Beijing: A City of History and Modernity

Beijing city

Updated On: May 14, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Beijing is one of the most famous cities in China, with many historical and scenic spots. It has more than three thousand years of history as a city and more than 800 years as the capital of various Chinese dynasties. Beijing is a rare place to learn about Chinese culture (Northern China).

History of Beijing

The history of Beijing City can be traced to 3000 years ago when the Emperor of the Zhou Dynasty entrusted his relative to Yandi (now Hebei Province and Beijing, China). His relative established the predecessor of Beijing, Ji City. In 1153 AD, the Jin Dynasty moved its capital here. Since then, Beijing has long been China’s capital and has become China’s political, cultural, and economic centre.

 Beijing is the city with the most world heritage sites, and it has many historical sites and cultural landscapes. The Michelin Travel Guide has rated it a “three-star travel recommendation” (the highest level).

 Simultaneously, as the capital of a well-known food country, Beijing brings together flavoured food from all over China, allowing tourists to enjoy authentic Chinese specialities without visiting the local area. There are many Chinese cuisines, eight local flavours, and always have the one you like.

 If you plan to go to Beijing but do not know how to plan your itinerary, we can help you create the best one! Below is a quick list of some of the best attractions and activities in Beijing.


Beijing Subway

Beijing subway
Beijing Subway and its commuters.

 The subway is indispensable if you want a comprehensive tour of Beijing’s attractions. As the most extensive urban subway system globally, the Beijing Subway has 404 stations with a total mileage of nearly 700km. All major tourist attractions (except the Great Wall) can be reached via the Beijing Subway.

 The Beijing subway runs from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. It is recommended that tourists choose periodic tickets. The one-day periodic ticket is 20 RMB (around 2.5 Euros/2.2 pounds), and the two-day periodic ticket is 30 RMB (around 3.75 euros/3.3 pounds). You can take all Beijing subway lines (except for the Capital International Airport Line and Daxing International Airport Line) at any time within a limited period, which is very cost-effective.

 If you are only staying in Beijing for a few days and want to visit as many sights and attractions as possible within a limited time, we strongly recommend that you use the subway.


Bike-Sharing in Beijing: Cheap and Convenient

beijing bicycles
A person using a famous Beijing bicycle.

 Beijing has many shared bicycles, Mobike being the most common. Bikes are comfortable to ride, and sharing bicycles allows people to park their bicycles anywhere, which is the best choice for travellers to explore the city scenery.

 Download the Mobike app, find the bike closest to you, and scan the QR code to use it. They are very low in price: RMB 1.5 (about 20 Euro cents/17 pence) every half hour. You can also choose unlimited use for seven days, and the price is RMB 10 (about 1.25 euros/1.1 pounds).

Beijing is a metropolis, so choosing Bike-sharing to save time and physical strength is a great choice.


Great Wall: The Ultimate Chinese Landmark

the great wall of china
The Great Wall of China in its glory.

As a world-famous tourist attraction and a landmark in China, the Great Wall is a must-see attraction for everyone in Beijing. As a facility used to defend the northern nomads in ancient China, the total length of the Great Wall is close to 9000km. The famous tourist attraction in Beijing is the Badaling Great Wall, which is only a small part of the Great Wall.

You may have viewed many photos of the Great Wall, but I must say that the real Great Wall is more shocking than the images. Here, you can feel the hard work of ancient humans to protect their homes.

But if you plan to go to the Great Wall, you need to book seven days ahead of time. The ticket price is usually RMB 35(around 4.4 euros/3.9 pounds), and the opening hours are from 7:30 am to 6 pm. But during the summer holidays, the ticket price is RMB 40 (around 5 euros/4.4 pounds), and the opening hours are also changed, from 6 am to 7:30 pm. Simultaneously, because the Badaling Great Wall is far from the urban area and there is no subway, it is recommended to take a taxi or use Didi, the Chinese taxi app.


Forbidden City: The Residence of the Mysterious Chinese Emperor

The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is one of Beijing’s finest tourist attractions.

 The Forbidden City, as its name suggests, was a palace that ordinary people were forbidden to approach. In the past, it was the residence of the Chinese emperor. But now, it serves as a museum, the Palace Museum, for the people to visit.

 As the most famous museum in China, the Palace Museum is definitely worth visiting. Apart from the cultural relics in the museum, the buildings, sculptures, and murals of the Forbidden City are also very representative of Chinese cultural symbols.

