Top Things to See in Beijing China for First-Timers

I recently spent 5 days in Beijing China, and tried to fit as many Beijing attractions as I could.

Here are my top things to see in Beijing, costs if any, plus tips for visiting each place.

If this is your first time in Beijing, make sure to read my Beijing travel guide before you visit, including important information I wish I knew (and lessons learned) as a tourist.

Top 5 Beijing Attractions

If you’re only limited to a short visit to Beijing, here are my top picks for things to see in Beijing:

  1. Great Wall of China
  2. Palace Museum / Forbidden City
  3. Tiannamen Square
  4. Summer Palace
  5. Qianmen Street

Beijing Travel Essentials

You can prebook these before your trip:

📲 eSIM card from Airalo

🚊 Ride from the airport: prebook a transfer

🎟 Beijing Palace Museum Ticket (The Forbidden City)

🎫 Summer Palace Admission Ticket

🎢 Universal Beijing Resort Ticket

🎫 Browse through dozens of available Beijing tours

Top 14 Things to See in Beijing

NOTE: For each location, I listed names in Chinese to copy and paste into apps.

Apple Maps works in Beijing, but the interface will not show until you arrive in China.

You will need a VPN to access Apple Maps on your phone. I used LetsVPN.

There are locals app like Baidu Maps (in Chinese, but not impossible to use if you have the location copied in Chinese), but I found Apple Maps to be the easiest.

Historical Beijing Attractions

TIP: For all of these things to see in Beijing, make sure to bring your passport for ID check points. Locals will have an ID scanner. For foreigners, you usually just show the passport to them.

Tiananmen Square

Vibrant atmosphere of Tiananmen Square with a crowd of visitors and the iconic Hall of Supreme Harmony in the background, a must-visit landmark featured in any Beijing travel guide

Name in Chinese: 天安门广场

Cost: Free but reservation required

Tiananmen Square, located in the center of Beijing, is one of the largest city squares in the world at 440,000 sq. meters.

The square has great cultural significance as it was the site of important events in Chinese history, including the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

Things to see at Tiananmen Square:

  • Tiananmen Tower entrance (Historic imperial gate)
  • Monument to the People’s Heroes (Granite monument, revolutionary history)
  • Great Hall of the People (China’s legislative building)
  • Mao Zedong Mausoleum (Final resting place of Chairman Mao)

Tips for visiting Tiananmen Square:

  • You will fall into a security line before entering.
  • Entrance is free, but you need to make a reservation on WeChat or Alipay, or if you already have a ticket reserved for the Forbidden City, Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, or National Museum of China. You show your reservation email or ticket as proof.
  • Book ahead of time! Major Beijing attractions require at least a day in advance.

Palace Museum (Forbidden City)

Expansive view of the historical Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, in Beijing, China, bustling with tourists, clear blue skies overhead, ideal for inclusion in a Beijing travel guide

Name in Chinese: 故宫博物院

Cost: $5 USD | Book Tickets on Klook

The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, is the world’s largest palace complex, and is located to the north of Tiananmen Square.

It served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, from 1420 to 1912.

It covers 180 acres with 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 rooms.

The Forbidden City is named so because it was off-limits to the general public for 500 years and was the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for centuries.

Things to see at the Palace Museum:

  • Meridian Gate (Main entrance gate)
  • Hall of Supreme Harmony (Largest hall)
  • Palace of Heavenly Purity (Emperor’s living quarters)
  • Imperial Garden (Beautiful landscaping)

Tips for visiting Palace Museum:

  • You can reserve for a morning time or afternoon time.
  • There will be several lines at the entrance. Fall in line on the right with the ticket booth entrances.
  • They will check your email with the reservation and your passport.
  • It gets quite crowded, so try to visit early in the morning or late afternoon before closing.

Great Wall of China

Tourists walking on the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China near Beijing in November, showcasing the travel experience for a Beijing travel guide. One of the top things to see in Beijing

Name in Chinese: 慕田峪长城

Cost: Varies | Book in advance on Viator

Recommended Route: Mutianyu

The Great Wall of China stretches over 21,000 km (13,000 miles), making it the longest wall in the world, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Construction of the wall started as early as the 7th century BC.

It’s made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, and was originally built to protect the Chinese states and empires against raids and invasions.

Different areas of the Great Wall:

  • Mutianyu: Popular route for its scenic views and rides like cable cars and toboggan slide.
  • Badaling: The most visited section due to its features in popular media and proximity to Beijing, though it can get crowded.
  • Jinshanling: Known for its architecture and watchtowers, and is less crowded.
  • Simatai: This side is more rugged and also less crowded, and is popular for being open at night.

Tips for visiting the Great Wall:

  • There are several areas of the Great Wall to visit, and each may require separate day trips.
  • Take the Mutianyu route, which is less busy and has the famous toboggan slide. I booked a tour on Viator.
  • You can hike the west and east route of the Mutianyu Wall which takes around 3 hours in total and is a moderate hike. There are many steep steps, so make sure to bring good walking shoes.

