Not the most welcoming of public squares, but this iconic expanse of concrete is a must-visit.
For tourists and revolutionaries, the main reason to visit Tiananmen Square is for that photo – the giant portrait of Chairman Mao on the Gate of Heavenly Peace (the entrance to the Forbidden City), flanked by two slogans that read 'Long Live the People's Republic of China' and 'Long Live the Unity of the Peoples of the World'. But the Great Helmsman isn’t the only one watching over the hordes of visitors. Hundreds of police and plain clothes security men scan the crowds for undesirables or activists, which lends the square an atmosphere of muted hostility.
On the northwest edge stands the imposing Great Hall of the People and opposite is the newly opened National Museum of China, reportedly the world’s largest museum under one roof showcasing the achievements of the PRC with all the bad bits taken out. For me, the best time to visit is around sunset to watch the flag lowering ceremony. A startling display of Communist pomp, guards apparently march at exactly 108 steps per minute, but I’m not counting.