Short, concise and to the point: we pick the TOP 5 attractions in Beijing (and surrounding areas).
Beijing is a huge city where you will not experience boredom. It takes several weeks if not months to see the most important sights, get an in-depth understanding of the culture and history, and taste every local dish.
This is a city where you will see historic buildings, beautiful, grand temples on the one hand, and a modern metropolis on the other, with tall skyscrapers, a well-developed subway and a huge, crowded airport (the second largest in the world).
There is also great social stratification here, with the vast majority of Beijing residents living in poverty. This is especially evident among older people. I still remember our first shopping in the market: in front of us stood an elderly gentleman who bought 5 kilos of rice, 5 liters of mineral water and…. that’s it. He paid with scraps taken from his tattered wallet. After paying, he carefully studied the receipt to see if he was sure everything matched up. It was a very sad sight. We happened to look into the baskets and many people bought only necessities….
According to statistics, 1% of the population owns 30% of the wealth owned by all Chinese. The state, however, wants to fight it. Already, average wages in large Chinese cities are close to those in Poland.
Why am I writing about it? To be aware of how it is on the ground and how this city will change, because we have no doubt about that. We are witnessing China’s economic growth and great investment. This city is changing day by day. One day there is a subway station in a field, and the next day there will be a street here. Places all over China are becoming reachable, high-speed trains are running, and the domestic air network is highly developed.
Unfortunately, technological progress is not followed by progress in society. And this is a trap China can fall into. So what if there will be fast, new trains, if traveling on them will be a torment due to the squeeze and dirt? So what if money is invested in the restoration of historical sites when it is acceptable to take care of one’s physiological needs wherever one can? What’s the use of promoting China as an attractive destination for tourists when it’s so hard to speak English? We can give many such examples. We show that at every step we have to deal with extremes, which you have to get used to on the spot :)
So if you are only going to Beijing for 1 or 2 days (which we do NOT recommend!), it is because of this development and technological advancement that you will be able to see the most important and interesting places in Beijing. However, we have a request: do not focus your full attention only on them. Try to walk away a bit, go to a local pub, look in a bazaar, watch the locals dance in the street to see what China really looks like.
Table of contents
TOP 5 places to visit in Beijing
Why TOP 5 and not TOP 10? We assure you that there are many more interesting places to see in Beijing than we could fit into 10 points. However, this time we said we would make such a short list, where we would put the most-important places in and around Beijing in our opinion.
According to us, these are the most interesting, impressive or surprising places in Beijing. We add a link to each place because they have already been described on our blog.
We start from the fifth place :)
5½. Summer Palace
Well, yeah… we couldn’t decide on a final five, so we have position five and a half ;) We decided on this one, perhaps because the Summer Palace was our first point of interest to visit in China, and thus made a huge impression on us. Despite the inclement weather :)
>> We wrote about the Summer Palace in this post.
5. the Great Wall of China
How is this possible! The Great Wall and all the way up to 5th place? Ano! :)
It is an obvious point on the map for any visitor to Beijing. However, it is not as easily accessible and you need to set aside a whole day for it, especially if you want to go on your own (many people think the Great Wall is just outside Beijing). So if you’re in Beijing just for a fling, it’s possible that you’ll let this point go. You can, of course, get there faster by hiring a private guide with vip transportation or take a cab ;)
Besides, in our opinion, the Great Wall is the Great Wall ;) Impressive? Yes. Surprising? Less so now, because everyone knows what it’s about and what it looks like. Badaling is such a place where you can take a walk around this remarkable structure and see for yourself how impressive the Great Wall is. It’s a place worth visiting, but keep in mind that it’s crowded, cramped and even dangerous at times, so that’s why the Great Wall lands at #5. location.
>> We wrote about how to get there and about the Great Wall itself here.
To get more of a feel for the atmosphere of the real China (while in Beijing), we recommend you take a walk around the traditional Chinese hutongs. What Hutongs are and where to find them we wrote here:
>> Hutongs, or traditional Chinese buildings.
3. lama temple
Also called the Temple of Harmony and Peace, it is an impressive Buddhist temple, the largest outside of Tibet. This is one of those attractions that we were not sure if it was worth going there, however, it turned out well…. because it is simply beautiful!
>> Here you will find our entry Lama Temple (of Harmony and Peace) and Confucius Temple.
2. the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City in downtown Beijing is also as obvious as the Great Wall. Even though we learned a lot about the place before the trip, we still didn’t quite know what to expect.
We knew that the area occupied by the Forbidden City is huge…. at least we thought so ;) The area is Ooooogantic and hides many hidden (also extra paid) rooms with very interesting exhibitions.
>> You can find the entry about the Forbidden City here.
1. the Temple of Heaven
Our number one. As with the Lama Temple, we initially didn’t hold out very high hopes for the place, even though everyone recommended it. We were afraid that at some point we would not be able to distinguish one temple from another.
However, the Temple of Heaven and the entire complex surrounding it are phenomenally impressive and memorable. Everything is beautifully landscaped, and visitors are left to enjoy the views and delve into the symbolism of the place. You can also spend the quieter part of the day here for a blissful rest amidst the greenery :)
>> See our post about the Temple of Heaven.
Map of TOP 5 attractions in Beijing
Helpfully, we also throw in a map with all the sites marked. Consider, however, that the satellite view on Google maps is slightly offset from the standard map. We adjusted the points to the standard view.
In addition to these points in Beijing, we recommend you go at least one day to Xi’an, where you can see the remarkable Terracotta Army.
This is, of course, our subjective opinion and not everyone has to agree :) You may find that these are “certainties”, but in the plethora of places to see in Beijing that are recommended by guidebooks, these are definitely worth visiting first.
We would like to remind you that yes, the list is not exhaustive, but we wanted to point out these 5 for us the most interesting places that we in good conscience recommend.
What is your TOP 5 from Beijing? :)
Let us know in the comments!
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