Built by the Yongle Emperor, the Ming Dynasty builder of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven (Tian tan) was a stage for important rituals performed by the emperor, or Son of Heaven. Chief among these were supplication to the heavens for a good harvest and the winter solstice ceremony, meant to ensure a favorable new year.
The temple buildings are rich in symbolic detail, including variations on the number nine, which represents the emperor; colored glazes that signify heaven and earth; and pillars that represent the months of the year, seasons, and time. There are also echo stones where you can stand to hear your voice reverberate and a circular echo wall that carries your whisper to the far side of the circle.
The UNESCO-listed Temple of Heaven ranks among Beijing’s most famous attractions and features on many city tours, along with the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square; some tours include the Great Wall of China. Those with a particular interest in the temple’s history can opt for a private tour to hear more about its rich spiritual symbolism. It’s also possible to combine a temple visit with a tai chi class in the surrounding park.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Temple of Heaven is a must-see for first-time visitors to Beijing.
- Many of the outdoor areas surrounding the temple are wheelchair accessible, but the only building accessible to wheelchairs is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
- Give yourself at least 90 minutes to tour the temple grounds.
- Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking over uneven surfaces.
How to Get There
The Temple of Heaven is located in the southern part of central Beijing. You can reach the temple on one of several public buses, or take subway Line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen.
When to Get There
The Temple of Heaven is open daily, but one of the best times to visit is early in the morning when locals show up to practice tai chi, sword fighting, or traditional Chinese dance. Later in the day, you’ll see groups of elderly Beijingers playing chess or cards in the shade of the park’s long corridor.
The area near Temple of Heaven park is packed with other worthwhile attractions. The Beijing Museum of Natural History is situated near the temple’s west gate, while the Hongqiao Pearl Market is just across the road from Tiantan Dongmen subway station. Taoranting Park, the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, and the Ming Dynasty City Wall Relics Park are also within easy walking distance.