Tiananmen and temples: how to see Beijing’s top sights in a day travel guide.
Coincidently, Part III of my Where Rebecca Travels: Beijing travel guide is all about my third day in Beijing. After spending one day in Beihai Park and another trekking the Great Wall of China, my third day in Beijing was all about being in the city and seeing the must see sights.
Thanks to my trusty Lonely Planet Beijing guide book, a little planning and super comfy shoes, I was able to move all across Beijing in a day and see:
- Tiananmen Square
- Forbidden City
- The Drum and Bell towers
- Lama Temple
- Temple of Heaven, and
- Dongyue Temple.
Here is my travel guide on each of Beijing’s top sights. Enjoy and don’t forget to leave me a comment about your travels to Beijing. R x
Tiananmen Square to Temple of Heaven: see Beijing’s top sights in a day travel guide
This was my first stop for the day and I recommend it’s yours to. Tiananmen Square is the best place to start as you’re able to work your way conveniently north on foot or cab to quite a few sights. Plus by getting there first thing in the morning you can avoid the crowds #TopTravelTip.
I arrived at Tiananmen Square a little before 9am (thanks again jet lag) and there were people already milling about. I definitely recommend getting there as early as possible in the morning so you can avoid the crowds.
The square is overwhelmingly large. It’s one of the top ten largest squares in the world. Walking through it you start to see Forbidden City ahead which is really exciting. The large photo of Mao calls you over.
Being in Tiananmen Square was a life moment. To stand on something that holds so much history was an incredible privilege.
Within Tiananmen Square is the Monument to the People’s Hero and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and across the road is the National Museum of China. I am a bad tourist and only see the headline acts, so I just walked through the square taking it all in.
If you’re low on time, I would recommend doing the same thing and spending the time wondering Huntong’s or in the temples rather than in the museum—unless museums are something that really floats your boat. Your holiday so do what works for you 🙂
How to get here: Take a cab to Qianmen and walk north. I recommend cabs all over Beijing because they’re so cheap. Coming from ShiMao International Shopping Centre to Qianmen station the cab cost me 30RMB.
Don’t get dropped off / take the metro to Tiananmen East station as it’s too far north. You’ll come out at the top right corner of Tiananmen Square and miss the grandeur as you walk up from the south.
How much does it cost: Tiananmen Square is free. It’s a public space.
Other bits: There are security check points as you come into Tiananmen Square from Qianmen. If you’re a western tourist they’ll usher you through but you will need to have your bag x-rayed. They screen Chinese nationals more heavily and they will have to show their passport. My understanding is this is in response to Chinese citizens setting themselves on fire in public spaces in protest.
If you’ve had enough Tiananmen Square for one day, make your way into Forbidden City. You’ll know it as soon as you’re in the Tiananmen Square—it’s the big red building with Mao Zedong’s face on it.
To cross the four lane road take the underpass in the top corners and come out on the other side. Follow the paths and make you’re way into Forbidden City.
You’ll walk through the main exterior wall, the one with Mao’s face on it, before entering a second exterior wall.
Once into this second square, ticket sales are on your left—40RMB or 60RMB depending if you’re in or out of season. You will need your passport to purchase a ticket, so make sure you have it on you.
With your ticket, make you way through the turnstiles and you’re in Forbidden City. Now it’s time to just wonder and enjoy.
Again I’m a bad tourist and didn’t explore Forbidden City’s galleries and artefacts. I just enjoyed making my way through and soaking it all in.
For a full break down of what to see, I cannot recommend enough the Lonely Planet Beijing guide book. My friend who lives in Beijing still uses her Lonely Planet Beijing guide book all the time to find new things to see and do.
Once you’ve had enough of Forbidden City make your way out and you’ll be at the base of Jinshang Park.
How to get here: There is only one entrance point into Forbidden City and that is from the south. If you find yourself at the north, expect a good 20+ minute walk down to the south. I do not recommend taking a rickshaw to the south entrance. I haven’t read a single good thing about them in this part of Beijing any guide book or travel forum.
