15 of the best cultural museums in Beijing

Get your fix on everything from art to ethnology

Millions of words have been written ruminating on the idea of 'culture' – what it is, what it means, why it matters – but, broadly defined, it's the stuff that makes up the rich fabric of human civilisation. So pretty broad, then. Luckily, Beijing's museums cater to far reaches of the topic – from the geographically specific museum of Tibetan culture, to museums dedicated to Chinese arts and stone carvings, to the museums looking at the lives of overseas Chinese. Here are 15 of the best.

Chinese Museum of Women & Children (中国妇女儿童博物馆)

Tucked away on the north side of Chang’an Avenue, the scale and style of this building are belied by its relatively discrete location. Six floors of modern, Zaha Hadid-esque curves cover a total of 35,000sqm of all things matriarchal. There’s a rewarding mix here of history and art – the ...

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9 Beijige Lu (Wangfujing, Dongcheng)

Overseas Chinese History Museum of China (中国华侨历史博物馆)

This spankingly well-kept museum traces the long history of Chinese emigration, from the good old BC days, the Silk Road times, through the latter dynasties, the Opium Wars, the coolie trade and beyond: it’s comprehensive, and almost overwhelmingly so. Through exhibits as wide-ranging as old ...

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22 Dongzhimen Bei Xiaojie

Museum of Tibetan Culture (西藏文化博物馆)

Located next to the China Tibetology Research Center, the Museum of Tibetan Culture houses two permanent exhibitions. The first exhibition, to the left as you enter, is by far the more interesting - explaining the historical development of the Tibetan region through various artefacts such as ...

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131 North Fourth Ring East Road

Shijia Hutong Museum (史家胡同博物馆)

Beijing’s hutongs have continually evolved (and at worst disappeared) in face of the city’s rapid and unrelenting growth, though this museum, halfway down the eponymous tree-lined alley, documents the ways of hutong living back in the good old days. Exhibits including a mockup family home ...

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24 Shijia Hutong (Wangfujing, Dongcheng)

Beijing Folk Custom Museum (北京民俗博物馆)

The Beijing Folk Custom Museum unobtrusively surrounds the main courtyard of the Daoist Dongyue Temple. Walk along the walls for wax displays of Taoist customs regarding earthly conduct and the netherworld (be warned: punishments for evildoers can be a little graphic). Make your way through ...

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141 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie

Beijing Opera Museum (北京戏曲博物馆)

The mighty 200-year-old Huguang Guild Hall is the site of this museum, dedicated to one of the capital’s greatest cultural exports – the shrill and spectacular Peking opera. Inside the hall is the museum itself, a small but busy room that documents the history of both the building and the ...

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3 Hufang Lu (Xicheng, Xicheng)

Capital Museum (首都博物馆)

The Capital Museum tells the story of Beijing from when it was a few mere 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 ...

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16 Fuxingmenwai Dajie (Xicheng, Xicheng)Free

Poly Art Museum (保利艺术博物馆)

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 ...

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1 Chaoyangmen Bei Dajie (Chaoyang, Chaoyang)

Beijing Stone Carvings Art Museum (北京石刻艺术博物馆)

The pleasant canal walk to reach this place is a fitting start to what’s inside – a peaceful oasis, filled with all manner of stone works, including calligraphy tablets, impressive steles, statues and grand tombstones that date back as far as the Western Jin dynasty (265-420). There are also ...

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24 Wutasicun

Songtang Carvings Museum (松堂斋民间雕刻博物馆)

The Songtang Museum is the life’s work of one Li Songtang, a Cultural Revolution survivor who, since returning to Beijing after a punitive decade working the land, has dedicated himself to salvaging remnants of buildings from construction sites – protecting pieces of the city’s architectural ...

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3 Guozijian Jie (Yonghegong/Lama Temple, Dongcheng)

Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum (北京古代建筑博物馆)

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 ...

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21 Dongjing Jie (Xicheng, Xicheng)

National Museum of Classic Books (国家典籍博物馆)

The ten exhibition halls of the Museum of Classic Books beautifully present all sorts of ancient scripts, bindings and artefacts that recall the literary history of a nation. As you might expect of a place housed inside China’s biggest collection of books, exhibits are almost entirely in ...

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33 Zhongguancun Nan Dajie

Museum of Ethnic Costumes (北京服装学院民族服饰博物馆)

Providing a window into the many cultures of China, this small university campus museum showcases the clothing and jewellery of China’s 56 ethnic groups. The museum is largely divided into three sections: traditional dress (especially from groups in Yunnan, Guizhou and Tibet), intricate silver ...

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2 Yinghua Lu Free

China National Film Museum (中国电影博物馆)

Located just east of Caochangdi, the China National Film Museum isn’t likely to attract a lot of casual visitors. But those who make the trek are rewarded by what purports to be the largest professional film museum in the world; a sprawling hunk of geometrical architecture that boasts 20 ...

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9 Nanying Lu (Caochangdi, Chaoyang)

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