Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Beijing City Center Walking Tour (Self Guided), Beijing

Beijing has been a political, educational, cultural and economic center for centuries. Today, it is one of the greatest remnants of the Chinese Imperial past. Along with its famous City Wall and Forbidden City, this sightseeing tour will guide you through Beijing's most popular attractions in the heart of the city:
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Beijing City Center Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Beijing City Center Walking Tour
Guide Location: China » Beijing (See other walking tours in Beijing)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Qianmen (Zhengyangmen)
  • National Museum of China
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Imperial Ancestral Temple / Working People's Cultural Palace
  • Forbidden City
  • The Palace Museum
  • Wangfujing Street
Qianmen (Zhengyangmen)

1) Qianmen (Zhengyangmen) (must see)

When you visit the historic Beijing city wall, do not miss out the Zhengyangmen, which is one of the wall's gates. Popularly called the Qianmen, this wall was constructed during the Ming Dynasty in 1419. The gate featured a large barbican all with an archery tower, the side walls and the side gates. Direct entry to the imperial city was guarded by this gate.

Qianmen Station, the first railway station in the city was constructed just outside the gate. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the gate suffered extensive damage. In 1914, the gate was completely reconstructed and restored to its original glory.

The People Liberation Army's Beijing garrison occupied the Zhengyangmen gatehouse in 1949 after the victory of Communists. The gate became a major tourist attraction after the military vacated in 1980. This gate stands tall at 42 meters and is the highest gate in the city wall.

You can access the interior of the structure that sits atop the former wall, where there are fascinating displays of the history of Beijing, along with art displays on one floor, and (of course) a gift shop. There is a magnificent 360-degree view of the city!
National Museum of China

2) National Museum of China (must see)

The National Museum of China flanks the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Its mission is to educate about the arts and history of China. It is directed by the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China.

The museum was established in 2003 by the merging of the two separate museums that had occupied the same building since 1959: the Museum of the Chinese Revolution in the northern wing and the National Museum of Chinese History in the southern wing.

The museum, covering Chinese history from the Yuanmou Man of 1.7 million years ago to the end of the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty), has a permanent collection of 1,050,000 items, with many precious and rare artifacts not to be found in museums anywhere else in China or the rest of the world.

Among the most important items in the National Museum of China are the "Simuwu Ding" from the Shang Dynasty (the heaviest piece of ancient bronzeware in the world, at 832.84 kg), the square-shaped Shang Dynasty bronze "zun" decorated with four sheep heads, a large and rare inscribed Western Zhou Dynasty bronze water pan, a gold-inlaid Qin Dynasty bronze tally in the shape of a tiger, Han Dynasty jade burial suits sewn with gold thread, and a comprehensive collection of Tang Dynasty tri-colored glazed sancai and Song Dynasty ceramics. The museum also has an important numismatic collection, including 15,000 coins donated by Luo Bozhao.

Why You Should Visit:
The "Ancient China" exhibit on the lower floor could easily keep you busy for 2-3 hours and the quality of the works is at least comparable to the Chinese section at the Met in New York and Guimet in Paris. Additionally, you're able to see many outstanding visiting exhibitions from other parts of the world.

Take a look at the several different sections in the information section before jumping in and decide what is most likely to appeal to you if you have only one day or a half day.
Entrance is free but do take your passport/ID with you. Security is tight so expect checks both entering and leaving the museum.

Operation Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Tiananmen Square

3) Tiananmen Square (must see)

The name Tiananmen Square is immediately associated with Beijing. This popular square is at the centre of the city. Tourists flock from around the world to this square that features the Tiananmen tower, Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Great Hall of the People.

Functionally this square was Forbidden City’s front door. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty in 1417, the square was used to inform people whenever a change of ruling power occurred. The tower located to the north of the square was accessible only to aristocrats and the royal family and was not open to the public until 1911 when feudal rule came to an end. The Monument of People’s Heroes, constructed in 1952 is the largest in China. This granite monument is located at the centre of the square.