 Besides these, the souvenirs sold in the museum may also be the most worth buying in Beijing. These souvenirs designed and made by scholars of ancient Chinese research are not only well-made but also have a particular collection value because many souvenirs are only sold in a limited time. It is a perfect choice to buy some unique souvenirs for your relatives and friends here.

 The Palace Museum is open from 8 am to 5 pm (closed on Monday). The ticket price usually is RMB 40(around 5 euros/4.4 pounds), but the price in the summer holidays is RMB 60(around 7.5 euros/6.7 pounds). It can easily arrive by taking Metro Line 1 or Line 2.


Temple of Heaven: Ancient Chinese Religious Sacrifice Site

temple of heaven
The Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

 If you are interested in Chinese religion, then the Temple of Heaven is a must-see attraction. As the largest and highest-level sacrificial building complex in ancient China, this is the best place to learn about ancient Chinese religions. Imagining that the Chinese emperor and the priests once prayed for the prosperity of the country here, you may have a deeper understanding of Chinese culture.

 If you are not interested in religion, then the Temple of Heaven as a beautiful building is also worth seeing. Especially for gamers, if you have played the real-time strategy game: Age of Empires 2 produced by Microsoft, then you may be familiar with the Temple of Heaven because the world wonders of Chinese civilization in the game are designed based on it.

 The ticket price for the Temple of Heaven is RMB 15 (around 2 euros/1.65 pounds), and the opening hours are from 8 am to 4 pm (the summer vacation price and opening hours are different). It can easily arrive by taking Metro Line 5, Line 7, or Line 14.


Summer Palace: The Emperor’s Summer Holiday House

The Summer Place Beijing
The Emperor’s Summer Palace in Beijing.

 When there was no air conditioner in ancient times, what should people do if they felt hot in Summer? The best choice is to find a place with mountains and water for a cool vacation. The Chinese emperors of the Qing Dynasty built this imperial garden as their summer vacation home. The entire garden consists of a small mountain peak and two lakes (all artificially constructed), one of the most scenic areas in Beijing. Here, you can look at Beijing from the top of the mountain, just like the ancient Chinese emperor. Or take a boat and enjoy the coolness of the lake.

 Because it is completely artificially constructed, the layout of the entire garden is very particular, and it is the pinnacle of ancient Chinese gardens. You can also see the beautiful antique Chinese architecture here.

 There is another thing to remember. As the name suggests, the best time to visit the Summer Palace in summer, followed by autumn. The scenery of the Summer Palace in Winter and Spring is significantly different compared to the previous two seasons.

 The price of the Summer Palace is RMB 20(around 2.5 euros/2.2 pounds), and the opening hours are 7 am to 5 pm (the price and opening hours are different during summer vacation). It can easily arrive by taking Metro Line 16 or Xijiao Line.


Food: Experience a Food Street with Typical Chinese Delicacies

chinese food
One of the most popular offerings, Chinese food is served fresh in Beijing.

 After visiting many attractions, you work up an appetite. Let us explore the food streets of Beijing. In Beijing, there are many famous food streets, and they have specialities from all over China and even the world. Here are two famous food streets:

 The first is Ghost Street. As the busiest food street in Beijing, this is a favourite eating place for tourists. Especially since it is close to the embassy area, it started as a food court for international tourists, so you can enjoy better English service here without worrying about reading the menu.

 The second is Wangfujing Street. It is a bustling street with shopping, entertainment, and dining, and there are many of the most famous Chinese gourmet restaurants, such as Quanjude Beijing Roast Duck. This is the best choice if you want to experience high-end dining and enjoy a shopping trip after dinner.

Shichahai: Temples, Noble Courtyards, and Bars

 Shichahai is an artificial lake. In ancient China, it was the living area of nobles, with numerous temples and noble courtyards. However, with the changes of the times, it has become one of the most prosperous pedestrian streets in Beijing. Numerous bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues surround Shichahai, making it the most popular place in Beijing. If you want to experience the nightlife in Beijing, this is the best place to do so.

 It is recommended to arrange Shichahai as a place to visit in the afternoon and then eat here, stroll and feel the life of the locals.

View sites in Shichahai are free and can be easily reached by Metro Line 8.


Beijing Olympic Park: The Venue for the 2008 Olympic Games

Beijing Olympic park
The Olympic Park from 2008.

 The Beijing Olympic Park is the venue of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest Stadium) and the Beijing National Aquatics Center (Water Cube) are uniquely designed buildings.

 Half of the Water Cube has now been transformed into a water park with a wealth of entertainment activities. If you visit Beijing with your children, then the Water Cube Water Park is a good place for family entertainment. The water temperature inside the water cube is constant. Even in winter, the water temperature will not make you feel cold so that you can enjoy yourself.

