The Chinese capital is without a doubt one of the most eclectically diverse and culturally rich hubs in Asia, with its signature blend of imperial history and thriving street attractions drawing in millions of visitors a year.
From royal palaces and gardens to forward-thinking street food and heaving markets, Beijing is a non-stop thrill ride of Chinese culture that never ceases to provide something new and exciting.
However, with so much to do, the surrounding areas can sometimes get overlooked, and here is where you find some of the most stunning attractions of all.
Awe-inspiring temples on hilltops and fascinating tombs hidden away in gorgeous forests are scattered around the rural areas near Beijing, and make for some of the best day trips in the country if you know what to look for.
Let’s have a look at the best day trips from Beijing:
1. Great Wall of China – Mutianyu section
One of the most instantly recognizable and iconic destinations in the world, let alone Beijing, the Great Wall is a testament to the ingenuity and colossal architectural prowess of Imperial China.
Its size means that unless you set aside a few days to hike and camp on the wall, it’s best seen in small sections, each offering a unique perspective to the last.
The Mutianyu section lies to the north of Beijing and is characterized by the gorgeous forests surrounding it that gradually shift their hue as the seasons change.
It’s notably different to other sections of the wall, as it was rebuilt from previous ruins dating back to the Qi dynasty.
It is reachable by either hiking the mountain it perches on or taking a scenic cable car to the top.
Recommended tour: Mutianyu Great Wall of China Bus Tour
2. Ming Tombs
Less than an hour from bustling Beijing, you’ll find the impossibly serene slice of woodland that houses the legendary Ming Tombs, which serve as the final resting place for the Emperors of the Ming Dynasty between the 14th and 15th Centuries.
The grounds themselves are a captivating blend of gorgeous willow-tree forests and beautiful monuments depicting people and animals guarding specific tombs.
Highlights of the 40-square-kilometer stretch of forest include the Path of Souls that leads to the Avenue of Stone Statues – a captivating stroll punctuated by marble gates and structures that is a world away from the noisy city.
Recommended tour: Mutianyu Great Wall & Beijing Bus Tour to the Ming Tombs
3. Tanzhe Temple
Venturing up into the mountains to the west of Beijing, you’ll find one of the oldest temples in the country that can be reached in less than an hour from the city.
Nestled in the Western Hills, Tanzhe Temple is the earliest Buddhist temple in Beijing and is comprised of a number of sections, pavilions and courtyards that make up its beautiful complex.
Possibly one of the most captivating and famous features is the pair of ancient ginkgo trees that grow on the east and west sides of the temple, with the eastern one being over 1000 years old – they are aptly named the Emperor and Empress trees.
The density of sights and relics in Tanzhe Temple make it an irresistible day trip, as well as an enchanting insight into the China of old.
4. Caves of Zhoukoudian
The prehistoric village of Zhoukoudian is best known for being home to caves where some of the most groundbreaking archaeological finds in history have been made.
A fascinating day trip less than an hour to the southwest of Beijing, the Caves of Zhoukoudian display some of the best-preserved fossils of early humans who settled in the area.
It’s the perfect outing for anyone with an interest in our ancient ancestors and other rare fossils.
5. Summer Palace
The vast but jaw-droppingly magnificent Summer Palace was started in the 12th Century and has been developed on numerous occasions to produce one of the largest and most beautiful imperial complexes in the world.
Head over to the eastern bank of the huge lake to the Hall of Wellbeing and Longevity, and marvel at the lofty audience chambers and opulent throne rooms.
Be amazed by the collection of tropical plants found in the Hall of Happiness and Longevity and its jungle-like courtyard.
The Palace covers over 700-acres, and pretty much all of it is worth seeing, so be sure to set aside an entire day to see as much as you can.
Suggested tour: Private Mutianyu Great Wall & Summer Palace Day Tour
6. Marco Polo Bridge
One of the most intriguing day trip locations just a stone’s throw from Beijing is the ornately designed and impressively old Marco Polo Bridge.
Built in 1192, the bridge has withstood huge floods from the Yongding River and countless wars over the centuries – a testament to the architectural skill involved in its construction.
