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Top Things To Do in Beijing China

I’ve lived in New Jersey most of my live and always within 45 minutes of New York City. My last residence in NJ was Hoboken, located just across the Hudson River. My morning runs always included the best views of “The City”, which is how we refer to it in those parts. Even after working in lower Manhattan for 3 years, this city still impresses me. It’s so incredibly big. Every time I visit a new city, I compare it to New York; and every time the cluster of skyscrapers on Manhattan Island tower over any other skyline that I’ve ever seen.

That was until I stared out the window of our plane as we descended on the landing strip of Beijing Capital International Airport.

“Beijing makes New York look miniature, I whispered.”

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China Travel - Beijing Skyline

Beijing has approximately 22 million inhabitants, compared to the 8 million of New York City.

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We were only scheduled to be there for 8 full days and I didn’t do much research ahead of time, of course. I know Jason would have taken a different approach if he didn’t have a week full of business meetings. This meant I was going out and exploring this massive place alone. I remember wishing I was a little more prepared. “I’m going to need a map,” I thought.

All I knew about Beijing was that people don’t speak much English and it’s where Tiananmen Square is located. The first part is completely true. Actually, both the first and the second part are completely true, but Beijing also has an abundance of places to visit and it has a modern and easy to use subway system that will help you get to each and everyone of them. Here’s the places I visited during my short visit to Beijing during my China travels.

Tainanmen Square

Tainanmen Square has a lot of history, but it’s most famously know for the deadly protest in 1989. It’s huge, the size of about 50 football fields where over 1 Million people can congregate.  Today it’s highly protected by Beijing Police. There’s not much to see here except hundreds of Asian tourist groups.

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China Travel - Tainanmen Square Beijing

Forbidden Palace

The ancient palace was home to the Chinese Emperor(s). This is massive, and I mean massive compound where thousands of eunuch, concubines  and high ranking officers lived to meet the demands of the Emperor as he ruled China. Anyone who visited the palace needed special permission or invitation, hence the name “Forbidden Palace.”  The place is usually extremely crowded, so go early and bring water and a snack. Depending on how interested you are in seeing a decent amount of the place this could easily be a full day event.

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China Travel - Forbidden Palace - Beijing

The Great Wall of China

There are excellent sightseeing sections of the Great Wall available near Beijing. The most popular and picture perfect is at the Badaling section. We recommend avoiding the crowds and visiting the Mutianyu section instead. A lift takes you to the top of the wall where you can traverse several different sections for incredible views. Consider taking a toboggan ride down for a little extra excitement. Yes, I said toboggan.

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China Travel - The Great Wall of China - Beijing


Another popular Beijing activity is to take a rickshaw ride through the Hutongs (Alley’s) of Beijing. It’s an interesting way to see how and where the common people lived, but be aware of “Tea Ceremony” scams and always ask for a price before you decide to take part in any activity.

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China Travel - Rickshaw Ride through Beijing

Temple of Heaven

Think of Central Park times 3. Here you will see people taking dance lessons, exercising, playing cards and practicing tai-chi. The Temple of Heaven translates to “Alter of Heaven” and includes many different buildings with historical and cultural significance.

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China Travel - Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Lama (Buddhist) Temple

Over 50% of Chinese are Buddhist, which technically is not a religion, it’s more commonly referred to as a cultural practice or thought system. This is one of the largest and most important Buddhist Temples in the world. Here you can see an 85 foot tall Buddha carved out of one single piece of wood.

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China Travel - Lama Temple - Beijing

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China Travel - Lama Temple Beijing

Confucius Temple

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” ~Confucius. This is the second largest Confucian Temple in China and the only site where the entrance fee was a bit sketchy. My guide told me that tourists will get charged 70 Yuans but the real cost is actually only 30 Yuans. He asked me to stay behind while he purchased the ticket. On the actual ticket it did say 70, but he came back with 70 Yuan change for me. He said this is the only place where they have this issue. Inside the compound there is a museum that showcases how students of Confucianism learned the wisdom of their practice.

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China Travel - Confucius Temple Beijing

Summer Palace

This peaceful compound was more or less the Emperor’s vacation home. He came here in the summer months to relax in the shade near the man made lake. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time as to enjoy the landscape and bring your walking shoes.

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China Travel - Summer Palace Beijing

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China Travel - Summer Palace Beijing

Beijing Zoo

Zoos in China aren’t the most animal friendly, and can be disturbing sometimes for animal lovers, but the Beijing Zoo houses something many westerners are eager to see. Panda Bears have residence in the zoo, but don’t expect them to look too happy with their living conditions either.

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China Travel - Beijing Zoo Panda Bears

WangFuJing Shopping Street

Beijing’s most famous shopping center, housing famous Beijing brands, tea houses and restaurants. The street is closed off for pedestrian use only. Try venturing on a few side streets and your likely to find some disgusting bugs on sticks, ready to eat. Also be weary of “art students” inviting you to their exhibition and selling you fake art. I was approached by three different art students that asked me the same exact questions and offered the same exact thing.  They will engage in friendly discussion, asking where you are from.

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China Travel - WangFuJing Shopping Street Beijing

Beijing Olympic Park

The most spectacular Olympic Games Opening Ceremony to ever take place was here, at Olympic Park in Beijing. The two most iconic stadiums are the Birds Nest and the Cube. Four years after the Games and Asian tourists still flock to visit the park in the thousands.

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China Travel - Beijing Olympic Park - Birds Nest Stadium

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Alex says:

After living in Beijing for five months, I would like to add one to this list. My absolute favorite place in Beijing, besides the Hutongs was Jinshang Park (Coal Hill). The park is locate just north of the Forbidden City. While there, go to the top of the hill. It looks down upon the Forbidden City and really is quite an amazing site!

Taryn says:

Great tips, these are all amongst our top things to do in Beijing. Especially Lama Temple, though dont really understand why you say Buddhism is technically not a religion… Also not sure that that many Chinese are really Buddhist…

Buddhism is considered a philosophy not a religion. There is no super natural being. Buddhism is the most influential institution in China’s history. It has shaped almost every facet of their culture. Today you are correct, but the country is now starting to reflect back and honor much of what represented and was tied to Buddhism. A wonderful place to explore indeed.

Vicky says:

Great post. China will be the third destination on me and my boyfriends 2 year backpacking trip this fall and naturally we’ll be spending some time in Beijing. Looks like a lot of travelers recommend the Mutianyu section of the Wall — think we’ll try to get to that one!

Angela says:

I’ve only spent a couple of days in Beijing but absolutely loved it, I hope I’ll be able to go again soon to explore more of the city and its surroundings.

It’s a big giant city to explore. We hope to get back real soon.

Stephen says:

The Hutongs were probably my favorite part of Beijing when I visited 6 years ago. I love walking through neighborhoods, especially old ones in a city that is changing so fast.

Incredibly fast! Old China and New China in Beijing are beautiful to see next to each other.

Waw….very nice travel, and excellent pictures.

Nick Smith says:

As a big football (soccer) fan, the ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium is a must-see for anyone going to Beijing!

Awesome tips! Your photos are amazing!

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