Updated December 30, 2019.

Looking for some cool things to do in Beijing, the capital of China? Look no further. Beijing is my favorite city in China. Maybe because I know it so well. I worked in Beijing on and off for many years and I spent a lot of time there wandering its alleyways and sampling its street food.

Glazed, yellow, figurines top Imperial rooftops in Beijing

Unique figures on Beijing rooftops

Of course, when in Beijing you must see the highlights: The Forbidden City and The Great Wall, just two of the bucket list things to see in China.   Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and the hutong alleys are also top Beijing Highlights: What You Must See.

But to get a good feel for the real Beijing, check out these unique and cool things to do in Beijing.  These sites are all easily accessible by Beijing’s very efficient subway system although taxis are also pretty cheap.  Just pick up a Time Out in English, or ask your hotel concierge for contact details.


Explore Beijing’s hutongs.

The best was to see Beijing’s hutong, or alleyways, is in a rickshaw.  There are central rickshaw rental locations at the Drum and Bell Tower and Beihai Park. Make sure to negotiate the fee beforehand. Use hand signals if you don’t speak Chinese.  They’re used to it and will understand you.  Plus it’s fun.

Stay in a hutong hotel.

These are the traditional style Chinese homes that have been around for centuries. A much more authentic experience than the local standard hotel. You can find these online. Here is one typical option for hutong hotels.

Staying in a hutong hotel is one of the cool things to do in Beijing.

Courtyard of a traditional hotel of a hutong or narrow alleyway in Beijing


Visit Wangfujing’s night market. 

Wangfujing is a major pedestrian shopping street. A few yuan (Chinese currency) will get you a steaming plate of spicy dumplings.  They also have a very interesting variety of food specialties including scorpions.

Spend an afternoon at 798 Art Zone.

The 798 Art Zone is about 5 square blocks of reclaimed factory space converted to an art venue. They have special exhibits, nice restaurants, shops selling unique pieces of art and a funky vibe.

Enjoy the view from the Drum and Bell Tower.

These structures were built around 1272. Make sure to see the Drum Show. The climb to the top of these towers is very steep but the panoramic view of Beijing and the surrounding hutongs is worth it.

Check out the coolest off-beat things to experience in Beijing. Click To Tweet

Get a massage at Dragonfly.

Dragonfly is a chain of massage spas found in many major cities in China.  Beijing has about 5.  The reasonably priced massages at this oasis of tranquility are heavenly.  Spend an entire day if you can afford the time and get everything done; facial, mani-pedi, head and foot massage.  I once went to Dragonfly in the morning then went to a different one in the afternoon because I didn’t want the first one to think I was addicted to massages.  It’s THAT good. Check them out here.


Dress up like an Empress in the Forbidden City.

Ok, it’s tacky, I know.  But dressing up in period costumes is one of my guilty pleasures and it might be one of yours. So there you have it.  One of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had was dressing up with one of the attendants at the Forbidden City and pretending to be members of the ancient Royal Court.

Dress up! One of the cool things to do in Beijing.

Talek in Empress costume in the Forbidden City

Party at a jazz club in Beihai Lake Park.

The park is right next to the Forbidden City. It’s beautiful during the day with its gardens and graceful curved Chinese bridges. But at night it really rocks with clubs featuring all kinds of music.

Panoramic view of Beihai Lake in Beijing

Panoramic view of Beihai Lake in Beijing

Sample world-class dumplings at Dintaifung.

If you eat nothing else in Beijing, you must sample dumplings at Dintaifung, a Taiwanese chain of restaurants featuring dozens of dumpling flavors and other delicacies.

Hunt for antiques at the Panjiayuan Antique Market.

You go here more for the experience than the actual antiques.  It’s an open-air market with stalls displaying paintings, jade art, porcelain and many other offerings. It’s fun to walk around but unless you’re an antique dealer, you never know what you’re buying.  Still, they have some very pretty things.

Here are additional resources to help you maximize your trip: Fodor’s Beijing and  Lonely Planet Beijing.

This post only covers off-the-beaten-track things to do in Beijing. See all the fascinating options you have for exploring all of China off-the-beaten-track.  And for a real bang (pun intended) check out the coolest places to spend Chinese New Year’s

If you’re looking for a complete guide, here is a comprehensive list of China travel tips.

Absorb a little bit of the city before you go. Here are two books I recommend highly. Both capture the essence of Beijing like no others: Midnight in Peking and The Incarnations. 

What are your thoughts on off-beat Beijing?


BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
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  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
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  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
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  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
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I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.


  1. Wow simple and suberb post ! I liked the way you have written such a great places to explore to Beijing. The one dress up is really good to experience.

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