About Beijing

China’s capital is steeped in culture and history. There is enough to keep the intrepid traveller absorbed for a lifetime. However, most people only have a few days so below we will explore 15 of the top things to do in Beijing (includnig some great free things to do in Beijing)!

Beijing, formerly known as Peking, is divided into five districts; Dongcheng, Xixheng, Chaoyang, Haidan and Fengtai. The city has a population of around 21 million, making it one of the most populous places on the planet.

So, without further ado, let’s discover some of the best things to do in Beijing (with a few free attractions for good measure).


Top Things to do in Beijing in 2021

1. The Forbidden City

Forbidden City
Forbidden City

During the time of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1420 to 1912), the imperial seat of China was located in Beijing at the Forbidden City (forbidden because normal people could not enter). Surprisingly the city escaped the destruction of the Cultural Revolution and many of the hundreds of buildings remain intact.

The palaces and buildings within the city cover an area of 720,000 square metres so make sure you bring comfortable shoes!

  • Opening Hours: 08:30 to 17:00
  • Entrance Fee:
  • Low Season (Nov to Mar): ¥40 ($6)
  • High Season (Apr to Oct): ¥60 ($9)

Tickets should be purchased on the website 10 days in advance, but there is no English translation. You can book a tour of the Forbidden City, or if you have WeChat/Alipay, you can scan the QR code at the entrance on the day. However, there is a limit of 80,000 people so if this has been reached, you won’t be able to enter.

  • Time Needed to Visit: two to four hours
  • Address: 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng District
  • Nearest Metro: Tianmen East or Tianmen West (line 1)

2. The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China

There are a couple of misconceptions about The Great Wall; one that it can be seen from space, and the other that it was one giant wall criss-crossing northern China. Although neither are in fact correct, it is still one of the most impressive sites in the world and one of the top things to do in Beijing.

The wall consisted of a series of fortifications built at different time periods. Parts of the great wall can be dated as far back as the seventh century BC, however the sections of the wall as we know them today date from the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644).

There are a few sections of the wall reachable from Beijing, with the easiest and most popular being Badaling.

  • Opening Hours: 06:00 to 19:00
  • Entrance Fee:
  • Low Season (Nov to Mar): ¥35 ($5)
  • High Season (Apr to Oct): ¥40 ($6)

You can purchase tickets at the ticket office at the entrance to the wall. Be aware that it is busier in the morning. If you go in the late afternoon there are far fewer people. Moderate level of fitness required if you with to hike the 3.5km open to the public.

  • Time Needed to Visit: half a day to a full day

How to get to Badaling: Take the bullet train from Beijing North Railway Station. There are 13 trains daily between 06:30 and 18:00. The journey takes just 20 minutes and tickets cost ¥30 ($5).

You can also take bus 877 from Deshengmen Bus Station, close to Jishuitan Metro. The journey takes around 90 minutes and costs ¥12 ($).


3. The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace

One of the best things to do in Beijing is to visit the beautiful Summer Palace on the outskirts of the city. The palace sits atop a large lake with a backdrop of mountains.

The USESCO listed Summer Palace was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) as an escape from the heat of the city. The area covers 540 acres of serene gardens, lakes and buildings.

  • Opening Hours: 06:30 to 18:00
  • Entrance Fee:
  • Low Season (Nov to Mar): ¥50 ($7.50)
  • High Season (Apr to Oct): ¥60 ($9)
  • Time Needed to Visit: three to four hours
  • Address: Yuantian Road, Xiaoshan District
  • Nearest Metro: Beigongmen (line 4)

4. The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven

Another ode to the Qing and Ming Dynasties, the Temple of Heaven was a place the imperial place of worship and sacrifice. The beautiful round temple is situated in a large green park and offers a wonderful escape from the city.

The towering temple was constructed in 1420 to mark the eighteenth year of reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. Here sacrifices were made to ensure a good harvest.

  • Opening Hours: 08:00 to 17:30
  • Entrance Fee:
  • Low Season (Nov to Mar): ¥28 ($4)
  • High Season (Apr to Oct): ¥34 ($5)
  • Time Needed to Visit: one to two hours
  • Address: 1 Tiantan East Road, Dongcheng District
  • Nearest metro: Tiantan Dongmen (line 5)

5. Yonghe (Lama) Temple

Zhonye Temple
The Lama Temple

The Yonge Lama Temple is one of the largest and best-preserved lamaseries in China. The temple was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty and was the home a young prince named Yongzhen who later went on to become Emperor.