 Besides the northern part of the Beijing Olympic Park is the Olympic Forest Park. It is a well-known modern garden in Beijing with a beautiful environment and high vegetation coverage. It is the most moving green in the urban steel jungle.

Among the attractions in the Olympic Park, the combined ticket for the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube is RMB 80(around 10 euros/8.9 pounds), while other places are accessible. The opening hours are usually from 8 am to 9 pm, but the opening hours will be different during the summer vacation. It is better to plan your time before you go. It can easily arrive by Line 8 or Line 15.

Chang’an Grand Theater:

Chang'an Grand Theater
The seats and stalls of the Chang’an Grand Theater

 For most people, the purpose of tourism is to see the local scenery and experience the local culture. Viewing scenery is generally easy to achieve, but experiencing culture is not easy.

 In Beijing, travellers can easily find countless natural and cultural landscapes. As for the local cultural experience, many travellers just go to some famous pedestrian streets to experience the life of the locals, which is essentially incomplete.

 For the cultural experience in Beijing, Peking Opera is essential. Peking opera is known as the quintessence of Chinese culture and is the most famous traditional art performance in China. The Chang’an Grand Theater is the best place to watch Peking Opera live. As the performance location of the Beijing Peking Opera Troupe, Chang’an Grand Theater represents the highest level of Peking Opera performances in China. It is a rare place to experience Chinese culture.

 The performance time and price of the Chang’an Grand Theater are not fixed. If you plan to watch it, you need to book in advance. It can easily arrive by taking Metro Line 1 or Line 2.

Panjiayuan Antique Market: Interesting Chinese Antique Market

Panjiayuan Antique Market
The famous Panjiayuan Antique Market in Beijing.

 In Beijing, another exciting place to experience Chinese culture is the Panjiayuan Antique Market. Here, you can see all kinds of traditional Chinese crafts and antiques, guaranteed to open your eyes.

 However, it is worth noting that although it is called the antique market, most of them are fakes, so be careful. But if the price is right, it can be bought as a collection of art or souvenirs. Although the souvenirs bought here are not as exquisite as those of the Forbidden City, they are more diverse and closer to traditional Chinese culture. They are an excellent choice for souvenirs and gifts to friends.

 Panjiayuan Antique Market is open from 8:30 am to 6 pm. It can be easily reached by taking Metro Line 10.

798 Art Zone: Combination of Modern Art and Chinese Culture

 Strictly speaking, Beijing has only two kinds of scenery: the steel jungle that constitutes a modern city, and the garden palaces of ancient emperors, but the 798 Art Zone provides a third kind of view that is different from the two.

 The 789 Art Zone was transformed from many old factories. Many artists used their unique vision to discover the unique advantages of this place for their artwork. They made full use of the style of the original factory building and made a little decoration and modification, making this a characteristic art exhibition and creative space. Here, you can feel the unique Chinese-style modern art, which is a must-go for art lovers.

 789 Art Zone can be reached by taking the East Section of Subway Line 14.


Gubei Water Town: Non-Royal Architectural Treasures 

 If you have read this article carefully, then you could find that most of the attractions in Beijing are palaces or gardens built by ancient imperial families. Are there any traditional Chinese buildings that are not part of the royal family? The answer is yes. Gubei Water Town is a tourist resort based on the transformation of several traditional Chinese villages. It retains the appearance and traditional customs of traditional Chinese villages and is an excellent place to experience traditional Chinese culture.

 Gubei Water Town is also close to the Simatai Great Wall (another part of the Great Wall). Although this part of the Great Wall is not as famous as the Badaling Great Wall, the scenery is not lost. More importantly, there are many fewer tourists than the Badaling Great Wall, which is not that crowded. If you don’t like overcrowded attractions, I recommend going to Simatai Great Wall instead of Badaling Great Wall.

 It is a little far away from the city center and can arrive by bus or taxi. Gubei Water Town has distinctive hotels to try so that you can have more time to plan your trip to the Great Wall. If you stay overnight, getting up early the next day to watch the sunrise on the Great Wall will be an experience you will never forget.

As the capital of China, Beijing is the most visited city among the four biggest cities(the other three are Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen) in China. Ancient imperial gardens and palaces, modern urban skyscrapers, and mysterious Chinese traditional culture are all in Beijing. With its perfect combination of old and contemporary, Beijing is the best choice for visiting China, no matter how long your trip.

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