Beijing City Center Walking Tour (Self Guided), Beijing

A political, cultural, and economic center of China for the past eight centuries, Beijing is the newest of the country's Four Ancient Capitals.

The city boasts the grandest and best preserved imperial palaces, gardens and temples, including seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian, and parts of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal, all of which are popular tourist attractions.

Beijing is also renowned for its traditional housing style, known as Siheyuan, and the narrow alleys, known as Hutong, found in the old sections of the city. Beside visiting the historical landmarks, exploring Siheyuan and Hutong is a favorite activity among visitors.

Replete with numerous attractions, downtown Beijing is best known primarily as the home of Tiananmen Square and the adjacent Forbidden City. The latter, built in the early 15th century, served as residence to 24 emperors, from 1420 to 1912. Consisting of 980 buildings, it is the largest wooden complex in the world.

Right in front of its main entrance lies Tiananmen Square, the political nerve center of China. Historically this has been the place of public gatherings, parades and anti-government protests. A bit further south is one of the main gates of the old Beijing city wall.

On this self-guided walking tour you will start from the main city gate on the south side of the old city and make way north to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, ending up at the former imperial garden, now a public park. Along the way, you will witness some of the grand monuments, the most opulent royal palace in the country, and a traditional Chinese garden in the heart of the capital 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: 6
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Qianmen (Zhengyangmen)
  • National Museum of China
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Imperial Ancestral Temple
  • Forbidden City and Palace Museum
  • Jingshan Park
1
Qianmen (Zhengyangmen)

1) Qianmen (Zhengyangmen)

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.

Tip:
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!
2
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 (1600 BC - 1064 BC) - at 833 kg it is the heaviest piece of ancient bronzeware in the world, 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.

Tip:
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
3
Tiananmen Square

3) Tiananmen Square (must see)

The name Tiananmen Square is the heart of Beijing. Tourists flock from all over China and 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 center 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.

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

Tip:
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.
4
Imperial Ancestral Temple

4) Imperial Ancestral Temple

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. Visit this temple that takes you right back to those ancient times.

Why You Should Visit:
Lots of history, 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.

Tip:
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
5
Forbidden City and Palace Museum

5) Forbidden City and Palace Museum (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 as one of 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:
Forbidden City should be at the top of any Beijing itinerary. Taking in the scale and majesty of the buildings is a terrific experience.

Tip:
Don't forget your passport – you will need it to buy a ticket and gain entry. Get there as early as you can to avoid the hoards of tourists. 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)
6
Jingshan Park

6) Jingshan Park (must see)

Jingshan Park is a popular tourist attraction in Beijing. This park is situated at the city’s center on Jingshan Hill and is spread over an area of 230,000 square meters. The royal, spectacular garden features a unique and stunning landscape and is located right opposite Forbidden City’s north gate. You can enjoy an amazing view of the Forbidden City from the peak of Jingshan Park.

Jingshan Hill was laid out in a proper manner during the Ming Dynasty rule though it had been serving as the imperial garden during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties between 1271 and 1911.

Jingshan Park was first opened to the public in 1928 and was completely rebuilt with paved paths. Today this park attracts millions of tourists from around the world. The first thing you will see the moment you enter the park’s front gate is the Qiwang Pavilion. Green cypresses embrace this charming pavilion where the memorial tablet of Confucius was worshipped by the emperors. This two-storied, majestic and dignified pavilion features a golden-glazed roof and white marble balustrades.

There are five summits in Jingshan Hill and on each summit, you can find a pavilion. There was a copper Buddha statue on each pavilion representing the five tastes namely bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and pungent. During the 1900 war, all statues were destroyed.

Wanchun Pavilion is the most popular among the five located in the middle of the five summits. This is Beijing’s highest point from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the city. As you stand on the pavilion, to your north you can see the dignified Bell and Drum Towers, the magnificent and resplendent Forbidden City to the South and the White Dagoba Temple and Beihai Park to the West.

Why You Should Visit:
A really nice upkept garden park, featuring nice outdoor covered areas and old trees. The calm and serenity here is refreshing and the view from the top of the hill is amazing.

Tip:
You can enter via 3 gates: East, West, and South (all have ticket booths), the latter being accessed directly opposite the exit to the Forbidden City’s North gate exit. The city views, as you ascend, get better and better.

Opening Hours: daily: 6am-9pm (April-October); 6:30am-8pm (November-March)

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