The very best things to see and do in Beijing either with a tour or on excursions on your own

Why go Solo:

Many of the tour operators in Beijing are scams. It's unfortunate, but it's part of the reality of traveling in China. You'll find they not only charge a great deal more than you'd pay to do the trip on your own, but they often have "affiliates" along the route where they force you to stop and shop. Fake jade factories are a common pit stop on the way to the Great Wall for scam tour operators. So, if you want to avoid the hassle of being taken for a ride, just plan the tour on your own. Beijing is a tourist-friendly city and all sites can be reached via public transportation for quite cheap and mostly hassle free.

When to Go:

Year-round these top spots are open, but you'll find that the summer months are sometimes unbearably hot and the sites are overcrowded. Additionally, July and August are monsoon season prime-time, so you'll get drenched at least once in any two week period. That makes spring and autumn the two prime seasons for visiting Beijing. You'll have more elbow room, hotel prices will be lower, and you'll avoid the humidity, monsoons and crowds.

Where to Go:

Beijing has a little bit of something for everyone. But regardless of why you are in Beijing you'll have to see the Great Wall and Forbidden City. No world-traveler's passport of coolness is complete without these two spots. But it isn't that simple, either. The Great Wall is several thousands of miles long. Where exactly should you go? We recommend Badaling for ease and proximity, though you'll be sacrificing a bit of authenticity. Mutianyu is more authentic and less touristy, but your ride out to the site will be a bit longer. Fortunately, the latter has fewer tourists to compete with for wall space and beautiful views. When it comes to the Forbidden City, don't skimp. Get a map or else an audio guide. Avoid the Chinese guides at the entrance who are ill-qualified and promise an informative tour. They will rush you through the sites and repeat what it written on the signage. The audio-guide, however, is quite interesting and informative.

Summer Palace


A lovely day outside the city can be spent at this exquisite palace where the later Qing rulers (notably, the Dowager Empress Cixi) relaxed in idyllic splendor while their empire collapsed around them. Built from 1749 to 1764, the Summer Palace...  Read More

Ri Tan Gongyuan / Temple of the Sun


Close to the business zone of the city, this lush park has plenty of restaurants and cafes to relax at and is particularly popular on summer days. You'll also find the Temple of the Sun here. Built in 1530, it once served as an altar where the...  Read More

Temple of Heaven Park
Photo courtesy of Temple of Heaven


For about 500 years from the 15th to 19th century, the Chinese emperors would lead processions on every winter solstice to the Temple of Heaven to perform rites and make sacrifices for the God of Heaven in order to be blessed with a fortunate...  Read More

The Forbidden City


Even if you are in Beijing for only one day, you should not miss the Forbidden City. So called because it was out of bounds to all but the emperor and his court for 500 years, the imperial places are set among a huge complex of largely wooden...  Read More

Photo courtesy of Nanluoguxiang


Nanluoguxiang is a community of restored traditional homes and business located in the heart of downtown Beijing. It was once a thriving community of single-story traditional homes with an alleyway down the center for shops, restaurants and...  Read More

National Museum of China


This is the quintessential Chinese museum that, unlike the historical sites which concentrate on the dynasties, retells all the tales from Mao's communist revolution. See movie clips and memorabilia and even a wax exhibition.

Qianmen District
Tiananmen Square


The largest plaza in the world is situated in the heart of Beijing. To the north lies the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the Forbidden City, and in the south of the square, the haunting mausoleum of Mao Zedong, where the late chairman's preserved...  Read More

Ming Tombs


A must-do for all history buffs, the Ming Tombs are often combined with the Great Wall as a one-day tour. There are 13 Ming Dynasty imperial tombs in this 40sq km (15 sq mile) necropolis, situated at the base of the delightfully named Mountain...  Read More



One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China lies in the mountains to the north of Beijing. Although credit for the wall's construction is normally attributed to Qin Shi Huang who reigned during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC),...  Read More

Great Wall at Mutianyu


A little further but much less crowded than Badaling, Mutianyu is in many ways a better option for visiting the Great Wall of China. Wear comfortable shoes and be ready for a day of walking up and down the rollercoaster-style staircase that...  Read More


Meet Lauren Johnson

Lauren has been living in Asia for the past five years. She holds a master's degree in Asian history. Lauren spends her free time reading, writing and traveling and visiting zoos in every city possible.