Beijing's Best Museums

From brilliantly bizarre to the simply brilliant, Beijing has a wealth of incredible museums

From the brilliantly bizarre to the simply brilliant, history-rich Beijing has a wealth of incredible museums. Click through our gallery to get an idea of all this city has to offer from cultural insights at the Opera Museum, natural history lessons at the Peking Man Site to all there is to learn about baijiu at the Red Star Erguotou Museum. 
Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum
1/23

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. 


Estimated time One-to-two hours 

Don’t miss The jaw-droppingly beautiful ceiling carving in the Tai Sui (Jupiter) Hall.

Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum 21 Dongjing Jie, Xicheng district (6317 2150; www.bjgjg.com). Open 9am-4pm Tue-Sun, 15RMB. 西城区东经路21号

The 'anti-Japanese' museum
2/23

The 'anti-Japanese' museum

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. 

Don’t miss The original script of Mao Zedong’s essay ‘On a Protracted War’.

Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression 101 Chengnei Jie, Fengtai district (8389 3163). Open daily 9am-4.30pm, FREE. 丰台区卢沟桥宛平城内街101号

The Bee Museum
3/23

The Bee Museum

Tucked away in the north-west corner of the Beijing Botanical Garden is a small museum that tells you everything you need to know – and perhaps a little bit more – about honey bees. The five small rooms are full of floor-to-ceiling info boards (mostly in Mandarin) with everything from their origins, evolution and habitat to a detailed explanation of beeswax and the honey production processes. It closes for winter in the middle of this month [November], however, so head out there soon! 


Estimated time 30 minutes for the museum itself; up to three hours with the surrounding gardens. 

Don’t miss The exhibition of real bee hives and honeycombs.

The Bee Museum Beijing Botanical Garden (inside the Institute of Apiculture), 1 Xiangshan Beiguo (6259 5735). Open 8.30am-4.30pm daily from mid-March to mid-November, FREE. 中国蜂蜜博物馆.海淀区香山北沟1号北京植物园

Beijing Opera Museum
4/23

Beijing Opera Museum

The 200-year-old Huguang Guild Hall is the site of this museum, dedicated to one of the capital’s greatest cultural exports. Inside the hall is the museum itself, a small-but-busy room that documents the history of both the building and Peking opera through photographs, newspaper clippings, and costumes. But the main event is the actual theatre, a stunning space that to this day continues to stage opera per formances. 


Don’t miss The rather beautiful theatre itself (pictured above) – call ahead (Mandarin only) to plan your visit around the per formance schedule (6.30-7.30pm daily). 

Estimated time 30 minutes (not inc show).

Beijing Opera Museum 3 Hufang Lu, Xicheng district (8355 1680). Open daily 9.30am-5pm, 10RMB (tickets for shows start at 150RMB). 西城区虎坊路3号

Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall
5/23

Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall

Packed full of scale models of past, present and future Beijing, a visit to the Planning Exhibition Hall is like taking a trip to a souped-up Liliput. Sound like fun? You bet it is. Seemingly aware that their subject matter is as dry as the city’s air, the museum has made an extra effort to be engaging. The second floor is packed with plenty of hightech, interactive attractions, but the real prize is the huge model of current-day Beijing (above), all laid out in incredible detail. 


Estimated time Two hours. 

Don’t miss Use the special binoculars to look at certain landmarks on the model, and info about the real structures will pop up.

Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall 20 Qianmen Dong Dajie, Dongcheng district (6701 7074; www.bjghzl.com.cn). Open daily 9am-5pm (last entry 4pm), 30RMB. 东城区前门东大街20号

Beijing Police Museum
6/23

Beijing Police Museum

Nothing to do with Sting, this is actually a masterclass in subtle agitprop, full of pictures of smiling coppers saving lives. The museum gives a full history of the city’s police from the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) to the present day, using old uniforms, official papers and so on. Some halls document more prosaic aspects, such as dog registration and vehicle licence-plates – including plates for horse-drawn carts as late as the 1980s. 


Estimated time One-to-two hours. 

Don’t miss The many weapons and firearms, including gold-plated pistols.

Beijing Police Museum 36 Dongjiaomin Xiang, Dongcheng district. Open 9am-4pm Tue-Sun, 5RMB. 东城区东交民巷36号

The Capital Museum
7/23

The Capital Museum

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 One hour.

