Beijing, the capital city of the world’s most populous nation, is renowned for its majestic temples and distinct culture. The history of Beijing might take days (or even years) to simply understand. Beijing’s identity is well defined by the historic “Hutong”, where narrow alleys with plenty of bicycles and morning dim sum are ubiquitous. Not to mention the elderly folks who practice their “Tai-Chi”, a morning ritual that livens up Hutong’s atmosphere. During the rush hours, the business district gives a glimpse of modern Beijing, which is very much a sneak preview of its closest rival, Shanghai.
Air pollution is a common problem in Beijing. I monitored the weather for a few days prior to my trip before finally deciding to book the ticket. During my four-day trip, I felt so overwhelmed by my own itinerary. Though I missed out a few places and wished to have a longer trip, I hope my “Top 10 of Beijing” will help you with your future planning. As for me, there will be a second outing very soon!
10 Tiananmen Square (Metro: Tiananmen East)
It is crucial to visit Tiananmen Square with a basic knowledge of the 1989’s Massacre, especially remembering the powerful image of the “Tank Man”. Knowing the Square’s rich history will definitely help you in understanding its significance.
9 CCTV Headquarters (Metro: Jintaixizhao) and National Centre for the Performing Arts (Metro: Tiananmen West Station)
Some may consider both as the icon of modern Beijing and I cannot agree more. The architecture of the “Big Pants” and “The Big Egg” are simply stunning.
8 Wangfujing (Metro: Wangfujing) or Gui Jie, Ghost Street (Metro: Beixinqiau)
If you are up for some “Fear Factor”, visit Wangfujing to sample their grilled scorpions, starfishes, roaches and centipedes. Some were still alive and moving before being grilled – yum! On the other street, unlike its scary name, Gui Jie (Ghost Street) offers a wide range of Beijing’s culinary delights. In the evening, the entire street lights up with red lanterns, making it a beautiful sight to behold.
7 National Library of China (Metro: National Library)
Even till today, I am still in awe of the intricate interior of the national library. Although I have little love for reading, this library makes me want to study once more. Inside it, of course!
6 Beijing Duck at Xiao Wang’s Home Restaurant, 2 Guanghua Dongli (Metro: Guomao)
As commercialized as it is, never leave Beijing without sampling their number one cuisine. I was lucky enough to visit “Xiao Wang” before its peak hour. And yes, their Beijing duck is great!
5 Olympics Complex (Metro: National Stadium) (Entrance Fee: CNY 50 for “Bird Nest” and CNY 30 for “Water Cube”)
It is never too late to celebrate the Olympics. Even in the empty stadium, I could still feel the chills while watching the 2008 Olympics’ montage on screen, with “You and Me” (by Sarah Brightman and Liu Huan) playing in the background.
4 Temple of Heaven (Metro: Tiantandongmen) (Entrance Fee: CNY 30)
The Temple of Heaven carries many symbolic meanings in its design. For example, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has a total of 28 pillars – four inner, twelve middle and twelve outer, with each representing the four seasons, twelve months and twelve Chinese hours respectively. Knowing the meaning of its heavenly symbols definitely enriches my experience in the temple.
3 Summer Palace (Metro: Beigongmen) (Entrance Fee: CNY 50)
I had read about the size of Summer Palace, but never thought it would be that huge. It took me 4 hours to explore the palace on foot! Indeed, it is easily the Top 3 must-visit attractions of Beijing.
2 Great Wall
With strong winds and a freezing temperature of -6°C, hiking the Great Wall was no easy feat! Kudos to my great guide for bringing us to the sections less travelled by tourists. And just to clear a general misconception, the Great Wall cannot be seen from outer space with unaided eyes.
1 Forbidden City (Metro: Tiananmen East) (Entrance Fee: CNY 40)
I had a difficult time deciding between the top 2 attractions, but Forbidden City eventually won over as my top pick. The stunning view from Jingshan Park overlooking the complex is simply magnificent. For photography enthusiasts, bring a good camera and pray for beautiful weather – and the splendid views of Forbidden City will be yours to treasure for a lifetime.