Bucketlist Travels logo

Travel bucket list idea:

Beijing’s best temples and shrines

  • Beijing, China

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 17 April, 2024

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, the three ancient belief systems of China, each have their own temple sites in Beijing.

At White Cloud Temple you might see grey-robed Taoist monks with their hair gathered in topknots, while at the Lama Temple, Buddhist acolytes in saffron-hued robes come and go between the incense-shrouded halls. The Confucius Temple, being more a memorial than a place of worship, has dozens of stone stelae inscribed with the names of famous scholars.

All three styles are architecturally similar, comprising a symmetrical series of halls and courtyards rising in importance the deeper one moves into the temple complex.

There are also many Islamic Chinese in Beijing; the Niujie Mosque dates back 1,000 years and is the city’s largest.

Despite its name, the Temple of Heaven isn’t a temple but an imperial altar used for esoteric state sacrifices, such as when the emperor would ask heaven for good harvests.

Who to go with: tour operators

9

Azure Clouds Temple

  • Beijing, China

front entrance to Azure-Clouds-Temple

Experience

This Buddhist temple complex enjoys a sublime hillside setting at the Fragrant Hills. The Diamond Throne Pagoda at the rear is a magnificent showpiece, while the unusual Hall of Arhats contains 500 near life-size sculptures of Buddhist disciples.

Good for age: 18+

Zhihua Temple

  • Beijing, China

No Image Available for this listing

Experience

Built to honour a corrupt and powerful eunuch, this is Beijing’s best-preserved Ming dynasty temple. The walls of the remarkable Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall are filled from floor to ceiling with tiny niches, each housing an effigy of Buddha.

Good for age: 18+

Niujie Mosque

  • Beijing, China

front entrance to Niujie Mosque

Experience

Islam came to China around the tenth century AD; this mosque is Beijing’s oldest, dating to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Architecturally it resembles a traditional Chinese temple, but for that fact that it faces west rather than the customary south.

Good for age: 18+

  • Beijing, China

Visitors at The Lama Temple Yonghe Lamasery in Beijing, China.It's one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.

Bucket List Experience

Lama Temple

One of Beijing’s most spectacular historic sights, the Lama Temple started out as a grand imperial residence before being converted to a lamasery for Tibetan Buddhists in 1744.

During the Qing Dynasty, it became one of the most important religious sites in China, tasked with determining the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.

The palace-like site unfolds symmetrically through a series of ornamental halls, courtyards and pavilions to its incense-shrouded finale, an 18m tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single trunk of Tibetan sandalwood.

Good for age: 18+

Temple of Confucius

  • Beijing, China

front entrance to Confucius-Temple

Experience

Carved tortoise-like beasts heave enormous stone slabs on their backs at this grand temple complex honouring China’s foremost spiritual thinker, the great sage Confucius. The attached Guozijian (Imperial College) is where scholars of old studied for their civil service exams.

Good for age: 18+

Five Pagoda Temple

  • Beijing, China

front entrance to Wuta Temple

Experience

An India-inspired temple along the once-royal waterway between the capital and the Summer Palace, the Wuta (Five Pagodas) is a remarkable piece of architecture. The temple grounds are also home to a fascinating museum of ancient Chinese stonemasonry.

Good for age: 18+

Miaoying Temple

  • Beijing, China

front entrance to White Dagoba Temple

Experience

Dating back to the reign of Kublai Khan, this peaceful Buddhist temple is crowned with an urn-shaped, 51-metre tall dagoba that soars photogenically over the surrounding hutong neighbourhood, one of the city’s best for strolling.

Good for age: 18+

White Cloud Temple

  • Beijing, China

front entrance to White-Cloud-Temple in Beijing

Experience

This maze of halls and shrines is still tended by Taoist monks. Its 19 separate chambers are each dedicated to a particular deity, such as the God of Wealth, or the Jade Emperor.

Good for age: 18+

  • Beijing, China

Beautiful red and blue coloured Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Beijing

Bucket List Experience

Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is unlike any other temple in China. In fact, it’s not really a temple at all but a richly symbolic event space of sorts, where the emperor, accompanied by a grand entourage, would perform arcane rites twice a year to pray for heaven’s blessing.

Ceremonies took place upon the open-air Round Altar, next to the Imperial Vault of Heaven where the spirit tablets of the gods were kept. A 360m-long paved walkway connects to the splendid centrepiece, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Surrounded by sculpted parkland, the layout of the complex was designed to reflect Chinese cosmology and symbolise the relationship between heaven and earth.

Adult price: £2

Good for age: 13+

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Many of Beijing’s temples are free to enter, but you might be asked to show your passport so be sure to have it with you. Generally, temples in Beijing welcome visitors during opening hours.

There is no specific dress code, but visitors should avoid talking or taking photographs within the temple halls and buildings themselves.

Most temples don’t have English-speaking guides, and often captions on the information boards are Chinese only, so you might consider organising your own guide for the day if you plan on checking out several sites and delving deeper into Chinese spirituality. Local tour operator Bespoke Travel Company is a good source of well-informed guides.

When to do it

Beijing temples are generally open every day of the year.

A handful of temples and shrines host fairs during the first few days of Chinese New Year, with sideshows and cultural performances. Dongyue Temple, White Clouds Temple and Ditan (Altar of the Earth) Park are three to check out, but be prepared for crowds.

During prayer times, non-Muslims are unable to enter Niu Jie Mosque.

Who to go with: organised tours

3

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

  • Beijing

This private 4-hour walking tour showcases the beauty, culture and tradition of Beijing's two most iconic temples and followed by a dim sum meal. You can choose to have the morning start to have a lunch or afternoon start to have dinner.Follow your expert guide and learn about the architecture, beliefs and local heritage as you explore two temples as well as the imperial college. Enjoy the imperial performance inside the Imperial College.Enjoy the personalized attention from your guide on this private tour with your family and friends. A tasty Dim Sum lunch or dinner is inclusive.

Price $118

Min age 0

Rating 4.85 / 5 [14 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Website >
  • Beijing

Explore the famous religious attractions Temple of Heaven and Lama Temple in Beijing City. From this 4-hour private walking tour, you will learn about the real insight into city life. This tour focus on history, culture, and tradition customs. You can use public transportation to do this tour or tour with a private transfer.

Price $95

Min age 0

Rating 5 / 5 [7 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Website >
  • Beijing

This 4-hour morning tour combine eating and sightseeing.Start your day with a delicious Dim Sum in the local nice restaurant. Follow your expert guide to walk along the Hutong allay and Beijing's two most iconic temples to learn about the architecture, beliefs and local heritage. The tour also covers the imperial college where you will enjoy an imperial performance. Enjoy the personalized attention from your guide on this private tour with your family and friends.

Price $118

Min age 0

Rating 5 / 5 [6 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Website >