Don’t miss Climb to the top floor and walk down the spiral walkway to see jade, porcelain, traditional watercolours and calligraphy.

The Capital Museum 16 Fuxingmenwai Dajie, Xicheng district (6337 0491; www.capitalmuseum.org). Open 9am-5pm Tue-Sun (last ticket 4pm; book tickets in advance). 西城区复兴门复兴门外大街16号

China Aviation Museum
8/23

China Aviation Museum

All the way up-diddely-up in Changping district, China Aviation Museum – the largest in Asia – features displays of 300 aircraft and thousands of missiles, guns and military equipment. Outside are countless Chinese- and Soviet-made fighter jets (including the PLA’s first, the F-6) and bombers. Make your way around these lesser-known, visually striking flying machines – peculiar antiques of past generations – as rousing military music is pumped out, eerily, around the near-abandoned compound. The hangar itself (20RMB) is a former military base; a giant cave, excavated in the surrounding Mangshan mountains. More relics are within, including a replica of the Red Army’s first plane – The Lenin – and jets used in the Korean War. Unpleasantly, some of these aircraft have info boards that name the US pilots shot down by each plane. Head to the large blue hangar (10RMB) for a more modern history, including the huge twin-engine fighter the Shenyang J-11, still in active ser vice.


Estimated time Three hours.

Don’t miss Board one of Mao’s propeller planes (10RMB) to peer in at the cockpit and austere wooden bed in his private cabin.

China Aviation Museum Shuiku Lu, Changping district (6178 4882; www.chn-am.com). Open 9am-4.30pm Tue-Sun (November-March); 8.30am-5pm Tue-Sun (April-October), FREE (certain exhibitions cost more). 昌平区水库路

China National Film Museum
9/23

China National Film Museum

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 permanent exhibition halls. The first ten take you through the history of Chinese film, which is rendered mostly through hokey dioramas and panels of Chinese text (though each hall does open with an English summary). Of greater interest are halls 11-20, which get into the more technical aspects of filmmaking, featuring sets, antique cameras and a special effects area. At the end, treat yourself to a screening at one of the museum’s five cinemas.


Don’t miss A 3D screening at the 21-metre-high IMAX hall.

Estimated time Two hours (not inc film).

China National Film Museum 9 Nanying Lu, Chaoyang District (8435 5959; www.cnfm.org.cn). Open 9am-4.30pm Tue-Sun, FREE. 朝阳区南影路9号

China Printing Museum
10/23

China Printing Museum

This small, ramshackle museum does little to honour one of China’s great inventions, but scholars and those with a niche interest will get a kick out of the displays demonstrating different forms of printing from 200 BC onwards. Woodcuts and tools from across the dynasties are on display here, the most fascinating being the primitive scribblings on tor toise shell. The second-floor exhibition on printing money also features some interesting-looking machinery but boards here are in Mandarin only.


Estimated time One hour.

Don’t miss The nearby basement (separate from the main building) is packed with more ‘modern’ printing machinery from 1860 to the present day.

China Printing Museum 25 Xinghua Bei Lu, Huangcun Daxing (6026 1237). Open 8.30am-4.30pm Tue-Sun, FREE. 大兴区黄村兴华北路25号

China Railway Museum
11/23

China Railway Museum

Located at the south-east corner of Tiananmen Square, this centrally located branch of the China Railway Museum (also known as the Beijing Railway museum) is a space geared towards the history of locomotives in China. The museum is laid out in a timeline format, telling the story from China’s first commercial railway in 1876 to today’s modern bullet trains through a mixture of info boards (mostly in Mandarin only) and historical artefacts (descriptions in English). Everything from century-old switching posts to modern-day steel sleepers are on display.


Estimated time One hour.

Don’t miss The train simulator (10RMB) puts you in the cab of a modern-day highspeed train – sit behind the driver and watch the CGI scenery.

China Railway Museum 2 Qianmen Dong Dajie, Dongcheng District (6705 1638). Open 9am-5pm Tue-Sun, 20RMB. 东城区前门东大街2号

Red Star Erguotou Museum
12/23

Red Star Erguotou Museum

The Red Star Erguotou Museum – way up in Huairou district – is worth the journey. Incredibly clean and well-maintained, the entire complex is a factory that’s still used to distil vats and vats of Erguotou – a brand of the throat-burning clear spirit, baijiu. At the entrance a (Mandarin-speaking) guide greets you and takes you on a journey through Erguotou’s brewing process and extensive history, and even allows you to sample a bit (if you can handle it). There is also, inexplicably, a kids’ funhouse.