The Great Hall of the People is located to the west of the square. Constructed in 1959, this hall is an impressive site where prominent diplomatic activities and political meetings are held. To the south of the square, you can find the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao’s body is kept here in a crystal coffin and decorated with flowers.

The National Museum of China is located to the square’s eastern side. This museum showcases the country’s rich history. Above the Square, flying high in the sky, you will find the Chinese national flag. It is indeed a special moment when the flag is raised by the guard of honor. To witness this moment, you must be at the Square very early in the morning.

Why You Should Visit:
Obviously, a must-see place for its historical significance, but also great to meet and interact with people from China...
It is quite a sight in the night, completely lit up, with lots of people around, and lots of guards.

To be allowed access to the Tiananmen Square you must go through a series of security checks and you must have your passport. This goes for a visit to the Forbidden City as well since the south entrance is facing the square.
Assuming that you're taking photos, don't forget to look up, as the decor of many ceilings is magnificent. Also, frequently stop and look back as you may find the better picture is that of where you've recently passed.
Imperial Ancestral Temple / Working People's Cultural Palace

4) Imperial Ancestral Temple / Working People's Cultural Palace (must see)

Located to the east of Tiananmen Square, the Imperial Ancestral Temple is also known as the Working People’s Cultural Palace. It was here that the Ming and Qing dynasties offered sacrifices to Earth and Heaven. This temple was built in 1420 during the Ming dynasty ruler Yongle’s reign.

Covering an area of 197,000 square meters, this temple has three red walls surrounding it. As you enter through the Halberd Gate, you will be struck by the solemn and imposing central structures. The roofs of the three halls in this structure are covered with yellow glazed tiles.

The Sacrificial hall is where grand sacrificial ceremonies used to be held. The sumeru, three-tiered base of this hall is made of white marble. The hall’s interior looks grand with sixty-eight columns made of exquisite and expensive nanmu golden silkwood. The ceiling dazzles with its gilded colored paintings and is complemented by the golden brick paved floor.

On each side of the hall, you will find long, spacious corridors leading to a compound at the southern end. Here you can see exquisite stone bridges over the Golden River. In 1951, on International Labor Day, the Imperial Ancestral Temple was named the Beijing Working People’s Cultural Palace. On your trip to Beijing, visit this temple that takes you right back to those ancient times.

Why You Should Visit:
Way cheaper than the Forbidden City – like a smaller version that's quieter and also easier on the legs, but with similar architecture and still significant.
A great place to get uncrowded photos, to walk around with only a handful of others and to enjoy a pleasant park, right in the heart of Beijing.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6:30am-7:30pm
Forbidden City

5) Forbidden City (must see)

A trip to Beijing is incomplete without a visit to Forbidden City, the huge, majestic and best preserved imperial Chinese palace. This impressive and gorgeous palatial structure exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere.

This Palace Museum houses precious historical and cultural relics of China. In 1961, it was listed by the Chinese central government as a historical monument to be specially preserved. Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

This palace is listed along with four others as the five most important palaces in the world. It was home to 21 Ming and Qing dynasty emperors between 1368 and 1911. In keeping with the traditional beliefs, the palace was constructed to resemble the Purple Palace in heaven, believed to be the residence of God. "Forbidden" referred to the fact that no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor's permission.

The palace is built over an area of 72 hectares. There are 8704 rooms, 980 buildings and 90 palaces with 150,000 square meters total floor space. Structures including the palace and all the gates of the Forbidden City are arranged around Beijing’s south-north central axis.

A ten-meter high wall encloses the complex of 3,430-meter circumference. The moment you reach this impressive complex, you will be stunned by the magnificence of the four watchtowers at each corner and the moat that acted as the first line of defense.

Why You Should Visit:
Taking in the scale and majesty of the buildings from the open grounds inside is a terrific experience.

