8 Fun and Free Things to Do in Beijing

Category: Best Things to Do, Travel Tips & Guides

Though travel in Beijing is no longer as cheap as it used to be, it is still more affordable than North America, Europe and the more developed countries in Asia like South Korea and Japan. Western visitors to Beijing will be surprised to find that everything from bottled water to snacks, bus or subway rides, meals at a decent restaurant, park or museum admission fees are fabulous bargains. Best of all, some of the great experiences here won't cost you a cent. Below are just 8 of them.

1. Tour the Tiananmen Square

Few people would leave Beijing without a visit to the Tiananmen Square, located at the heart of the city, with the Forbidden City, National Museum of China, Chairman Mao's Mausoleum and the Great Hall of the People perched on its edges. With the capacity to hold up to one million people, it is among the world's largest and most visited public places. It is an ideal spot to do people watching as there are masses of tourists there. Chances are that you'll be invited to have photos taken with the locals as they really enjoy it. If you visit in the early morning, don't miss out the flag raising ceremony at sunrise conducted by the People's Liberation Army soldiers. Visiting the square is free but you'll need your passport to pass the security check to enter.

Location: West Changan Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing

Tiananmen Square in BeijingThe massive Tiananmen Square

2. Appreciate Chinese modern art at 798 Art District

Chinese modern art has been flourishing over the past decades. For a glimpse into its vibrant art scene, head to Beijing's 798 Art District, situated in the northeast of the city. Once a complex of electronic factories constructed under the supervision of East Germany during the 1950s, this area has been transformed into an art district teeming with top-notch galleries, most of which are free to enter. These galleries are interspersed with coffee shops, which makes it a great place for a leisurely walk.

Location: No.4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100015

3. Take a hutong walk

Dating back to Yuan dynasty (1206–1341) when China was under the rule of the Mongolians, hutongs are narrow alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard houses where the local people have lived for generations. A visit to these neighborhoods offers you a glimpse into the traditional lives of Beijing's residents. While many choose to tour the Hutong on a rickshaw, a stroll through these quaint streets allows you to see things that rickshaw rides could not offer. Along the way, you'll find small markets, liquor stores, hair salons, and even elderly locals playing chess or mahjong or just chatting outside their houses. Among several well-preserved hutongs, you may consider visiting the one in the Bell and Drum Towers area or Shichahai District.

People walking in the hutong in BeijingPeople walking in the hutong

Beijing elderly locals playing chess outside their housesElderly Beijingers playing chess outside their courtyard houses

4. Explore the National Museum of China

History buffs could easily spend a half day in the National Museum of China, located in the eastern side of the massive Tiananmen Square. Formed by two separate museums - the Museum of the Chinese Revolution and the National Museum of Chinese history, the museum houses priceless exhibits from prehistoric China through contemporary China. Some of the most outstanding pieces include the jade burial suit created 2,000 years ago, a bronze wine vessel in the shape of a rhino, Simuwu Ding (a rectangular sacrificial bronze vessel) dating back to Shang dynasty, stone craving from the Han dynasty, etc.

There's no entry fee but a valid passport is required for foreign visitors. The museum has a café and a tea house where you can get refreshments such as coffee, cakes, and teas.

Location: No.16 East Chang'an Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing

Opening hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (Tuesday - Sunday)

5. Stroll around Wangfujing

This is Beijing's most famous shopping street packed with shops, restaurants, cafés, and malls, popular with locals and tourists alike. But it is not just a place for shoppers and diners. The street is mostly pedestrianized, so it is perfect for a stroll to absorb the ambiance. West of the main street is the snack lane lined up with cheap and cheerful food stalls where you can watch people enjoying various snacks from all over China. Head to the north end of Wangfujing and you'll find St. Joseph's Cathedral, built in 1655 by Jesuit missionaries and renovated in 1904. Here brides and grooms come to shoot their wedding photos.

Location: Wangfujing Main Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing

Opening hours: 12:00 - 23:59 

Wangfujing Street in BeijingWangfujing Street is nice for an evening stroll

6. Visit the Olympic Park

This is where China hosted its first Olympic Game – 2008 Summer Olympics, and where the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held. The park is home to some extraordinary buildings including the National Stadium (known as Bird's Nest) and National Aquatics Center (or Water Cube). Best visit in the evening when the buildings are lit up.

Location: North of Beisihuanzhong road, Chaoyang District, Beijing

Opening hours: 9:00 - 21:00 

The Bird's NestThe Bird's Nest is spectacular when lit up

Water Cube in the Olympic Park in BeijingThe Water Cube illuminated at night

7. Get a taste of local life in Ritan Park

This is a nice place to go if you're looking for more authentic local experiences. Also called Temple of the Sun, Ritan was built in 1530 for emperors to perform sacrificial rituals to the sun. Today it is a public park with beautiful gardens, pavilions, and a lake, a wonderful retreat from the bustle and hustle of Beijing. Here you'll have the chance to see locals dancing, singing, playing instruments, doing tai chi, or flying kites. The park is admission-free and well worth an hour or two. It is advisable to visit in the morning to watch local life.

Location: No.6 Ritan North Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing

Opening hours: 6:00 - 21:00

8. Sit back and relax with a nice cuppa in Maliandao Tea Street

If you are an avid tea drinker, you would love this 1.5 km street that is lined up with tea shops selling a huge variety of teas from all over China: green, black, jasmine, oolong, white, pu'er... You can try different kinds of tea and don’t have to buy any unless you really want to bring some home. Apart from tea, you'll also admire the lovely tea sets of various designs.

Location: No.11 Maliandao Street, Beijing

You may consider putting these 8 freebies in your itinerary if you are planning to visit Beijing. Should you need any assistance, we are always ready to customize a trip that matches your interests and budget. For any other inquiries, feel free to reach us at .

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