National Museum of China

Tourists and locals wandering the vast square in front of the National Museum of China in Beijing, under a clear blue sky, showcasing the grandeur of the museum's architecture

Name in Chinese: 中国国家博物馆

Cost: Free but reservation required

The National Museum of China, located on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, is one of the largest museums in the world, dedicated to Chinese art and history.

It was founded in 2003 through the merger of the National Museum of Chinese History and the National Museum of Chinese Revolution.

The museum’s collection includes over a million artifacts!

Things to see at National Museum of China:

  • China Through the Ages Exhibit (Chronological historical artifacts)
  • Ancient China Exhibit (Comprehensive historical overview)
  • Road to Rejuvenation Exhibit (Modern history focus)
  • Ancient Chinese Jades (Extensive jade collection)

Tips for visiting the National Museum of China:

  • Make a reservation on WeChat or on the official website.
  • It’s encouraged to book a few days to a week in advance.

Temple of Heaven

Visitors exploring the expansive grounds of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, an iconic example of Ming Dynasty architecture

Name in Chinese: 天坛公园

Cost: $3 for general admission, $5 USD for a pass | Book Tickets on Klook

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a complex of religious buildings where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties conducted ceremonies for good harvests.

It was built in 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, the same emperor who oversaw the construction of the Forbidden City.

The entire complex is set in a larger park, covering an area of about 2.73 sq. kilometers.

The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Things to see at Temple of Heaven:

  • Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (Triple-gabled circular pavilion)
  • Imperial Vault of Heaven (Houses ‘God’s Tablets’)
  • Circular Mound Altar (Used for winter solstice ceremonies)
  • Danbi Bridge (Connects north and south parts)

Tips for visiting Temple of Heaven:

  • A ticket pass includes access to other attractions inside like the prayer hall and circle.
  • You can prebook it on Klook (recommended for peak travel seasons).

Summer Palace

Tranquil view of the Summer Palace's Kunming Lake with a traditional Chinese boat, willow trees in the foreground, and the Tower of Buddhist Incense in the distance, perfect for a Beijing travel guide

Name in Chinese: 颐和园

Cost: $3-4 USD for general admission, $7-8 USD for pass | Book on Klook

The Summer Palace in Beijing is a large lakefront palace of Chinese landscape garden design, natural landscapes, pavilions, halls, palaces, temples, and bridges.

It was originally built in 1750 and served as a royal garden for the Qing Dynasty.

The area is 2.9 sq. kilometers, three-quarters of which is water.

The Summer Palace is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Things to see at Summer Palace:

  • Tower of Buddhist Incense (Central religious site)
  • Garden of Virtue and Harmony (Historic theater stage)
  • Hall of Jade Ripples (Emperor Guangxu’s residence)
  • Marble Boat (Western-style ornate pavilion)

Tips for visiting Summer Palace:

  • A ticket pass includes access to other attractions inside like Foxiang Pavilion and Summer Palace Museum.
  • Book tickets in advance on Klook, especially during busy seasons like summer, otherwise you can buy tickets when you get there.
  • You can walk around the whole lake, though it may take a while.

Beijing Attractions for Shopping

Here are additional commercial and shopping sites to pick and choose from to add to your trip:

Qianmen Street

A vintage-style trolley car on the vibrant Xiamen Street in Beijing at night, adorned with cultural artwork, with traditional Chinese architecture illuminated in the background, a charming scene for a Beijing travel guide

Name in Chinese: 前门大街

Cost: Free (they do check IDs/passports)

Qianmen Street is a famous pedestrian street filled with beautiful but modern traditional-style shops, restaurants, and traditional Chinese tea houses. It’s located just south of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

The street’s history dates back over 570 years, serving as a commercial hub during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

I stayed in the Qianmen Area and it was nice to walk through each day, and was busy and lit up each night.

Tips for visiting Qianmen Street:

  • Make sure you bring your passport. While locals scan their IDs, tourists show their passport to security.
  • If you’re able to, visit during the day and night.

Dashilan Street

Lively Dashilan shopping street in Beijing at night, illuminated with colorful lights and bustling with shoppers, an exciting location spotlighted in a Beijing travel guide

Name in Chinese: 大栅栏街道

Cost: Free

Dashilan Street is one of the oldest commercial streets in Beijing. It’s located within the Qianmen Street area.

Dashilan Street has been around for more than 580 years old. You’ll see traditional Chinese architecture and shops selling Chinese medicines, teas, and other goods.

Tips for visiting Dashilan Street:

  • To enter, you walk through Qianmen Street, where an ID/passport check is required.

Wangfujing Avenue

Crowds shopping and enjoying the bustling Wangfujing Avenue in Beijing, a popular shopping street with historical significance

Name in Chinese: 王府井大街

Cost: Free

Wangfujing Avenue is one of the most famous shopping and pedestrian streets in Beijing, and is known for its modern malls, traditional stores, and Snack Street (closed when I went).

