Imperial Architecture

Forbidden City Sitting at the very heart of Běijīng, this vast 9000-room palace made up of hundreds of buildings is China’s best-preserved reminder of its imperial past.

Temple of Heaven Park This fabulous imperial park is home to the sublime Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests – the most-intact surviving example of Ming dynasty architecture.

Summer Palace A harmonious marvel of landscaping on the outskirts of the city that features hilltop temples and elegant pavilions all set around a lake.

Drum & Bell Towers Dating back to the Mongol occupation of Běijīng and still standing guard over the surrounding hútòng (narrow alleyways).

Gate of Heavenly Peace Chairman Mao’s portrait may adorn it, and he proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) from atop it, but this was the largest gateway to the old imperial city.

Workers Cultural Palace Not a very promising name, but this little-visited, pleasant park was once an important place of worship for China’s emperors and is home to some superb imperial-era halls.

Southeast Corner Watchtower Splendid Ming dynasty structure that rises above the last remaining stretch of the former city walls.

Prince Gong’s Residence The finest surviving example of a traditional courtyard house, only on a very grand scale.

Foreign Legation Quarter Imperial, but in the Western fashion rather than the Chinese; an incongruous slice of colonial-era European architecture in Běijīng.

Ming Tombs The Unesco-protected final resting place of 13 of the 16 Ming dynasty emperors showcases some of Běijīng’s largest and most impressive imperial structures.

Parks

Fragrant Hills Park Superb in the early autumn, when Beijingers flock here to see the maple leaves turn red against the green backdrop of the hills.

Běihǎi Park Hire a boat and spend a lazy day floating on the lake, or just amble around watching the locals at play.

Temple of Heaven Park A prime spot for people-watching, as Běijīng’s senior citizens dance or practise taichi in the shade of thousands of ancient cypress trees.

Jǐngshān Park Climb the human-made hill for fine views over the Forbidden City.

Rìtán Park A soothing escape from the hustle of the nearby CBD; fly a kite by the altar to the sun that’s located here.

Dìtán Park Home to Běijīng’s most popular temple fair during the Spring Festival.

Hòuhǎi Lakes Not strictly a park, but still one of the most happening open spaces in Běijīng; a playground by day, and nightlife hub come sundown.

Markets

Pānjiāyuán Market Hands down the most fun market in the city; a chaotic jumble of antiques, calligraphy, carpets, curios, furniture and Mao memorabilia.

Mǎliándào Tea Market All the tea in China, or at least most of it, with tea shops galore around it for those in search of tea sets.

Silk Market Still one of the essential stops for many visitors to the capital, its collection of counterfeit clothes and bags is as popular as the genuine silk sold here.

Hóngqiáo (Pearl) Market Pearls and more pearls, of wildly different quality, as well as all manner of ephemera.

Temples

Lama Temple A former royal palace that is now home to chanting monks, this impressive, ornate complex is Běijīng’s most popular Buddhist temple.

Confucius Temple Lovely, tranquil retreat from the hustle of Běijīng’s chaotic streets and surrounded by atmospheric hútòng.

Dōngyuè Temple Perhaps the strangest temple in the capital, certainly the most morbid, this thought-provoking and very active Taoist shrine has halls dedicated to ghosts and the god who manages the 18 levels of hell.

White Cloud Temple Founded in AD 739 and tended by top-knotted Taoist monks, White Cloud Temple is the HQ for China’s Taoists and home to a fabulous temple fair during the Spring Festival.

Fǎyuán Temple Secluded and very ancient shrine, dating to the 7th century AD, and still busy with worshippers.

Wǔtǎ Temple A distinct oddity, with its five striking pagodas, and more reminiscent of an Indian temple than a Chinese one.

Fine Dining

Temple Restaurant A contemporary European menu and a fabulous location in the grounds of a former temple.

Lost Heaven The subtle flavours of Yúnnán province served up in the swanky surrounds of the former Foreign Legation Quarter.

Duck de Chine A France-meets-China take on the capital’s favourite bird in industrial-chic surroundings.

Capital M Classic Mediterranean meets North African dishes and views over Tiān’ānmén Sq at this Běijīng outpost of a celebrated Shànghǎi restaurant.

