10 Things to Do in Beijing in Winter

Low temperatures in the Chinese capital invite you to enjoy the snow, festivals and hot meals, among many other winter activities.

Lorena Morales

Lorena Morales

9 min read

10 Things to Do in Beijing in Winter

Winter in Beijing | ©Peter Moore

Beijing, a city with a large population, is visited by many travellers. If you go in winter, it's an ideal time to visit tourist attractions such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and even the Great Wall of China.

Winter is also ideal for ice skating, skiing or snowboarding; attending incredible ice sculpture festivals; savouring the most delicious hot dishes or having fun at New Year's Eve celebrations. So, if you're planning to visit Beijing in winter, you'll no doubt be amazed by all there is to discover in and around the city. Are you up for it?

1. Taste the best dishes in Beijing in an original way, with a tuk tuk tour

Tangyuan| ©Alpha
Tangyuan| ©Alpha

The cold weather invites us to eat hot dishes that comfort us and charge us with energy. That's why winter is the best time to book a gastronomic tour in a tuk tuk and try the typical seasonal dishes.

Among the most popular Chinese dishes perfect for winter are:

  • Hot pot, which is a spicy broth with various ingredients such as vegetables, tofu, dumplings, eggs, noodles, meat and even seafood. It is served in a large bowl that is shared by everyone at the table. In many restaurants you can select the ingredients and watch them being cooked.
  • Tangyuan, a sweet soup with rice flour dumplings, is prepared to celebrate the winter solstice, New Year or Lantern Festival. These balls are made by hand and can be filled with various ingredients such as dates, almonds, peanuts or walnuts. They can also be made with savoury ingredients such as meat or vegetables.

Book a gastronomic tuk tuk tour

2. Visit Tiananmen Square

Through the Tiananmen Gate| ©Shande Villa
Through the Tiananmen Gate| ©Shande Villa

Tiananmen Square is one of the largest squares in the world. It is also visited almost all year round, so it is ideal to visit in winter when there are fewer tourists.

There is a lot to see in Tiananmen Square, as it is where the People's Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949, and where many events of historical importance have taken place. It is next to the Forbidden City, so it is common to visit them together on a day trip to Beijing. It is also guarded and you have to present your passport and show your bags to enter.

If you want to see it in detail, I recommend you book the Tiananmen Square tour. In the square you will be able to see emblematic buildings:

  • The National Museum of China, one of the most important in the world.
  • The Tiananmen Gate, where the People's Republic of China was proclaimed.
  • The Monument to the People's Heroes, commemorating the revolutionary struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • The Great Hall of the People.
  • The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, where his embalmed body lies and people bring him offerings.

Book the Tiananmen Square Tour

3. Enjoy the winter scenery of the Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China in winter| ©tacowitte
Great Wall of China in winter| ©tacowitte

Winter is a good time to book a tour to the Great Wall, proclaimed one of the 7 wonders of the world, as the snow will certainly add a special charm to the surrounding landscape. Besides, it won't be as crowded as it is in spring or summer in Beijing.

There are different sections of the wall that you can visit, depending on your fitness level or how far you want to walk. In winter, low-difficulty tours such as Mutianyu or Badaling are more suitable for children and the elderly. Intermediate difficulty routes are Simatai and Jinshanling (10 km), while Jiankou is for more trained people.

All sections of the Great Wall are interesting, i.e. there is no one better than the other. As for how to get to the Great Wall of China, you can go by bus or underground in about 2 hours, book a bus transfer to the Great Wall of China or book a tour, whichever is more convenient and comfortable at this time of the year.

Book a Great Wall Tour

4. Take a leisurely tour of the Forbidden City

Forbidden City| ©cattan2011
Forbidden City| ©cattan2011

The Forbidden City is a palace complex of some 114 palaces and buildings, from where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties ruled between the 15th and 20th centuries. Inside, in addition to the unique architecture of the palaces, you can see sculptures, reliefs, gardens, jewellery, paintings and ceramics that will leave you in awe.

In this complex everything has a symbolic meaning or is related to Feng Shui, which on a quick visit will probably escape you. That's why winter is one of the best times to visit Beijing and get to know the secrets of these sites in detail. The site covers about 72 hectares, so it will take you several hours to walk around it. My recommendation is to book the Forbidden City tour to make sure you don't miss any of the details.

There are places to eat and buy drinks, although prices may seem a little higher than outside the complex. Remember to bring your passport and book your ticket to the Forbidden City in advance. Some of the must-see sights of this historic complex are:

  • The moat with frozen water surrounding the City.
  • The Tiananmen Gate, where the People's Republic of China was proclaimed.
  • The carved marble staircase, on which reliefs of dragons and other mythological motifs have been carved.
  • The Imperial Yuhuyuan Garden, which covers about 7000 m2 with artificial hills, terraces, halls, temples and flowers.
  • The Hall of Supreme Harmony, the most important hall in the Forbidden City, where important events such as the proclamation of the emperors or the New Year were held.
  • The Treasure Gallery: here you can see jewels, crowns and other precious objects belonging to the emperors.
  • The Nine Dragons Wall, which is about 30 metres long.

Book the Forbidden City Tour

5. Discover Beijing's main temples and palaces.

Temple of Heaven| ©m w
Temple of Heaven| ©m w

Beijing is a city famous for its temples and palaces full of symbolism, which are undoubtedly among the best options to enjoy in winter, when you'll find more locals than tourists and you can tour them at your leisure. Some of Beijing's best temples include:

Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is one of the most important temples in China, which was a place of prayer for the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is located only 5 km from the centre of Beijing. It is inside a park of about 273 hectares, so it will take you some time to walk around it. Inside, don't miss the Circular Altar, the Hall of Harvest Prayer, the Emperor's Vault and the Fasting Palace, among others.

