Beijing (literally Northern Capital), China's capital city, is a vibrant mix of history and modernity. Boasting a history of more than 3,000 years, of which more than 800 years as the capital city of whole China, Beijing has bequeathed us some of the finest remnants of China's imperial past and many other world grandest sights: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, Ming Tombs (the mausoleum of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 AD) – any of which can compare the most significant royal sights in the world. Not to mention the Great Wall, there are several sections of the Great Wall in Beijing can be visited. Badaling section of the Great Wall, the nearest section, just one-and-a-half hours’ drive from downtown. All of the above 5 places are the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Featuring great culture and time-honored historical sites, Beijing is one of the most popular cities in the world.
Beijing was awarded recognition as Asia’s most dynamic city in 2016 (the third most dynamic in the world). It has so much more to offer than just tourist sites: great food, great markets, the best kungfu show and much more. One of the major attractions in Beijing are the zigzagging hutongs, an integral part of Beijing's local culture. Created in the 13th century, the Hutongs are actually small public alleys with private courtyard residences. It is the way Old Beijing used to be. Hutongs are like folk-custom museums, presenting a window into a traditional way of life intertwined with the old architecture and maze of narrow streets.
Beijing is brightened by its glorious past, but is by no means struck in the past. Behind its rich and complex historical tapestries, everyday life unfolds with bewildering variety. From the commanding austerity of the Forbidden City to the hectic bar street at Sanlitun, Beijing is overflowing with a unique charm, beckoning visitors from around the world to lose themselves in the furious pace.
Being the political and cultural center of China, with 3 railway stations and one of the largest airports in China, Beijing can be easily reached by tourists all over the world. From Beijing, tourists can also easily get to most cities in China. So along with Shanghai, the economical, financial and shipping center of China, Beijing is top-selected to begin or end their China trip by most foreign tourists. Therefore, if this tour is your first tour in China, traveling from Beijing or Shanghai is more suitable.
How long the tour in Beijing could be:
There are many extraordinary historical sites on display in Beijing. But if you only want to see the essence of Beijing, normally 3 days would be enough. The following is the recommended itinerary:
Day 1: Discovering the Forbidden City and hutongs
(Please note: Forbidden City is closed on every Monday.)
Day 2: Hiking and photography at the Great Wall, a visit to Ming Tomb
Day 3: The Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven
What to See in Beijing
Beijing is one of the most popular cities in the world, renowned for its Great Wall, royal palaces, grand temples, royal gardens, and royal tombs. It is a city for travel in all seasons.
What to see and When to go largely depends on one's vacation time, weather preference, personal budget, and the tourist seasons in Beijing.
There are hundreds of attractions in Beijing, and something for everyone. But at least, the following 6 places are the must for every tourist: Great Wall, the Forbidden City (include Tian'anmen Square in the front of it), the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, hutongs (include Shichahai Lake area), and if you have time, Olympic Park (Bird's Nest and Water Cube) would the 7th place worthy of a visit.
Of all these, going to the several sections of the Great Wall in Beijing is commonly considered as the No. 1 thing to do. The Great Wall is a symbol of Chinese civilization, and one of the wonders that the Chinese people have created. It was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987. Normally there are 4 sections of Great Wall in Beijing are widely considered worthy of visit: Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling and Simatai. Tourists can choose one from these 4 sections.
Badaling section of Great Wall is the nearest section to downtown, only approximately 50 miles (80 km) / 1.5 hours drive from northwest of downtown Beijing. It is also the easiest section to climb. Tourists can directly get to watchtower on the rampart at the foothill, although there is cable car service which can reach to the highest point of this portion of the Wall. It was the first section of the wall to open to tourists and also the most visited section of Great Wall.
Mutianyu section of Great Wall is also around 50 miles (80 km) / 1.5 hours drive from northwest of downtown Beijing. Compared with other sections of Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall possesses unique characteristics in its construction.
1. Watchtowers are densely placed along this section of the Great Wall - 22 watchtowers on this 2,250-metre-long stretch.
2. Both the outer and inner parapets are crenelated with merlons, so that shots could be fired at the enemy on both sides - a feature very rare on other parts of the Great Wall.
3. The Mutianyu Pass consists of 3 watchtowers, one big in the centre and two smaller on both sides. Standing on the same terrace, the three watchtowers are connected to each other inside and compose a rarely seen structure among all sections of Great Wall.
Besides, this section of Great Wall is surrounded by woodland and streams. The forest-coverage rate is over 90 percent.
But this portion of Great Wall is on the very high ridge of mountains. Tourists can walk up 4000+ steps to ascend to the Great Wall. But I do not suggest you do so. Because after so long upward climbing, you will have no energy to enjoy the magnificent view on this famous portion of the Great Wall. Tourists may choose between a two-rider chairlift or four-rider gondola lift up from the foothills to the level of the wall, which runs along the ridges above. These lifts may also be used to descend. Another feature of the wall at Mutianyu is an alternate method of descent by single-rider personal wheeled toboggan. This allows single riders to descend from the wall to the valley on a winding metal track.
