There is plenty of stuff to do and see in Beijing, China, but there are a few places that you have to see while you’re traveling here. These are the must see sights in Beijing that people will stop and ask “Oh, you were in Beijing?! Did you go see ________?” You definitely want that answer to be “Yes!!“.
Most people don’t realize that Beijing is a huge city. I mean HUGE. If you’re expecting to see everything there is to see, or even the top 10 tourist sites, you better plan to stay for a week or more.
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If you’re like the average tourist, though, you usually only visit Beijing for a few days at most. In this case, you’re going to want to narrow down the places you plan to visit to a much smaller list.
There are a ton of articles on the web that share the “Top 10” places, but let’s be honest – you’re probably not going to have enough time to visit all of those. So let’s just focus on the Top 5 must-see sights in Beijing and go from there.
1. The Great Wall of China | 长城 Chángchéng
This is a no-brainer. When you’re in Beijing, you must visit the Great Wall. Mao Zedong once said “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man”.
The problem is that there are so many different places where you can access the Great Wall and it can be confusing. Here’s a simple breakdown of the most popular points of entry.
- Badaling (八达岭): Badaling is the most popular and well-restored portion of the Great Wall. There are lots of Chinese crowds but it is handicap-friendly. (RMB 40, open 6:40-18:30)
- Mutianyu (慕田峪): Much of the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall has been restored and it is a favorite of many travelers who want to get away from the suffocating crowds. (RMB 35, open 7:30-17:30)
- Simatai (司马台): Simatai is the most rugged portion of the wall where many people like to hike and even go camping on the Great Wall. (RMB 40, open 8:00-17:00)
A visit to China’s Great Wall is going to take you at least half a day, if not a full day. I recommend you try to either start or end your day at the Great Wall so as to avoid the hot temperatures and get the best lighting for photography.
2. Beijing’s Tiananmen Square | 天安门
Behind the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square is arguably the most recognizable symbol of Beijing. It was at this square that Chairman Mao pronounced the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and it remains one of the world’s largest public squares.
Here in this square you have the Gate of Heavenly Peace to the north (where the Chairman Mao portrait hangs), the Great Hall of the People to the west, the National Museum of China to the east, and the Chairman Mao Mausoleum to the south.
The square can be entered from multiple access points or you can get a panoramic view from the south tower of the Forbidden City.
If I’m really honest, there’s not much to do once you enter the Tiananmen Square besides taking a few photos. However, it’s from here that you can visit the National Museum, do some shopping south of the Zhengyang Gate (behind the mausoleum) or…visit the Forbidden City.
3. The Forbidden City | 故宫 Gùgōng
In the heart of Beijing, north of the Tiananmen Square, lies the Forbidden City (a.k.a. the Imperial Palace). This used to be the mysterious capital of China and has a tumultuous history, having been built in the early 1400’s and being burned to the ground, rebuilt, sacked, and renovated several times.
This palace is one of the most iconic set of buildings in all of China and definitely one of the must see sights in Beijing.
If you can, grab a good Beijing travel guide book that can guide you through all the different halls and stories behind each location. Better yet, take a walking tour with an English-speaking historian! Otherwise you’ll get bored looking at what seems to be the same architecture over and over.
You’ll want to give yourself at least 2 hours to walk around the palace, if not more. You can either start from the north gate, work your way south and finish off at Tiananmen Square…or you can go in the reverse direction.
For more information, visit the official Forbidden City website.
4. Temple of Heaven | 天坛 Tiāntán
One of the greatest pleasures in Beijing is the chance to enjoy the quiet serenity of the Temple of Heaven. It used to be a sacred sacrificial compound for the Ming and Qing-era royalty, but since then it has become a beautiful park with beautiful architectural symbols.
The most popular sight to see is obviously the temple itself, but other places of note within the large park is the Round Altar and the Echo Wall. You could easily see this place in about 30 minutes if you walk fast, but I prefer to spend about 1-2 hours leisurely walking through the beautiful park.
Thankfully, it’s easy to get here by bus or you can even take the Beijing metro line 5 to “Tiantan Dongmen”. Entrance fee: RMB 35. Open 6:00-21:00.
5. Summer Palace | 颐和园 Yíhéyuán
Situated on a 290-acre park with the large Kunming Lake in the middle, this old summer resort for the Beijing royalty is a sight to behold. Beautiful buildings, painted walkways, bridges, and islands guarantee a memorable visit.
It was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1998 and therefore preservation has been well-funded for the past decade. Enjoy boat rides on the lake and check out the crazy Marble Boat (spoiler alert: it’s not a real boat).
Check out the official Summer Palace website for more details. Entrance Fee: RMB 40/50 (low/high season). Open 6:30-20:30.
Final Thoughts | Must See Sights in Beijing
Obviously there’s much more to see in Beijing besides the Great Wall, Tiananmen, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. However, these are the most recognizable places that when people hear you visited Beijing, they’ll ask you about. If you’re checking out China-based Instagram accounts, you’ll see these places show up often.
To visit all five sites, it would probably take 2-3 full days with lots of walking. They’re not all grouped together (with the exception of Tiananmen and the Forbidden City) which means that you’ll have a lot of public transportation required to get to each.
Have you been to Beijing before? What were your favorite places to visit and what would you recommend? Leave a comment below!