One of the top places on my travel bucket list was Beijing and I had a specific goal – to conquer the Great Wall of China. But I soon found out that there is a lot more to Beijing than the Great Wall. If you have plans to go to Beijing, let us help you strike it off your bucket list!
Places to visit
1. Forbidden City (Palace Museum)
The Forbidden city is the most iconic tourist attraction in Beijing. It is the world’s largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. It is surrounded by a 52-meter-wide moat and a 10-meter-high wall with more than 8,700 rooms. The Forbidden City is a valuable historic museum that gives you a glimpse of how the emperors lived their lives back in the day. Expect to spend 2 – 2.5 hours here, or even more if you explore the Treasure Gallery and the Clock and Watch Gallery.
|Months||Opening Hours||Ticketing Time||Entry Time|
|April to October||8:30-17:00||8:30-16:00||8:30-16:10|
|November to the next March||8:30-16:30||8:30-15:30||8:30-15:40|
April to October – CNY 60, November to the next March – CNY 40 (The fares do not include the admission fee for the Treasure Gallery and the Clock and Watch Gallery)
Treasure Gallery (in Palace of Tranquil Longevity, including the Opera Museum and Stone Drum Museum) – CNY 10
Clock and Watch Gallery (in Hall for Ancestry Worship) – CNY 10
* Free for children under 3.9 feet (1.2 meters), each accompanied by an adult.
2. Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is located just opposite the Forbidden City (Palace Museum) via the Tiananmen gate. This is the place that the infamous Tiananmen Square protest took place. Although there is not much interest in the square besides its historic significance, no visit to Beijing is complete without a picture taken at the square.
There are no entrance fees to enter the square, but security is heavy. Visitor’s belongings are scanned before entry and the area is occupied by police, both in uniform and plain-clothed. Expect to spend about 30 minutes here.
3. Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is a complex of religious buildings where emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasty visited for annual ceremonies of prayers to the heavens for good harvest. Expect to spend 1.5 – 2 hours here.
Entrance fees: CNY 10
Gate：6.00am – 10.00pm
The scenic spots inside the Temple of Heaven：
From March 1 to June 30： 8.00am – 5.30pm
From July 1 to October 31： 8.00am – 6.00pm
From November 1 to February 28： 8.00am – 5.00pm
4. Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple)
Lama Temple, is a temple and monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. It originally served as an official residence for court eunuchs. It was then converted into the residence of Yinzhen (Prince Yong), the fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor.
Credit: Studio5Graphics on Flickr
Today, worshippers still come to the temple for worshiping and you will be able to see the worshipping activities at the main altar. Expect to spend 1 – 1.5 hours here.
Entrance fees: CNY 15
9.00am – 4.30 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31)
9.00am – 4.00 (Nov. 1 to Mar. 31)
5. Summer Palace
The Summer Palace has to be one of the most scenic of all the attractions within the Beijing city area. It is the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China, and has been recognized as The Museum of Royal Gardens.
Credit: Gerben van Heijningen on Flickr
It was built as a place for the royal families to rest and entertain, but later became the main residence of royal family members at the end of the Qing dynasty.
Credit: xiquinhosilva on Flickr
Today, it is a great place for families and tourists to relax by the huge lake and enjoy the scenery, although exploring the whole area might take up at least 3 hours and a whole lot of stamina.
|Ticket Type||Price (CNY)|
|April 1 to October 31||November 1 to March 31|
|Combination Ticket (including entrance fee and the following sites)||60||50|
|Tower of Buddhist Incense||10||10|
|Suzhou Street and Danning Hall||10||10|
April 1 to October 31: 6.30am – 6.00pm
* Scenic spots are open from 8.30am to 5.00.
November 1 to next March 31: 7.00am – 5.00pm
* Scenic spots are open from 09:00 to 16:00.
6. Olympic Park (Olympic Green)
Credit: By Peter23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Beijing hosted the Olympics and Paralympics in 2008 and with that, the Olympic Park complex was constructed to host the sports events. The park consists of the iconic National Stadium, otherwise known as the Birds Nest, National Aquatics Centre, Olympic Forest Park, National Indoor Stadium, China Science and Technology Museum and China Ethnic Museum (China Ethnic Culture Park).
For those who watched the 2008 Olympics, you might remember how architecturally iconic the Birds Nest stadium was and how it spawned a number of documentaries about it. Well, I just had to see that for myself while I was in China and you should too.