Estimated time Guided tours last 30 mins.

Don’t miss An obscure collection of 1950s photographs of Mao Zedong.

Red Star Erguotou Museum 1 Hongxing Lu, Huairou district (6169 7259). Open 9-11am and 1-4pm daily, FREE (reservation required). 怀柔区红星路1号

Beijing Geological Museum
13/23

Beijing Geological Museum

With four floors of fossilised remains, precious stones and almost no tourists, the Geological Museum is a rare gem in itself. The Scientific Earth room is full of interactive exhibits, including the chance to build your own earthquake-resistant tower. Meanwhile, the ‘minerals room’ has an ethereal air, with its amethyst geodes. With the English-language, amateur-friendly info boards, this is one for geology enthusiasts of all levels.


Estimated time One-to-two hours.

Don’t miss The dinosaur fossils dating back to the Jurassic period.

Beijing Geological Museum 15 Xisiyangrou Hutong, Xicheng district (6655 7858; www.gmc.org.cn). Open 9am-4.30pm Tue-Sun, 30RMB. 西城区西四羊肉胡同15号

Beijing Museum of Natural History
14/23

Beijing Museum of Natural History

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. 

Beijing Museum of Natural History 126 Tianqiao Nan Dajie, Dongcheng district (6702 4431; www.bmnh.org.cn). Open 8.30am-5pm Tue-Sun, 10RMB. 东城区天桥南大街126号

Paleozoological Museum of China
15/23

Paleozoological Museum of China

One of the most notable palaeontological museums in Asia, this place is packed to the rafters with dozens of dinosaur fossils – mostly from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Some of the larger creatures’ skeletons are reproductions but many are the real deal – including several complete skeletons on the upper floors. But the partial fossils are also incredible; the delicate skeletal structure of the flying, pterodactyl-like dsungaripterus weii – only found in China – is breathtaking. The small anthropological exhibition in the adjacent room – featuring displays of bones (including a replica of the Peking Man’s skull), primitive tools from the Neolithic period and dioramas of cavemen doing their prehistoric thing – is also well worth a look. Most signs are in Chinese, however.


Estimated time One hour.

Don’t miss The complete fossils of the longsnouted herbivore sinokannemeyeria on the second floor.

Paleozoological Museum of China 142 Xizhimenwai Dajie, Xicheng district (8836 9210; www.paleozoo.cn). Open 9am-4.30pm Tue-Sun, 20RMB. 西城区西直门外大街142

Peking Man Site
16/23

Peking Man Site

Zhoukoudian, better known as the site of Peking Man – one of the first specimens of homo erectus– is one of the most important palaeontological sites in the world. All of the human remains in the museum are replicas (the originals vanished in 1941) but the primitive tools and animal skeletons from the mid-to-late Pleistocene era are genuine. You can also explore the 15 excavation sites; the Peking Man cave is the deepest, darkest and most bone-chilling of them all, the exact site where man’s ancient ancestor lived some 500,000 to 700,000 years ago.


Estimated time Two-to-three hours.

Don’t miss ‘Locality 4’, where evidence of the first-ever use of fire was found.

Peking Man Site 1 Zhoukoudian Dajie, Fangshan district (6930 1080). Open 8.30am-4.30pm daily, 30RMB. 房山区周口店大街1号

Beijing Planetarium
17/23

Beijing Planetarium

The thick Beijing air may prevent any actual star gazing at Beijing Planetarium, but there are plenty of attractions to entice wannabe astrologists. The majority of the action is in the more modern Building B, which houses loads of interactive spaceage toys to excite the imagination. Enter a large, dark dome and press buttons to see different star constellations. The regular 3D movies showing in the Zeiss Cosmos Theatre (45RMB) are worth the trip alone – the wonders of space are projected on the ceiling of the main building’s massive dome. It’s an impressive sight for us, but for kids it’s awe-inspiring.


Estimated time Two hours.

Don’t miss The Space Invaders-type video game playable inside a giant model sun.

Beijing Planetarium 138 Xizhimenwai Dajie, Xicheng district (5158 3311; www.bjp.org.cn/en). Open 9am-5pm daily, 10RMB. 西城区西直门外大街138号

Poly Art Museum
18/23

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.

