Known for being the cultural hub of China, Beijing is a modern metropolis built on ancient foundations. As the Forbidden City and the Great Wall stand contrasted by glittering skyscrapers, so too does the city’s festival calendar bring together its past and present.
While exact dates are subject to change, here are some of the best annual events in Beijing for expats to look forward to.
Annual events in Beijing
Spring Festival (January/February)
Also known as Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival is the most important traditional event of the year for most residents. The Spring Festival bursts with colour and activity, celebrating family across ethnic boundaries. Locals start cleaning their houses and stocking their pantries a week in advance as preparations for the festival begin. The Spring Festival is said to set the tone for the year and it is for this reason that people avoid negative topics of conversation and taking medication during this time. Many celebrate by eating dumplings and seafood or enjoying the festive atmosphere of Beijing’s streets.
Lantern Festival (February/March)
The first significant feast after the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival is known for being one of the city’s most enjoyable cultural events. During the festival, Beijing is lit up by thousands of paper lanterns as its citizens gather to eat stuffed rice balls called yuanxiao and marvel at the moon. Fireworks, folk dances, stilt-walking and riddles also feature and keep the whole family entertained.
Meet in Beijing Arts Festival (April/May)
Each year the Meet in Beijing Arts Festival takes on a different theme. Thousands of artists from all over the world come together to perform to an ever-growing audience. Exhibitions and performances last for almost a month, and feature art, dance, music and drama from the classical to modern. The festival is a unique platform for cultural exchange from all over the world, and there is guaranteed to be something to suit all tastes.
Great Wall Marathon (May)
Each year two races take place on the Great Wall of China, one of the longest man-made structures in the world. Beijing residents often head to the wall to cheer the runners on in either the 3-mile (5km) or 6-mile (10km) races which are held on some of the steepest sections of the wall.
Dragon Boat Festival (May/June)
One of the most popular festivals in China, the Dragon Boat Festival is also one of the most significant. Said to date back over 2,000 years, the festival commemorates legendary Chinese poet and patriot Qu Yuan. According to the best-known story, unable to bear the prospect of his state being taken over by the Qin Dynasty, he drowned himself in a nearby river. Residents were said to throw food in the river, as fishermen sailing in search of his body let off fireworks, to prevent the body being eaten by fish. This is re-enacted every year through dragon boat racing and eating zongzi, local sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. Organised races take place all over the city, and revellers are occasionally allowed to take the oars themselves at certain locations.
Beijing Dance Festival (July)
Known as the biggest dance platform in China, the festival started in 2008 and alternates between international and national programmes each year. Over the years, it has become an extravaganza of two weeks of educational activities and performances showcasing some of the best dancers in China and the world.
Mid-Autumn Festival (September/October)
A traditional harvest festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival was originally used for moon worship and offerings. Today, residents in Beijing exchange gifts, bake mooncakes and gaze at the moon from places such as the Summer Palace, or the reflective surface of the Beihai Park lake. The Wanping Town temple fair close to the Lugou Bridge is especially popular and features all kinds of local arts and crafts.
Beijing Music Festival (October)
Lasting almost the entire month of October, expats who have moved to Beijing will have plenty of time to enjoy the Beijing Music Festival. The classical music celebration features performances from orchestras, soloists and opera companies from around the world.