Over 200-metres long, the bridge offers sweeping views of the river below, but most notably is known and visited for the 280 columns lining the sides, each with an ornate lion structure sat on top.
7. Eastern Qing Tombs
Found around two hours to the east of the capital, the city of Zunhua houses the grounds of another important burial site in Chinese history, the tombs of the Emperors of the Qing Dynasty.
In contrast with the site of the Ming Tombs, the Eastern Qing Tombs are less entwined with nature and form more of an imperial complex made of marble and stone.
Contained mostly underground, the necropolis can be reached through a spirit alley lined with impressive sculptures and carvings reminiscent of the Qing Dynasty that thrived from 1644 to 1911.
8. Fragrant Hills Park
Fragrant Hills Park is literally translated as “Incense-burner Mountain” because of its likeness to traditional Chinese burners, this is due to the cloud formations at the summit of the Western Mountains that look like smoke from afar.
The gorgeous natural reserve was used as the imperial hunting grounds and boasts stunning displays of color in the autumn when the leaves transform the canopy into a kaleidoscope of deep reds and golds.
You’ll have the chance to discover some quaint temples within the park, such as the Tibetan-style Temple of Light.
If you want to get closer to nature, head down to Spectacle Lake.
Nature lovers and hikers will also relish the challenge of climbing the Gujianchou path, which leads to a peak offering some incredible views.
9. Gouya Natural Scenic Area
Truly one of the most worthwhile day trips for those looking to escape the urban cityscape of Beijing and get closer to some of the incredible natural reserves around the capital, the Gouya Natural Scenic Area is hugely popular among outdoor enthusiasts.
The highlights here are the Gouya Rocks that comprise three distinct, stunning peaks – the highest and most popular of which is Ziji Peak.
Prepare to lose yourself amongst the quietly babbling mountain springs, majestic gorges, and world-class hiking trails that end in ancient temple sites – all within easy reach from the capital.
For day trippers who are looking to combine a little culture with their escape to nature, the Miaofengshan pilgrimage path offers the perfect blend of both.
The renovated series of paths were first created towards the end of the Ming Dynasty and lead to the gorgeously intact Niang Niang Miao Temple.
The hike up Miaofeng Mountain is as rewarding as it is beautiful, lined on either side by cobblestone walls and rising steeply to give incredible views of the landscape below.
11. Great Wall of China – Badaling section
In contrast to its Mutianyu counterpart, the Badaling section of the Great Wall is by far and beyond the most famous section of the colossal structure, due to the quality of its preservation and its wildly rising and falling sections that follow the mountains surrounding it.
You can begin your hike at either Badaling Pass or the Badaling Bear Park – the main route visitors take is a two-hour walk.
Not to worry if you don’t feel like a four-hour round trip, however, there are cable cars that can take you to the top of the wall either on your way up or down.
Available tour: Beijing: Full-Day Badaling Great Wall & Summer Palace
12. Jietai Temple
Surrounded by abundant lilac, pine trees and flowers, the Jietai Temple can be found to the west of Beijing and is famous thanks to its staggering age.
Built over 1400 years ago in the Tang Dynasty, it’s one of the most important Buddhist temples in China on account of it being a specific place for monks and nuns to go to achieve their highest status.
To experience a city not quite as large and relentless as Beijing, head down to Tianjin, a beautiful port city that is wonderfully accessible to first-time visitors.
Between ornate traditional bridges above the waterways and exciting 19th Century French and British architecture, Tianjin is a less-travelled pocket of Chinese culture that’s well worth the visit.
For shopping, head to Ancient Culture Street, and for food, satisfy your hunger at Nanshi Cuisine Street.
Considered to be one of the best-fortified passes of the Great Wall, the Juyongguan Pass is ironically one of the least traveled but closest sections of the structure to Beijing itself, meaning it’s incredibly easy to explore on a day trip.
Featuring a noticeably higher density of buildings than other parts of the wall, here you can find numerous towers and temples that are fascinating to explore.
Available tour: From Beijing: Half-Day Private Juyongguan Great Wall