Beijing is a city full of possibilities, and whether visiting as a tourist or settling down as an expat, there’s no lack of great food, culture and fun to be had.
Be warned though, no matter where one goes, there will probably be crowds, especially on public transport and at tourist hotspots. This is only to be expected in a booming city of over 20 million people. Still, it is worth fighting through the crowds to enjoy everything available to see and do in Beijing.
Recommended attractions in Beijing
Great Wall of China
There are various sites for expats to visit along China’s legendary Great Wall, but one of the best is Mutianyu. The site has a cable car that takes visitors up onto the wall and offers a toboggan slide down for those willing to walk far enough. As with most of the sites, getting there is the tricky part. The best bet would arguably be to hire a car for the day, although there are bus options available from inside the city.
Hutong areas of Beijing
Visiting a hutong area is a uniquely Chinese cultural experience and a delightful city pastime. These areas of narrow lanes and alleys are home to a variety of local and Western restaurants, bars and shopping, and can provide the perfect backdrop for a weekend in Beijing. Visitors can rent bicycles or hire a pedicab to take a nice ride through the backstreets of the area and absorb the ancient, courtyard-based family housing that is being torn down little by little. Two well-loved hutong areas are Houhai Lake and Nanluoguxiang, both of which offer lots of eating, drinking and window shopping options that will surely be unique to the modern expat eager to absorb Ancient China.
National Museum of China
This is one of the largest museums in the world, boasting first-class facilities. Visitors can view a collection of over one million cultural relics housed in dozens of galleries. There are permanent exhibitions which focus on Ancient China and The Road of Rejuvenation and then a number of thematic and temporary international exhibitions. Most expats find that they'll need more than one visit to truly appreciate this attraction.
Panjiayuan Antiques Market
Located close to Panjiayuan Bridge, expats will find Beijing's most famous antique market, which has grown considerably from its humble beginnings as a flea market in the early 1990s. Shoppers will find a whole array of antiques for sale among the thousands of stalls. Everything from paintings, calligraphy works, ceramics, jade, furniture, coins and Buddhist artefacts are available. Even people who are not shopping for anything in particular will enjoy wandering around the market.
The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is located in the southern part of central Beijing, close to the city centre. If going early in the morning, it's possible to see Beijingers out exercising and doing tai chi. The temple and altar can get crowded with tourists, but the massive park that surrounds the attractions is just as interesting. Visitors making their way to the east gate of the park will find themselves right across the street from the Pearl Market, where they can bargain to their heart’s content.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
A given for anyone visiting Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are connected geographically and one of the best sightseeing experiences in Beijing. The square is enormous, as is the portrait of Mao Zedong at the entrance to the Forbidden City.
798 Art Zone
This is the place for modern art enthusiasts in Beijing. It makes for a great change of pace and is a place where expats can avoid the throngs of tourists as they view some excellent modern art installations and exhibits. There are also plenty of nice restaurants and shops in this district of Beijing.
Birds Nest and Water Cube
These impressive structures remain from when Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympic Games and are now popular attractions. The Birds Nest, officially known as the National Stadium, houses the main and field venue and gained its nickname because of its innovative grid structure. The Water Cube is the colloquial name given to the Beijing National Aquatics Center which was built just next door to the stadium.