Located at the site of the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident (the conflict that sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War), the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression is a must-visit for those interested in ‘history with Chinese characteristics’. Yes, it’s naked propaganda, but the tone of the museum is as tasteful as it’s possible to get, given the subject matter, and the artefacts and info boards are genuinely engaging and informative.
Estimated time Two-to-three hours.
The original script of Mao Zedong’s essay ‘On a Protracted War’.
Poly Art Museum
In a wholly unexpected location – on the ninth floor of a modern office block – this display of ancient art is a real find, whether you’re a Chinese bronze aficionado or just searching for some peace. The museum is small and quiet but packed with treasures, and most days you’ll have the dimly lit, elegant space to yourself. Take the chance to inspect the artefacts, which range from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), close up in a way that few other museums will allow.
Estimated time 30 minutes.
Don’t miss Bronze animal heads from the Old Summer Palace.
The Capital Museum (above) tells the story of Beijing from when it was a few rice paddies right up until the founding of the People’s Republic, and tells it well. The chronological order of the artefacts on the first floor – laid out in a huge timeline – helps visitors understand the narrative of this great city we call home, while upstairs the ‘Exhibition on Folk Customs’ adds some colour, with lifelike figures set in traditional scenes adorned with bright, festive clothing. Estimated time
Don’t miss Climb to the top floor and walk down the spiral walkway to see jade, porcelain, traditional watercolours and calligraphy.
Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum
A restored Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) temple is the location of Beijing’s first architecture museum; the outdoor exhibits and picturesque grounds make it feel more like touring a section of the Summer Palace than a stuffy museum. The indoor exhibitions give highly specific details on ancient construction techniques, materials and various styles of architecture – charting the development of Chinese construction from mud huts onwards. Per fect for design and building enthusiasts, or anyone interested in Chinese history. Be sure to rent an audio guide if you can’t read Chinese. If you fancy taking home a souvenir, bring a spare 500,000RMB for a marble statue from the eye-wateringly expensive gift shop.Beijing Museum of Natural History
Estimated time One-to-two hours
Don’t miss The jaw-droppingly beautiful ceiling carving in the Tai Sui (Jupiter) Hall.
If taxidermy isn’t for you, then the Beijing Museum of Natural History (above) probably isn’t either. The museum’s biggest sell may be its many dinosaur fossils – from a partial fossil of a woolly mammoth to a wholly intact fossil of a long-necked, diplodocus-like paracerathrium – but the rest of the exhibitions are more mausoleum than museum. Especially ‘Amazing Africa’ on the second floor, which is essentially a stuffed safari scene with lions, zebras, giraffes and so on. That said, the small aquarium hidden in the basement is a treat, with its open pools of (living) rays and sea turtles. It’s a great museum for families and dino-heads, but general visitors won’t learn a whole lot about natural history here.
Estimated time One-to-two hours.
Don’t miss The ‘Animal – Friends of the Human Being’ exhibit has everything from a fearsome polar bear to delicate little butterflies.