Beijing, China’s capital and fourth largest city, is at once a modern metropolis and a gateway into China’s long history. You could easily spend weeks exploring the city’s imperial grandeur, gastronomic landscape, and hidden cultural gems. If you only have 24 hours to explore, here are some suggestions for how to spend your time.
Morning: Imperial Beijing
Start with a deep dive into Beijing’s imperial past with visits to three of the city’s top attractions. Get up early for a walking tour of the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace). Opt for skip-the-line access to save time. Make a stop in front of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square before continuing your tour to the nearby Temple of Heaven, the UNESCO World Heritage Site once used by the emperor for rituals.
Afternoon: UNESCO Icons
After lunch, continue the imperial theme with an afternoon tour of the Summer Palace, the UNESCO-listed lakeside retreat where Empress Dowager Cixi retired. Walk down the Long Corridor, hike up Longevity Hill, or take a boat ride on Kunming Lake for views of Marble Boat, Nanhu Island, and 17-Arch Bridge. Alternately, head north of Beijing for a visit to an icon of China, the Great Wall. The Badaling section is the most easily accessible from Beijing, but it’s possible to visit the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven in the morning with an afternoon tour of the quieter Mutianyu Great Wall.
Night: Dinner and a Show
Finish off your day with more quintessential Beijing experiences, a traditional Peking duck dinner followed by a performance of Shaolin kung fu, Peking opera, or Chinese acrobatics at one of the city’s many theaters. Many tours include pickup and drop-off from your hotel, so you don’t have to worry about the hassle of transportation after a long day of sightseeing. For a more low-key evening, hop in a tuk tuk for a food and beer tour of Beijing’s historic hutongs (alleys).