Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the city can get a bit much, so skip out on the noise and traffic and head straight for Fragrant Hills. Something straight out of a storybook, this Imperial Garden and pine forest spans over 188 hectares and is the place to see the red-leafed trees that China is famous for. While you’ll want to spend a bit of time here, even the most efficient of you will find it hard to cover an area that big. Our tips? Figure out which parts of the park you want to explore most. Whether it’s seeing the Fragrant Hills Pagoda, the Xiangshan Temple, the Fragrant Mist Cave or just some choice views, the park has something for everyone.
Visit the Forbidden City
Architecture lovers, get ready to drool. This former Imperial Palace that was home to Chinese rulers from the Ming and Qing Dynasties for over 500 years. Its grand, red walls are a symbol of China itself. As it was once forbidden to enter the palace complex – unless you had special permission from the Emperor – the palace has been a mystery for most of its history. Now open to the public, take some time to uncover its hidden secrets. Marvel at the beauty of the Calligraphy and Painting Gallery inside the Hall of Martial Valor; spot the richly-decorated Dragon Throne in one of the Great Halls; take selfies in the magnificent Imperial Gardens: if there’s one thing you simply must do in Beijing, it’s this.
Go down the Dragon Escalator
We know what you’re thinking: you haven’t travelled to the other side of the world for an escalator. But hear us out – the Dragon Escalator at Longqing Gorge is straight up crazy. Located about 85km outside of Beijing, the trip to this natural beauty is amazing in-and-of itself. And then you see the Dragon. Slithering alongside the mountain-face, this massive yellow behemoth looks like a rollercoaster. Climbing more than 250m into the sky, the escalator has cute internal displays of stuffed animals to keep you entertained along the way. Once at the top of the gorge, you can take a boat ride on the lake, hop in a cable car to enjoy the view, or bungee jump into the gorge: you get to choose your own adventure.
Zoom down the Great Wall of China Slide
You probably already know about the Great Wall of China, which spans an impressive 21,196km in length. You can visit different sections of the wall in different areas around the country, but it’s best if you visit the section near the Mutianyu township, about two hours away from Beijing. And there’s one very good reason why: a giant toboggan. Once you breathe in the view from the top and snap a photo or two of the wall twisting down the mountainside, hop on a toboggan and enjoy your five-minute slide all the way back down. They don’t call it the Great Wall for nothing.
Wonder around Ming Dynasty Tombs
Located on the outskirts of the city, the Ming Dynasty Tombs are the final resting place of 13 late Emperors. This complex houses 13 mausoleums – one for each Emperor – dotted among manicured gardens. Sitting in a picturesque spot at the foot of Tianshou Mountain, soak up the natural beauty of this spot, as well as a healthy dose of Chinese history and culture. You’ll learn plenty about the lives of the Emperors themselves, as well as discovering the stories behind other ancient artefacts. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a day exploring the Ming Dynasty Tombs is a day well spent.
Things to do in Beijing
Chinese New Year
Hands down the biggest event in China – and for Chinese people around the world – Chinese New Year in Beijing is something special. Based on the lunar calendar, this event occurs between late January and early February every year. Imagine streets lined with red lanterns, vendors lining up to sell moon cakes from their carts, fireworks exploding over the Forbidden City – this festival is one for the books.
Beijing Pop Festival
The Beijing Pop Festival is an annual music festival held in Chaoyang Park. This ground-breaking festival hosts both Western and Chinese acts, and the organisers somehow manage to get around the Ministry of Culture’s censorship rules – what legends! Past acts have included Nine Inch Nails, the Ramones and Supergrass.
Beijing Music Festival
Calling all classical music fans: you’ll froth over this. The Beijing Music Festival is an annual festival held around the city every October. Boasting a variety of classical concerts, including opera, orchestral and solo shows, you might even find the odd jazz recital at this Ministry of Culture-sponsored event.
Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival is a must if you’re in Beijing in late May/early June. Honouring ancient scholar and military strategist Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the river following the defeat of his people, this holiday is this is a time of celebration for locals, with special foods, rituals and races carried, as per the old customs.
Midi Music Festival
One of the more contemporary festivals on the calendar, the Midi Music Festival is one of China’s biggest rock music fests. Held by the Beijing Midi School of Music, this festival occurs during the Chinese May Holiday and has hosted the likes of Crimea, Dave Stewart and the Eurythmics.
