Home to 15 million, Beijing has for centuries been one of the world's centers of culture. The land here has been occupied for over 3,000 years. As a result, visitors face the well-known traveler's dilemma – too much to see with too little time – amplified many times over.
Here are just some highlights...
One of the most famous attractions is not even in the city itself, but about 60–125 km (35–75 mi) outside it – the Great Wall. (The distance varies depending on the desired viewing location.)
To see one of the best preserved sections, visit Mutianyu. Though the wall was under construction for over 2,000 years, this 6th-century section was used as the northern barrier to defend the capital.
Not as old, but just as impressive a man-made achievement is the Imperial Palace, often referred to as the Forbidden City. So named because for centuries the common people were not allowed to freely enter. And sometimes wished they hadn't gone when invited!
More than 9,000 rooms spread over 250 acres, it was first built in the 15th century and later renovated during the Qing dynasty in the 18th.
To get an excellent high view of the city itself, take a trip to Jingshan Park, built in 1179 AD. It looks out over the Forbidden City and features spectacular views of Beijing and the surroundings.
Constructed near the same time, in 1420 AD, the Temple of Heaven covers 270 acres and is the largest religious building in China. Today, thanks to the relaxing of religious repression, visitors can see this magnificent work of architecture and envision the train of emperors who have used it over the centuries.
Beijing has much more than religious temples, however, in which to find a peaceful atmosphere. The park at Yiheyuan is a 290-acre retreat, where visitors can wander through pavilions and over bridges near the enormous lake. Sit a while and sip tea at one of the many tea-houses there or stroll along one of the many tree-lined paths.
Most will want to visit the now-infamous Tiananmen Square, the largest open square in the world. It can easily accommodate over one million people, provided they don't have to share space with tanks.
Be sure to take at least half a day and visit the equally famous Beijing Zoo. Home to nearly 600 species, the pandas may be the most well known, but they're far from the most exotic. The over 6,000 animals housed there are drawn from all over the country and many parts of the world.
Spring or Fall is probably the best time to visit - Beijing can be quite cold in the winter and summers are often uncomfortably hot. But anytime of year you visit, there will be sites and sights galore worth seeing.