China’s capital is a place of extremes. It has one of the world’s highest populations and is the very definition of a 21st-century city, yet nestled amongst the concrete, glass and glittering high rises is a patchwork of ancient temples and royal residences.
Beijing’s history dates back thousands of years, one of the main reasons why it is such a captivating place to visit. What began as a trading centre for the north eastern frontier of China became the seat of the country’s most powerful imperial dynasties. It was chosen as the capital of the People’s Republic in 1949 and since then has launched itself onto the world stage, most notably with the Olympic Games in 2008. This is just a snapshot of Beijing’s immense history, and exploring the city’s incredible historic sights is the best way to wrap your head around it all.
Visit the Forbidden City, a sprawling complex that was once the royal residences of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties; stroll around the beautiful gardens of the Summer Palace; and encounter an altogether more recent history at Tiananmen Square. And, of course, there’s the Great Wall of China that winds its way across the hills north of the city.
Look up and you’ll see countless examples of Beijing’s modern architectural styles, from the silver space age CCTV Headquarters to the smooth lines of the Galaxy SOHO complex. It is the blend of the old and the new that give Beijing its charm.
Just as the architecture echoes Beijing’s melting pot of cultural heritage, so do the people. Take time to simply sit back and watch the fusion of people pass by, from ex-pats to migrant workers to new money, before trying your hand at market haggling and mastering the art of chopstick dining. It’s fair to say there is nowhere else quite like Beijing and it’s an essential part of any trip to this vast and beautiful country.
Beijing’s sense of history is palpable, and at times you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, from finding quiet corners of the Forbidden City to wandering through the traditional Hutong neighbourhoods. Heading out of the city and into the countryside to visit a quiet section of the iconic Great Wall of China was an awe-inspiring experience which will stay with me forever.
What to do
- Explore the sprawling expanse of the Forbidden City
- Visit Tiananmen Square
- Head north of the city to the Great Wall of China
- Visit the majestic Summer Palace
- Wander the city's bustling hutongs for a glimpse into day-to-day life
- Try some mouthwatering Peking cuisine
When to Go
China's capital is at its best during the two shoulder seasons, from March to May and September to October. These spring and autumn seasons bring with them pleasant temperatures that are suited to sightseeing. It’s worth avoiding the public holiday in May and National Day in October, during which time millions of domestic tourists descend on Beijing.