Top tourist spots

Beijing's most popular tourist spots.





For 500 years, thousands of servants, eunuchs and concubines scurried the halls of the Forbidden City (officially known as the Palace Museum), catering to the whims of one man: the emperor. Come here to marvel at the alleged 9,999 rooms spread across an area greater than 100 full-size football pitches.

How to survive
Guidebooks tell you to arrive early, but you’ll be competing with leagues of tour groups. Instead, enter the complex a couple of hours before last entry and, if you can, on weekdays. Take time to look up at the yellow-glazed roofs (the colour of the royal family) and count the number of animals on the eaves, which denoted the rank of the person inside. To escape the crowds, check out the ceramics and bronzes in the charming – and under-visited – Hall of Literary Glory, located in the southeastern corner.

Did you know?
Back in 2000, Starbucks opened a branch inside the Forbidden City. It closed down after seven troubled years, with the chain rocked by widespread protests over its cultural insensitivity.


Also try

Lidai Diwang Miao (Temple of Emperors of Successive Dynasties). This Ming Dynasty site near the Beijing Zoo boasts several magnificent buildings comparable with those in the Palace, plus far fewer crowds. Gabrielle Jaffe





The Summer Palace was long a playground for royalty desperate to escape the Forbidden City’s heat. It’s filled with delightful pavilions, temples and gardens.

How to survive
Arrive a few hours before closing time to avoid the bustle. Getting to the Palace can be a traffic and subway nightmare. Instead, hop on a cruise with Beijing Boat Tour, which runs between the Beijing Exhibition Center and the Summer Palace. We recommend the relaxing Changhe River route and stopping off at Beijing Purple Bamboo Park.

Did you know?
The marble boat on Kunming Lake was built with funds embezzled from the Chinese navy.

Also try

The Old Summer Palace. Just one stop before the Summer Palace on Line 4, this will give you a similar fix of imperial history and not just one great lake but several to boat on. Baiqu Gonkar






The temple is located in Tiantan Park, which covers a gargantuan 273 hectares. It was built in 1420 and originally used as an altar for Ming and Qing-Dynasty emperors to offer sacrifices to heaven and pray for bumper harvests. Don’t miss the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests – erected without using a single nail.

How to survive
Between 6am and 8am, tourists are sparse and locals practise tai chi. Enter the park by the south entrance and avoid tour groups with a trip to the tranquil Palace of Abstinence (10RMB November - March; 15RMB April - October separate entrance fee) on the west side.

Did you know?
If you stand facing the Echo Wall and speak to someone who is also standing by it, he or she will be able to hear you at every point along the wall.

Also try

The Temple of Earth. Less popular, this was also originally used by Ming and Qing-Dynasty emperors for sacrifices to appease the gods. Wan Quan






The NMC reopened this spring following a 2.5 billion RMB overhaul. Of its permanent exhibitions, head directly for Ancient China. The Qin and Han Dynasties (221BC to 220AD) are the best sections – the two terracotta warriors and horse from Shaanxi are a real highlight.

How to survive
Entry is free via the west entrance (facing Tiananmen Square), but be sure to take your passport. Our tip, however, is to go to the north entrance (between Exits C and D of Tiananmen East on Line 1) where you can buy tickets to one of the visiting exhibitions. Even if you’re not going to see those shows, it’s worth paying a small fee to skip the long queues found elsewhere.

Did you know?
Part of the renovations included a 9.5m-high, 17-tonne statue of Confucius, which was unveiled in January 2011. Three months later, and without explanation, it disappeared.


Also try

Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution. Much like the NMC’s permanent show, The Road of Rejuvenation, which basically details the glory of the Communist party, the history here is a little one-sided. But, hey, it’s got guns and tanks! Adrian Sandiford






The Lama Temple has witnessed many reincarnations. It was built in 1694 and has since served as a residence for high-ranking eunuchs, the official home of Prince yin Zhen (later Emperor yongzheng), a monastery and as a lamasery for the yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Don’t miss the awe-inspiring 18m-high statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha), carved from a single piece of white sandalwood and found at the fifth pavilion.

How to survive
Despite a complex of nearly 1,000 rooms, you won’t need to spend much more than an hour and a half at the temple. Still, ignore the tourists who rush past and make time to linger alongside the locals and monks who worship here.

Did you know?
A curtain on the wall in the Pavilion of Eternal Happiness (Wanfuge) hides a rather racy sex education mural of Buddha in action. Staff, perhaps understandably, aren’t too keen on letting you see it.
Also try Nearby, there is the much quieter Confucius Temple. This is where the scholars who took the Imperial Examination came to pray. Alexandra Wyatt
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