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Top 15 attractions in Beijing

Beijing, the capital of China, is undoubtedly one of the most visited places in the world, with hundreds of millions of tourists every year. The city’s long history and glorious culture endow the city with a great number of tourist attractions and historical sites.

For a short stay in Beijing, visiting all the interesting places is impossible, but don’t miss the following top 15 attractions.

1. The Forbidden City

Also known as the Imperial Palace, or the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out their administration and lived. The Forbidden City is the largest and best-preserved mass group of palaces in China. The palaces are fully walled on four sides by 10-meter-high walls which extend 760 meters (0.47 miles) from east to west and 960 meters (0.6 miles) from north to south. It has 720,000 square meters (72 hectares) of courtyards, pavilions, great halls, flourishing gardens and nearly 10,000 rooms. Built by tens of thousands of people, it took over 14 years and 32 million bricks to complete.


2. Tian’anmen Square

Tian’anmen Square measures 500 meters from east to west and 880 meters (0.55 miles) from north to south. Covering an area of 44 hectares, the square is big enough to hold half a million people. It is the largest city square in the world. It was named after the Tian’anmen (literally, Gate of Heavenly Peace) which stands on its north side. Tian’anmen is the front gate of the Forbidden City, the gate leading to the supreme power in imperial times. The tower over the gate was used for grand ceremonies in the Ming (1638-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, for instance, issuing imperial edicts. In modern China, it is also a symbol of power. From the tower of Tian’anmen, on October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China.


3. The Great Wall

“You are not a true man if you have not been to the Great Wall.” So the saying goes in China. The Great Wall, it is said, is one of the few man-made objects on earth visible from space. From Shanhaiguan, northeast of Qinhuangdao City in Hebei Province on the east coast, the Great Wall rises and falls with the contours of the mountains spanning westwards, crossing nine provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions over 6,700 kilometers (4163.19 miles), to end at Jiayuguan, southwest of Jiayuguan City in Gansu Province.

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4. The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace lies in the northwestern outskirts of Beijing, about 5 kilometers (3.11 miles) northwest of Beijing University. Occupying an area of 290 hectares, the park consists mainly of a hill, called Longevity Hill and a lake, Kunming Lake, with halls, towers, galleries, pavilions, bridges and islands dotted all over the land, hill and lake. Blending southern China-style garden architecture with northern China’s natural landscapes, the gardens are probably the best of their kind in Chinese garden architecture.

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5. Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs lie at the foot of Tianshou Mountains, about 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) northwest of Beijing, in Changping District. Thirteen of the sixteen Ming emperors were buried here, so that the Ming Tombs are known in Chinese as Shisanling (Thirteen Tombs). The tombs are spread over an area of over 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) in circumference. The site was chosen by the third Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Emperor Yongle, who moved the capital of China from Nanjing to the present location of northwest Beijing. The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003. They were listed along with other tombs under the “Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties” designation.

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6.Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven, is a complex of Taoist buildings situated in southeastern Beijing. The Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) visited the complex annually when they prayed to Heaven for good harvests. It is regarded as a Taoist temple, although Chinese Heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, actually pre-dates Taoism. The temple complex covers an area of 270 hectares, about three times the size of the Forbidden City. The main buildings in the park were built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) by Emperor Yongle for worshipping the heaven and the earth. The complex was extended during the reign of Emperor Jiajing in the 16th century and was renovated in the 18th century by Emperor Qianlong.


7. Beihai Park

Located to the west of the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park, Beihai (literally the Northern Sea) Park is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved ancient imperial gardens in China. It was the former palace of emperors for successive dynasties. The park covers an area of 68 hectares, half of which is covered by a lake. The park’s landscape includes artificial hills, pavilions, halls, temples and covered corridors, and is one of the best examples of China’s classical gardens. It is a combination of the grandiosity of northern Chinese gardens and the refinement of gardens found in southern China. Towering over the central islet is the 36-meter-high White Dagoba, and is an impressive sight that dominates the local skyline. Beihai Park was opened to the public in 1925.


8. Yuanmingyuan Park

Yuanmingyuan Park, which was extolled as the “Garden of Gardens,” used to be a summer palace for the imperial family. The palace was continuously expanded under five emperors’ supervision in Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), and its expansion continued for over 150 years. Its glorious past might have come to an abrupt end as its buildings were destroyed by the British and French armies during the Second Opium War in 1860. The massive imperial compound is now a beautiful park filled with lakes and a wide variety of plant life. To show the original appearance of the park to the visitors, part of its ancient architecture has been restored.