The Lama Temple is one of the most impressive Buddhist sites outside of Tibet and is one of the best things to do in Beijing. The temple is conveniently located close to some of Beijing’s hutongs which can be explored after a visit.

  • Opening Hours: 09:00 to 16:30
  • Entrance Fee: ¥25 ($4)
  • Time Needed to Visit: around one hour
  • Address: 12 Yonghegong Street, Dongcheng District
  • Nearest Metro: Yonghegong (line 2 & 5)

6. Bell and Drum Towers

Beijing Drum Tower
Beijing Drum Tower

The Bell and Drum Towers located in central Beijing were ancient musical instruments which went on to become the clocks of the city to keep time. First constructed in 1272, they have been rebuilt several times after suffering fires.

There are daily drum performances put on for tourists from 09:30 to 16:45.

  • Opening Hours: 09:30 16:45
  • Entrance Fee: ¥30 ($4.50)
  • Time Needed to Visit: around one hour
  • Address: Zhonglouwan Hutong, Andingmen, Dongcheng District
  • Nearest Metro: Shichahai (line 8) or Guloudajie (line 2)

7. Try Peking Duck

Peking Duck
Peking Duck

One of the most famous foods from Beijing is the Peking Duck which has been a favourite of city residents since imperial times. The ducks are cooked in large stone ovens until the skin is crisp, and then served with a thin pancake, spring onion, cucumber and hoisin sauce.

There are many such restaurants serving traditional Peking duck around the hutongs and just off Tiananmen Square. Some of the best include:

Siji Minfu Restaurant

Beijing Dadong Roast Duck

Jingzun Peking Duck Restaurant


8. The Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace, Beijing
The Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace is a controversial place and stirs strong feelings in many Chinese people. Yuanmingyuan as it was known in imperial times, was a beautiful series of palaces, gardens, pavilions and lakes that was looted and burned to the ground by the French and English during the second Opium war.

All that remains of the palace now is rubble, making it more appealing to dark tourists.

  • Opening Hours: 07:00 to 18:00
  • Entrance Fee: ¥10 ($1.50)
  • Time Needed to Visit: one to two hours
  • Address: Yuanmingyuan Park, Haidong District
  • Nearest Metro: Yuanmingyuan (line 4)

9. Baiwang Mountain Forest Park

Baiwang Forest Park
Baiwang Forest Park

A beautiful forest park in the hills above Beijing and very close to the Summer Palace. There are great views across Beijing and the surrounding mountains from the pavilion at the top.

  • Opening Hours: 07:00 to 18:00
  • Entrance Fee: ¥30
  • Time Needed to Visit: two to three hours
  • Address: 19 Beibeikou, Heishan, Haidan District
  • Nearest Metro: Anheqiao North (line 4)

10. Jingshan Park

View from Jingshan Park
View from Jingshan Park

A real hidden gem of Beijing, Jingshan Park is directly north of the Forbidden City and offers gorgeous views of the palaces, Beihei Park, city skyline and misty mountains in the distance. The views are really the best in the city and it’s surprising this little park is not more popular.

Sunset is the best time to visit for spectacular views. Definitely one of the best things to do in Beijing, and even better that it costs less than half a dollar.

  • Opening Hours: 06:30 to 20:00
  • Entrance Fee: ¥2 ($0.30)
  • Time Needed to Visit: one to two hours
  • Address: 19 Beibeikou, Heishan, Haidan District
  • Nearest Metro: Shichahai (line 8) then a 15 minute walk to the entrance

11. Beijing National Stadium (Birds Nest)

Birds Nest Stadium Beijing
Birds Nest Stadium Beijing

Sports fans will want to check out Beijing’s famous “Birds Nest” stadium used for the 2008 Olympics.

The stadium and surrounding grounds stage different activites and exhibitions throughout the year, such as ski jumping and ice skating in winter.

  • Opening Hours: 09:00 to 21:30
  • Entrance Fee: ¥80 to ¥100
  • Time Needed to Visit: one to three hours
  • Address: 1 National Stadium Road, Chaoyang District
  • Nearest Metro: Aoti Zhongxin (line 8)

Best Free things to do in Beijing

12. Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square - Free things to do in Beijing
Free Things to do in Beijing – Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square is located in the centre of Beijing. The vast square measures 765 by 282 metres and is flanked by many of China’s most important buildings and museums. Around the square you can find the Great Hall of the People, Mao Zedong’s mausoleum, the National Museum of China and the Forbidden City.