Běijīng Dàdǒng Roast Duck Restaurant Ultramodern restaurant promising the leanest roast duck in the capital.

O'Steak Relaxed, French-run steakhouse with superior cuts of meat and a top-class wine list.

Okra Minimalist in design, but the best sushi in the capital.

Museums & Galleries

Capital Museum Běijīng’s finest, containing superbly informative galleries on the evolution of the city and its customs, and all in a bright, user-friendly environment.

798 Art District A maze of galleries devoted to the weird and wonderful world of Chinese contemporary art; be prepared to be alternatively bemused and captivated.

Poly Art Museum The place to see some of the ancient treasures, including incredible bronzes, that weren’t pillaged by invading armies in the 19th century.

Běijīng Police Museum Brothels, opium dens, class traitors, gangsters and spies; the past and present Běijīng underworld revealed in all its fascinating, sometimes gruesome, glory.

Military Museum A propaganda exercise perhaps, but plenty of detail on China’s martial past and lots and lots of guns, swords, tanks, missiles and planes.

Běijīng Ancient Architecture Museum Little-visited but excellent museum housed in a former Ming dynasty temple; it offers a great guide to how the imperial city was built.

Red Gate Gallery The first Běijīng gallery devoted to modern Chinese art, and still showcasing some of the best of the capital's artists.

National Museum of China Much improved museum that offers an extensive trawl through 5000 years of Chinese history and culture.

Chinese Performing Arts

Tiānqiáo Acrobatics Theatre Probably the finest tumbling, spinning, high-wire-walking show in town, and less touristy than other venues.

Húguǎng Guild Hall Fantastic, historic venue for Peking opera, with the audience close to the action and superb balconies overlooking the stage.

National Centre for the Performing Arts One of the key hubs of Běijīng cultural life, as well as one of the city’s most striking buildings, with China’s top orchestras and classical-dance troupes as regular performers.

Lao She Teahouse A little bit of everything takes place here on a nightly basis: Peking opera, shadow-puppet and folk-music performances especially, but also crosstalk: traditional Běijīng stand-up comedy.

China Puppet Theatre Shadow play and puppetry every weekend, and a great place to take kids who’ve had enough of sightseeing.

Live Music

Yúgōng Yíshān Chinese and foreign bands and electronic knob-twiddlers, as well as an audience-friendly vibe, make this the top venue for seeing live music in the capital.

East Shore Jazz Café The number-one spot in town for jazzers, with a prime location by the side of the Hòuhǎi Lakes; a relaxed feel and cool tunes late into the night.

School Bar Hipsters, punks and indie kids congregate at this deliberately grungy venue that hosts some of the capital's best bands.

Jiāng Hú Intimate courtyard venue for local indie and rock bands.

Temple Bar The owners are tattooed, pierced, and metal and punk fiends, but all sorts of bands take to the stage at this friendly place.

What? Bar Years ago this tiny place was just about the only venue in town; it still has loads of character and it’s a good place to see up-and-coming new bands.

Free Stuff

798 Art District Běijīng’s best contemporary art galleries blossom amid the concrete skeleton of a decommissioned military factory.

Běijīng Natural History Museum Offers everything from creepy crawlies and a live aquarium to prehistoric monsters; book free tickets in advance.

Tiān’ānmén Square The symbolic heart of China; arrive early to catch the sunrise flag-raising ceremony.

Capital Museum Discover the history and culture of of this ancient city in this contemporary museum.

National Museum of China Běijīng’s premier museum is well worth visiting, particularly the Ancient China exhibition.

Shǐjiā Hútòng Museum This small museum explains the history of the historic Shǐjiā Hútòng alleyway.

Nanluogu Xiang An insatiably bubbly strip of bars, wi-fi cafes, restaurants, boutique hotels and trendy shops.

Hòuhǎi Lakes Great outdoor people watching, and the opportunity for a wild swim – if you can handle the temperature.

Pānjiāyuán Market Dive into the crowded chaos of this popular arts and antiques market.

Măliándào Tea Market Virtually all the tea in China can be seen, sniffed and sampled.

Rìtán Park The ‘Altar of the Sun' is an oasis in the business district.

Chairman Mao Memorial Hall One of Běijīng's more surreal spectacles.

Silk Market A crowded bargains market bustling with tourists.