Spend a quick five days touring the most historic sights of China's capital, like the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. You'll arrive in Beijing and visit Tiananmen Square before heading off for a hike on the Great Wall. Then you'll tour one of the nation's holiest sites, the Temple of Heaven, and cap the trip with a boat ride on the lake at the imperial Summer Palace.

Highlights

  • Walk from Tienanmen Square to the Forbidden City
  • Take a stroll on the Great Wall of China
  • Visit the Temple of Heaven, prayer site of past emperors
  • Go for a boat ride at the Summer Palace

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Beijing - Stroll Wangfujing Street Beijing
Day 2 Beijing City Tour & Kung Fu Show Beijing
Day 3 Great Wall Guided Tour & Olympic Park Beijing
Day 4 Temple of Heaven & Summer Palace Beijing
Day 5 Departure from Beijing  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Beijing - Stroll Wangfujing Street

The Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City, Beijing

Welcome to China!

With a population of over 21 million people, Beijing is the most densely populated capital city in the world. As one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, this metropolis has been the seat of power in the country for eight centuries. It's home to expansive historic landmarks like the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, which date all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Also here is the Summer Palace, a lakeside royal retreat and imperial garden during the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911).

However, Beijing is also a shining example of modernity. Some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world exist here. Also, new developments, high-rise apartments, and shopping malls all but engulf historic hutong alleyways and ancient courtyard houses. This city is a megalopolis hurtling towards the future while keeping one foot firmly in the past, and you'll discover its highlights. 

Upon arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport, you'll meet your private guide at the arrival hall and transfer to your hotel in downtown Beijing. After check-in, you'll have the remainder of the day free to head out and explore. Time and energy permitting, in the evening you can take a guided tour of Wangfujing Street, a buzzing shopping area home to one of Beijing's most famous night markets. Here you can snack on street food galore.

Day 2: Beijing City Tour & Kung Fu Show

Forbidden City
Forbidden City

In the morning, you'll meet your guide and driver in the hotel lobby and embark on a grand tour of Beijing. It begins in the heart of the city at Tiananmen Square, the world's largest city square. Built in 1651 and progressively enlarged over the centuries, this massive public space is surrounded by government buildings. These include the Great Hall of the People, National Museum of China, and the mausoleum of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. 

You'll see an enormous portrait of Chairman Mao on the square's north end at Tiananmen Gate. This is the entrance to the Forbidden City (officially known as the Imperial Palace Museum), which was constructed in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. You'll enter and tour this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will surely leave you awestruck. It's as big as a neighborhood and has a long history: it served as the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty in 1420 through the Qing Dynasty in 1912.  

A walking tour of the Forbidden City takes at least a couple hours. This ensures you see the majority of its some 980 buildings spread across 180 acres (72 hectares). Among other things, you'll visit the 32-foot (10-meter) high city walls, the Imperial Garden, ceremonial rooms, emperor's living quarters, and galleries featuring ancient imperial artifacts. You can expect crowds, too, as the Imperial City hosts a staggering 80,000 visitors per day. 

In the afternoon, you'll give your legs a rest with a 30-minute pedicab tour through the hutongs of Beijing. Hutongs are narrow alleyways that crisscross through old neighborhoods in the city. Some of these are so ancient that they go as far back as 800 years to the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. There's a traditional Chinese folk culture here, and many people still live in the old houses that line the alleys. Sadly, the hutongs are a fast disappearing sight as city developers move in to modernize these areas.

In the evening, get ready for some excitement as you had to the theater for the "Legend of Kung Fu" show. This is a special Shaolin kung fu stage performance that blends narrative, music, and of course, martial arts. 

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Day 3: Great Wall Guided Tour & Olympic Park

The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China

You're in for a treat as today you'll visit one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: the Great Wall of China. Because this ancient fortification is so massive, it's separated into various sections open to visitors. The area you'll be visiting is Mutianyu, one of the best-preserved portions of the Great Wall. Located 40 miles (64 km) north of Beijing, it was built in 1368 ACE by Xu Da, a general in the army of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

This section of wall stretches for 13 miles (22 km) and is comprised of 22 stone watchtowers. Sitting atop steep hills blanketed in rich green pines and cypress trees, the views from here on a clear day are nothing short of breathtaking. Walking these ramparts you'll easily understand how this landmark became a prominent symbol of China's history and heritage.

When you arrive at Mutianyu, you can ride the cable car up to the ramparts and then hike back down along the wall for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After the visit, you'll transfer back to Beijing and visit a landmark of China's recent history: Olympic Park. This complex was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics and includes a number of interesting buildings including the Bird's Nest (National Stadium) and Water Cube (aquatics center).

Day 4: Temple of Heaven & Summer Palace

The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven

In the morning, your guide will take you to the Temple of Heaven. This historic complex sits on 670 acres (271 hectares) and is actually comprised of a few buildings. Construction began back in 1407 under the Yongle Emporer, who also commissioned the building of the Imperial City. For hundreds of years spanning the Ming and Qing Dynasties up until 1900, this was the main imperial temple where emperors prayed to heaven for a good harvest. 

Your guide will lead you on a tour of the complex. The first stop is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This large, three-tiered structure was where the emperors would come for annual prayer ceremonies. Other iconic buildings you'll visit include the Circular Mound Altar, which was the site of winter solstice ceremonies, and the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a circular building constructed in 1530 and which housed the stone tablets used in the harvest prayer ceremonies.

In the afternoon, you'll head to the Summer Palace. This former royal retreat is located on the northwest outskirts of Beijing and is the largest imperial garden in China, taking up 1.1 square miles (2.9 square km). It's a mere 15 minutes by car from Beijing, but when you arrive you'll feel like you stepped back in time.  

The Summer Palace isn't one place so much as it's a collection of lakes, gardens, and palace buildings. The most prominent landmarks here are the central Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, a part of the Yanshan Mountains and upon which sits many palace halls and pavilions. You'll tour this area and see firsthand the manicured gardens and well-preserved buildings that emperors of the Qing Dynasty occupied beginning in the early 18th century.

After a boat ride around the palace, you'll head back into Beijing and pay a visit to Lama Temple. This 17th-century monastery houses a treasure trove of Buddhist art, including deity sculptures as well as Tibetan-style murals. After Lama Temple, you'll return to your hotel and will have the evening fee.

Day 5: Departure from Beijing

Farewell, China
Farewell, China

In the morning, a driver will pick you up at the hotel and transfer you to the airport in Beijing, where you'll catch your flight home. This concludes your unforgettable journey through China. Until next time!

Map

Map of Best of Beijing - 5 Days
Map of Best of Beijing - 5 Days