Don't forget your passport – you will need it to buy a ticket and gain entry (scanning & body check required beforehand).
Get there as early as you can to avoid the hoards of tourists and bring food as the options are limited and usually quite busy.
When hiring a guide, make sure they speak good English and negotiate on price and time. At the very least, rent the audio guide.
Make sure you visit the Imperial Gardens before exiting and go to Jingshan Park (through the underground passage) for a panoramic view of the Forbidden City from above.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-5pm (April-October); 8:30am-4:30pm (November-March)
The Palace Museum

6) The Palace Museum (must see)

Enjoying the distinction of being the largest museum in China, The Palace Museum is located at the centre of the city of Beijing. It is also referred to as the “Purple” Forbidden City in Chinese and was a royal palace for at least twenty-four emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Spanning an area of 720,000 square meters, the museum contains a number of ancient halls grouped architecturally.

The Forbidden City has more than 9000 rooms and 70 halls of various sizes. Architecturally, the buildings are constructed in such a manner that they line up precisely and look completely imposing reflecting the unique Chinese architectural style.

The Palace Museum or Forbidden City is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since 1987. At least eight million tourists visit this museum every year to view the vast gardens, extensive collection of treasures and interesting pavilions. It was built by Yongle of Ming Dynasty between 1406 and 1420 when he shifted the capital to Beijing from Nanjing. 24 Ming and Qing emperors lived here till the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911.

The Palace Museum was opened to the public in 1925 displaying a well-organized exhibit that featured over a million treasures. You can take the help of audio guides available at the Meridian Gate to ensure that you do not miss out any part of this exciting palace.

Why You Should Visit:
Brilliantly displayed items going back centuries which tell the tale of the growth and creation of China from the earliest dynasties.
To anyone interested in history it is a fantastic experience to read about it from details in this museum rather than from a history book.

As a foreigner, it is best to purchase your tickets online to avoid the long lines. Your passport serves as the ticket for all the 3 entrances that require tickets. Just hand the guards at these entrances your passport and they will scan them and you can be on your way to enjoying the exhibits in the museum.
If you want to walk around at your own pace, go for the electronic guide, as it offers sufficient information to keep one interested to explore the many buildings.
Pay attention to the interesting details hidden amongst the building. For example, the numbers of creatures lined up along the edge of the roofs is an indication of how important the building is.
Remember to schedule at least half a day for this beautiful palace. The quality of food had improved but the lines and seats may be a problem if one visits during the peak period.
Finally, remember to wear comfortable shoes as it is a very large complex.

Opening Hours:
8:30am-5pm (April 1 — October 31); 8:30am-4:30pm (November 1 — March 31)
Wangfujing Street

7) Wangfujing Street (must see)

Wangfujing Street is a very popular street in Beijing. This street is 1500 meters long and is well known for its combination of commerce, culture, modernity and tradition. Starting from the East Changan Street, Wangfujing Street extends to the China Art Museum.

On Wangfujing Street you can find a symbolically restored ancient well after which the street was named. Some of the prominent tourist attractions close to the street include the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

As you walk around this charming and attractive street, enjoy browsing around the 200 odd shops. Some of the most popular shopping spots here include Wangfujing Book Store, Beijing Department Store, Sun Dong An Market and Donghuamen Night Fair.

The Catholic Church on this street was originally built in 1905. This church was refurbished in 2000 and is lit by bright lights. There are many luxury hotels around Wangfujing Street where tourists prefer to stay. Some of the popular hotels include The Grand Hotel Beijing, Beijing Hotel, Taiwan Hotel, Peace Hotel, Palace Hotel and Tianlun Dynasty Hotel.

A visit to this street is a must on your trip to Beijing. Shop to your heart’s content for exclusive Chinese artifacts and enjoy delicious food at any of the fine dining restaurants here.

Why You Should Visit:
To soak in the atmosphere and check out the little Chinese things you can buy not mentioning the various Beijing delicacies you can try – from noodle soup and dumplings to starfish-on-a-stick. Lots of people daring each other to try various insects and taking pics, so a very interesting place to visit. Easy to get around but crowded and open late.

Make sure to check out the side streets, as there are plenty of curious things to see, but don't forget to barter with the vendors!

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