the major highlights such as the great halls and the imperial gardens can be seen in one day. Many of the buildings have undergone extensive restorations in preparation for the summer Olympics, including the largest, the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Flanked by the main gate of the Forbidden City (which is emblazoned with an enormous portrait of Mao) at one end and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (his mausoleum) at the other, Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest public square, is a monument to communist rule and architecture.
Starting as a quiet garden, this expansive palace on the outskirts of Beijing was completely rebuilt by the Empress Dowager Cixi after a ransacking by the Anglo-French forces during the Second Opium Wars. The Summer Palace’s serene, lakeside complex offers innumerable walkways, gardens, and temples for visitors to see. Keep your strength for the trek to the monumental Tower of Buddhist Incense which offers a stunning view of Kunming Lake and the distant Beijing skyline.
Originally built to keep out the invading Mongol forces, the Great Wall has come to symbolize China itself. There are eight portions of the wall open to the public, ranging from the rugged at Simatai to the tourist friendly at Badaling. Kids will love the roller coaster like system to get up and down the mountainside at Badaling, as well as the opportunity to feed the bears in the bear exhibit at the entrance.
I’ve seen many temples during my travels but this one blew them all away. Said to be the most important Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, this collection of temples offers shrine after shrine, with each more impressive than the last. The Lama Temple culminates with the towering Maitreya Buddha, which is registered in the Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest buddha.
Serving as the main temple for China's emperors, the Temple of Heaven is where ancient leaders went to make their offerings and give thanks. The extensive surrounding gardens are a favorite destination for locals who gather to do everything from exercising to singing and dancing.
Have a hankering for cockroaches? How about fresh scorpions? Look no further than the Donghuamen Night Market. Mostly sold for the novelty of watching people dare each other to eat the most disgusting thing possible, this night market is just as entertaining for the spectacle as it is for the food. My family watched in a mix of sheer horror and utter delight as several brave souls tempted fate with this unusual “fast food.” If you dare to try, be sure you have an iron stomach, as most of the meats and other food has been sitting out without refrigeration for an unknown amount of time.
Known around the world for its counterfeit name-brand knock-offs, the Silk Market is a shopper’s dream. The multi-floored shopping center houses wares ranging from clothing and jewelry to toys and trinkets. It may be living on borrow time, though, as the Chinese government cracks down on the counterfeiting industry in response to pressure from other countries. Avoid going there with small kids, though, as the sellers will use their inquisitive natures to lure you in.
The Beihai Park and adjacent Houhai shopping district are the perfect cure for those seeking a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of Beijing’s downtown. With quaint stores lining the winding streets, numerous restaurants, treat shops and beautiful lakeside walkways, this district is an excellent way to spend a day after seeing the many sights of Beijing. My daughter especially loved the koi ponds dabbled throughout the park. Keep a few RMBs handy to buy fish food and watch the show as they all swarm to eat.
Signaling the beginning and end of each day in days gone by, the drum and bell towers are a common feature in all Chinese cities. Taking the precipitous stairs to the top of Beijing’s Drum Tower rewards you with 360 degree views of Beijing and hourly performances on the tower’s giant drums.
Did you say Tiananmen Square? Thanks for the great insight! I'll definitely visit Tiananmen Square next time I go to China!