  • Location: 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng, Beijing, China.
  • Hours: Daily from 6:30am to 10pm from November to March. Attractions such as the Prayer Hall and Echo Wall open at 8am and close at 5pm. Closed on Mondays.
  • Entry fee: General admission per person is around €2 from November to March). Admission to the attractions is around €1-2 per attraction.
  • Recommendations: carry your passport to get in.

Temple of the Lama or Yonghe Temple

The Lama Temple is one of the most famous Tibetan Buddhist temples outside Tibet, where you can see monks in robes and people lighting incense and praying, as it is an active Buddhist monastery. If you book the Lama Temple tour you will see the world's largest Buddha statue, 18 metres high. Close to the temple is an area of hutongs, traditional Chinese neighbourhoods, where you can see how the locals live and browse some of the shops.

  • Location: 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng, Beijing, China.
  • Opening hours: daily from 9am to 4pm from November to March. Closed on Mondays.
  • Entry fee: General admission per person is around €2 from November to March.
  • Recommendations: Passport required for entry.

Book the Lama Temple tour

6. Have fun at the Winter Festivals

Lantern Festival| ©William Leonard
Lantern Festival| ©William Leonard

If you visit the city in winter, and after taking some of the best tours in Beijing, you will have the chance to attend different festivals, many of them related to ice and snow. Here is a selection of some of the most interesting ones, so you can choose the one you like best.

  • Lantern Festival, or Lantern Festival: This takes place in February, on the occasion of the Lunar New Year. It takes place on the first full moon of the lunar year and ushers in spring. It is a tradition that began in 206 BC, initiated by the Ming emperor of Han. During the festival, houses, shops, parks and streets are decorated with coloured lanterns with a riddle written on them, and if a person solves the riddle they can win a prize. There are also dance performances, parades, fairs, and there may be fireworks shows.
  • Longqing Ice and Snow Lantern Festival: Held in January and February every year in Longqing, 85km from Beijing. There you can see numerous colourful lanterns and ice sculptures that will amaze you, as well as trees decorated with lights. Entrance to the Ice Lantern Festival costs around €25. A very interesting option, but further away from Beijing (5 hours by car), is the Harbin Ice Festival, in which sculptors from all over the world participate and create true works of art. It is held during the month of January.
  • Bird's Nest Ice and Snow Festival: During the month of January, the Beijing National Stadium turns into a huge ice and snow rink and offers various activities such as ice skating, skiing on an artificial hill, ice hockey and snow park. Admission to the Bird's Nest Festival costs around €15.

7. Ice skating on the frozen lakes

Ice skating on frozen lakes| ©cligste
Ice skating on frozen lakes| ©cligste

When temperatures drop below freezing, Beijing's lakes turn into ice-skating rinks that are perfect for the whole family to enjoy. On these rinks you can not only skate on traditional skates, but also ride bicycles on rails or electric cars, and glide on chairs on rails.

A favourite skating spot is Kunming Lake, Beijing's largest lake, which is surrounded by gardens and palaces, including the unmissable Summer Palace. Also popular is Houhai Lake, which is located in the centre of Beijing, in an area where princes and nobles built their mansions.

8. Celebrate the New Year in China

New Year Celebration| ©Frühtau
New Year Celebration| ©Frühtau

The Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first six days of the lunar calendar, which is usually during the month of January. The way you start determines how the rest of the year will go, so they perform cleansings and make offerings to their ancestors. They also gather to eat traditional foods such as Chinese ravioli, fish or niangao, a rice flour cake. It is customary to give money in decorated red envelopes, especially to children.

There are also many festivals in Beijing at this time of year, such as the Lantern Festival, where you'll see colourful lanterns all over the city, and temple fairs, where people go to pray with incense. Among these, the Ditan Temple, Changdian Temple and Dongyue Temple are very popular and take place between 9am and 4pm approximately.

There are also street celebrations, such as the traditional dragon and lion dance, parades and art shows, and craft and food fairs, especially sweets. As for fireworks, they have been banned on several occasions due to the environmental pollution they generate, but they can be seen around the city.

9. Skiing and snowboarding near Beijing

Snowboarding| ©Visit Almaty
Snowboarding| ©Visit Almaty

There are numerous ski resorts near Beijing with slopes of varying difficulty where you can practice snow sports and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The slopes have been extended for the 2022 Winter Olympics, so there are options for all levels.

One of the main ski resorts is Beijing Huaibei, 80km from Beijing, which is very close to the Great Wall of China, so the views are great. In addition to its 4.5km of slopes, this ski resort is home to the world's highest cable car at 1200m.

Also in Chongli, 3 hours from Beijing, there are several modern ski resorts such as Fulong Four Seasons Town, with 37 slopes, and Wanlong, with 32 slopes.

10. See the Taoyman Xiangu frozen waterfalls

Frozen waterfall| ©ilesour
Frozen waterfall| ©ilesour

As you can see, there are plenty of things to see and do in Beijing. To end this list, in Miyun County, about 100km from Beijing, is Taoyuan Fairy Valley, a forest with ponds, lakes, springs and a 50-metre-high waterfall that freeze over in winter, offering an unmissable ice landscape with caves and sculpted shapes that only cold temperatures can create.

In addition to viewing the winter scenery, many people visit this site for ice climbing at Taoyuan Waterfall, which offers varying levels of difficulty. The valley is also home to the Longquan Waterfall, which is more suitable for beginners and is about 20 metres high.