Tiananmen is best known in the west as the site of protests and the subsequent crackdown, however it remains an important cultural centre for China, and no visit to Beijing is complete without visiting. As Tiananmen Square is centrally located it makes a great starting point for exploring the city.

  • Opening Hours: 24 hours
  • Entrance Fee: free
  • Time Needed to Visit: under one hour for the square itself
  • Address: Tiananmen Square, Dongcheng District
  • Nearest Metro: Tianmen East or Tianmen West (line 1)

13. Hutongs

Beijing Hutongs
Beijing Hutongs

Hutong means “narrow lane” or “alley” and represents the series of maze-like backstreets that criss-cross through central Beijing. People have been living in the hutongs since the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368) and the small dwellings are still occupied by locals today.

You will notice that there are public toilets on most streets as the houses still do not have running water. That said, many of the hutongs include modern bars and restaurants (with indoor plumbing) which make a great place to spend an evening.

When walking the hutongs be aware that people live here and are going about their daily lives, so please refrain from annoying them in the name of Instagram!

  • Opening Hours: 24 hours
  • Entrance Fee: free
  • Time Needed to Visit: one to two hours
  • Address: the hutongs are located across the city spiralling out from around Tiananmen Square.
  • Nearest Metro: Shichahai (line 8), Dashilar (line 2 & 7)

14. 798 Art District

798 Art Zone, Beijing
798 Art Zone, Beijing

The hippest new part of the city is for sure one of the best things to do in Beijing! Explore the area around disused factory number 798 which has now been taken over by Beijing’s urban art community.

Here you will find galleries, exhibitions, instillations, graffiti, craft shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Although the area is free to walk around, some of the galleries and exhibitions will have a cover charge.

  • Opening Hours: 24 hours (shops, galleries and restaurants keep normal business hours)
  • Entrance Fee: free
  • Time Needed to Visit: one+ hours
  • Address: 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Nearest Metro: Wangjing Nan (line 14) then a 20 minute walk

15. Beihai Park

Beihei Park
Beihei Park

One of Beijing’s largest parks, Beihai offers a touch of solace from the fast pace of the city. There is a large lake with bridges, islands and pavilions.

  • Opening Hours: 06:30 to 20:00
  • Entrance Fee:
  • Low Season (Nov to Mar): ¥5 ($0.75)
  • High Season (Apr to Oct): ¥10 ($1.50)
  • Time Needed to Visit: one to two hours
  • Address: 1 Wenjin Street, Xicheng District
  • Nearest Metro: Beihai Bei (line 6)

Getting to the city from Beijing Capital Airport

The airport express leaves terminals 2 and 3 regularly from 06:00 to 22:30. The train links with Beijing metro at Dongzhimen where you can transfer to anywhere in the city. Cost is ¥25


Getting around Beijing

Beijing City
Beijing City

Beijing is a huge place, but many of the top things to do are located together (Tiananmen Square, hutongs, Forbidden Palace, Bell and Drum Towers etc). The best way to get around is by using the metro and then exploring each area on foot.

With the exception of the Great Wall all of these Beijing attractions are reachable by metro.

Taxis are best avoided as they can be difficult to hail, especially for foreigners who many drivers see, to ignore. If you do take a taxi ask for the metre to be turned on rather than accepting an arbitrary inflated fee.

Local buses, although cheap at only ¥1 or ¥2 are best avoided for non-Mandarin speakers or unless you know the exact route. The timetables are not in English and buses tend to get very crowded.

Another great way to get around is by making use of the shared bikes. You will need the Alipay or Wechat apps for this and be able to (or have a friend that) speaks Mandarin.


Best Time to Visit Beijing

Autumn (fall) is a great time to visit Beijing as the heat of the summer fades and the nearby mountains erupt into a fiery cascade of oranges, reds and yellows.

Spring is another pleasant time in the city after the snows of winter have melted.

Summers can be hot and smoggy and winters very cold (think -20 Celsius).


Other Chinese City Guides

11 Amazing things to do in Chengdu

11 Amazing things to do in Harbin

13 Interesting things to do in Luoyang

11 Incredible things to do in Xian



Steve Rohan

About this author: Steve Rohan has lived in China for six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, ancient capital of Luoyang and tropical paradise that is Sanya.

After teaching English for a number of years, he now blogs full time for this site and adventure travel blog thetripgoeson.com.