Beijing is a city steeped in history — it is one of the four ancient cities of China (along with Xi’an, Luoyang and Nanjing), that is best preserved, and famous all around the world. Beijing is the ultimate tourist destination with seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites — the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Ming Tombs, the Grand Canal, and the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian — more than any other city in the world. This is evidence of this city’s splendid culture and long history.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu
What to see?
- The Great Wall of China — The Great Wall of China stands as an awe-inspiring monument to the grandeur of China’s ancient history. The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest sights in the world — the longest wall in the world, a feat of ancient defensive architecture. The Great Wall of China is titled one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Medieval World’, and it is also included in the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’.
There are very few places in the world where you’ll get to check off as many items on your bucket list as in Beijing. Walk on the Great Wall of China, experience the rich history of an ancient culture, and feel the energy and power of one of the fastest developing areas in the world, all while eating like a king and shopping until you drop. — Jenna Ohrnberg
With sections dating back 2000 years, the length of the Great Wall of China is 13,170 miles, which is about half the equator to put things in perspective. The Great Wall of China has a history of more than 2,300 years. It was built in different areas by different states/dynasties to protect different territorial borders. The Great Wall of China’s history began in the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) and was last rebuilt as a defense in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD). The Great Wall of China was not just a wall. It was an integrated military defensive system with watchtowers for surveillance, fortresses for command posts and logistics, beacon towers for communications, etc. Famed for its Ming-era guard towers and excellent views, the 3 km long section of wall at Mutianyu, is the one we visited. From the ticket office at Mutianyu, you can take the shuttle bus to the start of the cable car that gets you to this section of the Great Wall. No visit to China is complete without visiting the largest man-made structure on Earth!
- Yonghegong Lama Temple — The Lama Temple, also known as Yonghe Temple, Yonghe Lamasery, or Yonghe Lama Temple, is located in central Beijing. The Lama temple is the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing, which is also a popular worship place for locals. It was converted from a royal palace to a Tibetan Buddhist temple by the Qianlong emperor of the Qing Dynasty. This temple has been one of the most influential Tibetan Buddhism temples in China, and it’s always filled with quiet worshippers, beautiful Buddha statues, and sculptures.
- Temple of Heaven — The Temple of Heaven is an imperial medieval complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Ming and Qing dynasty Emperors for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for a good harvest. The Temple of Heaven was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 as a ‘masterpiece of architecture and landscape design’. Constructed between 1406 and 1420 under the reign of the Yongle Emperor — also responsible for the Forbidden City — the Temple of Heaven was built in accordance with Chinese religious principles. The temple complex is characterised by square buildings with round roofs, the square aspects representing the earth and the circular ones representing heaven.
- The Forbidden City — The magnificent Forbidden City is the largest and the best-preserved imperial palace complex in the world. The Forbidden City was the center of imperial power in China from 1416-1911. For five centuries, this palace functioned as the administrative center of the country, during the Ming and Qing dynasties. This beautiful palace has been home to 24 Ming and Qing Emperors, earning its nickname of the Forbidden City due to the fact commoners weren’t allowed access, and many of the Forbidden City’s inhabitants were not allowed to leave. The complex is enclosed by 3.5 km of citadel walls, covers 720,000 square meters, surrounded by 10 meter high walls with towers in the four corners, and a 50 meter wide moat. It has 980 buildings, and over 9,000 rooms. It is believed that the Forbidden City has exactly 9,999 rooms with just a single room short of the ancient Chinese belief that represents ‘Divine Perfection’. The only people living with the inner walls of the city were the Emperor, his Empress, his concubines and his guards that were castrated men known as Eunuchs. Even male relatives of the Emperor were not allowed to stay over night in the inner circle of the city.
Tian’anmen Square — Tian’anmen Square is largest city square in the world (~109 acres) located in the center of Beijing, and named after the Tiananmen Gate or Gate of Heavenly Peace. It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history. The square lies between two ancient, massive gates: the Tiananmen Gate to the north and the Zhengyangmen Gate, better known as Qianmen to the south. Along the west side of the Square is the Great Hall of the People. Along the east side is the National Museum of China. Tiananmen square hosts two monuments — the 38-meter high Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Originally Mao had wished to be cremated, but his body was embalmed, and construction of a mausoleum began shortly after his death in 1976.
