If you are primary in Beijing because of work of studies doesn’t matter. There will be always free time in morning before job or lectures, afternoon after job or lectures, weekends or national holidays when you can take a tour around the city on your own or with your new friends.
Tiananmen Square– It is shame to be in Beijing and not to visit its most famous symbol and largest square in world. In Chinese it literary means “Gate of Heavenly Peace” and it is name of southern gate of imperial palace Forbidden City. It isn’t European style square that you can find in Rome, Paris with pubs, caffes or parks. This is monumental square that symbolizes Chinese communist modern statehood. On that square Peoples Republic of China was founded. Expect large crowds of people young and old from cities and from rural areas from every corner of China coming here to show respect to this square. On square you will see Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Also you will see there Monument to Peoples Heroes which is erected in honor of those who sacrificed their lives for communism and Chinese People. At northern part of square is Tiananmen Gate an entrance to Forbidden City. On its red wall is hanged large portrait of Chairman Mao. There is Parliament of China next to square known as Great Hall of People. Don’t miss flag raising ceremony ( at time of sunrise) or flag lowering ceremony( at time of sunset)
How to get there: Subway: Line1: get out at Tiananmen West or Tiananmen East or Line2: get out at Qianmen station.
Notification: There is high level of security at square due to potential terrorist threat. So don’t bring any suspicious material because of security check that you must pass before you are let into square.
Forbidden City- In past forbidden complex of halls and vast space determined only for Chinese imperial elite and their servants. Life of Chinese Emperors was a mystery hidden behind tall red walls that are surrounding the palace. It served as a main residence of Chinese Emperors since XVII century when third Ming emperor moved capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Emperors lived there until 1911 when Empire was dissolved. They governed from this large complex and spent winter as well behind walls of this large imperial palace It was closed to public until 80ies when Chinese government started policy of opening up its economy and promoting tourism. So basically opening of gates of Forbidden City to eyes of people from all over world can symbolize opening of China. Maybe place isn’t most beautiful but you will be impressed by its size especially its large halls. Be prepared for large crowds of Chinese and tourists from all over the world.
How to get there: If you are already on Tiananmen Square you can get through Tiananmen Gate and enter palace. I recommend it to visit it together with Tiananmen Square on same day.
Notification: Opening Hours: November to March: 8:30-16:30, April to October:8:00-17:00 , Entrance Fee: November to March 40RMB, April to October 60RMB
Beihai( literal meaning: North Sea) Park: Very nice park that you shouldn’t skip. It is imperial garden dating from XII century. It is composed of park with lake and island in the middle. You shouldn’t skip old wooden temple and 9 dragon wall which are located in North-West Part of park. 9 dragon wall is wall of 9 glazed dragons and 1 of only 3 such walls in all China. On same side of lake check Five Dragon Pavilion on shore and enjoy in it with friendly locals and view on island with white pagoda. On east side of Lake there are several separated gardens with smaller pavilions, shadow from willows, bridges and ponds where you can enjoy calmness. You can reach island either by one of two stone bridges( one on eastern another on southern side of lake) or by boat from northwestern shore. Island is known as Jade Flower Island where is temple with statue of Buddha. In gardens of temple there is bell tower where you can climb and hit the bell 3 times for good luck. There are stone stairs that lead to white pagoda.
How to get there: Subway Line 4 get out at Beihai North Station and walk to the east for about 10minutes.
Notification: Opening Hours November to March 6:30-20:00, April to October 6:00- 21:00, Fee: November to March 15RMB, April to October 20CNY
Tip: If you are interested in meeting friendly locals or getting closer to traditional life come early in the morning before job/lectures or on weekends. You will see large number of older people practicing tai chi, playing chess, doing other exercises. Also you will see cheerful groups dancing together or playing on traditional instruments. Some people are singing traditional songs or old communist songs from Maoist era. Also before sunset significant groups of such people gather. Sit nearby them and they will be very glad seeing that you respect their way of life and tradition. If you speak some Chinese they will be very happy if some conversation occurs.