* But the problem of it is it would cost a lot of money at the cable lift. One way is RMB80 and round trip is RMB100. Tourists are also asked to take the shuttle bus between the parking lot and the cable lift station. The round trip shuttle bus fee is RMB15.
Jinshanling and Simatai Section of Great Wall are around 140 km northeast of Beijing. So to visit either Jinshanling or Simatai would need one full day because it is really far from downtown Beijing. These 2 sections of the wall are connected with each other and the distance between Jinshanling and the western part of Simatai is around 10km+.
The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is 10.5 km long with 5 passes, 67 towers and 3 beacon towers. The initial section of the wall has been restored to original condition, but the condition of the wall deteriorates towards its natural state as it approaches Simatai. The cable car system is ready to take tourists to the highest point along the wall.
Simatai Great Wall is separated by a valley into eastern and western parts. The western part is gently sloped with 20 well-preserved watchtowers dotting along the wall. The eastern part is much steeper, following more rugged terrain that includes cliff edges and kilometre-high peaks.
Hanging precariously onto the Yanshan Mountain, Simatai Great Wall is known for its steepness. Open Air Gondolas provide a way to ascend partway up the wall. The 17 watchtowers are relatively closely spaced and provide spectacular views.
Now the entrance ticket to Simatai Great Wall is related with Gubei Water Town – a charming ancient water town at the foothill of Simatai Great Wall. It is the set entrance ticket for these two attractions.
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty—the years 1420 to 1911. It is in the center of Beijing, and now houses the Palace Museum. It served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years.
Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 ha (over 180 acres). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. With its massive scale and historical significance, the Forbidden City must invoke visitors' imaginations. Its clear lines, perfect proportions, and dramatic color scheme of vermilion walls, white marble terrace and staircases, and brilliant yellow-tiled roofs create one of the world's most beautiful architectural complexes. Serving as the seat of imperial power during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Forbidden City houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. With over 14.6 million visitors in 2015, the Palace Museum is the most visited art museum in the world.
Closed on Monday every week.
The Temple of Heaven is a dignified imperial complex of fine religious buildings set in gardens and surrounded by historic pine woods and situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It has been regarded as a Taoist temple, although Chinese heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, predates Taoism.
The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century.
In its overall layout and that of its individual buildings, it symbolizes the relationship between earth and heaven – the human world and God's world – which stands at the heart of Chinese cosmogony, and also the special role played by the emperors within that relationship. The buildings in the Temple of Heaven everywhere show the specific meaning and a symbol of artistic expression in ancient China. Temple of Heaven collects ancient philosophy, history, mathematics, mechanics, aesthetics, ecology together, it is the masterpiece of ancient times. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and was described as "a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilizations..." as the "symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East over many centuries."
The Summer Palace is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces and the existing largest and best preserved imperial garden in China. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres (1.1 sq mi), three-quarters of which is water. Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, modeled on the West Lake scenery in Hangzhou city, this large natural landscape garden drew some design techniques and the mood of the gardens on the Yangtze River Delta.
Longevity Hill is about 60 metres (200 feet) high and has many buildings positioned in sequence. The front hill is rich with splendid halls and pavilions, while the back hill, in sharp contrast, is quiet with natural beauty. The central Kunming Lake, covering 2.2 square kilometres (540 acres), was entirely man-made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill.
In December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List. It declared the Summer Palace "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value".
The Ming Tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty of China (1368-1644 AD). The first Ming emperor's tomb is located near then capital Nanjing city. However, the majority of the Ming tombs are located in a cluster within the suburban Changping District of Beijing the capital of whole China in the place of Nanjing, 50 kilometres (31 mi) north-northwest of Beijing city center, and collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty. The site, on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain, was chosen based on the principles of feng shui (geomancy) by the third Ming emperor, the Yongle Emperor. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum, Changling Tomb, in the valley. The succeeding 12 emperors had their resting places built around Changling during the next 230 years, covering a total area of over 120 square kilometers (46.3 square miles). This is the best preserved mausoleum area with the most emperors buried in China. Every year millions of tourists come to the site to appreciate its long history and palatial architecture. In the scenic area, each mausoleum has its own independent unit. The layout and arrangement of all the thirteen mausoleums are very similar, but they vary in size as well as in the complexity of their structures. The tombs stretch out on the two sides of Changling Tomb in a fan shape, except for the Siling Tomb, which sits separately in the southwest corner. From site selection to design, great attention was paid to the harmony and unity with nature, pursuing a perfect situation of ‘made by God’ and reflecting the philosophy ‘the unity of heaven and humanity’. As outstanding representatives of the ancient Chinese mausoleum, the Ming Tombs demonstrate the richness of traditional Chinese culture.
