Things to do in Beijing

As the political, cultural and educational centre of China, Beijing has a plethora of ancient and modern sights that reflect the changing climate of this nation. From Temple of Heaven's traditional ornamental gardens to the space-age oval design of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, there's plenty of sights to admire.

Beijing's flat terrain and concentric city roads make it easy to strike out on foot or by bicycle to explore the surrounds. Start in the ancient alleyways with the 4 central districts known as hutongs where you'll find an insight into everyday life in pre-1949 Beijing. In marked contrast to the extravagance of the imperial Forbidden City, hutong neighbourhoods are where families lived for generations. Notable hutongs include Qianshi Hutong near Qianmen, which is the narrowest alley at just 40 centimetres wide, while Jiuwan Hutong, meaning 'Nine Turns', is a winding alley with 19 turns. If you're feeling peckish while wandering the streets, Beijing has whole lanes in Dongcheng District devoted to snack food. Try local Beijing snacks at Longfusi Snack Street, while day or night, Shichahai Snack Street is the most popular destination. Bring your appetite and keep an open mind.

Many visitors to Beijing come to see the ancient sights but there's plenty of modern marvels on offer too. As well as the 'Egg', which the National Centre for the Performing Arts is dubbed, have a look at the twisted facade of the China Central TV Tower (CCTV), which turns the traditional skyscraper shape on its head. From the 2008 Olympics, the National Stadium is known as the 'Bird's Nest' for the intertwining girders that cocoon the edifice, while the National Aquatics Centre, a.k.a. the 'Water Cube' has illuminated colourful foam bubbles attached to the outside.

With such variety within the busy streets of Beijing, here's our pick of the must-visit capital destinations.

Great Wall of China

One of the world's greatest wonders and a recognisable sight, nothing can prepare you for the sheer spectacle of the Great Wall. Located just 60 kilometres from Beijing, the restored Badaling Great Wall section is the most popular, accessible and scenic location.

Summer Palace

Designed as a private retreat for the imperial family to escape the summer heat of Beijing, and possibly the peasants' wrath, the Summer Palace is an opulent holiday house surrounded by a manmade lake, landscaped gardens and exquisitely decorated pavilions.

The Forbidden City

Off limits to outside eyes for over 500 years, the Forbidden City is a stunning and well-preserved collection of 1,000 imperial buildings that were once the exclusive domain of the ruling emperor, his family and servants. For a glimpse into royal Chinese history, it's a must-see sight.

Temple of Heaven

Beijing's Temple of Heaven was originally a religious site for the emperors to perform sacrifices and prayers for bountiful harvests. Now, visitors flock to the site to enjoy a green space in the sprawling urban jungle with traditional gardens and unique architecture.

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square in Beijing may be the world's largest public square, and it's certainly the site of many historic Chinese events. With a sweeping expanse of 440,000 square metres and not much in the way of ornamentation, this vast space is primed for a flash mob experience.