What To Do With Limited Time in Beijing – My Top Picks

When you arrive in Beijing, three sites are a given – The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. In most guidebooks it’s almost always stated that without this holy trinity of tourist must-dos ticked off the list you haven’t experienced Beijing. I agree with the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square has a great atmosphere (prepare for the crowds) but the Forbidden City didn’t excite me too much.

While there is more to do than this you may have limited time in Beijing as you plan a trip around China to see as much as possible in a short time frame. I spent around 12 days in Beijing – I loved it and kept finding more and more things to do and see – but many only spend a third of that time there. China is so huge and tempting that it is easy to bypass spending a lot of time in one place getting to know it in the eagerness to squeeze in other destinations.

If you have limited time in Beijing you may be faced with the dilemma of what other sites to see, so here’s my shortlist based on my exploration of what I can now call one of my most favourite cities.

If You Want To Soak up More of Beijing’s History…

Summer Palace


A leisurely climb up through contrasting temples, beautiful pavilions and lush green landscape will firstly take you to the top of a hillside providing you with a spectacular view of the city. A winding stroll down the other side brings you to the gleaming Kunming lake, where you can relax, jump on a dragon boat and take a stroll around its perimeter, over its bridges and through its gate towers. If you are done with the climb, take an alternative route back to the entrance gate via the parks and gardens. It’s where all the locals are hanging out.

Metro stop: Xiyuan

Lama Temple


I tire of too many temples very quickly, but this one is up there as one of my favourites. While the Temple of Heaven is another well-known site it’s not really a magnificent temple complex like this (more of a huge park). Known as the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, you’ll be hit by an array of the magnificent colours, exquisite decor, sporadic prayer wheels, ancient architecture and the strong scented mists of incense. A particular highlight here is the towering Maitreya Buddha, carved from a single sandalwood tree, which supposedly holds a Guinness World Record for its claim.

Metro stop: Yonghegong-Lama Temple

Old City Wall


Much of China has been or is being rebuilt, but in Beijing a lot was destroyed forever during the Cultural Revolution of the Maoist days. Although this vast stretch of wall is completely reconstructed, it does give a good insight into how this impressive city must have looked before its modern, industrial overhaul. Set within a park landscape, it’s a beautiful stroll, even if the wall doesn’t ignite a historical fire within you.

Metro stop: Chongwenmen

If You Want To Chill Out For The Day


Beihai Park


Boasting another beautiful lake which is not too taxing on the strolling scale, this park is situated west of the Forbidden City. I spent half a day here (the lake is not as huge and magnificent as the Summer Palace) using the impressive White Dagoba as my start and end point. It’s serene and peaceful, a love haven for local couples and a great escape from the crowds at the nearby Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

Metro stop: Tiananmen Square Xi

Olympic Park


With three Olympic metro stops to hop on and off, you can combine seeing the architecture of the famous 2008 Olympic stadium structures with a park so huge you really don’t know where to start. The Bird’s Nest (National Stadium) and Water Cube are now slightly rusty up front but still impressive and ticket touts will charge you 50 yuan (£5) for the privilege of entering. I preferred marvelling from the outside before heading to the park for a long stroll and jumping in a hired motor boat for some time out on the lake – a great chance to interact with the local people.

Metro stop: Olympic Sport Centre and Olympic Forest Park

If You Love Art…


The 798 Art District


I thought I was spoilt for choice for modern art in London but in Beijing there is an entire area dedicated to it. The 798 Art District hosts an impressive art community, from traditional galleries to controversial and wacky sculptures to my absolute favourite – street art. We even found a bunch of giant Santa statues! Most of the art is housed in a former East German electronics factory, making the setting even more artistic and funky. You could spend days here depending on your love of art, but maps are available in most galleries for easy navigation on limited time.

Metro stop: Sanyuanqiao

If You Want To Shop, Eat & Drink…



The area of Sanlitun fast became a favourite of mine, next to the hostel area of Qianmen. In the day head to the multiple floored Yashow Market to pick up a few bargains (like, ahem, fake goods) or head to the top floor for all manner of beauty treatments – be sure to haggle here too since a pedicure didn’t include a polish (minor girl irritation). At night, the area comes alive where expats and locals come out to play amongst the vibrant and heaving bars and street food hawkers. Balloon and flower sellers might tempt you to part with your drunken cash. I ended up taking home a pink unicorn balloon. Enough said.

Metro stop: Dongsishitiao, then a 15 minute walk

What are your favourite must-see parts of Beijing?


  1. says

    We traveled here years ago and went to the summer palace which was awesome. What wasn’t awesome though was when the palace closed and they locked us in the grounds! It was an absolute nightmare to find a way out. The Great wall is a definite highlight. I feel like i have to go back to china to experience it properly so i’ll be checking back here for some expert tips! You have been bookmarked.

    • says

      Oh my! I always wondered if that ever happened to people! I would be terrified!! I agree about the Wall.. I had the grand plan to visit three parts of it while I was here but one was enough – for now! I will save the others for when I return someday and it all seems new again! There is so much to see in China that I will be returning too, but soon as they like to rip their own heritage sites down and start again. Argh!

  2. says

    12 days in one city?! It must be good! I usually can’t stay more than 4 nights in a city. I keep gravitating towards the Andes and then wishing I didn’t have to do ‘yet another hike’! At least I’ll lose the belly!

    • says

      I just find that in some cities a few days isn’t enough to see everything and ‘live’ it… but we are all different. I love quiet places too, but then I just like stumbling upon what I can find :)

  3. says

    I think I need to get back to Beijing. I liked most of China, but really didn’t like Beijing at all, but the more I read other people’s experiences, the more I feel it was probably just the circumstances. I was there a few weeks before the Olympics began and much of the city was a big dusty construction site. It was also unbelievably hot and muggy and the combination of the two didn’t make walking around pleasant at all.

    • says

      I found Beijing really difficult to deal with when I first arrived, then I went elsewhere for a few days and came back. Slowly, I learnt to appreciate it. I think you just need a lot of patience there but it taught me a lot about how to handle travelling in China! Most of China (that I have seen) is one big construction site so I don’t blame you for disliking it. It’s one of the things I dislike about the country generally. I’m sure you can use Beijing as a transit point in the future and stop there for a couple of days to make your mind up…again.

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