Beijing Opera at Huguang Guild Hall

Beijing is very big and very much alive. Distances here are huge with much to see and do…Mind you, “see”, might be a bit of an exaggeration as the city nowadays is often shrouded in smog.

Much of the city and famous sites are right now currently under re-development for the 2008 Olympics so do not expect the best views in the world. However, seeing what they have done so far is very impressive and bodes well for the next few years to visit. Many locals I talked to indicated that visiting in 2009 would be a better option than next year since it is likely the work will not be completed next year and it will also be so busy with tourists…

Things to See

Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was once the sole domain of the emperor but is now open to the public to visit. A massive area houses great museums and public spaces. Truly regal.

The most popular and famous site to visit in all of Beijing – do not expect to visit the city and have it to yourself. A word of advice would be to use the relatively quiet northern gate – A bit out of the way perhaps but may save you a lot of hassle and queuing – Entering the city from this end is a lot less busy and shows you some very interesting areas of the city that are less visited.

Entering by the south gate (via Meridian Gate/Tiananmen Square) is not recommended as you will have to fight your way through the crowds which includes a lot of souvenir sellers and some alarmingly crippled beggars. Not for the faint of heart.

Jade in the Jewellery Exhibition

A set fee is charged to get into the Forbidden City with access to certain areas available at an additional charge.

Qin'andian Gate

You can easily spend a whole day here, so please do! Take your time and soak in the atmosphere.

The Nine Dragon Screen

The Qianqingmen Gate

Dragons on the Emperor's Path Through the City

Tiananmen Square

Portrait of Mao on Tian'anmen Gate

Located just to the south of the Forbidden City through the Tian'anmen Gate Tiananmen Square is said to be the largest in the world – It is easy to believe if only for the size of the huge roads that surround it making getting to the square a bit problematic (there are very crowded underpasses).

Great Hall of the People (and the Monument to the People's Heroes)

You can visit the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall where Mao lies in state but you must not have any bags (you can deposit them in the offices to the east for a small fee). I, personally, gave this one a miss…Incidentally, it is also said you can visit the Great Hall of the People but this would have to be investigated further (they are supposed to be magnificent).

Xichang'An Jie

Every evening at sun-down you can visit the square to see the lowering of the flag by a well-rehearsed group of soldiers who snap to attention and do all that you might expect. The most heart-stopping moment I found was when they stop the traffic on the massively busy (and large – 16 lanes) Xichang'An Jie (road) to cross it. Amazing.

Lowering the Flag

This ceremony does attract crowds (both foreign and local) so do be aware of pick-pockets (despite the number of police/military about).

I found the two gates to the south of the square actually very interesting as well and are worth a visit (yes, you can get up into them for some very good views of the square and the city around).

Jingshan Park

Located just to the north of the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park is a quiet oasis away from the hustle of the surrounding city. Make the short climb to the top for wonderful views of the Forbidden City and the rest of the area.

Top of Jingshan Hill

It is depressing to see that the statues in four of the shrines at the top of the hill were looted in the 1900s by the allied forces.


Also of note is that it is in this park that the last Ming emperor committed suicide (by hanging himself from a tree).

Street Market

The Market

There are surprisingly few street markets still operating in the city after recent government “clean-up” operations. One in particular that we found with depressingly ordered stalls is in the Dong'anmen Night Market.

Seahorses - Yum!

There are several “wows” on offer but many of the stalls sell very similar items at, basically, the same price. Quite sanitary.

Bugs for Sale

The surrounding streets (in particular, Wangfujing Dajie just to the east) also have a number of shops open quite late into the evening (there are also several small side streets with other small food and souvenir markets).

Trappings of the west…

Coke Stall

Summer Palace

Kunming Lake with Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha on the Hill

The Summer Palace is definitely worth a visit though is difficult to get to as it is quite some distance to the north west of the city centre. It is a massive complex of park and buildings that will take a lot longer than a day to visit with any amount of detail.

Clouds Gathering Temple

Be prepared for a lot of walking. Also, highly recommended is to take a trip on the lake by one of the many tourist boats which leave at the end of the Long Corridor (near the Bridge of Pastoral Poems).

The map they give you when you buy your ticket is not terribly good though the “Tourist Map” also on offer lacks a lot of detail it does look quite nice…

The Long Corridor

The Summer Palace was rebuilt by the Empress Dowager Cixi in 1902 after being burned down in 1900 by the Allied Forces of Eight Powers. It is truly stunning both with the scenery and the colours and beauty of the buildings…

Suzhou Street was a bit of a “folly” that re-creates a town in the lower Yangtze valley (Suzhou is a small canal town to the west of Shanghai). Full of shops that sell mostly souvenirs there are also some more traditional things on offer (such as shadow puppets and musical instruments).

Suzhou Street - The Empress' Folly

Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is a temple located in a large park to the south east of the city centre. The temple was created for the emperor to make offerings to the gods for the country – specifically for improving the harvest.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Distances here are huge and the sites are quite far apart. Well worth an afternoon visit.

Chengzhen Gate

I found particularly interesting the rather out of the way “Divine Music Office” which has an additional entry fee. The Music Office has periodic classical instrument demonstrations in the main hall and also allows visitors to play some of the old instruments.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven

Be sure to also try out the Echo Wall around the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

Getting Around

The roads in Beijing are becoming more and more crowded every day which makes getting around quite difficult. Car ownership is on the rise and they all seem to want to be on the road at once.


The subway system in Beijing currently consists of only two lines: The East West Line (1) and the Loop Line (2) but this is being dramatically increased for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. For now the subway system is not really a viable way of getting around the city.


Actually quite an economical way to get around the city the only trick is that, if you do not know the language, to have the name of where you want to go written in Chinese (Kanji) – If you are staying at a hotel often they will have cards with this information on it. The only other thing to remember about travel by taxi is to always get a receipt and watch out for illegal cabs. Rates are charged by distance with a flat fee for the first 4 km and then a set value for distance covered thereafter.

Note that taxis may refuse to take you if the traffic is particularly bad.


Not a good idea, really. Without knowing the language getting around by bus is a dark art and often extremely crowded.

Further Information

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