First Time Visitors to Beijing

Beijing, China , is one of the largest and most important cities of the world.

With a total metropolitan population of 22,000,000, it is home to almost 10 million more people than the London metro area, and 3 million more people than New York City’s metropolitan area

Just as London is critical to England’s history, Beijing is critical to the history of China. For centuries, Beijing — formerly known as Peking – has served as the cultural and political hub of China.

The Beijing visitor will be delighted by a host of historical palaces, ancient temples, huge stone walls, and state-of-the-art new architecture.

Here’s a list of several sites the first time visitor to Beijing should be sure to take in.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City Bejing
Photo: Francisco Diez

The Ming and Qing emperors of China built an impressive palace in the center of Beijing , starting in early the 15th century. By the time it was completed in 1420, the palace included 980 buildings, 8,707 rooms, and covered a total of almost 8 million square feet.

In 1987, the Forbidden City was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Open to tourists, the Forbidden City is a must-see for anyone with an interest in Chinese history or art. Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world, also borders the Forbidden City.

Temple of Heaven

Gateway to the Temple of Heaven
Photo: Stuck in Customs

In the southeastern part of the city lies the Temple of Heaven, a Taoist complex.

Constructed at the same time as the Forbidden City, the temple is important both in terms of its religious significance in China and its historical significance. In 1998, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its amazing architecture and landscape design.

Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty

Ming's tombs - China
Photo: Julius Singara

Even in death, the Ming emperors made sure to leave their mark. Also a World Heritage Site, these elaborate tombs were excavated in 1956 by Chinese archaeologists. Unfortunately, Cultural Revolution fervor stopped the excavation and led to some destruction of the artifacts originally excavated, but the museum still contains many well-preserved artefacts from the tombs.

National Center for the Performing Arts

National Center for the Performing arts beijing
Photo: Rudenoon

Also known as the National Grand Theatre, the center is an opera house made of titanium and glass, surrounded by a large artificial lake. West of Tiananmen Square, the hall is home to opera, symphonies, and plays.

Wangfujing Street

street food Wangfujing Street Beijing
Photo: Davelocity

One of the busiest pedestrian streets in the world, Wangfujing is home to almost 300 brands of Beijing, including famous hat, shoe, and tea stores. The Night Market offers exotic street food that includes fried scorpions and unusual sea creatures – western stomachs, be warned!

Wangfujing Cathedral

St. Joseph’s Wangfujing Cathedral
Photo: insouciance

Not far from Wangfujing’s shopping district is a Catholic cathedral built by the Jesuits in the mid-17th century. It is an odd bit of European architecture in a city that otherwise blends mostly ancient Chinese architecture with modern westernized skyscrapers.

Getting to Beijing

Western visitors to Beijing should search for flight deals to China’s cultural hub. In particular, there are many airlines that offer direct flights to Beijing from London and other major European cities.

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