Běijīng may not appear at first sight to be a city overburdened with freebies. But dig a little deeper and you'll find a plethora of places to see, things to do and worthwhile experiences to be had that don’t involve cash changing hands.
- Hòuhǎi Lakes
Join the locals as they promenade around the lakes; offer them advice on their kite-flying technique, or scrounge a bat and play a game of table tennis. The fearless can dive into the water for a free swim.
Walk your shoes off through the myriad ancient alleyways that criss-cross central Běijīng. There’s something to see almost every step of the way.
Not completely free, but as good as, the following imperial parks are sprinkled with history, fun to explore, and cost just ¥2 to ¥5 to enter: Jǐngshān Park, Zhōngshān Park, Dìtán Park and Workers Cultural Palace.
- 798 Art District
One of the very best freebies in town is spending a day perusing the numerous galleries of this art district, inhabiting a former electronics factory. The galleries are mostly closed on Mondays.
All you have to do to get into the following for free is bring your passport.
- Capital Museum
The best museum in the city, with a host of galleries and exhibits relating to Běijīng’s history.
- Military Museum
Guns, planes, rockets and tanks at this museum.
- National Museum of China
At this excellent museum get a crash course on 5000 years of Chinese history.
- China Art Museum
Absorbing art exhibitions from across China at the National Art Museum.
- Shǐjiā Hútòng Museum
This museum tells the story of one of Běijīng's most historic hútòng neighbourhoods.
- Lu Xun Museum
The life and times (and former courtyard residence) of the father of modern Chinese literature, at Lu Xun Museum.
- Tiān'ānmén Square
Stroll with the hordes of domestic visitors, catch the flag-raising and lowering ceremonies at dawn and dusk, and watch the kite-flying in the world’s largest public square.
- Chairman Mao Memorial Hall
It doesn’t cost a thing to shuffle reverently past the Great Helmsman’s mummified remains in this memorial hall. Open mornings only.
- Foreign Legation Quarter
Enjoy a free walk past the imposing European architecture of the Former Foreign Legation Quarter.
- Ming City Wall Ruins Park
See the sole remaining section of the Ming dynasty city walls that once enclosed Běijīng.
On Wednesdays, the first 200 visitors through the door get free entrance to the following ancient temples. Due to low visitor numbers, in practice this means they are free all day.
- Zhìhuà Temple
Rickety, 15th-century Buddhist temple, hidden down a rarely visited hútòng.
- Xiānnóng Altar
Former site of imperial sacrifices; now home to an intriguing ancient architecture museum.
- Wǔtǎ Temple
Unusual, Indian-style temple with a fascinating collection of stone carvings.
- Wànshòu Temple
View a prized collection of bronze Buddhist statuary in this temple.