Whether you are an avid traveler or a travel novice, a visit to the city of Beijing is a destination not to be missed. This 5-day itinerary brings together the best things to do in Beijing in the heart and soul of the Chinese capital.
From the splendor of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, to its more modern districts and hutongs, here's a guide with maps to make your trip easier.
Day 1: Longtan Gardens, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City
On the first day the tour starts in the south of Beijing with a 10 km route that you can see in this map. This day is dedicated to the heart of this capital city. Bring your comfortable clothes and shoes and let's start!
Longtan Park is the perfect place to start the day in harmony with a natural landscape among dragon cypress trees and snapdragon flowers arranged on 49.2 hectares. Walk its trails, take a boat ride or if you are traveling with your little ones, you can even go to its children's activity center.
This park, built in 1952, revolves around a large meandering lake known as the Dragon Lake. In the end, areas of interest such as the Long Character Stone Forest, the Wanliu Hall, the Dragon Gate, or the Liantanghua and Central Islands leave an impression worthy of being portrayed. If you have not had breakfast at your hotel, I invite you to stroll through one of the restaurants or tea houses in these gardens.
Temple of Heaven
Upon entering the park, you will be amazed by the aura of peace that envelops the vast grounds. The Temple of Heaven is spread over 273 hectares where emperors held rituals to ask for good harvests and blessings.
As you walk through the halls, you advance past pagodas, temples, gardens, museums and bridges, which are perfect examples of Chinese ingenuity. Among these are the Fasting Palace, the Hall of Harvest Prayer, the Baihua Pavilion or the Beijing Natural History Museum.
No wonder the Temple of Heaven is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the best temples in Beijing and therefore a must-see.
In the late afternoon, you can have lunch on your way to Tiananmen Square. I recommend trying the food at Bianyifang Roast Duck, for just over 5€ you can try traditional food such as lacquered duck or gong bao chicken. When you finish, continue your itinerary through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, 4 kilometers from the Temple of Heaven, where you begin to explore Tiananmen Square.
In the square you find a variety of things to do in Tiananmen Square such as the imposing portrait of Mao Zedong hanging above the entrance to the square. This historic site has played an important role in China's history and is a symbolic representation of political power from the decline of the Qing dynasty to the present day.
It is vast and offers many photo opportunities at monuments such as the Great Hall of the People, Mao Zedong's mausoleum and the National Museum of China, which is the second most visited museum in the world.
The best way to immerse yourself in Beijing' s cultural heritage and learn about its foundations is to visit the Forbidden City, which housed the Chinese Imperial Palace and was the political center of the Chinese government for more than 600 years, where 24 emperors passed through from the Ming Dynasty until the early 20th century.
This city boasts imposing wooden walls. Discover the plethora of ancient paintings, courtyards, bridges, calligraphic works, jade utensils, as well as the prized Kublai Khan, all around the Coal Hill of Jingshan Gardens, where this city surrenders to the feet of visitors.
This palace complex comprises one of the most popular tourist attractions, in fact, it stands out among the 10 most visited and photographed monuments in the world.
You may want to buy your tickets to the Forbidden City in advance or hire a local guide to help you get the most out of your visit while sharing interesting facts such as the importance and presence of the number 9 in all the structures of the Forbidden City.
At the end of your visit try a good Hot pot or Huo Guo. To better understand, it is a kind of Chinese fondue. It is ideal for sharing with friends or family and usually includes a variety of vegetables, seafood, mushrooms, meat, even wontons and dumplings. Around the Lost City you will find great restaurants like the Old Beijing Noodle, ah! and don't worry about the proper way to order, the menus usually have pictures and English translation.
Day 2: Visit the Imperial Palace, stroll through the pearl market and enjoy the Kung Fu show
Already acclimatized, this day promises to be hectic as you join the local good vibes among its markets and shows with this 4-stop highlight itinerary of just 7 kilometers that you can follow with this map.
The Imperial Palace
Start the day at the Imperial Palace, a huge temple complex that shares the same floor with the Forbidden City, but is much less crowded, so you can explore at your leisure. Here you will find yourself in the place where the emperors kept their ancestral tablets.