Top 5 Festivals in Beijing
Beijing is an amazing melting pot of ancient and contemporary culture, as well as a splash of Western influence. This city is always pumping with one festival or another, so there’s always fun to be had. Here are our picks for the top five festivals to go to in Beijing.
For lovers of the stars, a visit to the Beijing Planetarium can’t be missed. Geek out at the sight of the swinging pendulum in the entrance hall, showing how the earth continually rotates from East to West. Once the only Planetarium in Asia, this massive museum is packed with interactive displays and 4D light shows.
China National Film Museum
Movie buffs, here’s one for you: The China National Film Museum is the biggest of its kind in the world. Taking you through the history of Chinese Cinema and its different movements and genres, this museum also doubles as a Cineplex, so once you’re done with all the learning, kick back and catch a flick.
Stick this on the very top of your list – the Forbidden City is a must-see for every visitor to Beijing. Not only are the palace grounds a spectacle in-and-of themselves, they’re filled with tonnes of galleries. Check out ancient Chinese calligraphy, painting and ceramics in the halls of this amazing complex.
National Museum of China
Located on the Eastern side of Tiananmen Square, the National Museum of China is one of the biggest art museums in the world – second only to the Louvre. With a mission to educate visitors on the history of art and culture in China, discover ancient scrolls, artefacts and suits of armour at the National Museum of China.
China Science and Technology Museum
If you love a good interactive museum, the China Science and Technology Museum is our pick. Here you’ll find showcase of ancient and contemporary Chinese technologies spanning the fields of astronomy, mechanics, IT and environmental sciences. Plus, the huge, mirrored sphere out the front of the museum makes for a great selfie.
Top 5 Museums in Beijing
As the nation’s capital, Beijing is bursting with stories to tell. Whether you love history, art, science or just want to snap some cool stuff, Beijing probably has a museum for that. Here is our list of some of our favourite Beijing museums.
Beijing Roast Duck
Formally known as Peking Duck, this regional specialty has been served since imperial times. Crispy roast duck is lovingly carved and served in taco-like pancakes with spring onion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce. The best place in the city to get this dish is Da Dong Duck Restaurant. You’ll want to book a table in advance to avoid some serious fomo.
Best eaten at Da Dong Duck Restaurant, F1-F2, Nanxincang Business Building, 22 Dongsitiao Jia, Dongcheng District
No doubt you’ll be stuffing your face with dumplings wherever you are in China, with Beijing being no exception. The traditional moon-shaped Jiaozi will hit the spot, steamed or fired. To get a feel for old Beijing, check out Mr Shi’s Dumplings. This hole-in-the-wall diner in one of the city’s old Hutong – or residential laneways – has a great vibe and some seriously good eats.
Best eaten at Mr Shi's Dumplings, 74 Baochao Hutong, Gulou Dong Dajie
Jing Jiang Rou Si
Shredded Pork in Beijing Sauce
Another staple of Beijing, Jing Jiang Rou Si is one dish that’ll leave you wanting seconds. Delicate pieces of shredded pork tenderloin are sautéed in a sweet bean sauce. Crunchy, succulent and delicious, you can chow down on this bad boy at Jin Ding Xuan Restaurant in the Dongcheng District.
Best eaten at Jin Ding Xuan Restaurant, 77 Hepingli Street, Dongcheng District
You can never go wrong with potatoes, but the Gangou variety you find all over Beijing are truly something special. Thinly sliced and fried up with pork, chilli, ginger, onion and shallots, it’s easy to fill up on these bad boys. You can find them dotted around lantern-filled Gui Jei, also known as Ghost Street.
Best eaten at Ghost Street (Dongzhimen Nei Dajie, Chaoyang District)
Tu Dou Si
Can we get a heck yes for more potatoes? Shredded and fried up with garlic, chilli and vinegar, these thin potatoes are coated with a sweet gloss. Served hot or cold, this is the perfect side or any meat dish, or as a quick snack on its own when you’re on-the-go. Tuck into some tu dou si at Shijin Yuan restaurant in the Chaoyang District.
Best eaten at Shijin Yuan, Dongsanli Tunzhong 13, Sanlitun, Chaoyang District
Food in Beijing
Chinese food needs no intro, but when you’re exploring a country as wide and varied as China, you’ll find a lot of regional variation. As Beijing is in the north, the cooler climates are ideal for root vegetables and meat. You know what that means? Dumplings, fried potatoes and lots of delicious meat. Get ready for one hell of a food adventure in Beijing.