Dating back to 1100 BC, China’s capital boasts some of the most fabulous sights in the East. Today we’re touring our favorites.
Despite widespread modernization driven by a desire to match the world’s top economic powers, Beijing’s 3000-year history is very much alive in its wealth of ancient sights. It’s no easy feat trying to see them all – the best historic attractions are dotted around the city, requiring several days of dedicated touring. Make your journey more efficient with our guide to the top picks.
Best overall: The Forbidden City
It may be Beijing’s best known attraction, but you’ll be glad you braved the tourist hordes at your first glimpse of the architecture and art on display at the Palace Museum. Of course, a visit to the area isn’t complete without a look around Tiananmen Square, the famous – or perhaps infamous – setting of some of China’s most important historical events. For a relatively quiet pause, stroll around the gardens and lakes surrounding the City – the area to the north is the most picturesque, with winding alleyways, tree-lined streets and an expanse of waterways known as the Lake District. Once part of the Emperor’s pleasure gardens, the immaculately landscaped Beihai Park is home to ice skating in winter and boating during the summer; it’s a popular spot but peaceful all the same.
Best for shopping: Visit a hutong
Hutongs are unique to Beijing, but some of these areas of narrow streets and alleys formed by lines of courtyard residences date back hundreds of years. The oldest remaining is north of the Forbidden City, known as Zhuanta Hutong after the brick tower built inside it. This hutong has changed very little throughout the 700 years since its construction. Today it features quaint, traditional homes and plentiful small shops. Rent a bicycle to navigate through the narrow alleys, and be sure to track down the neighboring Guozijian Museum. Once the city’s most renowned educational institution, the museum – and its adjoining Confucius Temple -`now carry permanent exhibitions dating back to imperial times. After an exhausting day studying the museum’s collection of ancient exams, it’s only a brief stroll back to our Radisson Blu Hotel Beijing for some well-deserved rest.
Best for religion: Yonghe Temple
Although it’s newer and not as well known as the Temple of Heaven, the Yonghe Temple, located in Beijing’s north eastern Dongcheng District, is arguably the city’s most beautiful religious site. Built during the late 17th century as part of an imperial residence, the temple later became home to a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks. Its five impressive halls are separated by courtyards, featuring a series of large Buddhist statues. Be sure to check out the Five-Hundred-Arhat-Hill in the Hall of the Wheel of the Law; crafted from a single piece of red sandalwood, this carving contains arhats made from gold, silver, copper, iron and tin.