If you’re into photography, you can come at night for a totally different view as compared to how it looks like in the daytime. Plus, if you do not want to enter the individual places of interest within the vicinity, you can enter the public park which is free and you still can take good pictures.
|National Stadium||National Aquatics Centre||Olympic Forest Park||National Indoor Stadium||China Science and Technology Museum||China Ethnic Museum (China Ethnic Culture Park)|
|Entrance fees||CNY 50||CNY 30||Free||CNY 20||CNY 30||CNY 90|
|Opening Hours||9:00 to 19:00 (April to October)
9:00 to 17:30 (November to March)
|9:00 to 20:00 (May to October) 9:00 to 18:00 (November to April)||6:00 to 20:00 (March 15 to November 15) 7:00 to 19:00 (November 16 to March 14 of the next year)||9:00 to 18:00||9:30 to 17:00 (closed on Mondays)||8:30 to 18:00|
7. Beijing Bell and Drum Towers
Credit: By Czzhermit (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Credit: By Zaptel (IMG_1543) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Originally the Bell and Drum Towers were used as musical instruments in China. Afterwards, they were used to tell time. In the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), there was a morning bell and a dusk drum, helping the people to work and live regularly as there was no other way to tell the time.
After climbing what seems to be the tallest staircase in the world, you will be presented with a birds’ eye view of Beijing, whether you climb the Bell or the Drum Tower. It is also a good place for taking pictures and selfies 😁
Entrance fees: CNY 15 (Bell Tower), CNY 20 (Drum Tower), CNY 30 (Combo ticket)
Opening hours: 9.00am to 5.00pm daily
8. Wangfujing Street
Ask anyone in Beijing about shopping, and they will point out Wangfujing Street. It is the most famous commercial and shopping district in Beijing. It is a 1-mile-long street that is home to a wide variety of shops and boutiques so you can shop till you drop!
Credit: @micelesenzacca on Instagram
At night, the main attraction is the Wangfujing Snack Street located south of Haoyou World Mall. It has hundreds of stalls and shops than mainly sell snacks, souvenirs and folk craft. There are 3 floors. On the first floor there are 500 different types of local food on sale. Be prepared to be shocked by what is offered here. However, the second floor is the place you want to be as it caters mostly to Muslims with many different types of halal food stalls. The third floor sells mostly exquisite tea and wine with Beijing opera for leisure.
Beijing has a large Muslim population that consists mainly of the Hui Muslims and Uygur Muslims. This gave birth to a number of Mosques in the city with the Niujie mosque being the oldest one built in the year 996 during the Liao dynasty.
Credit: Michal Huniewicz on Flickr
When I visited the Niujie Mosque, I got the chance to meet the imam. He was friendly and warm and took the time to give us a short tour of the mosque. I really appreciate the gesture, but, if only I could understand Mandarin, it would be informative as well. Don’t forget to donate to the mosque as it will help a lot since they don’t receive the same assistance as a mosque in a Muslim country.
Muslims who are on their very first trip to China might feel a bit awkward entering a Mosque that looks very similar to a Chinese temple however, after stepping inside there is a reassuring sight of the wudu’ place, prayer hall and mimbar to put you at ease.
The Niujie Mosque is definitely not the only Mosque in Beijing. Among other famous mosques in Beijing are the Huashi Mosque, Haidian Mosque, Nan Douya Mosque, Dongsi Mosque and the Changying Mosque. They are worth exploring too.
10. Great Wall of China
As you would expect, I left the best for last. The Great Wall of China was the main reason for coming to Beijing. Actually, there are many sections of the wall opened to the public. In the Beijing area alone, there are 10 sections.
However, to travel to the walls, you would need to go on a tour package (unless you have Chinese relatives or friends to drive you there). To make things easier, most of the hotels in Beijing have booking services for you to go there. Packages range from CNY 300 to 600 or more, depending on which section you want to travel to.
I personally went through the Jinshanling section and I can recommend it to “more than casual hikers” that have a taste for adventure. Make sure you have a good fitness level and if you go for marathons, it definitely is a plus, but not a requirement. It has a mix of tough, unrestored terrain, a scenic view and to top it off a dramatic ending (zipline across a big reservoir). One of the most awesome things you can do in your youth!
I can’t recommend Jinshanling to those with physical limitations, the elderly and small children. If you are not that into hiking long and tough distances, Huanghuacheng or Mutianyu is recommended. Badaling and Juyongguan, are also recommended, but are a bit crowded on holidays, since it is the less challenging and most tourist friendly of them all.
