14 Things to Do in Beijing, China That You Shouldn't Miss

14 Fun Things to Do in Beijing That You Shouldn’t Miss

We know you’ve been waiting to return!

In light of China’s re-opening to international travel, many Singaporeans might be looking to visit (or re-visit) — especially now that we have 15 days of visa-free entry! When I first heard of this news, I thought of beautiful Beijing. One of the world’s oldest cities, China’s capital has over 3,000 years of history; the country’s rich heritage is not only evident in museums and palaces but also in local architecture and food. Yet, the city itself is an eclectic mix of traditional and modern, appealing to a wide variety of interests. 

Since it’s been a while since we’ve gotten the chance to explore the Forbidden City, here’s a list of fun things to do in Beijing, China to inspire you on your next trip there! 

Also read: China’s Maglev Train Is So Fast, It Looks Like It’s Floating

Fun things to do in Beijing, China

1. Spend a day in the Forbidden City

Forbidden City

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Home to 500 years of Chinese emperors, The Forbidden City was named because normal folk — aka “mere mortals” — were forbidden from entering the palace grounds. This gigantic palace complex was built in the Ming dynasty, from 1406 to 1420, serving as the residence and court for the royal family of 24 emperors. If you’re interested in understanding China’s rich history, you’ll definitely be spending a full day here viewing the artefacts in the exhibition halls and Palace Museum

Jingshan Park

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While there are guided tours available in numerous languages, I personally recommend getting an audio guide and roaming the long-stretching halls in the palace at your own pace. As visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the top things to do in Beijing, make sure to get your admission tickets way ahead of your trip! If you’re looking for a place to take sweeping, panoramic views of the whole palace, head up from the north gate of the Forbidden Palace to Jingshan Park, the royals’ imperial garden.

2. Visit Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

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Tiananmen Square is a place of great historical significance to China. Located right at the front of the Forbidden City, it is the birthplace of the People’s Republic of China and was the centre of action during the 1976 and 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. 

Every year, China celebrates the founding of their republic in this very square with concerts and fireworks! Additionally, the square’s ticketed flag-raising ceremony is a spectacle not to be missed. The affair is grand with percussionists and tens of guards marching in sync!

Tiananmen Monuments, Beijing tourist attractions

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You’ll find several other monuments nearby, like the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. The former is a memorial hall to honour Mao Zedong, the late leader of the ruling party, while the latter is a 10-storey obelisk commemorating several martyrs in the Chinese revolutionary struggle. Visiting this square is akin to opening an immersive history book on how China came to be. 

3. Marvel at the magnificent Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

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Of course, we can’t forget to mention the Great Wall of China. One of the seven wonders of the world, this representative emblem of China is one of the places to visit in Beijing. This 20,000km structure of brick, stone, and mortar stretches over 15 provinces in China. It was commissioned by Qin Shi Huang, the very first emperor of China; he wanted to unify the provinces and fortify them against the violent nomadic tribes. And so, the over 2,000-year-long project commenced. 

The Great Wall was a highly effective deterrent against centuries’ worth of enemies with its integration of barracks, fortresses, and beacon towers. Today, the ancient relic reflects both China’s architectural and engineering mastery, as well as its citizens’ strength and persistence. 

The best-preserved parts of this iconic wonder— Badaling and Mutianyu — are found in Beijing, thus making it a top sightseeing spot in the city. Those who are interested in understanding the Great Wall’s history can visit the museum located below the wall, while trekking enthusiasts can attempt to hike the wall. But this will be a challenge, you’ve been warned!

4. Drop by the Summer Palace

Summer Palace Beijing

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Yes, another palace is on this list. But I promise you, this is also one of those things to do in Beijing that you can’t miss! The Summer Palace was built as a summer retreat for the royal family. But more importantly, the stunning palace was the permanent residence of Empress Dowager Cixi. She was the last Empress Dowager of China, famous for wielding a seemingly invisible yet powerful influence on Chinese politics throughout her 50 years in power. Truly, she was the original girlboss

What makes this palace stand out is the impressive landscaping that is perfect for summer — sprawling lakes, striking pavilions, and hundreds of different flora and fauna. Moreover, you must take a stroll along Suzhou Street, a picturesque little canal town within the palace walls. Walk along the bridge and admire ancient Chinese architecture and antique boats. Kunming Lake is another Insta-worthy spot in the palace that can be explored via a variety of boat rides. How cool is that?

5. Get to know contemporary China at the 798 Art District

Beijing is not just about its temples and palaces. In fact, one of the popular Beijing tourist attractions is the 798 Art District. Once an electronics factory complex, this vibrant arts hub represents modern China’s creativity and innovation. The district stands out from neighbouring streets due to its Bauhaus architecture: urban and chic. After the factories were abandoned, the Euro-style buildings were turned into exhibition spaces for artists, drawing more creatives to the area. 