Walk through the three main halls, namely the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Zhonghe Hall and Baohe Hall, where national ceremonies are held. In addition, there are two groups of must-see buildings: the Wenhua Hall and the Wuying Hall, which flank the above.
The Zhengyangmen Gate is one of the famous "nine gates of the capital" in ancient Beijing, and was founded in 1419 during the Ming Dynasty.
Also known as the Qianmen, it houses the Zhengyangmen Tower, the Arrow Tower and the Beijing Folk Exhibition Hall. Because it is located directly opposite the Forbidden City, it is also known as the "Main Gate" and because of its structure, history and forms it is a popular tourist attraction.
Visit the Silk Market
Although initially focused on the sale of pearls, today you can find practically everything. It has been operating since 1979 in a modern building on Tiantan Street. This visit will serve not only to bargain with the sellers - do not fail to do so, it is a tradition - but you can also have lunch. There are many things to do in the Beijing Silk Market.
The top floors are home to jewelry stores and pearl specialists, while on the first floor there are excellent seafood restaurants where you can have lunch like the locals for about 5 euros.
Visit the Red Theater
Kung Fu fights are a Chinese claim and tradition and being in its capital you cannot miss the show offered by the Red Theater, where the best Kung Fu shows in Beijing take place.
Focused on the traditions of the Shaolin monastery, "The Legend of Kung Fu" is presented, where martial arts specialists show their skills in an experience that combines storytelling, live music and special effects. On your way out you can dine in the same area, two blocks away is the famous Tianruifu Traditional Yunnan Rice Noodles with a menu full of authentic Chinese dishes.
Day 3: Modern art, hutongs and the Olympic Park
We continue north, and on this day you can contrast ancient and modern Beijing art, visit one of the capital's busiest hutongs, and end the day at the Olympic Park with this one-day Beijing itinerary.
The tour covers 31 kilometers and features 4 highlights that you can follow with this map.
798 Art District
The first stop on this day of contrasts takes you on a tour of the industrial area of the Dashanzi Art District, included in Beijing's best of Beijing as its leading exponent of contemporary Beijing art since 1953.
This area is better known as the 798 Art District and is home to a collection of galleries, studios, museums and stores showcasing urban and even to some extent semi-contemporary art. As you stroll through the maze of streets, with trendy bars and restaurants, you admire eye-catching art installations, graffiti and murals. With its eclectic mix of art, culture and gastronomy, you will be inspired and enriched by this unique corner of the city.
Experience the Hutongs in Dongcheng!
Discover the true essence of Beijing by immersing yourself in the Hutongs of Dongcheng, butwhat is a hutong? These are the areas formed by blocks bounded by walls and houses with beautiful inner courtyards between narrow streets. This is a window into the intimate, traditional and collective life of Beijing.
Many of these Hutongs are still preserved, and Dongcheng is one of the oldest districts in Beijing where you can enjoy authentic Chinese culinary culture and taste local specialties with recipes from the Chinese "nonas". In addition, you can practice paper cutting, calligraphy, and study ancient Beijing civilization.
For this type of visit I recommend taking one of the Beijing hutong tours, it's the best way to make the most of your time, plus they usually include 15-20 substantial tastings, enough for your lunch.
Stroll through the Olympic Park
Marvel at the impressive structures that hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing's Olympic Zone. From the iconic Bird's Nest National Stadium to the meandering Water Cube aquatic center to the landscaped gardens, there are plenty of reasons to visit this 1159-hectare complex.
The magnitude of the Beijing Olympic Park will amaze you. Stroll its paths, take pictures, enjoy live events, play mahjong or badminton, take your first tai-chi class, or just admire the beauty of the surroundings. The setting combines sleek, modern structures with ancient Chinese art and culture.
With this vibrant atmosphere, dine nearby, surrounded by a variety of restaurants serving traditional and international cuisine.
