Beijing is rich in museums that excel in preserving and explaining China’s vast and diverse history. The institutions range from archeological ruins to celebrations of human modernity, and everything in between. It would be impossible to visit all of them in one trip, so here is our top 10 list. It’s worth noting that most museums require you to show your passport.
Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition Hall
Get oriented at the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, located right next to Tiananmen Square. This behemoth of a museum explains the development of the capital from a maze of ancient alleyways to the megatron of motorways that it is today.
National Museum of China
The scale and scope of the National Museum is magnificent. We’re talking 200,000 square meters, 5,000 years of history, and over one million priceless artifacts. There is more here than can be appreciated in a single visit so it’s best to narrow your focus; the pre-historic relics are especially fascinating, with the oldest being the 1.7-million-year-old remains of Yuanmou Man. The museum hosts major international exhibitions which are always worth checking out.
Another museum that celebrates Beijing, the Capital Museum does a good job tying together multiple threads of history, culture, and geography. The collection of porcelain and jade pieces on display is a paean to the heights of human craftsmanship.
Chinese Museum of Women and Children
Housed in a strikingly modern building on a nondescript block of older office buildings, the Chinese Museum of Women and Children is home to a marvelous collection of women’s art and maternal artifacts from throughout Chinese history. Each of the 5 floors examines different aspects of women and children in society and how roles have shifted and evolved. The displays of traditional ethnic minority costumes are stunning.
Zhoukoudian Peking Man SiteT
he Peking Man Site is one of Beijing’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and of one of the earliest examples of homo erectus. The originals Peking Man fossils suspiciously vanished at the height of China’s civil war, but the replicas are very good and the prehistoric tools are all genuine. The best bit is exploring the ancient caves and excavation sites where the Peking Men and Women hung out 700,000 years ago.
Beijing Museum of Lost Love
Inspired by the original museum of heartbreak in Zagreb, Croatia, the curators of this out-of-the-way museum have been collecting physical remnants of star-crossed relationships since 2015. Examples of the stuff of broken hearts include teddy bears, train tickets, mobile phones and of course, love letters. The collection is based on donations, and each artifact includes a note from the original owner explaining the story behind it. The variety of pieces on display is in itself thought-provoking, a little wonderful, and a little sad.
Beijing Classic Car Museum
You’ll definitely want to hire a (probably not so classic) car to get out to the city’s suburbs for this museum. But the journey is worth it for what is essentially the private collection of dedicated enthusiast Luo Wenyou. The museum showcases pristine examples of Chinese vehicular technology, as well as less pristine relics that bear the scars of the Cultural Revolution. The star of the show is a 1975 limo that was built for Chairman Mao, although he died before ever being able to ride in it.
Museum of Ethnic Costumes
Many don’t realize that China is home to 56 different ethnic minorities, each with their own language, customs, history, and styles of dress. This museum offers insight into the fascinating diversity of the people of Chinese, plus it’s a fashion enthusiast’s dream. The Historic photographs are fascinating.
Beijing Opera Museum
The 200-year-old Huguang Guild Hall still puts on shows of Beijing’s most famous cultural export, the frighteningly shrill and endlessly fascinating Peking Opera. The small museum pays homage to the rich costumes, elaborate makeup, jaw-dropping acrobatics, and tales of betrayal and intrigue, as well as celebrating the stunning building it’s housed in. Shows are performed daily.
China Watermelon Museum
The futuristic Watermelon Museum is a must for anyone who loves wax watermelons, neon lights, and learning about the past, present, and future of watermelons. The English descriptions here are limited, but these over-the-top displays need no translation. There are some solid educational lessons here too, so you’ll likely walk away conversant in how watermelons are bred, farmed, and distributed around China.