The streets at Beijing’s 798 Art District are decorated with colourful sculptures, murals, and graffiti — all of which make for great backdrops for your next Instagram post! Amongst the many galleries there, you should definitely visit Beijing Tokyo Art Projects. This gallery showcases the works of various artists in the region, so you’ll not only see the works of Chinese artists but also that of Korean and Japanese! The bold and vibrant art pieces stand out against the pristine white exhibition halls. 

And if you’re travelling to Beijing in September, check out Beijing Design Week! The affair consists of seven days of special seminars, exhibitions, and installations all around the 798 Art District.  

6. Shop till you drop in Sanlitun

Sanlitun shopping

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Over the years, China has emerged as a leader in the fashion industry. And Sanlitun is at the heart of the sartorial trends in China, becoming one of the best places to visit in Beijing for fashionistas. Sanlitun is a famous entertainment centre in Beijing — shopping, eating, and nightlife all thrive in this buzzy area! 

To our readers who are always on the hunt for the latest fashion trends, you’ll be able to find the latest accessories and clothing in the various shopping complexes of Sanlitun. Taikoo Li and SOHO are two popular choices amongst the young locals. Or if you’re looking to enjoy a (somewhat) similar yet more affordable shopping spree, head over to Yashow Clothing Market, a wholesale market selling clothing, fabrics, souvenirs, and even knock-off branded goods!

7. Snap photos of the giant Olympic Park

Beijing Olympic Park

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Taking a tour around the Olympic Park is one of the best things to do in Beijing. It took centre stage in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, as well as in the 2022 Winter Olympics. But when the park is not hosting the grandest sporting event in the world, it’s a bustling activity centre for residents and visitors alike. 

Water Cube Beijing

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The Beijing National Stadium — aka the Bird’s Nest — is the main attraction of the park. Many are impressed by its imposing and regal design, making it a top photo spot in the city. Another highlight is the Beijing National Aquatics Centre, or the Water Cube, a busy hub with a business centre, water park, theatre, and spa. Not to mention, it houses various cafes, bars, and restaurants. Do watch how it illuminates at night too! You could truly spend a whole day here. 

So, come to the Olympic Park to watch a game, or just admire the architecture and facilities of this world-class sporting village. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to appreciate its amenities, that’s for sure. 

8. Be swept away by the installations at TeamLab Massless Beijing

Recently opened in 2022, TeamLab Massless Beijing is one of the new places to visit in Beijing that you shouldn’t skip! TeamLab’s latest addition has over 40 digital art exhibits which are sure to take you on an otherworldly ride beyond reality. 

In addition to the usual installations that are found in other TeamLab locations, this Beijing museum also recently debuted Trails of Life — Transcending Space in All Directions. This piece immerses you in the artwork itself, with traces of light emerging from under your feet and interacting with the rest of the exhibit. Feeling parched? Then head over to En Tea House, which provides a one-of-a-kind tea-drinking experience! I mean, your teacup will glow. Need I say more?

9. Treat yourself to some Peking duck

Peking duck

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Peking duck— or Beijing roasted duck — is regarded as one of the national dishes of China. Once a dish considered worthy for the imperial court in ancient China, Peking duck is still served for important events, such as weddings or feasts with important foreign diplomats. The reason why eating this dish is so luxurious is because the process of preparing it is so laborious. Blanching, marinating, and cooking the dish can take between 24 and 72 hours. But the result is undoubtedly worth the effort: a delicious duck with crispy skin and juicy meat.

Peking duck cutting

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What I enjoy the most about eating Peking duck is watching the chefs cut the duck for you, table-side. The skilful way in which the chefs cut the duck somehow makes the meal a whole, decadent experience. Slices of duck are wrapped together with scallions, cucumbers, and sweet bean paste, resulting in a complex blend of savoury, fresh, and sweet in one mouthful! 

You can find Peking duck served almost anywhere, from Michelin-starred restaurants to back-alley eateries. So, there’s really no excuse not to try this delicacy.

10. Stroll around Fragrant Hills Park

Fragrant Park, Beijing sightseeing

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In between checking off items on your Beijing bucket list, consider making a quick getaway from metropolitan downtown Beijing to appreciate the natural landscape and aroma of apricot blossoms Fragrant Hills Park offers. This is one of the top Beijing tourist spots for nature, with almost 6,000 different species of trees and various mountain springs. You’ll momentarily forget that you’re in one of the most industrialised countries in the world. 

