Combining modern architecture with elaborate traditional buildings, Beijing is the third-most populous city in the world. Its 21.5 million residents live and work among hundreds of ancient temples, pagodas, and even a Forbidden City.
We took a 10-mile walking tour of some of Beijing’s highlights.
Wherever you stay in central Beijing, the metro is an easy and affordable way to get around. We hopped on board just two blocks from our hotel and traveled to the Tiananmen Square station, where we began our tour.
Tiananmen means “gate of heavenly peace,” but most Westerners who hear Tiananmen Square think of the highly-televised 1989 student protests that resulted in more than 10,000 deaths.
Today, it’s mostly a spot for tourist selfies and meeting place for people visiting the nearby National Museum of China.
Just a 20-minute walk from Tiananmen Square is the Liulichang Cultural Market, where you’ll find traditional Chinese crafts, art, and antiques. According to local legend, Liulichang was a favorite haunt for Ming- and Qing-era scholars, artists, and calligraphers who gathered there to create.
If you’re looking for authentic, one-of-a-kind souvenirs from Beijing, Liulichang is where you’ll find them. And since you’ll work up quite an appetite with all of the bargaining, be sure to look for sidewalk vendors who sell incredible dumplings by the bagful.
Just beyond the market is the Temple of Heaven, built in the early 1400s and used by emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties to pray for bountiful harvests. It’s been a tourist attraction since the 1800s.
Heading back toward Tiananmen Square, you’ll find the Imperial Ancestral Temple, where sacrificial ceremonies were held on special occasions during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It’s along the route to the Forbidden City.
With 980 buildings spread out over 180 acres (72 hectares), the Forbidden City served as the Chinese imperial palace from 1420 until 1912. As the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, UNESCO named it a world heritage site in 1987. It now has more than 16 million visitors each year who are curious to see how 24 emperors lived and ruled for nearly 500 years.
It’s easy to lose yourself among places with magical names like Hall of Supreme Harmony and Palace of Tranquil Longevity. And then there are the modestly named Hall of Military Eminence and Hall of Literary Glory, not to mention the Gate of Divine Might.
Take a 360-degree look around the Palace Museum courtyard courtesy of Mike’s Google Photosphere:
Take a stroll through the tranquil Jingshan Park on your way to Confucius Temple.
It’s a bit of a hike from the Forbidden Palace (a 50-minute walk), but the stone tablets and stele are a fascinating look at the history of Chinese scholarship since the temple’s construction in 1302. There is also a collection of ancient Chinese musical instruments, as well as a set of carved stone drums.
After all this sightseeing, you will have earned a feast. Make your way to the original location of Jin Ding Xuan 24-hour dim sum, and be sure to enjoy the barbecued ribs and the Shanghai-style soup dumplings known as xiao long bao.
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