Summer Palace: It is one of most famous palaces of Beijing. I use to call it China in small as it imitates landscapes of various parts of China. Chinese emperors were known as Son of Heaven what meant that they are representing Heaven on Earth and it meant that they had supreme power over over Zhonguo( Middle land- name for China in Chinese) Emperor wanted to enjoy in sceneries from all over China but also to show that he is ruler of all China. Because of that he built spots that remind on various parts of China. This palace is large area of halls, pavilions, gardens, more than 3000 sculptures… On North side of palace is Suzhou street which imitates scenery of Suzhou city the Venice of East and there is a canal with typical houses for that part of China. There is shop with musical instruments among these houses. Nearby is imitation of Tibetan monastery. Above is Longevity Hill with tall Buddha Incense Pagoda which dominates the scenery. Below to the South is large Kunming (named according to Kunming, capital of southern Yunnan province) Lake. On North and Eastern side are various pavilions, Marble Boat( must see) , and one tea house, halls, statues of mythological animals such as qilin and phoenix, Long corridor( 700m long roofed corridor with 14 000 beams, each beam has different painting describing scenes from everyday life and nature). On eastern side there is 17arch stone bridge that leads to Nanhu Island which has a lot of pavilions. Western side is composed of more natural sceneries and pavilions next to lake. Pass that side among willow trees and nearby are Western Hills with famous Yuquan pagoda.
How to get there: Take Subway Line 4 and get out at Beigongmen station and several hundred meters is Northern Entrance of the palace
Notifications: Opening Hours: April to October, 6:30-18:00, November to March 7:00-17:00, Fee: 60RMB April to October, 50RMB November to March
Tip: It is best to go on weekend here as you need at least half of day to visit all spots which are worth visiting.
YuanmingYuan: Another great palace worth visiting, Which is much larger than Yiheyuan. It is vast area composed of 3 great lakes. Whole area is 5 times larger than Forbidden City. Just imagine it, come and see it by your eyes. In this palace mostly natural landscapes of lakes, green tree trunks and many willows dominates. There are only few pavilions remained complete. It was glorious palace built by Qianlong emperor of Qing dynasty during XVIII century. Very famous are remains of European Mansions which were built during Qianglongs rule by Italian architect Giuseppe Castaglione. These mansions were European style gardens with wonderful fountains.Unfortunately from these Western Mansions you can only find ruins, and stone pillars either on ground or standing. Also there remained stone maze with pavilion in the middle. It was robbed and ruined by French and British colonial forces during Second Opium War in 1860. But anyway I recommend it to visit to this site.
How to get there: Take subway Line 4 and get out at Yuanmingyuan station. Palace is nearby.
Notification: Opening hours: Summer, 7:00-19:00, spring and autumn, until 18:00 and winter until 17:30 , Fee: 10RMB and European Mansions: 15RMB
Jingshan Park: Don’t miss this place. It was an imperial garden as well. With a hill and a pavilion on top. It is nice park with a lot of trees and flowers. It has historical significance as well. Last Ming emperor hung himself on one of the trees of this park. After that Qing dynasty took imperial throne of China. There is board in front of tree where emperor committed suicide so you wont miss it. Climb on the top of hill and enjoy view on Forbidden City. It is especially nice during sunset when roofs of Forbidden City are washed with golden sunrays.
How to get there: It is best to exit from northern gate of Forbidden City and directly in front is entrance to this park. Or from direction of Eastern Gate of Beihai Park. I recommend to combine visit to Jingshan park with visit of Forbidden City or Beihai Park.
Notifications: Opening Hours: April- October 6:00-21:00, November- March 6:30-20:00, Fee: 2RMB
Temple of Heaven: Largest Temple in Beijing, dates from XV century and was built with purpose to continue tradition that was old for thousands of years already at that time. Chinese emperors were considered as son of heaven as I mentioned. Heaven played important role in Chinese cosmology and it interacted with Earth as all changes on Heaven were reflected on Earth, changes such as sun, wind, moon, rain, snow influenced Earth, by wind, light water, either by positive harvest, blossoming or negative such as floods or winter storms. So at beginning of each lunar year emperor personally had to pray to the Heaven for good harvests. If harvests were good and people happy it meant he has mandate from Heaven. If harvests were bad, flood or starving occurred it meant that he isn’t supported by Heaven anymore and he could be overthrown. Todays Temple of Heaven is open for visitors. It is best to come during sunny days with clear sky as watching 32m tall cupola touching sky is amazing. This cupola is called Hall of Prayer where prayers were held. Check inside of Hall and its beautiful ornaments. Also visit Imperial Vault of Heaven similar but smaller structure within complex. There are many cypress trees nearby buildings which are very old some of them for 500 years. On road to third major place is echo wall. Where prayers were held and loud music in order to reach Heaven. Shout out some wish that you have it is believed that Heaven will hear wish and it will be fulfilled. Finally there is big Circular Mound Altar made from stone with circle in middle that symbolizes center or heart of Heaven. Here was final part of prayer done when sacrifice for Heaven was brought by burning some animal. You will see people standing for shortly in that place. Do the same and you will feel like really being in center between Earth and Heaven and like hat everything is around you.