Both tourists and locals flock to this park between October and November to admire the maple leaves as they turn into a symphony of yellow, orange, and red. There are several ways to catch these amazing autumn views: taking a cable car ride up to the summit; cycling up to the peak; and even trekking up at your own pace. 

Tip: Wear a pair of comfy shoes and bring your camera to capture the majestic scenery. 

11. Find your zen at the Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven, Beijing sightseeing

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The Temple of Heaven is one of the top Beijing tourist attractions as it gives visitors a great understanding of how religion was practised in ancient China. Back then, emperors would perform various rites and sacrifices to ask heaven for blessings in this very temple. Now, it remains popular amongst Beijing residents, who come to the temple’s park in the early morning to exercise. You’ll find youths performing martial arts or sword fighting, and the adults engaging in tai chi or dance.

Circular Mound Beijing

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The architecture of the Temple of Heaven was painstakingly designed to fulfil particular rituals. For instance, the Circular Mound Altar was built with slabs in multiples of nine, which was a number considered to be the most powerful number and represented eternity. Thus, it was built appropriately to show reverence to the Heavenly Gods that they worshipped. 

Another highlight of the temple is the Echo Wall: An enclosure, 65m in diameter, housing another important building, the Vault of Heaven. If you come during off-peak season, you and your travel companions can try whispering to each other across the courtyard. 

12. Time-travel (sort of) to olden China at an old hutong

Old hutong Beijing

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Visiting a hutong is like stepping into a Chinese drama serial set in ancient China. These are narrow alleys between single-storied shophouses, which were the housing for Beijingers in the past. Don’t be deceived by the old brick walls — these vintage streets remain teeming with activity! A cool Beijing sightseeing activity would be to visit at least one hutong to see how the regular Chinese people of the past lived. 

If you don’t feel like walking too much, rent a rickshaw! Get a feel of what it was like to live as the rich in ancient China as you enjoy a comfortable ride through the old-world streets. 

Hutong shopping, Things to Do Beijing

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Amongst the hundreds of hutongs in Beijing, you’ve got to visit Liulichang Cultural Street, especially if you are into Chinese artwork. As you walk along these narrow pathways, you’ll see hand-painted fans, calligraphy paintings, and even old Chinese records being sold in shops. 

Alternatively, Nanluoguxiang offers speciality boutiques and cafes, nestled in the traditional buildings and lining the streets. As one of the most complete hutongs left in the country, many Chinese period dramas are filmed there. Who knows — you might even spot a famous actor filming a show while you’re out and about!

13. Usher in autumn on Diaoyutai Ginkgo Avenue

Visiting Diaoyutai Ginkgo Avenue in October is like visiting the cherry blossoms in Japan in March. Despite being a simple tree lawn outside the Diaoyutai Guest Hotel, getting some pictures amid this sea of fallen leaves is one of the top things to do in Beijing between late October and early November. You’ll see tourists, photographers, and locals here capturing the magnificent scene of golden in front of them, or just admiring the leaves swaying in the wind.  

I recommend coming either in the morning or at sunset for the best lighting and bringing a tripod along with you!

14. Snack on local street food at the night markets

Beijing street food, Things to Do Beijing

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While the typical emblem of Beijing might be its history and architecture, Beijingers also have much to boast about its bustling food scene. Savouring the city’s street food at their night markets is definitely one of the top things to do in Beijing! And there are numerous food markets in Beijing for you to do just that. 

There’s Wangfujing food market, a highly popular food market that is open 24/7 to keep your belly full throughout your trip. In between snacking, you can shop for some handmade crafts as souvenirs or watch traditional opera shows — the market is simply a cultural heaven! Alternatively, Nujie Street and Longfusi Street offer Muslim-friendly food and packed Chinese snacks respectively. 

Beijing street foods

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There are some top foods that are offered at almost any market you go to — like the bing tang hulu (sugar-coated fruit) and deep-fried scorpions, but my personal favourites are the jianbing (Chinese crepe) and jiaozi (dumpling). So, do not miss out on experiencing a bit of Beijing’s culture through their street food!

Also read: 14 Food Destinations Around the World for a Gastronomic Tour

Whether it be learning about the centuries-long history of China, tasting local delicacies, or simply enjoying the natural landscape — there are truly so many things to do in Beijing. Take advantage of that 15-day visa-free travel and go explore Beijing in all its glory! 

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About Author

Beautrice Oh
Beautrice Oh

Beautrice enjoys exploring new places and jumps at any chance to try something new. She loves learning about different cultures through their food, landmarks, and hidden local spots (if she can find them)! Always enthusiastic for an adventure, she plans itineraries that fully immerse herself in the destination’s culture, and will never forget to bring along her camera to capture the memories.