Day 4: Confucius Temple, present-day Summer Palace, the Lama Temple and the Old Summer Palace
On the fourth day I propose you a 28 kilometers tour that you can see in this map where you will walk through the summer palaces, you will taste the traditional food among imperial gardens and you will approach the most important Lamaist temple of the capital.
Beijing's Confucius Temple
This impressive temple was built in 1302 and is a sacred place for those seeking inspiration and wisdom on the path of knowledge. In fact, the more than 20,000-meter Beijing Confucius Temple is home to the Imperial College, the academy founded by Confucius himself.
Enjoy the serenity of its 13 pavilions from the Dacheng Gate, where the Qianlong stone drum is located. Make your way to Chongsheng Temple and take in the beauty of the ancient structures.
Next, head to the Temple of the Lamas, where a sensory experience awaits you amidst offerings, monks, prayers and the smell of incense permeating every corner.
This Tibetan temple is the largest of its kind in Beijing, dating from the eighteenth century and in its 66,000 meters you will find various monuments such as the Mountain of 500 Arhats located within the Pavilion of the Wheel of the Law or the Buddha statue of 26 meters high that houses the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses.
On your way to the summer palaces, you can stop for lunch. And the perfect prelude is found at Baijia Restaurant North Gate, a place to sample typical dishes of Sichuan cuisine where waiters dressed in traditional Qing Dynasty costumes and traditional architecture merge to immerse you in traditional culture among the gardens of an ancient prince.
The Ruins of the Ancient Summer Palace Park
Yuanmingyuan Park has changed names since its construction in 1707. From the Garden of Perfect Brilliance, it was renamed the Imperial Gardens and is now identified as the Old Summer Palace.
Visitors can explore the palace ruins featuring the Pavilion of Calm Seas, the Black Swan and Lotus Flower Monuments, the Garden of Elegant Spring and its palaces. There are 100 highlights ideal for relaxing, boating on Fuhai Lake and getting lost among its paths.
The actual Summer Palace
Finally, end the day at the Summer Palace, an impressive imperial garden and palace built in the 18th century. With sweeping views of the surrounding hills and an impressive lake, the Summer Palace is not only a tourist attraction, but also its 290 hectares are a favorite spot for locals.
Walk across the 17-Arches Bridge or take a boat ride on Kunming Lake. Admire the intricately designed Marble Boat by the lake or see the Buddhist Incense Pagoda on Longevity Hill.
I invite you to conclude the tour at the Aman Restaurant on the south side of the palace, where you exchange the colorful atmosphere of lunch for the serenity of a restaurant overlooking the Summer Palace Grand Theater.
Day 5: The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is a fortress that stretches for thousands of kilometers in the mountains of Beijing and dates back to the 12th century. Depending on your desired level of difficulty and your location, you can choose from at least six sections to walk and explore.
Those looking for a demanding climb can opt for the Jiankou section, while, if you prefer a light hike, the Mutianyu is for you. In fact , the most popular walk to this fortress corresponds to the 5400 meters of the Mutianyu Great Wall.
It is the commercial wall, so you will find places to eat, public transportation and whatever you need to know this defensive prodigy. A visit to this Great Wall of China in Mutianyu is a day trip from Beijing that you should add to your bucket list at least once in your life, and with it you say goodbye to the city just 90 minutes from the center of Beijing. But what are the things to see and do on the Great Wall?
Walk the Hero's Slope
The Hero's Slope is a magnificent hike that leads to the top of the Great Wall, its level of difficulty is medium and, when you reach the top of the path, it offers breathtaking panoramic views, the effort is worth it. Once at the top, you can take a tour of different parts of this section of the wall.
Take the cable car
The cable car is an easy way to enjoy the breathtaking views of the city and also get some exercise. You can choose between two different cable cars: one that goes up to the highest point and one that takes you through several watchtowers along the way. If you are looking for something more relaxing and less intense than climbing mountains, I recommend you opt for this route.
Slide down the slide
The slide, the perfect way to enjoy the descent taking pictures of your friends and family, while witnessing this wonderful work, especially at the end of the day, when you see all the lights of the city.