How to Get there: Subway Line 5 and get out at Tiantan Dongmen station exit A.
Notifications: Opening hours: April to October 6:00-22:00 other period is 6:30 to 22:00, Fee: April to October 35RMB, November to March 30RMB+ additionally are paid some other attractions within park
Tip: Visit Temple during Spring Festival( beginning of Chinese new year and spring) you will see performance that imitates ceremony of Prayer for Good Harvest, you will see actors dressed in interesting clothes and interesting music.
When sky is pure fly a kite in Altar. Combination of colors of various kites in blue sky is very beautiful
Yonghegong Lama Temple: It is time for temples now a bit. This temple is very famous temple This one should be among 3 temples that you must visit in Beijing. Yonghegong is Tibetan style lamasery in Beijing and home to 60 lamas of Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. This temple was built during end of XVII century. It is composed of several halls. In one of halls( Hall of Wheel of law) there is statue of Je Tsongkapa founder of Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. In main Hall of Peace and Harmony there is statue of Gautama Buddha( Buddha of present), Matanga( Buddha of Past) and Maitreya( Buddha of future) there is also mural with decoration of 18 Arhats( those who achieved enlightenment) Important is Hall of Everlasting Protection where is statue of Healing Buddha where people come to pray for their health and health for their loved ones. In last hall ( Hall of Ten Thousand Happinesses) there is very tall statue of Maitreya Buddha. It is made from sandalwood and tall 18m. Be respectful at this place as many religious people come here to pray and worship their deities by burning incense sticks and by kneeling down in front of statues. In inner gardens of temple there are few wheels of luck. Put your hand on them and start turning them around it is believed that it will bring you good luck and health.
Confucius temple: It is temple devoted to one of greatest Chinese philosophers Confucius. Confucius lived between 551 and 479BC. His teaching isn’t religious despite fact that he considered worshipping Heaven and ancestors as important thing for society. He believed that basis for happiness is ideal family in which younger give respect to older. Such concept was considered by Confucius to be inevitable for functioning of society where morality must dominate and where you should be subordinated to those who are more superior. He stresses focus on yourself and self-perfection by education and respecting moral principles. By education he believed you can achieve higher status and respect in society. On this principles Chinese state and society functioned for 2000 thousand years. Today Confucius teaching is very respected and his principles still considered as valuable. There are many temples devoted to Confucius in China. This one in Beijing dates from XIV century. In inner garden you will find , stone statue of Confucius, 700 year old cypress tree and old well where students of Imperial Academy drunk water before examination as it was believed that this water refreshes mind. There is important Dachengmen Hall( Hall of Great Achievement). There was emperor personally examining students that were supposed to enter imperial service as officials what was considered as great honor at that time. You should visit also a hall with stone tablets in which are carved wisdoms of Confucius there are many of them and are very old.
How to get there: For both temples you can go by Line 2 or Line 5 to Yonghegong Lama Temple Station and exit at exit C. Temples are nearby each other one is on right side another on left side of street. And both are around 500-600m far from metro station.
Notification: Opening hours: Lama Temple: 9:00-16:30 ( 30min earlier closed from Nov to Mar), Confucius Temple: Apr to Oct: 8:00-18:00, Nov to Mar 8:30 to 17:00, Fee: Lama Temple: 25RMB, Confucius Temple: 30RMB including Imperial Academy.
