It is worth it to get up early and watch what Beijingers do before breakfast in one of the city’s parks. Beijing’s largest is Tiantan, or Temple of Heaven Park, named after the Temple of Heaven complex one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. Many tourists skip exploring the park, which surrounds the temple, but neither should be missed.
Before visiting the temple complex watch people start the day practicing various forms of exercise and meditation including tai chi, water calligraphy and the more recent, less traditional ballroom dancing.
Near the temple entrance is a pavilion where enthusiastic crowds gather around singers performing traditional Chinese opera. In a wooded area near the pavilion I found musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments where passers by joined in and belted out a song or two before getting on with their day.
The park is also a popular meeting place for Beijing’s older generations. Men play dominos and other games. Bird lovers flock together holding cages containing their beloved pets. A national pastime, you’ll also see plenty of kite flyers.
Larger than the Forbidden City, it’s easy to get lost in the park, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still it’s a good idea to bring a map or a guidebook containing one.
The park is located in the southern part of the city in the Chongwen district and has several entrances. The easiest way to get there is by taxi which shouldn’t cost more than $4-5 from the city center.
The best time to see daily activities in full swing is 6:30-7 a.m. well before 8 a.m. when the temple complex opens. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There is an entrance fee or you can by an all inclusive ticket for the temple and park, which costs at most $4-5 during the high season. The temple complex closes at 6 p.m.