The Great Wall

Skip the most popular section, Badaling and try scenic Mutianyu to enjoy a less crowded view of the Great Wall. You can also take a cheap train to Jinshanling and sleep overnight in the nearby village to get up at 3am and walk up the wall in time to watch the sunrise. Or just spend the night on top of the wall.

Summer Palace

Summer Palace is one of the best places to go during a hot summer day. Rent a boat and relax out on the lake. There’s a cool breeze from the water and in the middle of the lake it’s quite peaceful and serene. Money saving tip: If you’re planning to stay in Beijing for over a year, you can get a very cheap year-round ticket from the middle until the end of December. It can be purchased at any of the main parks.

Jingshan Park

Forget the picture of you and Mao in front of the Forbidden City. The best view of the forbidden-no-more city is from the top of Jingshan park. It takes only a few minutes to climb to the top of the hill and snap a great picture of the whole city.

Houhai

Also quite well known, Houhai is a great place for exercise, partying or just enjoying the outdoors. What most people don’t know is that there are some hidden hutongs on the southwest side of Houhai that are actually very quiet and overlooked by tourists. Spend some time wandering through the maze and imagining what ancient Beijing was really like.

Beida

Also known as the Harvard of Asia, Beijing University aka Beida is a lovely campus. One of your first impressions of the university will be of the Chinese tourists standing outside the front gates proving they were there. Make sure to snap your picture there as well.

Nanluoguxiang

This pedestrian street in the center of town takes only a few minutes to walk through, but there are all sorts of interesting things to see, buy and eat. Even Chinese President Xi has visited this famous street.

Baihua Mountain

If you want to tell everyone you know that you climbed the highest mountain surrounding Beijing, you’ll have to climb Baihua. Located in the far west part of town, it is almost 2000m above sea level. While you’re in the area you can also climb Baihua’s shorter sister, Huangcaoliang Mountain. The mountain is known for having over 700 different kinds of plants so you’ll be getting lots of oxygen during your climb.

Sanlitun

After a full day exploring Beijing, you’ll want to relax at some of the best bars and clubs in town, which are located in the middle of the city near Sanlitun. Sanlitun is also a great place to do some shopping and there are plenty of restauarants in the area. It also boasts the largest Adidas store in the world.

Caochangdi District

Caochangdi District is Beijing’s newest art mecca. Although it’s a pretty long ride from the center of town, buses 402, 418, 688, 909, 955, and 973 will all get you there. If you’re looking for artistic inspiration, grab a cab or hop on a bus and get off at either the Caochangdi stop or the Nangao stop.

Beijing Olympic Area

The Beijing Olympics may have ended almost a decade ago, but the Olympic park is still a great place to hang out with friends and have a picnic surrounded by some cool architecture, flowers and greenery. The park has tons of wide open pavement and grassy areas for rollerblading, jogging, Frisbee and any number of other sports and activities.