5 Free things to do in Beijing including dancing grannies

5 Free things to do in Beijing is from travel blogger Richelle Gamlam of Adventures around Asia.

You’re heading to Beijing but don’t have much money to spend. Or maybe you just blew your budget on a private car to the Great Wall and need to save money for a day or two. Luckily for you there are plenty of free things to do in Beijing. Even if you don’t need to save money here are a few things that every traveler should add to their list.

Wander the hutongs

free things to do in Beijing - Wander through the Gulou Hutongs, photo Adventures Around Asia

Wander through the Gulou Hutong, photo/Adventures Around Asia

I’ve been living in Beijing for about two years and the hutongs are by far my favorite part of the city. What’s a hutong? The Beijing hutongs, known as “traditional alleyway streets,” are a massive complex of courtyard houses that can be found right at the center of the city. In ancient China, all of Beijing was covered in hutongs; now most are gone. The government has preserved some of these neighborhoods for residents to enjoy. But the hutongs are by no means relics of ancient history. I live in a hutong, as do many of my friends. Most of my favorite restaurants, bars and cafes are also hidden within the hutong’s alleyway streets and courtyard complexes. Take a few hours to explore these neighborhoods: Gulou, Andingmen and Lama Temple. Get lost in the local alleyways, spot old men playing chess or have a cocktail in a trendy street like Fangjia or Wudaoying. The hutongs are photographic gold; don’t forget your camera!

Take a photo with Mao in Tiananmen Square

ree things to do in Beijing - Visit Tiananmen Square and take a photo with Mao, photo Adventures Around Asia

Visit Tiananmen Square and take a photo with Mao, photo/Adventures Around Asia

Visit controversial Tiananmen Square where you can pose for a photo with the giant Mao Tse Tung portrait. While Tiananmen Square isn’t my favorite place in Beijing, it’s a must-see for visitors. You’ll see crowds of tourists clamoring for a photo with Mao (his portrait hangs over the entrance to the Forbidden City). Watch the flag raising ceremony while listening to a military band (check here for times). Arrive early in the morning for a view of Chairman Mao’s preserved body; while his mausoleum is open from 8am to noon they only allow a limited number of people inside. Be sure to bring your passport. While I’ve never had an issue, I know of a few people who have been turned away without one.

Catch a View of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

ree things to do in Beijing - The view of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park, photo Adventures Around Asia

The view of the Forbidden City from /ingshan Park, photo Adventures Around Asia

After taking a photo with Mao in Tiananmen, I recommend walking around the Forbidden City and climbing the small mountain in Jingshan Park. While not free, the small entrance fee (less than 50 cents USD) shouldn’t be much of a deterrent even to travelers on a budget. From here you get a fantastic view of the Forbidden City. For stunning photos go on a clear day. If you’re lucky you may encounter groups of older Chinese citizens singing classic Chinese music. The view from Jingshan Park is definitely something you cannot miss on your trip to Beijing!

Explore 798 Art District

free things to do in Beijing - Art spotted at 798 Street Art, photo Adventures around Asia

Street art spotted at 798 Street Art District, photo/Adventures around Asia

The 798 Art District, otherwise known as Qijiuba, is a must-see for street art lovers. While you have to pay for some of the exhibits the general park and most exhibition rooms are free. Once an abandoned factory complex, 798 is an art and photography lover’s fantasy. With graffiti art, statues, calligraphy exhibitions and more you’ll never get bored. The 798 is also a great place to check out Chinese street fashion.

People watching

Have you ever wanted to see 50 Chinese grannies dancing in unison? Welcome to China. Head to any public square at sunset and you’ll see what I mean: giant groups of grannies dancing in unison for exercise. While the dancing usually happens just after sunset, you’ll find any public square or park packed with people enjoying themselves in the late afternoons or on weekends. You’ll see old men playing Chinese chess, groups of people playing hacky sack as well as other outdoor activities. Parks and public squares are my favorite places for people watching.

free things to do in Beijing - Hackey Sack at the Drum and Bell Tower, photo Adventures Around Asia

Hackey Sack at the Drum and Bell Tower, photo/Adventures Around Asia

For afternoon and weekend people watching I recommend the Drum and Bell Tower and the surrounding area; for the evening, I love the giant square on Xizhimen Wai Dajie. You’ll find couples ballroom dancing in costume, giant groups of 100 or more dancing grannies, multiple outdoor karaoke machines, hordes of roller skaters and more.

These are just a few of the incredible free things you can do in Beijing. Try wandering around Hoihai Park, create your own Hutong photo walk or explore the inside of a giant Chinese grocery store. You’ll never get bored!

Richelle Gamlam is a travel blogger, serial expat and spicy food lover who’s been living in China for the last four years. She specializes in traveling Asia off the beaten path and loves trying weird foods no one else will eat. You can find Richelle through her blog Adventures Around Asia, or on Instagram and Facebook.

What are your favorite free things to do in Beijing?

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