Lonely Planet review
Along with the older-looking Bell Tower, which stands behind it, the magnificent redpainted Drum Tower used to be the city’s official timekeeper, with drums and bells beaten and rung to mark the times of the day; effectively the Big Ben of Běijīng.
Originally built in 1272, the Drum Tower was once the heart of the Mongol capital of Dàdū, as Běijīng was then known. That structure was destroyed in a fire before a replacement was built, slightly to the east of the original location, in 1420. The current structure is a Qing-dynasty version of that 1420 tower.
You can climb the steep inner staircase for views of the grey-tiled rooftops in the surrounding hútòng alleys. But, you can’t view the Bell Tower as the north-facing balcony has been closed. It’s well worth climbing the tower, though, especially if you can time it to coincide with one of the regular drumming performances, which are played out on reproductions of the 25 Ming-dynasty watch drums, which used to sound out across this part of the city. One of the original 25 drums, the Night Watchman’s Drum (更鼓; Gēnggǔ), is also on display; dusty, battered and worn. Also on display is a replica of a Song-dynasty water clock, which was never actually used in the tower, but is interesting nonetheless.
The times of the drumming performances , which only last for a few minutes, are posted by the ticket office.