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Things to do in Beijing, Beijing Attractions - Forbidden City

Discover Beijing

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I am American born and raised. I’ve lived in California all of my life. This is my home. My parents, though, were born in China and grew up in Taiwan. They immigrated to the U.S. for graduate school and a better life. I appreciate their immigration stories and the sacrifices they made for me in coming to this country. But there is a part of me that desires to understand their past and the country where they once lived.

Our family spent 10 weeks in China for my sabbatical. It was actually not my first time in China. I went to study abroad for six months as an undergraduate student at the University of California, San Diego.

When I returned to China almost 20 years later, this time married with two children, I was amazed at what had happened. Skyscrapers filled the landscape where not long ago there were only single story buildings. Bullet trains transported commuters in 30 minutes instead of hours. Restaurants served food that grandma would never have dreamed of cooking. A new generation of 20-somethings was working hard for a future that is in their hands. This is the new China. I had stumbled across something totally unexpected: yearning.

I realized that as much as our governments wrangle over greenhouse-gas emissions, cyber-security, South China Seas and human rights, on a personal level, people everywhere share the same hopes and dreams: an improved life and a better future for their children. That’s why my parents immigrated to the U.S. 50 years ago. That’s why young people in China are working so hard today.

What an exciting time to live and see the world. Cheers to being able to travel. Two cheers to learning to share the world we live in and to being global citizens.

Here is a sample of our favorite things to do in Bejing, China, and what I would do if I had a few days in Beijing.

The Great Wall of China

There are many locations to see Beijing’s most popular site. All of them are at least an hour outside the city. Badaling is the most popular and most crowded.

If you visit the Great Wall at this location, I suggest making a left turn at the fork after you pass the admission gates. This is the southwest path where fewer people head. Most tourists take the northeast path. Go to the very end of the southwest path and reward yourself with some quiet time and wonderful views of one of the ancient wonders of the world. Take your time as the steps get very steep at a couple of points. You will need about 90 minutes to enjoy this location.

A different location to experience the Great Wall is Mutianyu. Fewer people visit this site, and it’s easier to walk because they have chairlifts. Kids like it especially because they have a toboggan ride on the way down!

Things to do in Beijing - Great Wall at Badaling

Hiking to the end of the Great Wall means fewer people and a quiet place to enjoy the views.

Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

Known for the 1989 demonstrations, Tiananmen Square means the Gate of Heavenly Peace. This square is a good starting place to see things in order of ancient geography. Begin at the Front Gate located on the south side of Tiananmen Square. There were once nine gates surrounding the city, and the remnants of this one welcome you to the fourth largest square in the world.

As you walk through the square, you will pass the Memorial of Chairman Mao. Yes, his body lies in a crystal coffin for viewing. When you get to the end of Tiananmen Square, you will see the Palace Museum also known as the Forbidden City. This was the imperial palace from 1420 until the last Emperor Puyi in 1912. It is China’s largest and best-preserved complex of ancient buildings. Nicknamed the Forbidden City because unauthorized people caught inside the city would certainly face severe punishment or even death. Be sure to rent audio guides for the family. Before you go, check out this great interactive guide for children.

As you exit the home of emperors on the north side, visit Jingshan Park, where you can walk to the top of the hill and enjoy a 360° view of Beijing and the Forbidden City.

Things to do in Beijing - View of Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

A view of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park in Beijing.

Wangfujing and Silk Street

For a break from the historical sites, Wangfujing is a short walking street with upscale stores on each side. There are plenty of food vendors selling everything from soda to scorpions on a stick. It’s not my favorite place, but it has entertainment value for visitors.

Our favorite shopping area is Silk Street located about 2 1/2 miles away. This street was once an alley of vendors but now occupies a building of seven floors and three levels of basements. While living in Beijing for the summer, we stopped by this shopping complex several times a week. Silk Street is best known for vendors selling counterfeit luxury goods but there is one floor in the complex with nothing but toys!

Be prepared to negotiate. If you are not familiar with the process, just watch someone else for about five minutes. You don’t need to pay more than what they paid.

Things to do in Beijing - Silk Street Market

Kids are having fun and learning the art and skill of negotiating for their toy at Silk Street Market.

Visit A Hutong Neighborhood

Explore a hutong neighborhood. If you are in Beijing, there are still many hutong neighborhoods in the city. We walked into a neighborhood and witnessed locals buying vegetables, meats and cooked foods. There was no supermarket; the street was their market just like it was a hundred years ago.

We sampled different foods en route to our favorite Uighur restaurant at Xinjiang Crescent Moon Uighur Muslim Restaurant, a restaurant specializing in lamb. The food is fantastic, and you can sample Chinese-Muslim cuisine from the western province of Xinjiang. We went to this restaurant multiple times. The restaurant is a little difficult to find but worth the effort. Here is the location on Google Maps.

Tip: Skip the menu in foreign countries like China. Just look around the room and see what the locals have ordered. If it looks good, order it.

Things to do in Beijing - Xinjiang food, Uighur restaurant

Try some Lamb Kebobs and learn about the Uighurs – an ethnic minority group from western China.

Temple of Heaven and Tiantan Park

For a break from the city, head for Tiantan Park, which is about a 15-minute taxi ride from Tiananmen Square. This 600 acres of green space within Beijing is a favorite among locals who go there to walk, practice Tai Chi, and socialize with friends. The crown jewel of this park is the Temple of Heaven, which was constructed by Yongle, the same emperor who built the Forbidden City.

Things to do in Beijing - Temple of Heaven at Tiantan Park

Take a break from the city at Tiantan Park.

Beijing Duck

I’m going to make some people upset because there are those who feel Beijing Duck is overrated compared to eating it in the U.S. Down with the haters. Serve up the duck.

First, what is Beijing Duck? It refers to a style of eating the thin, crisp skin of a duck separated from the meat, with some scallions, cucumber, and sweet bean sauce wrapped in a thin pancake. It’s about the skin and not the meat. For show, a chef might slice your duck next to the table before serving it. It’s just one course of the meal, and I always leave wanting more. For a better idea of where to get this delicacy, check out this list.

Things to do in Beijing - Try Beijing Duck!

Beijing Duck is a personal favorite and must try

Other Fine Dining

For those staying at Hilton Beijng Wangfujing, there are two excellent restaurants within a seven-minute walk. Hong Kong based Lei Garden serves Dim Sum for lunch and traditional Cantonese cuisine for dinner. Just across the street is Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant, one of the best places to eat in Beijing not just for Beijing Duck but for all around Chinese cuisine.


For those exploring Beijing on your own, the subway system is safe, convenient and crowded. Taking a taxi is affordable within central Beijing but possibly difficult if you don’t have an address in Chinese.

Tip: Ask your hotel concierge to write the names and addresses of places you plan to visit that day in Chinese. Show it to a taxi driver and hope it’s not his first day in Beijing like the driver we had. We had to give him directions to our location.

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Lead photo provided by: http://photoeverywhere.co.uk.

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Eugene lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife have taken their two children to about 15 countries for work and vacation. Eugene is…

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