no alt text

Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 26 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Thomas O’Malley

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.

Don’t miss

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is an icon of Beijing, with its blue-tiled roof supported by enormous wooden pillars. It was first constructed in 1420; the present edition dates to 1890, rebuilt after a lightning strike.

Surrounding the site, groves of cypress trees draw locals who come to exercise, play musical instruments, and perform tai chi and other martial arts.

While you’re there

A popular exercise spot for locals, the Temple of Heaven has what amounts to an outdoor municipal gym in the northeast of the complex, where you’ll see sprightly pensioners working out, and even spinning on gymnastics bars.

Just outside the Temple of Heaven’s east gate is the Pearl Market, a mall-like shopping mecca set up for souvenirs, silk scarfs and cultured pearls, and boasting a great little food court on the lower level.

Price from: £2
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Beijing’s subway is the easiest way to get to the Temple of Heaven, with stations at both the east and west gates. Most visitors enter at the east gate via Tiantan Dongmen station (Line 5).

The functions of the Temple of Heaven were unusual and merit considerable explanation, so having a knowledgeable tour guide would be worthwhile. An audio guide is available at the main entrance – you’ll need 50 yuan in cash for the deposit.

When to do it

The complex is open all year round, seven days a week.

Try to visit as early as possible to avoid the crowds. The surrounding park actually opens at 6am, two hours before the main site itself, and is a great time to see the locals in their element.

Weekend afternoons and public holidays see tour group hordes descend on one of China’s most revered historic sites. Avoid if at all possible.

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience



Close up of rooftops of the Beautiful red and blue coloured Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Beijing

China’s vibrant capital captives with its unique melding of ancient wonders, bustling hutongs and modern architecture – the food ain’t bad either. Top of the bill are the Forbidden City, the marvellous palace of China’s greatest Emperors – and the extraordinary Great Wall of China.

Round-ups that include this experience

100 World’s greatest historic buildings

The great civilisations of the past have left a legacy of constructions that still stand out and inspire. Built without the wonders of 20th-century technology, many are also monumental feats of engineering; others offer such grace and beauty, that they’ll literally take your breath away.