How much will it cost: 40RMB in low season (November to May) and 60RMB in high season.
- While Beijing, even for a solo female traveller, felt incredibly safe, be aware of scammers that target the outside of Forbidden City. Two popular scams are students selling ‘art’ and people inviting you to tea. Once you reach their suggested tea store you’ll be out of pocket for a lot more than expected.
- Don’t forget your passport! You need it to buy tickets to Forbidden City.
- And go in the morning if you can, ticket can sell out.
With a morning of sight seeing completed, it’s time for some food!
After my visit to Forbidden City, I hunted out the Lonely Planet Beijing Guide Book recommended Zuo Lin You She for dumplings.
The location was perfect: halfway between Forbidden City and the Drum and Bell Towers, so it was on my way to the next attraction.
Zuo Lin You She is a complete hole in the wall. Had it not been for my Lonely Planet Beijing Guide Book I never would have gone in and I’m so glad I did!
The dumplings were super tasty and authentic. The batter was incredibly light and filled with the tastiest pork mince and chives. Not only did I love the dumplings, but so did all the locals in there with me. And for a bargain price of 20RMB for two servings what more could you want?
Read my What Rebecca Eats: Beijing for more information about my tasty meal at Zuo Lin You She and for other yummy Beijing eats.
Drum and Bell Towers
Now that you’ve refuelled, get yourself ready to pound the pavement once more.
Walk north on the same road (Meishuguan Back St) and take a left at the second set of lights on Gulou E St.
In between Meishuguan and Gulou E streets are a lot of the more well known Hutong’s, so if you didn’t want to stick to the main roads and instead wanted to weave through the Hutong’s on your way to the Towers, that’s quite fun (my day exploring the Hutong’s and Beijing’s other sights will be in my Where Rebecca Travels: Beijing Part IV guide).
I walked the main streets and really enjoyed walking along Gulou E St. There is an obscene amount of guitar stores for one street, along with traditional Chinese tea stores, cafes, clothing stores, restaurants etc. It was nice to just wonder and see locals going about their day in local surroundings.
Once at the Towers you will need tickets. You can buy individual tickets or a combo ticket; I went for the combo which are purchased from Drum Tower but you must visit the Bell Tower first.
Once at the Bell Tower, get yourself ready for the hardest set of stairs you will ever walk up. Steep doesn’t even begin to describe this staircase.
Walking up, it felt like each step was a meter deep and I was rock climbing rather than ascending stairs. And before you think it gets easier. There’s the same badass set of stairs at the Drum Tower. You’re legs will not be happy, but you’re butt will be lifted!
Once at the top expect views across Beijing (if it’s a low smog day) and a giant bell.
What I loved about the bell, was the fish knocker. Too cute!
In between the two towers is a small public square, and being that the Hutong’s surround it, it’s filled with locals.
Children playing, dogs out for walks, neighbour talking. It’s a really lovely space to people watch.
Walking back across the square you come to the Drum Tower where once you’ve again walked up the deathly steep stairs, you’re greeted with views over the city.
Also included in your ticket for the Drum Tower is access to one of the drum performances held throughout the day. Unfortunately I arrived during the large break over lunch and missed the show. Don’t make my mistake and make sure you get there for the drum performance.
How to get there: It’s about a thirty minute walk from where I had lunch, which while you’re soaking in the surrounds is nothing. Otherwise a cab will be 9 minutes and around 10RMB.
How much will it cost: Bell Tower 15RMB, Drum Tower 20RMB and 30 for a combo ticket.
Other bits: The drum performances are held at 9:30, 10:00, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30 and 16:45.
Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple)
This was one of my favourite areas in Beijing.
Lama temple is a buddhist temple, so Yonghengong St where you enter feels incredibly Tibetan (not that I’ve been, but can imagine). With lots of shades of blue and less red than at the Chinese temples, plus lots of Tibetan Peace Flags, I felt like I could have been in the Himalayas.
