Updated May 2019
Spending three days in Beijing and finding the 10 best things to do in Beijing can be done if you use the Beijing Metro. Whether you are arriving in Beijing by train or with an international or flight, the metro will get you to where you want to go.
For us, we were coming from the old capital of China, Nanjing.
Related Post: Unique Things to See in Nanjing
Related Post: Two Days walking the Great Wall
Fast Train from the old Capital Nanjing to Beijing
Our train was due to leave at 10 am, so we didn’t need to rush as we already had our online tickets for the express train direct to China’s capital Beijing. The travel time was just under 4 hours.
Which gave us time to find breakfast. On the corner from the hotel was a street vendor selling a thick pancake cooked on a hot plate with an egg added on top along with a paste of some sort, some greens, then rolled before serving.
It was delicious, filling and cheap for only CNY4 (USD.060c)
Once again we were impressed with the clean trains and smooth ride. There wasn’t a great deal to look at out the window. Just some farms, hills and the odd city of a million or so people. Plenty of time to watch a movie we had downloaded. The Lobster with Colin Farrell, a very strange black comedy.
To book your fast train, use this website China Highlights.
Using the Metro in Beijing
We got into Beijing South Train Station at around 1.50pm and now with our knowledge of the metros in China, we arrived at our hotel less than 30 minutes later. And that was with one metro line change.
How good are we?
Actually, the Chinese metro systems are ticketing machines have English as an option, as well as all the signs. So they are very easy to use.
Where to Stay in Beijing on a Budget
Chongwenmen Hotel is right next to the metro station of the same name. The surrounding area has beautiful colonial style buildings as this area used to house many embassies.
Always a favorite is Booking.com click to receive a 10 % discount. Yes, it’s worth it.
The rooms are standard with an onsite restaurant for breakfast and evening meals.
And next door to Chongwenmen Hotel is an amazing French bakery with the most delicious cakes and bread. At last, we finally have a decent cup of coffee.
Visit the Famous Wangfujing Walking Street
The hotel is within easy walking distance to the pedestrian shopping area of Wangfujing Walking Street.
Wangfujing Walking Street is more than 1.5km in length, has great shopping and lots of food stalls in busy side lanes.
Very Unusual Food Stalls
As we were getting hungry we chose a recommended restaurant for Peking Duck. The ducks looked amazing but we couldn’t bring ourselves to paying CNY350 (USD51) for a fancy glazed duck no matter how well presented.
So we would look for an alternative, the food stalls down one of the lanes.
To say the food options were diverse is an understatement.
Everything was on offer as food, from baby scorpions, all manner of seafood (including seahorse) tiny birds, frogs, as well as dumplings, pork buns, meat skewers, fried tofu, baked bananas coated in coconut.
As well as lots of unidentifiable things.
Filled with some eatable dishes we enjoyed and knew what they were, we walked back to the Chongwenmen Hotel stopping to take photos on the overhead bridges.
Nearby we found the entrance to a Park where there was dancing, children playing and a man practicing his whip techniques. Very unusual.
Maura was approached and asked to dance by a gentleman, but declined. But it made for an interesting day.
2. Lighting Incense at Lama Temple
Beijing is known for its smog levels, but for our stay in Beijing, the skies were clear and blue.
Lama Temple is known as Yonghegong which means harmony and peace. It is a Tibetian Temple and is very popular with locals on the weekend.
When you enter the complex, you will notice a number of Halls down the middle of the ground, with smaller temples to the side.
Opening Times and Entrance Fee
The gates open at 9 am to 4.30pm from April to October but close at 4 pm from November to March.
The entrance fee is CNY25 (USD4) which includes a box of incense. Allow at least 2 hours to visit.
How to Get to Lama Temple
Your best option is the Metro, either Line 2 or Line 5 stopping at Yonghegong. Look for Exit C and turn left to find the temple entrance, about a 400-metre walk.
Lama Temple was originally built by Prince Yong in 1644 an Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. It became at lamasery (monastery) in 1744 for Mongolian and Tibetan monks. However, some of the side buildings house historical pieces from this period and Buddhist relics.
1. Zhaotai Gate and Courtyard
Zhaotai Gate is the first gate you pass through from the ticket office. Once through the gate, originally only used by Emperors. On either side of the courtyard is the Drum Tower and Bell Tower.
2. Yonghe Gate and Yonghe Hall
The next gate to pass through is Yonghe Gate, built in 1694 and was the original gate into the Lama temple. Yonghe Hall is the main building in the temple area where the Emperor once lived.
3. Falun Hall was built in 1744 and was the living area for the Emperor’s wives.
4. Wangu Pavilion was built between 1748 and 1750 and holds the Maitreya Buddha carved from one single piece of White Sandalwood, measuring 26 meters high. Incredible.
5. Sui Cheng Building built in 1744 was where the monks were chanting their prayers dressed in the yellow and deep red robes. Beautiful shrines adorn the building.
3. Confucius Temple
Nearby the Lama Temple in the Dongcheng district is the second largest Confucius Temple in China when built in 1302 for the great thinker of ancient China.
Entrance Fee: is CNY30 (USD5) to visit the 4 courtyards and halls.