- Summer Palace — The Summer Palace is the largest imperial garden in Beijing, used as a summer retreat by the Chinese royal family. During the hot Beijing summers, the imperial family preferred the beautiful gardens and airy pavilions of the Summer Palace to the walled-in Forbidden City. Emperor Qianlong ordered the construction of the Summer Palace to celebrate his mother’s sixtieth birthday. Construction of the Summer Palace began in 1750 and completed in 1764. It is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing. The Summer Palace was listed as World Heritage in 1998. UNESCO reported that the Summer Palace as “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design”. The Summer Palace is known as the ‘Imperial Garden Museum’ in China as its purpose now is the preservation of national heritage material. The Long Gallery (or Long Corridor) is a canopied, 728m-long ornamental walkway, with thousands of artworks adorning every crossbeam, column and ceiling arch, depicting scenic views from around China, much-loved myths, Buddhist scenes and folk tales.
When is the best time to visit?
The best time to travel in Beijing is in spring and autumn, especially late March to May, and September to mid-October. If your travel time is flexible, we would highly recommend you to visit Beijing and other parts of China from late March to May or September to mid-October. These temperate seasons provide the best climate, not to mention colorful scenery. In contrast, summer brings sweltering heat, and winter ushers in cold temps and sometimes snow. Try to avoid the two busiest holidays in China – the Chinese New Year and the Chinese National Holiday. During these holidays, there will be large crowds at tourist attractions and you can’t really enjoy yourself.
- Spring (March to May) — Best time to visit Beijing — Spring is a vibrant and comfortable time to visit Beijing. Temperatures are comfortable in the 50-70s, and trees are in full bloom, which makes this a great time to visit. Hotel prices will steadily increase toward summer.
- Summer (June to August) — Summer is the peak travel season for both foreign and domestic tourists as the students are out of schools and universities for the summer months. You’ll likely encounter higher airfare costs and hotel prices. Temperatures in the high 80s are accompanied by lofty humidity levels. Be sure to pack an umbrella as July and August are the city’s rainiest months.
- Autumn (September to November) — Best time to visit Beijing — Autumn is unanimously regarded as the best time to visit Beijing. You can enjoy beautiful weather and the gorgeous autumn foliage during this time. If you’re visiting during the first week of October, be prepared for crowds as residents from across the country celebrate National Day.
- Winter (December to February) — Beijing’s winter is the low season for tourism. It is definitely cheaper to travel during these months due to lower airfares, hotels offer deep discounts, tours are cheaper etc. However, you’ll have to bundle up as the daytime temps will stay in the 30s and 40s, while evening temps will regularly dive below freezing. I happened to visit Beijing during Winter for work. It is not the best time to travel here as a tourist.
Where to Stay?
- China World Hotel, Beijing — The China World Hotel is part of the Shangri-La Hotels Group, and it is located in the downtown central business district (CBD) of Beijing. Old-world ambience in a sleek, modern setting with bamboo panels, crystal chandeliers, and pillars, this is a luxury hotel that you would love to come back to. It is located adjacent to the World Trade Center, and a very high-end luxury shopping mall, China World Mall, with every luxury designer store from Dior, Gucci, Versace, Hermes etc. Upon entering the hotel, you know you are at a Shangri-La because the air is infused with the delightful white tea fragrance, laced with ginger and bergamot, the Essence of Shangri-La. The high ceilings and elegant crystal chandeliers make the lobby look almost palatial. It’s tastefully decorated in royal colors of gold, red and black with Ming and Qing-era style artwork.
“He who returns from a journey, is not the same as he who left” — Chinese Proverb
Beijing, the capital of China, is one of the most visited places around the world. Beijing is witness to China’s extraordinary ancient past and remarkable present. The capital city is vast and can be overwhelming for first-timers. In a city where English is not spoken at all, I’ve had my share of issues Traveling across Beijing, but I took it as a personal challenge to take a taxi or subway to visit some of the attractions. Traveling in Beijing is equal parts challenging and exciting. Are you ready?
Always remember… Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!