It’s located in the Dongcheng District and has been a commercial hub since the Ming Dynasty.

You’ll find range of retail outlets, including international brands, luxury boutiques, local shops, and large department stores.

Tips for visiting Wangfujing Avenue:

  • The walking promenade is big with benches you can sit on.
  • Visit 北京apm mall for international shopping brands.

Hongqiao Market (Pearl Market)

Inside the Hongqiao Market (Pearl Market) in Beijing, with a variety of stalls offering silk products, traditional Chinese attire, and souvenirs

Name in Chinese: 红桥市场

Cost: Free

Hongqiao Market, also known as the Pearl Market, is a popular shopping mall located in the southeast part of central Beijing.

It’s right across the street from Temple of Heaven.

The mall has a wide selection of souvenirs, jewelry, electronics, and traditional Chinese crafts. It has several floors, each dedicated to different types of merchandise.

Tips for visiting Hongqiao Market:

  • If you’re specifically buying jewelry, gemstones, and clothes this would be a good place to shop. I personally sped through each floor.
  • There is a food court in the basement. (If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, here’s vegan restaurants in Beijing.)

798 Art Zone

Visitors strolling around the trendy 798 Art Zone district in Beijing, showcasing contemporary art galleries and vibrant street murals.

Name in Chinese:

Cost: Free (gallery tickets will vary)

The 798 Art Zone, also known as Dashanzi Art District, is a popular hub for contemporary art mixed with historical industrial architecture.

The district covers an area of 0.6 sq. kilometers with lots of art galleries, studios, vintage shops, cafes, and museums you can visit.

Tips for visiting 798 Art Zone:

  • 798 Art Zone is closer to the airport, so it may take almost an hour to get there by train. I highly recommend visiting though if you have a few hours to spare.
  • It is about a 15-minute walk from the nearest subway.

Beijing Attractions: Parks

I went to a few parks in Beijing, which are grand and beautiful. Most parks have a small entry fee, some as low as 10 US cents. Prices will vary depending on low and high tourist seasons.

Parks close late, though they do not have the best lighting at night. Food is allowed in parks and there are recycling bins everywhere.

Beihai Park

A serene evening at Beihai Park in Beijing, with traditional Chinese architecture illuminated and reflecting on the calm lake waters

Name in Chinese: 北海公园

Cost: 5-10 CNY ($0.70 USD – $1.40 USD)

Beihai Park, located in the northwestern part of the Imperial City, is one of the oldest and largest ancient imperial gardens in China.

It was my favorite park I visited in Beijing.

It covers more than 69 hectares, with a lake that covers more than half of the entire park.

Beihai Park was opened to the public in 1925 and is known for its beautiful gardens, temples, and palaces.

Tips for visiting Beihai Park:

  • I wish I had gone to this park earlier to see the sunset rather than Jingshan Park, which was packed for sunset viewing.
  • Try to go early, as it gets quite dark at night.
  • It’s walkable from Jingshan Park.

Jingshan Park

Tourists capturing the stunning sunset view from Jingshan Park overlooking the historic Forbidden City in Beijing

Name in Chinese: 景山公园

Cost: 2 CNY ($0.28 USD)

Jingshan Park is an imperial park located directly north of the Forbidden City in Beijing and covers 23 hectares.

It’s a popular spot to the see the sunset and panoramic views of the city as well as the Forbidden City.

There’s also lush gardens and pavillions.

Tips for visiting Jingshan Park:

  • There are several viewing decks for sunset views and of the Forbidden City the higher you walk up. It does get quite packed.
  • If you stay past sunset, you can see the Forbidden City lit up.

Longtan Park

Sunset over Longtan Park, Beijing, with a serene lake reflecting the warm sky hues and silhouettes of willow trees and traditional Chinese architecture against the backdrop of modern apartment buildings

Name in Chinese: 龙潭公园

Cost: 2 CNY ($0.28 USD)

Longtan Park is located near the Temple of Heaven and is known for its large lake and traditional Chinese landscapes.

The park’s name, which means “Dragon Pool,” comes from the dragon-shaped boats used in the lake.

The park covers an area of about 49.2 hectares, featuring rock gardens, dragon boats, and several recreational facilities.

Tips for visiting Longtan Park:

  • The nearest subway station is still a bit far, so bus or taxi may be better.
  • If you’re in Beijing during holidays and festivals, there’s usually cultural activities at Longtan Park.

Other parks to visit in Beijing:

  • Olympic Forest Park
  • Yuanmingyuan Park
  • Qingnianhu Park
  • Tuanjiehu Park

Other popular places to visit in Beijing

Here are other Beijing Attractions to visit if you have more time:

  • Universal Studios Beijing
  • Lama temple
  • Beijing Temple of Confucius
  • Prince Gong Mansion Museum
  • Ming Dynasty Tombs
  • Peking University (requires reservation)

I hope this was helpful and you wrote down some things to see in Beijing. I loved exploring and walking around the city, and am looking forward to visiting again!

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