Opening Times: 8.30am to 6 pm from May to October and to 5 pm November to April but closed on a Monday.
4. Temple of Heaven Park
Within easy walking distance to Chongwenmen Hotel, the Temple of Heaven Park is another historical site in learning more of the history of China. It was here in the Ming and Qing dynasties, heaven worship ceremonies of sacrifice were carried out.
The 3 attractions to visit are:
- Temple of Heaven
- Circular Mound Altar
- Echo Wall
Temple of Heaven is an amazing circular structure where cattle waited for the ceremony – Prayer of Good Harvest. The temple is surrounded by an expansive cypress tree forest.
Echo Wall is part of the Imperial Vault of Heaven between the Temple of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar. Using sound, one person standing at each end, are able to talk to each other via the Echo Wall.
Circular Mound Altar representing earth is where the Emperor prayed to the heavens. People now take it in turns to stand on the mound and pray.
Entrance Fee: for all 3 attractions is CNY34 (USD5) and well worth paying this rather than the CNY15 (USD2) just to enter the park.
How to Get There: Take Metro Line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen Station and use Exit A for the East Gate
Opening Hours: Gates open at 6 am and Main Attractions at 8 am closing at 5.30pm April to October and 5 pm November to March.
5. Tiananmen Square
To see the Best of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, go with an organized tour.
Our group walked from the hotel to the Tiananmen Square getting a local history class on the way learning about the walls of the Forbidden City, Imperial City, Inner, and Outer city walls.
The outer city wall was never completed due to the Ming Dynasty needing money for the emperor. And disappointingly, the inner and outer city walls were demolished except for a small section near our hotel when the city of Beijing expanded.
The history lesson also helped clarify why the temples we have visited are built on the line axis north to south, west to east, for yin and yang.
Tiananmen Square is massive, able to hold a million people.
It is surrounded by Houses of Parliament, National Museum, Forbidden City and Mao Tse Tung Mausoleum with a People’s Monument. Groups of school children are selected to stand for a period of time in reflection here.
6. Forbidden City (Palace Museum)
From Tiananmen Square, there is an underpass to the Forbidden City.
When the capital was moved from Nanjing to Being in 1406, construction of the Forbidden city began. Construction took 14 years with 980 buildings in an area of 72 hectares.
The Rulers of the Ming and Qing dynasties governed for over 580 years. It was home to 24 Emperors and the Government. Until 1912 when the last Emperor of China abdicated.
In 1949, the Forbidden City came under the Peoples Republicublic of China. Every year a painting of Mao Tse Tung was commissioned to hang at the entrance to the Forbidden City.
In 1987, the Forbidden City became a world heritage site of UNESCO.
It is one of the must-see places in China to visit.
As the Forbidden City is the main tourist attraction in Beijing and we found the crowds of people overwhelming once through the main gates.
You have a couple of options once inside the Forbidden City. Either walk through the middle or to walk down each side of the main buildings. We chose to walk along the sides to take in views of the various buildings and gardens.
When we stopped for a drink, an elderly Chinese couple starting talking to us (in Chinese). They were very animated with their language, with us using Google Maps to show New Zealand our home country. We had some sort of conversation with them before smiles all round and we moved on to see more.
Entrance Tickets: Book online for CNY40 (USD6)
Opening Hours: Gates open at 8.30 am to closing at 5.00pm April to October and 4.30 pm November to March.
To book tickets, click on this link TravelChinaGuide
7. Jingshan Park
At the rear of the Forbidden City, you can enter the Jingshan Park for one of the best places to view the Forbidden City.
The climb to the Pavillon gives panoramic views of the city and also to view the layout of the Forbidden City. It is free to enter.
The park also has an interesting history as there is the tree where Chongzhen, the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, hung himself in 1644 due to the peasants uprising.
Perhaps it is time for lunch.
8. Nanluogu Xiang Hutong
One of the best things to do in Beijing is spending time wandering in a Hutong.
One of the best to experience is Nanluogu Xiang Hutong.
This Hutong is well preserved, and the lanes are lined with shops and small restaurants. A great place to try local Chinese food.
9. A Crazy Bike Tour of Beijing
Just past the Bell Tower and Drum Tower in Nanluogu Xiang Hutong, the group hired bicycles.
We had all envisioned our bike ride tour was going to be a pleasant and easy going. A serene bike ride around the Hutongs.
How wrong was our interpretation?
What transpired, once we left the Hutongs, was a bike ride along a city lake. We found the laneways busy by the lake with locals walking, riding bikes, or taking a ride in a trishaw.
Maura was constantly ringing her bell to warn everyone we were coming through as we navigated our way. That aside, it was picturesque and interesting.
But before we knew it, our guide had us out onto the main road biking past the Forbidden City (watch out for the tour buses).
Finally, the bike tour is over, the bicycles are returned. Where’s the scotch?
If you are looking for a show with a difference in Beijing, book a Chinese Acrobatic show.
The combination of skill, balance, and strength from the performers is spectacular. Our show even had 5 young guys riding motorbikes in a caged sphere.
Another option is to check the entertainment schedule for The National Centre for the Performing Arts. The variety of performances include ballet, symphony or drama.
For more information on Beijing, learn more here at Travel China Guide