What to see in Beijing: the ancient Chinese capital
The city of Beijing has an estimated 22 million inhabitants. It is characterized by being a city where modern architecture is mixed with ancient and iconic places like the Forbidden City or the Great Wall.
How many days do you spend in Beijing? Beijing has a history of 3 millennia, so there is so much to see that 3 days of visiting may not be enough. It will depend on the time you have and your priorities when deciding what to see in China. I think 3 or 4 days is ideal and more than enough. Here is a list of the most worthwhile places to see in Beijing, so you can choose which ones you like the most.
In the center of Beijing you can find almost all the highlights of the city. Once in Beijing, at first sight it doesn’t seem as big as it really is. The Hutongs, old neighborhoods with low houses and narrow alleys, make Beijing sometimes seem like a village. But it is always a town with people everywhere (it is estimated that there are more than 20 million inhabitants).
Travel from Kunming to Beijing by train
I decided to go on a trip to the capital of China to visit Beijing and so if you are wondering what to see in Beijing I have written a list of the best places to see in Beijing during a 3 or 4 day visit. I had been in China for seven months, in Kunming to be precise, and it was time to go home. From Kunming to fly to Barcelona, the best connections are in Hong Kong or Beijing.
Just out of curiosity I chose to travel from Kunming to Beijing by train. I was going to cross China from one end to the other by train. The ticket cost me 320 Rmb (40 euros approx.). I was expected to travel 38 hours! And if that wasn’t enough, in a seat. No doubt, it was going to be quite an experience.
More people than seats
And it was. When I got on the train I immediately realized two things: firstly, I would probably be the only foreigner in the seat cars, and secondly, that they had certainly sold many more tickets than seats. People were crowding between cars or sitting in the middle of the aisles, it was crazy.
To go to the toilet I had to juggle so as not to step on anyone and to take a walk on the train or think about it, impossible. The journey was not as heavy as it might have been because from time to time Chinese came to my seat to take an interest in me and I had a few laughs with them. Some of them even got a little heavy trying to get me drunk with them by inviting me to Baijiu (the most typical Chinese alcoholic drink, usually 52 degrees). They drank it almost like water.
I arrived in Beijing after a day and a half with my feet swollen from sitting so much without being able to move. Although I had satisfied my curiosity, I knew that I would certainly not do it again.
Best places to see in Beijing:
1. Tiananmen Square
In the heart of the city is the Tiananmen Square and right in front of it is the famous Forbidden City. Both sites are worth a visit for their history and architecture. Tiananmen Square, the largest square in the world, is all fenced in, as I understood, since the protests of 1989. Therefore, it can only be accessed through two single guarded access points.
2. The Forbidden City
A must see in Beijing. The ticket to the immense and impressive Forbidden City will cost you only about 60 Rmb (8 euros approx.). For jut that money you will be able to walk for a couple of hours through what was the imperial palace and the home of the ancient Chinese dynasties for almost 500 years.
As you leave, right in front of it, on a hill, is the Jingshan Park. From there you can see the Forbidden City from above. It is one of those places you have to go and see during your trip to Beijing in 3 days.
3. Beihai Park
Near the Forbidden City we can find different parks (some of which you have to pay a ticket to enter) where you can walk around peacefully and enjoy the views and the water channels. I especially liked the Beihai Park, which contains a small island in the middle of the lake with a giant white Stupa.
4. The Temple of Heaven
Another famous site in Beijing worth a visit is the Temple of Heaven. It was built in 1420 and is dedicated to giving thanks to heaven for a good harvest. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful temples I have seen in China. It’s a little far from the center of the city, but it’s worth the trip.
5. The Great Wall of China
The largest fortification ever built by man is well worth a visit. Built and rebuilt between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect against the continuous attacks of the Mongols, it is estimated to be about 21,000 km long. On average it is 6 to 7 meters high and 4 to 5 meters wide.
6. Beijing Neighborhoods and Hutongs
The Wangfujing shopping street, one of the most visited by tourists, and the Hutongs, to take a look at the old part are also worth a visit. If you still have time, I also recommend you to take a look at The Summer Palace and The Silk Market.
To go out for a drink or a party, you have to go to: Sanlitun and Wudakou. Sanlitun is closer to the city center and Wudakou is outside in the university area and is where all the university students of Beijing go out.
In my opinion, as long as you don’t get caught in a day of pollution from which you can’t see anything from a distance of 50 meters and you have patience with some things about Chinese culture, anyone who goes on a trip to Beijing will be able to enjoy its charms peacefully.
7. Confucius Temple
The Confucius Temple is dedicated to the most famous Chinese thinker in history. You can take advantage of this visit to learn about Chinese culture and his teachings, where many of them are still applied today in the Chinese educational system and society as a whole.
Built in 1302, it is the second largest temple dedicated to Confucius in China, after the Confucius Temple located in Qufu, Shandong Province. It is an ideal place to enjoy a bit of tranquility and spirituality, which is so difficult to find in Beijing.
All roads lead back home.
If you are thinking of traveling to China you can take a look at our list of China Travel Tips and the 5 things that most impacted me about China. If you find this post about what places to see in Beijing during 3 or 4 days useful and interesting, I invite you to evaluate it, comment on it and/or share it.