10 Must Sees of Beijing

It barely needs saying, but Beijing is an absolutely fascinating city. There is a proud ancient history demonstrated by monuments and museums, juxtaposed against the impressive modern structures constructed in time for the Olympics this year. In this list of 10 must sees, you will see the old mixed with the new – all part of the contrast which makes China’s capital such an exciting, vibrant destination to visit.

Drum and Bell Towers

In olden times, most cities in China would use their drum and bell tower to sound the beginning and end of each new day. Nowadays, Beijing’s drum and bell tower is largely for tourists, but is well worth visiting on a holiday in China – if nothing else than for the wonderful panoramic views of the city offered from atop the tower! There are hourly performances as well, giving you an insight into how days were greeted in times gone by.

The Forbidden City

Refurbishments due to this year’s Olympic Games have been particularly kind to the Forbidden City – home to 24 emperors of China during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Essentially a huge imperial palace, this is one sight that is an absolute must-see, and although it would take two days to see it all, the main attractions can be seen in a single visit. Be sure to take in the great halls and the imperial gardens, and be left in awe at the incredible architecture and huge sense of scale. A must see on any Asia holiday!

The Summer Palace

If you have not had your fill of palaces with the Forbidden City, the longish trek to the Summer Palace is well worth it. Located in a tranquil lakeside location, the complex has a huge number of walkways, gardens and temples to explore and you should be sure to have your camera handy for the brilliant view of distant Beijing from the Tower of Buddhist Incense.

798 Dashanzi Arts District

Once upon a time, this was an electronics factory. Now the site is home to a buzzing collection of cafes, galleries and studios with a very trendy feel to it. A nice alternative to the ancient monuments and sites, Dashanzi Arts District is a must visit part of the city for those with any interest in modern Chinese art.

The Great Wall

If you think of the biggest tourist attraction for a holiday in Asia, the Great Wall of China has to be a major contender. Originally built to keep out the Mongol forces, the wall is synonymous with the country and it’s hard to imagine a luxury holiday in China passing this by. Despite being photographed an incredible amount, the Great Wall still always manages to leave me in complete awe at the sheer scale of the amazing structure every time I visit.

Lama Temple

Visiting various temples is a key part of most holidays in Asia, but if you only have the time to visit one of them, Lama Temple should be the one. Regarded as the most important Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, this collection of shrines is guaranteed to leave you impressed almost beyond words. The craftsmanship is always impressive, but perhaps no shrine more so than the enormous Maitreya Buddha, which is officially registered as the world’s tallest Buddha in the Guinness Book of Records!

CCTV Tower

One of the more modern wonders of Beijing is the China Central Television Tower – or CCTV Tower for short. By far the tallest building in the city, its observation deck sits at an impressive 238 metres, with the tip of its antenna reaching 405 metres! As the name suggests, the tower contains broadcasting equipment for China Central Television, and the observation deck offers incredible panoramic views of the city.

Temple of Heaven

Although the Temple of Heaven sounds on the surface like one to miss for those suffering from temple fatigue, it’s actually an entirely different proposition from most holy sites. As well as having particular historic worth (it was the main centre of worship for the country’s leaders, and ancient emperors would come here to give thanks with offerings), it’s a popular hang out for many local residents, who can often be found singing, dancing and exercising in the surrounding gardens.

National Centre for the Performing Arts

For a more unusual modern structure, China’s holiday makers should look no further than the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Colloquially labelled “The Egg” by locals, it’s a dome of glass and titanium surrounded by an artificial lake. Love or hate the architectural style, it’s certainly a talking point and well worth a visit.

Beihai Park & Houhai District

While central Beijing can be a little on the overwhelming side with its crowds and bustle, the same accusation cannot be levelled at Beihai Park and the nearby Houhai shopping district. The former is an oasis of calm that seems to encourage relaxation, and the latter is a quiet area dotted with quaint little shops and charming restaurants. If the pace of modern Beijing is getting to you, make sure you stop by here on your holiday in China.

There’s plenty more to see here, but this should definitely give you a start. Whether you’re interested in history, art or culture, a luxury holiday in China’s capital cannot be recommended enough.

Kieron Sellens is the marketing manager of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AiTO). With holidays in China from AITO, you can tailor-make the dream holiday.

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