Oh that’s a tough question.
One day is a very limited amount of time to see everything Beijing has to offer. It would be impossible to see everything that you would not want to miss. We tried to do it in 4 days and only scraped the surface. If I were you, I would probably play it safe and choose from one of these more itineraries that are more focused and tailored to your taste:
Mutainyu Great Walls/Badaling Great Walls; the Tombs of the Tombs; the Summer Palace; Beijing Aquarium/Beijing Zoo
Begin your day by visiting the magnificent Great Wall of China at Mutianyu or Badaling. Take a cable car up to the wall and embark on an unforgettable adventure as you explore its watchtowers and marvel at the breathtaking views.
Afterward, if time permits, head to the Summer Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its stunning gardens, tranquil lakes, and historic pavilions. Rent a paddleboat to cruise around Kunming Lake, or have a picnic in the picturesque gardens. To be honest, depending on your choice of transportation it will be tight.
Conclude your day with a visit to the Beijing Aquarium, located inside the Beijing Zoo. Discover an underwater world filled with marine creatures, and witness mesmerizing dolphin and sea lion shows.
The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the Temple of Heaven;
For families seeking an immersion in Beijing’s rich culture, start your day with a visit to the iconic Forbidden City. Marvel at the grandeur of this ancient imperial palace, and discover fascinating tales of emperors and dynasties. Next, take a leisurely stroll through Jingshan Park, which offers stunning views of the Forbidden City from its hilltop pavilions.
Afterward, head to the nearby Hutongs, Beijing’s traditional alleyways. Explore these narrow lanes by rickshaw or on foot, and witness the locals’ way of life. Engage in fun activities like learning to write Chinese characters or making traditional handicrafts.
Beijing Zoo, Bird’s Nest, Water Cube, National Theater, Beihai Park
If your family prefers a more contemporary experience, start your day at the Beijing Zoo. Here, your little ones can delight in meeting giant pandas and other fascinating animals. Next, make your way to the Olympic Park, where the Bird’s Nest Stadium and Water Cube await. These architectural marvels from the 2008 Olympics offer splendid photo opportunities.
For lunch, head to Wangfujing Street, a bustling shopping district that also features diverse culinary delights. Treat your taste buds to traditional street snacks or indulge in international cuisine.
Afterward, take a relaxing walk in Beihai Park, a beautiful imperial garden. Rent a boat and sail across the tranquil lake, or let your kids enjoy the playground and carousel.
The palace of King Gong, Tsinghua University, and Manshou , YuanMingYuan (the Old Summer Palace)
Feeling adventurous and don’t want to limit yourself to a single itinerary? Start anywhere in the city (probably wherever you are staying) and just start walking. Do what the locals do, try to take the subway to Lama Temple and spend some time around there. Don’t miss the Wudaoying Hu-tong in that area. We visited NanLuoGuXiang and head north from there to arrive at BeiLuoGuXiang. BeiLuoGuXiang is supposedly busier than NanLuoGuXiang but street food there are super expensive and considered not as good.
Next you can take a bus to Houhai, which is famous for its scenery. Don’t miss the Water Cube at night for its lovely view.
Of course some will argue you can’t miss the Forbidden City if you are in Beijing. Go as early in the morning as possible as there will only be more people as the day progresses. Houhai which we talked about is also in this same area and on your way to the Forbidden City you will likely pass Tiananmen Square on the way.
Guangji Temple on Xisi Road and the China Geological Museum that’s just right across can be two other options. The China Geological Museum exhibits a lot of geological features from around China and should be a stop for anyone who’s interested in geology. Following this transit line you will also find the White Pagoda Temple. Around the White Pagoda Temple are lots of small alleys, and they will look familiar to those who’s seen Beijing Hutongs on TV. Next stop should be YuanMingYuan (the Old Summer Palace) and the Summer Palace.
Remember you aren’t limited to exploring in-town. If you decide to skip these buildings in town and choose to spend a whole day at one of the sections of the Great Wall you will not regret it either. We visited the Mutainyu section of the Great Wall and was really glad with that decision.
This shuttle from Beijing downtown will get you all the way to the front gate.
In the end, our best advice is to hire a local travel guide and a car if you can. We did that for our time in Beijing and that was an absolute time saver and you need that if you can only spare one day to see Beijing.
This private tour for example is a good base to start (hits both Mutianyu Great Wall and Summer Palace) and review the different options.
Mother of 2 who disguises as a 9 to 5 finance professional on most days. She loves to travel, is an amateur website builder and cook. And given her day job, she loves travel planning and saving money. Follow along!