How to Enjoy Beijing on Less than a Dime

It’s your first day in Beijing and you are raring to explore this ancient city established way back in 1045 BC. But—as you unfortunately find out when you can’t figure out how to set up your WeChat and Alipay apps—Beijing is also one of the world’s most modern cities, in terms of adoption of technology.

No matter. Beijing is so packed with free cultural sites and sights that you can easily spend a whole week wandering around the city, absorbing its beauty and heritage, without paying a dime.

Tiananmen Square

No list of Beijing can be written without mentioning Tiananmen Square. The awe-inspiring Tiananmen Gate, built in 1415, still stands and watches over the sprawling square, which is one of the world’s largest city squares.

The area is laden with historical monuments like the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Stepping into the square feels like stepping back into a slice of history.

Do take note that while it is free to enter, you do need your passport ready as there are security checks at the entrance of the square.

National Muesum of China

When you’re done soaking in the atmosphere and people-watching at the Tiananmen Square, head to its east, and visit the National Museum of China. It’s one of the most visited, and largest museums in the world, and for good reason.

With the millennia-long history of China, it comes as no surprise that the National Museum of China houses more than 1 million artefacts that range from remains of the Yuanmou Man, who lived 1.7 million years ago, to collections from the Qing Dynasty.

Some of the museum’s highlights include the Simuwu Ding, a sacrificial vessel which is the largest piece of bronze work in the world and a Han Dynasty jade burial suit that is older than 2000 years old.

You definitely need to devote more than one day to fully appreciate the museum’s collection. In fact, you might need more than 2,000 years…

16 E Chang’an Ave, Dongcheng Qu, China

Opening hours: 9am – 4.30pm; closed on Mondays

789 Art Zone

Once you’ve had your fill of ancient artefacts and art, head to 798 Art Zone to peruse some modern art.

The complex is an artistic attraction in itself: it was originally a military factory under the purview of East Germany in the 1950s, and hence boasts a Bauhaus-inspired design. For those of us (including me) without a degree in art history or architecture, it simply means a style characterised by clean lines and functional spaces, putting function over form.

Today, artists have transformed the decommissioned factory complexes into sprawling art galleries and workshops, earning it the reputation of being Beijing’s artistic heart. It’s certainly worth spending a day exploring the many museums, galleries, and cafes that have sprung up in the area.

2 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Olympic Forest Park

The 2008 Summer Olympics was held in Beijing and demonstrated to the world how Beijing has come into its own as a cosmopolitan and modern city.  

Among the many highlights of the 2008 Olympics (such as Michael Phelps winning a ridiculous eight gold medals) are the National Stadium and National Aquatics Centre. But you might know them by their more endearing monikers: the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube.

These two beautiful buildings are now open to the public, and nestled in the Beijing Olympic Forest Park, one of Asia’s largest parks within a city. A tour of the stadiums and then an evening of relaxing amidst the greenery of the park is the perfect way to spend a day—for free.

China, Beijing, Chaoyang, 仰山桥


Image by alison.georgie via Instagram

If you’re worn down by the constant buzz of the world’s third most populous city, head to Shichihai. Shichihai, which literally means “Ten Temple Lake”, is located slightly north-west of Beijing, providing a great way of escaping the city while remaining close to it.

The area itself is beautiful and retains and old-world charm: it is filled with narrow alleyways known as hutongs, and, true to its name, many temples and lakes that give you a bit more space to breathe.

Different seasons bring about different faces of beauty to Shichihai, but our favourite is spring, when the willow trees gracefully arcing their heads over the lakes burst into flower, painting the entire scene a pretty pastel pink.

China, Beijing, Xicheng, 什刹海后海北沿(地安门西)

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