Beijing things to do

By Tom O'Malley, your Beijing expert

I write for Travel and Leisure (SE Asia), CNNGo, The Beijinger, .... Read more

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Summer Palace

Price guide: Budget
#2/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Expert overall rating:4.7 (out of 5)

Escape to this Imperial pleasure park of lakes, temples, pagodas and classical gardens.

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Jingshan Park

Price guide: Budget
#4/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Expert overall rating:4.6 (out of 5)

Climb to the top of this pristine park for jaw-dropping views of the Forbidden City rooftops.

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Temple of Heaven

Price guide: Budget
#8/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Expert overall rating:4.3 (out of 5)

Drop a line to the man upstairs at this celestial altar complex in south Beijing.

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Lama Temple

Price guide: Budget
#10/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Expert overall rating:4.2 (out of 5)

Light a few sticks of incense at Beijing’s most important Tibetan Buddhist temple.

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#13/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Best for History -
Expert overall rating:4.1 (out of 5)

These ancient bastions of time-keeping stand tall in Beijing’s most appealing neighbourhood.

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Beihai Park

Price guide: Budget
#15/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Best for Romance -
Expert overall rating:4.0 (out of 5)

Unwind in this diverting lake and pleasure park dating back to the rule of Kublai Khan.

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Confucius Temple

Price guide: Budget
#18/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Best for Chilling out -
Expert overall rating:3.8 (out of 5)

Escape the crowds at this serene temple celebrating the legacy of the Great Sage.

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Beijing Zoo

Price guide: Budget
#20/20
expert-rated things to do in Beijing
Best for Families -
Expert overall rating:3.7 (out of 5)

The pandas here get the VIP treatment, but other animals – like tigers – don’t fare so well.

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Where to start? Head for the hills. I don’t mean the Great Wall – not on day one at any rate. To orient yourself, begin at either Jingshan Park or Beihai Park, two central, man-made mounds from whose summits you can survey China’s capital in all her compass-friendly glory (smog permitting, naturally). Best of all, from up high you can really get your head around the mind-numbing scale of the The Forbidden City, something hard to do from ground level.

For big league city sights like the Summer Palace, Forbidden City and Lama Temple, avoid weekends unless you’re travelling in the dead of winter. Plan your itinerary so weekends are the days you do your hutong tours and shopping excursions, rather than spending them getting elbowed by Chinese tourists.

Another recommendation I want to make to all able bodied travellers, old and young, is to get on your bikes. Not only are several of the best sights within easy reach of each other, but you get to experience all the fascinating, authentic bits in between, like discovering wet markets lining old alleyways, or mysterious military installations, or even just a great little snack stall selling steamy pork buns.

How I’ve picked my things to do: 

In the capital city of a country that boasts 5,000 years of history and a quarter of the world's population, there are few sights on the list that aren't justified, tried and tested must-sees. And with the exception of the 798 Art District, everything is easily accessible via public transport or through organised tours, bookable in most hotels. I've included three Great Wall options because, well, it's the Great Wall. In my well-travelled experience, it's simply one of the world's most incredible sights. Not to mention rather long. But mainly because there are touristy bits suitable for all as well as more adventurous stretches that will prove hugely rewarding for those with sturdy footwear and a keen head for heights.

Set focus

In the capital city of a country that boasts 5,000 years of history and a quarter of the world's population, there are few sights on the list that aren't justified, tried and tested must-sees. And with the exception of the 798 Art District, everything is easily accessible via public transport or through organised tours, bookable in most hotels. I've included three Great Wall options because, well, it's the Great Wall. In my well-travelled experience, it's simply one of the world's most incredible sights. Not to mention rather long. But mainly because there are touristy bits suitable for all as well as more adventurous stretches that will prove hugely rewarding for those with sturdy footwear and a keen head for heights.