9. Hutong

In the rich and historical culture of Beijing, the Hutong has a very special and important position. It is one of the most distinctive features and must-see attractions in Beijing. The word hutong came from the Mongolian language about 700 years ago. According to research, it originates from the word hot-tog in Mongolian meaning “water well”. Where there was a spring or well, there were residents. The word hottog became hutong after it was introduced into Beijing. Hutong means lane and alley, smaller than a street. It is in fact the passage formed by lines of siheyuan where most Beijing residents live. One hutong connects with another, and siheyuan connects with siheyuan, to form a block, and blocks join with blocks to form the whole city. There were 459 hutongs in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and 978 hutongs in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The present number is 1,316 in the urban and suburban districts of Beijing. To get a better experience of the unique culture of ancient Beijing, you are suggested visit a few of Beijing’s Hutongs. The famous ones include: Nanluoguxiang, Yandaixiejie, Mao’er Hutong and Guozijian Street.


10. Lama Temple

If you go on the northern section of the Second Ring Road, you will pass a lamasery with red walls and yellow tiled roofs near the flyover of Andingmen. This is the Lama Temple, or the Yonghegong Lamasery, also known as the Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery. It is a renowned lama temple of the Yellow Hat Sect of Lamaism. Lama Temple features five large halls and five courtyards with beautifully decorative archways, upturned eaves and carved details. It houses a treasury of Buddhist art, including sculptured images of gods, demons and Buddha, as well as Tibetan-style murals.


11. Bell and Drum Towers

Situated in central Beijing and south of the northern section of the Second Ring Road, the Bell Towers and Drum Towers are prominent landmarks symbolizing the ancient capital city. Both structures were built in 1272 under the reign of Kublai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Bells and drums were originally used as musical instruments in China, and later they were used for telling time. These towers stood at the very heart of the Yuan capital, known as Dadu. They used to be the time-telling center of the capital city during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (1271-1911). In both the Drum and Bell Towers, visitors can climb the steep stairways to the top to have a panoramic view over the city. Drum performances take place every hour in the Drum Tower.


12. Bird’s Nest and Water Cube

As Beijing dazzled the world with the spectacular Olympic Games in 2008, the impressive Olympic structures, Bird’s nest and its neighboring Water Cube, have become popular attractions ever since. The Bird’s Nest, officially known as the National Stadium, is the main track and field stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and gained the nickname for its innovative grid formation. The twig-like structural elements and the bowl-shaped roof are the masterpiece of the project, yet they pose great challenges for technicians and workers to make the building stand on its own feet. What located right next to the National Stadium is the Beijing National Aquatics Center, also colloquially known as the Water Cube. The center was built alongside the stadium in the Olympic Green for the swimming competitions of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Despite its nickname, the building is not an actual cube, but a rectangular box. The ground was also broken in 2003, and completed and handed over for use in 2008. Swimmers at the Water Cube broke 25 world records during the 2008 Olympics. After the Olympics, the building underwent a 200-million-yuan (US$31.53 million) revamp to turn half of its interior into a water park. The building officially reopened on August 8, 2010.


The Bird Nest in Beijing – Asian Interior Design
The Water Club in Beijing – Asian Interior Design

13. Houhai

Located opposite to the north gate of Beihai Park, Houhai scenic area encompasses a lake and its surrounding area in central Beijing. Due to its proximity to the Forbidden City, this area was historically home to court officials and the city’s elite. In recent years it has become famous for nightlife because it is home to many popular restaurants, bars, and cafes.


14. Panjiayuan Antiques Market

Situated west of Panjiayuan Bridge and south of the East Third Ring Road, the Panjiayuan Antiques Market is Beijing’s most famous antique market, growing from its humble beginnings as a flea market in the early 1990’s. All manner of antiques are on sale among the thousands of market stalls. Paintings, calligraphy works, ceramics, jade, furniture, coins, army surplus, Buddhist artifacts are all available. If you are not an expert, simply wandering around the 40,000 plus stalls is just as much fun! The market is specially animated on weekends when the permanent stalls and shops are joined by vendors setting out their wares on the ground. Get there early.


15. National Museum of China

The National Museum of China, located on the east side of the Tian’anmen Square in central Beijing, was founded in 2003 after a merger between the former National Museum of Chinese History and the National Museum of Chinese Revolution. Covering nearly 200,000 square meters, the museum is now the largest museum in the world with first-class facilities. It holds a collection of 1.2 million pieces of cultural relics in forty-eight galleries. There are two permanent exhibitions: Ancient China and The Road of Rejuvenation, and more than a dozen categories of display related to thematic exhibitions and international exchange exhibits. The museum also hosts special exhibitions on Chinese ancient art, such as bronze, porcelain, jade articles, Buddhist statues, furniture of Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), ink painting and calligraphy.