Surprisingly, Halal restaurants in Beijing are not that hard to find. They’re actually as easy to find as mamak restaurants in Kuala Lumpur! I’ll start you off with two restaurants serving local cuisine.
The Yijinyuan Restaurant is one of the few restaurants that provide a five-star dining experience. Elements of Hongkong, Guangdong, Sichuan, and Shanghai cuisine are prepared in a strict Islamic way of cooking. For a local halal experience, this is the place to be.
Address: East Gate, Yuan Dynasty Capital City Ruins Park, Beitucheng East Road, Chongwen District
Contact Number: 010 8465 2288, 010 8465 0088
The Afunti Restaurant is the largest and most well-known Uighur restaurant in Beijing. Uighur cuisine originates from the province of Xinjiang and is different from what you normally would consider Chinese cuisine as it usually consists of skewers of roasted lamb, a salad and nan bread. At around 8pm there is a performance by Xinjiang musicians and dancers (Arabian snake dancer and bellydancer) where at some point, audience participation is welcomed. It’s suitable for a fun night out with your travel companions.
Address: 2A Houguaibang Hutong, Beijing,
Hold Your Horses…
Excited yet? Before you go marching on that Beijing bound flight, there are a few basic preparations you need to do and tips you have to know so that your trip to Beijing will be a successful mission 😎
- Shoes – Believe me, you wouldn’t want to be traveling to China on a pair of Jimmy Choos or any designer shoes for that matter. You would want to wear comfortable footwear, sport shoes if possible, because the places of interest in China are massive to say the least. Wearing improper footwear will lead to a trip to the clinic for some foot blister treatments 😝. It will also help if you did some training exercises before coming to increase your stamina. This is because you might be traveling up to an average of 5-6KM on foot per day if you visit the major attractions. Hover boards are a possibility, but you will most definitely end up dragging it half way through your travel when they run out of juice.
- Avoid going there in the local holiday season. Having almost 1.4 billion people living in China, with almost 20 million living in Beijing, it would not be a good idea to compete with local tourists. The main national holiday is the Golden Week Holiday which spans for a week after Chinese New Year (around the middle of February). At that time, the whole of China is on holiday, making accommodation more expensive, not to mention the huge crowds that will fill up tourist attractions.
- If you really want to explore Beijing, summer (around August) would be a good time. Besides not having to wear thick clothing, daytime is longer, so you can travel for longer hours and still have time to do jama’ prayers at your hotel room.
- If you want to experience cool weather though, autumn would be good (around September or October) but you might just be able to travel to 1 major destination a day due to the shorter day time. A comfortable holiday duration is at least 1 full week. Anything shorter than that would either be too rushed or you might have to sacrifice the number of destinations you go to.
- Food – A good thing to know is that you won’t go hungry in Beijing. Did you know, about 23.3 million Muslims live in China? That is almost the whole population of Malaysia. So, it comes as no surprise that there is a Muslim restaurant at almost every corner in famous tourist areas . Even if you are lost, chances are you will run into a Muslim restaurant. Look out for the sign below at the restaurant to identify a Muslim restaurant. It reads “Al Mat’am al Islami” or if my Arabic is not too rusty, means Muslim Restaurant.
- Haggle for everything. Don’t be surprised, you can even haggle on hotel room prices over the counter on off peak seasons. When purchasing souvenirs, make sure you haggle at least half of the asking price. Although you might not know Mandarin, the common language is numbers. The sellers most probably will use a calculator to communicate with you. So it’s a good time to flex your negotiation skills. Street peddlers at tourist areas sometimes tend to be pushy. A good tip is if you are not interested in what they are selling, don’t ask. Also be careful when accepting free samples because you might end up in sticky situations.
To wrap it up…
Beijing is one of the most physically demanding places to travel, especially as a backpacker. However, it helps that they have a good and cheap subway system. In fact, the whole public transportation is pretty efficient.
In the beginning I was expecting to starve most of the time in Beijing (OK, I might be exaggerating there) but it was surprisingly easy to find halal restaurants. In fact embarrassingly, I ended up wasting food most of the time because I didn’t know dishes in Chinese restaurants are made for about 3 people and I ordered an average of 3 dishes at a time.
Beijing has a good mix of history, architecture, a great halal food scene and adventure. So, I guess it’s time to add Beijing to your bucket list today!