The temple itself is massive. With five courtyards and multiples buildings, you will need a good thirty minutes for just a quick once over.
Again, I am a bad tourist and like to just see and get a sense, for me thirty minutes is plenty. But for someone who wants to see inside every buildings and read every plaque, give yourself at least an hour.
Included in your entrance ticket is incense which you light in the large fire pits and pray as you travel through the temple grounds. And my highlight was seeing a real Monk lighting the incense and praying in the courtyard.
How to get there: It’s about a thirty minute walk from the Drum and Bell Towers–head back down Gulou E St and take a right onto Yonghengong St. Otherwise a cab will be 9 minutes and around 10RMB.
How much will it cost: A ticket to enter Lama Temple is 25RMB.
Other bits: Confucius Temple is right across the road, just head under the beautiful blue archway. I didn’t go, I was running short on time, but it is right there should it be top on your list.
If you need a pit stop after visiting the Lama Temple, Yong Cafe is a great coffee shop that’s virtually next door.
It does a really decent flat white and has free wifi. It’s also super cute inside and a great place to sit down and recharge.
Temple of Heaven Park
You’re definitely going to want to get a cab for this journey. Heading 12 km south from Lama Temple is the Temple of Heaven. Temple of Heave is within a large gated park, so you will need to get dropped off an an entrance point.
I was dropped at the north on Tiantan Road and as I walked to the Temple of Heaven, was lucky enough to witness Chinese culture.
I saw a trio of men harmonising under an archway, couples practicing their ballroom dancing (or some singles perfecting their moves without a partner) and lots of people playing badminton.
It was so lovely to watch people just enjoying being outdoors and having fun together.
The show stopper attraction is the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests.
How to get there: Make sure to have a map so you can point at the park and which side you want to enter on. The Temple of Heaven Park is larger than Forbidden City, so you don’t want to have to walk for thirty minutes just to make it to a ticket office. I entered on at the Tiantan Road gate at the north and then made my way into the park, seeing the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests first.
How much will it cost: You need to pay to enter the park (10RMB) and then to add entrance to an attraction is another 20RMB. I recommend the combination ticket for park entry and all attractions for 30RMB.
Other bits: Give yourself plenty of time to visit the Temple of Heaven Park. Due to the sheer size of it, you’ll need just as long as you spent in the Forbidden City here.
Disclaimer: I didn’t actually see this on my third day. I know. I’m a liar! Sacrifice me now! I saw this one with Laura on day four, but after having visited it I realised, had I known about it, I could have added it to day three, so I’m including it here so you can add it to your day of sightseeing.
Dongyue Temple is a Taoist temple and I’m so glad I went. It was unlike anything I had seen before and super cool.
Around the perimeter are pens, like you expect to find a horse in, but instead are wax statues and each pen is dedicated to a different ‘department’.
So yes, a little weird, but really cool and something I’m so glad I went to see.
How to get there: From the Temple of Heaven Park definitely get a cab. It’s a 20 minute cab ride or a near two hour walk, so after a full day of exploring Beijing I know which one I’m going for!
How much will it cost: Dongyue Temple is a budget friendly 10RMB.
Other bits: Open from 8:30 – 16:30 Tuesday to Sunday, you may not be able to squeeze this one in at the end of your day. If not, I do recommend finding the time to see it as Dongyue Temple is so different from all the other temples.
Well there you have it, day three of my trip to Beijing where I saw all the must see sights in one day.
If you move at a quick pace and want to get in and out, you can see all of Beijing’s top sights in one day. But if you like to spend more time at each place then I recommend splitting this day into two.
When you put all this onto a map it might seem like you’re going all over Beijing–south west to north to south to east–but Beijing is a very big city so no matter what you do you will be covering some ground. And what I like about the way this day is cut, you’re at the most popular in the morning with less crowds before venturing north with lots of walking to soak in the city.
Don’t forget to leave me a comment about your time in China and what you thought of all the top sights.