Tip: You can visit both temples in same day as you do not need more than 2 hours for each temple .Check the streets between temples. They are very interesting in old styles with many Buddhist shops selling- bracelets, chaplets, various type of incense sticks, Buddha figures, Guanyin figures and other interesting stuff. Mantras are played on CDs, don’t miss this atmosphere.
White Cloud Temple: Most important Taoist temple of BeijingWhite cloud temple you should visit definitely. It is one of oldest temples in Beijing dates from VIII century during rule of Tang dynasty. Also here is located Chinese Taoist Association and Academy. There is given status of Taoist priest and other ranks when you advance. There are many halls within this temple. Different halls are devoted to different deities. Place is very important for Taoists who come to worship various deities and bow there and burn incense in their honor asking for their prayers and wishes to be heard. You will see some friendly Taoist priests in black robes. Some of the tai chi exercisers, may be here early in morning. There are 3 statues of monkeys hidden in different inner gardens of temple it is believed that if you find and touch each your wish will come true. Also here is situated place for chants and scriptures. If you come early in morning or in evening you will be able to see chanting ceremony. Also here is located ambulance with traditional Chinese doctors and medicines where many illnesses from physical to psychical are treated in natural way using acupuncture, massage, meditation…
How to get there: It may be a bit complicated but check map and it will be clear you can use Line 1.
Notification: Opening hours: May-Sep 8:30-16:30 other months until 16:00, Fee: 10RMB
Hutongs- Most of Chinese people associate this with traditional spirit of Beijing. These are alleys composed of traditional courtyard shiheyuan houses. Often such alleys surrounded water wells so everyone from alley can use them. Hutong streets are very narrow. When you pass through them on both sides are entrances to shiheyuan houses and walls. Behind walls of house are inner gardens. While elite lived in palaces and mansions here lived Beijing grassrooters. Closer to Forbidden City were houses of aristocracy and merchants while further of those poorer, sellers and laborers. More rich houses were decorated in red and green colored walls and beams below roofs. Those less rich and poorer were usually grey with red doors and modest decorations composed of 2 red lanterns hung on wall. Passing through hutongs you can feel spirit of old Beijing and way of life that was led in past. Some hutongs became commercialized like next to Shichihai lake, Liulichang street or Nanluoguxiang street. But a bit broader around Shichihai lake old style hutongs are preserved and on both sides of Nanluoguxiang,( same metro station on Line 6 And also southern from Liulichang( Hepingmen station Line 2) you can find old unchanged alleys. Also nearby Qianmen there are such narrow old alleys. About commercialized hutongs I will speak in some other articles that will be about shopping and souvenirs and leisure.
I personally prefer old untouched alleys between Jingshan, Beihai and Houhai. When I was there Old lifestyle was present. Few bicycle drivers passed next to me. Many of bikes were parked near gates. Gates were red some of them even faded and very old. Some of gates on both sides were decorated with 2 red typical Chinese lanterns. Few gates were open and inside were visible flowers and smaller trees in inner gardens of hutong houses. In one of inner gardens I saw old man who was sitting alone and playing erhu, ancient Chinese traditional instrument. Through other opened gates were visible people doing some house and garden works. Gardening for Chinese people who live in hutongs is important hobby and way of life. In front of one gate was fixer of bikes in old faded clothes and was repairing wheel of one bicycle, working hard and sweating to earn money for his family. Houses here were grey with a bit dilapidated facades, but it is point. They should look like ordinary, like 100-150 ago. One street seller of fruits when we were buying bananas was friendly towards us. On few corners were groups of neighbors eating noodles and drinking Yanjing beer. I saw very friendly relations among people living in hutongs- eating together on streets, playing Chinese chess and everyone speaking and smiling to everyone. Simply their close relations were reminding me on friendliness and close ties among people living in villages in Serbia. That’s how life in old China looks like, those who will see it here they can conclude same as me I hope old lifestyle in this area will never die, that this area will never be changed and that these hutongs wont experience commercialization, opening of clothes shops, crowds, big attention of tourists, or in another case that all area will be completely destroyed and replaced by some modern shopping center or skyscrapers. That was destiny to many hutongs. I heard few times from some Chinese friends that this area is protected from any changes by state authorities. Old life style is more rare and rare. It is fading like walls of hutongs but still exists and will exist.