White Cloud Temple is an active, vast and fascinating maze of halls, shrines and brightly painted immortals, tended by Taoist monks with their hair gathered into topknots. It was first established in AD 741, and was a particularly prestigious centre for Taoism during the Mongol Yuan dynasty, though most of the temple halls are fairly recent rebuilds.
Grab a free box of incense sticks at the entrance. These are to be lit (in multiples of three) at burners stationed outside the 19 halls, whose attendant deities ascend in order of rank up to the Hall of the Three Pure Ones (San Qing), a 2nd-floor shrine containing statues of Taoism's three holiest figures, regarded as the origin of all beings.
The Hall of the Jade Emperor celebrates this most famous of Taoist deities, while Taoist housewives cluster earnestly at the Hall to the God of Wealth to divine their financial future. Depictions of Taoist Hell adorn the walls of the Shrine Hall for the Saviour Worthy. The Shrine of the Eight Immortals (Ba Xian) has statues representing all types of people (poor, rich, handsome, ugly, old, young, male and female) – it's fun trying to work out who's who!
During Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), White Cloud Temple is the location of one of Beijing's most traditional temple fairs (miàohuì).
Head east from the subway exit, past the hulking Capital Museum then turn right on Baiyun Lu. After crossing the canal, take the second left (Baiyunguan Jie).