In 2000, the Ming Tombs are designated as one of the components of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
At present, only the Sacred Way, Changling Tomb, Dingling Tomb, Zhaoling Tomb are open to the public.
The Sacred Way, also known as Changling Sacred Way, is the approach to the Changling Tomb. Along the Way from south to north, you will see a number of sites (or sights) of interest and beauty, including the Stone Tablet Archway, Great Red Gate, Tablet Pavilion, Ornamental Columns, Stone Figures, Lingxin Gate.
Walking along the Sacred Way to the end, you can see the Changling Tomb built in 1420, where lie the third Emperor of Ming Dynasty, Emperor Zhu Di and his Empress Xu. It is the largest, original and the best preserved among the 13 tombs, and has three courtyards in the front and a Treasure City in the round rear part. The magnificent Grace and Blessing Palace (Ling'en Palace) in the second courtyard is highly recommended.
Built from 1584 to 1590, it is the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun, the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty and his two empresses. The highlight part is the stone Underground Palace, which was discovered between 1956 and 1958, and had a great deal of precious relics unearthed.
Located in eastern foot of Dayu Mountain, Zhaoling is where the 12th emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Zhu Zaihou and his three empresses were buried. It features the special Dumb Yard in a crescent shape housing the imperial coffins.
Hutongs (include Shichahai Lake area)
Hutongs are a type of narrow streets or alleys, commonly associated with northern Chinese cities, most prominently Beijing.
In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.
Literally means "the lake of ten temples", Shichahai is a historic scenic area consisting of three lakes (Front, Middle and Rear Lake) in the north of central Beijing in China. They are located to the north-west of the Forbidden City and north of the Beihai Lake. Around the lake there are ten famous Taoist and Buddhist temples and several formal royal mansions and gardens. The most well known are the Prince Gong Mansion and the Prince Chun Mansion. With the vast area to the east of the lakes, such as Nan Luoguxiang (South Luogu Lane), Shichahai area is the most famous hutong area in China.
Since the mid-20th century, a large number of Beijing hutongs were demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. However, many of Beijing's ancient hutongs still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas. The older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations.
Hutongs represent an important cultural element of the city of Beijing. Thanks to Beijing's long history and status as capital for partial or whole China for six dynasties, almost every hutong has its anecdotes, and some are even associated with historic events. In contrast to the court life and elite culture represented by the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven, the hutongs reflect the culture of grassroots Beijingers. The hutongs are residential neighborhoods which still form the heart of Old Beijing. Many hutongs, some several hundred years old, in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Drum Tower and Shichahai Lake are preserved amongst recreated contemporary two- and three-story versions. Today, as in the past, hutongs are home to celebrities, business owners and officials.
A virtual tour of one of Beijing's Hutong's can be found here. This area abounds with tourists, many of which tour the quarter in pedicabs.
There are still some other charming ancient attractions in downtown Beijing, such as Beihai Park (a royal garden just like Summer Palace but smaller), Yonghegong Temple (a famous lamasery where the representative of old Tibet once stayed in), Confucius Temple (where you can find all scholars' name who have passed the senior emperor test) and Guozijian (the senior academy in the emperor period in China)... You can visit them if you have time and get interested in them.
Best time to go and What to pack:
Generally speaking, Beijing can be visited all year around. While based on the weather condition, the best time to travel Beijing is spring and autumn, which you can avoid the cold winter and hot summer. Anyway, autumn is the most pleasant season the year, there is no sandstorms which may happen in spring.
Beijing is a huge city in a dry plain area with mountains to the north. It has a temperate continental monsoon climate, and there are four distinct seasons. Dry spring weather with dust storms, high midsummer temperatures and heavy winter smog are the main weather extremes and environmental issues.
March–May: Spring is cool to warm, windy, and dry, but the temperature difference between day and night is large. If you want to go out at night dress warmly! There are also occasional sandstorms in spring. Bring long pants, one or two jackets and sweaters. But in the 2nd half of May, the highest temperature can be as high as 37 degree Centigrade.
June–August: Beijing's summer is very hot with abundant rainfall. Bring light clothes such as T-shirts, shorts, and skirts. Take an umbrella. Hat, sunglasses, long-sleeve shirts, and sun cream may be needed to protect yourself from getting sunburned.
September–November: Autumn is the pleasantest season of the year and the most attractive season, when there is plenty of sunshine and cooler temperatures. The temperature is mild. Prepare long pants and jackets.
December–February: Beijing's winter is cold and dry with occasional snow. The average temperature is below freezing. Prepare wool sweaters, down jackets, thick pants, hat, gloves, and an umbrella. A mask might be needed to protect your nose on windy days.
The low travel cost season: November–March is cold but cheaper.
Avoid the summer vacation crowds and heat: Skip the early mid June to late August period.
Least desirable travel periods: Spring Festival (around late January or early to mid February), Labor Day holiday (1–3 May) and National Day holiday (1–7 October). Millions of Chinese are on the move during the three holidays.