Poly Art Museum 9th floor, New Poly Plaza, 1 Chaoyangmen Bei Dajie, Dongcheng district (6500 8117). Open 9.30am-4.30pm daily, 20RMB. 东城区朝阳门北大街1号新保利大厦

Songtang Museum
19/23

Songtang Museum

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 history from the merciless Government wrecking balls. In this small, 200-year-old courtyard house, Manchu hitching posts are displayed next to stone Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) gates. Not to mention an impressively huge collection of ornate wooden carvings from across numerous dynasties that, together, comprise a wonderful hodgepodge of architectural styles. The 50RMB admission may seem steep considering its size, but this non-profit museum is worthy of any support it gets.


Estimated time 30 minutes.

Don’t miss The adjoining room, which houses a stunning collection of beautiful porcelain (50RMB additional fee); dozens of intact, wonderfully-preserved examples of Yuan Dynasty craftsmanship.

Songtang Museum 3 Guoxijian Jie, Dongcheng district. Open 8.30am-6pm daily, 50RMB. 东城区国子监街3号

The Tank Museum
20/23

The Tank Museum

For a place that glorifies heavy artillery, there is something surprisingly peaceful about the Tank Museum, owing to its setting near the surrounding Yanshan Mountains. Skip the sparse entrance building and stroll around the expansive courtyard with its 40-plus tanks – all with English-language signage. Most are Chinese-designed and were used in combat during the Korean and Vietnam wars. It’s definitely worth a visit, whether you love nothing more than a good tank or you’re just looking for some fresh air.


Estimated time Two hours.

Don’t miss The central courtyard.

The Tank Museum Yangfang Town, Changping district (6675 9904). Open 8.30am-5pm Tue-Sun; 8.30am-4pm (winter), 18RMB. 昌平区阳坊镇

Beijing Tap Water Museum
21/23

Beijing Tap Water Museum

As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to the history of the city’s underground water pipe system. Wait! Stick with us – it’s more interesting than you might think. The museum tracks the progress from the city’s first pumps – when residents were wary of water that never saw the sun – to the present day. What’s more, there are enough models, photos, water meters and various instruments to bring out the latent civil engineer in anyone. Whatever your level of interest, a stroll in the area’s well-kept grounds – replete with turn-of-the-century architecture of Beijing’s first water works, with wells, steam towers and big pipes aplenty – will please anyone. 


Estimated time One hour.

Don’t miss The outdoor pumps with irony-free signs advising visitors not to drink the water.

Beijing Museum of Tap Water No. 6 Courtyard, Dongzhimen Bei Xiaojie, Dongcheng district (6465 0787). Open 9-11.30am and 1-4pm Wed-Sun, 5RMB. 东城区东直门北小街6号院

The Wangfujing Paleolithic Museum
22/23

The Wangfujing Paleolithic Museum

When high-end shopping mall Oriental Plaza was built in 1996, developers stumbled upon ancient fossils while digging the foundations. They brought in archaeologists who discovered human fossils, bone tools and other artefacts used by early man 25,000 years ago. This small, one-room museum – built on the site of the discovery – displays these ancient artefacts in a no-nonsense setting. The fossils alone are interesting, but the juxtaposition with the modern surroundings? Truly unique.


Estimated time 20 minutes.

Don’t miss The human remains.

The Wangfujing Paleolithic Museum Wangfujing Subway Exit A, Oriental Plaza Mall, 1 Dongchang'anjie, Dongcheng (8518 6306). Open 10am-4.30pm daily; last entry at 4pm, 10RMB. 东城区东长安街1号东方广场第一街地下三层

Watermelon Museum of China
23/23

Watermelon Museum of China

There’s nothing seedy about the Watermelon Museum of China. In fact it’s a modern, well-laid-out shrine to China’s favourite summer fruit. The museum is filled with facts about cultivation, breeding technology, distribution and more. Unsurprisingly it is not geared towards foreigners, so be prepared to rely on pictures for information – although, really, this place is all about the novelty.


Estimated time Two hours.

Don’t miss The unintentionally hilarious statues in the sculpture garden.

Watermelon Museum of China Penggezhuang Township, Daxing district (8928 1181). Open 9am-4.30pm Tue-Sun, 20RMB. 大兴区庞各庄镇

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