Tap water, watermelons, bees and more
You've done your trips to the and the and, sure, they were great, but maybe just a little bit passé. Luckily, the city is home to a whole host of diverse and niche historical establishments that commemorate and celebrate things you didn't even think could be commemorated and celebrated.
Beijing Folk Custom Museum
The Beijing Folk Custom Museum unobtrusively surrounds the main courtyard of the Daoist Dongyue Temple. Walk along the walls for wax displays of Taoist customs regarding earthly conduct and the netherworld (be warned: punishments for evildoers can be a little graphic). Make your way through the overpowering aroma of incense to admire the towering stone tablets that flank the main temple. These white sculptures were marked by famous poets, scribes and even the emperor hundreds of years ago. Two smaller courtyards in the back house displays of old gate posts, embroidery and other knickknacks labelled entirely in Chinese. If you want to forget the bustle of Beijing for a while longer, they’re worth a leisurely stroll.
Don't missThe tablet forest in the main courtyard.
Estimated timeOne hour.
English provisionsNot comprehensive; limited labelling.
Beijing Folk Custom Museum (北京风俗博物馆) Inside Dongyue Temple, 141 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang district (6551 0151).
10am-4pm Tue-Sun. Admission: 10RMB.
Beijing Police Museum
Nothing to do with Sting, this is actually a masterclass in subtle agitprop, full of pictures of smiling coppers saving lives. The museum gives a full history of the city’s police from the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) to the present day, using old uniforms, official papers and so on. Some halls document more prosaic aspects, such as dog registration and vehicle licence plates – including plates for horse-drawn carts as late as the 1980s.
Don’t missThe many weapons and firearms, including gold-plated pistols.
Estimated timeOne to two hours.
Beijing Police Museum (北京差人博物馆)36 Dongjiaomin Xiang, Dongcheng district (8522 5018).
9am-4pm Tue-Sun. Admission: Free (ID required).
Beijing Taxation Museum
Beijing’s tribute to all things taxing used to have pride of place next to the Forbidden City, but in 2015 it was booted out to the Fourth Ring Road, and is now next to nothing in particular.
If you do decide to head out there, expect a pleasant mix of the beguiling and banal. Exhibits in the former category include ancient abacuses and iterations of cash through the ages, featuring bucolic scenes aplenty. Falling potentially in the latter category to all but the most niche of tax enthusiasts, one section of the museum is devoted to the evolution of the fapiao.
Nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and good times at the Beijing Taxation Museum. That might not be exactly spot on, but at least a trip here is, perhaps ironically, completely free.
Don't missThe tribute to the taxes of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, complete with lunch vouchers.
Estimated time40 minutes.
English provisionsNo service or translation provided.
Beijing Taxation Museum (北京税务博物馆) 1 Beisihuan Dong Lu, Chaoyang district (8429 9713).
9.30am-4.30pm Tue-Fri. Admission: Free (ID required).
Beijing Waterworks Museum
Moisture is the essence of water, and water is the essence of one of Beijing’s most offbeat museum experiences. Formerly known, nay, famed as the Beijing Museum of Tap Water (in a city not exactly famed for the stuff), this place has in recent years moved home and upgraded, to become the more appropriately named Waterworks Museum. The museum shows off the history of the city’s underground piping systems and regional drought in a ritzier fashion than humankind has ever seen, with enough models, photos, diagrams, water meters and other instruments to bring out the latent civil engineer in anyone.
Don't missThe entire wall dedicated to images of the current president inspecting Beijing tap water samples. Guessing that he didn’t drink it, though.
Estimated timeOne hour.
English provisionsAll in Chinese, except for a few headers.
Beijing Waterworks Museum (北京自来水博物馆)3 Xiangheyuan Jie, Dongcheng district (6465 0787).
9am-4pm Wed-Sun. Admission: 5RMB.
China Bee Museum
Tucked away in the northwest corner of the Beijing Botanical Garden is a small museum that tells you everything you need to know – and perhaps a little bit more – about honey bees. The five small rooms are full of floor-to-ceiling info boards (mostly in Mandarin) with everything from their origins, evolution and habitat to a detailed explanation of beeswax and the honey production processes. It closes for winter, so make the most of the summer months to get your buzz on.
Don't missThe exhibition of real bee hives and honeycombs.
Estimated time30 minutes for the museum itself; up to three hours with the surrounding gardens.
English provisions English headers and brief intros, but mostly in Mandarin.
China Bee Museum (我国蜂蜜博物馆)Beijing Botanical Garden (inside the Institute of Apiculture), 1 Xiangshan Bei Gou, Haidian district.
8.30am-4.30pm daily; closed for winter (mid-November to mid-March). Admission: Free.
China National Post and Postage Stamp Museum
The temporary nature of its stamp exhibitions mean that budding philatelists may be left a little wanting at the collection here, but for postal history enthusiasts, it's jackpot time: from explanations of early forms of distance communication, to scale models of primitive, camel-based kuaidi sorting stations, onto uniforms and offices since China Post’s official founding in 1896, this one’s got it all. Jokes aside, it’s actually rather interesting, and a decent reminder of how we take communication for granted in our age of instant messaging and lightning parcel delivery.
Don't missBeijing's most incongruous museum display, on the fourth floor: a peephole onto a massive scale model of penguins atop an iceberg. Why? We’re still unsure.
Estimated timeOne hour.
English provisionsEnglish titles only.
China National Post and Postage Stamp Museum (我国邮政邮票博物馆)Building D, 6 Gongyuan Xi Jie, Dongcheng district (6521 3894).
9am-4pm (last entry 3pm) Tue-Sun. Admission: Free (ID required).
China Tank Museum
For a place that glorifies heavy artillery, there is something surprisingly peaceful about the Tank Museum, owing to its setting near the surrounding Yanshan Mountains. Skip the sparse entrance building and stroll around the expansive courtyard with its 40-plus tanks – all with English-language signage. Most are Chinese-designed and were used in combat during the Korean and Vietnam wars. It’s definitely worth a visit, whether you love nothing more than a good tank or you’re just looking for some fresh air.
Don't missThe central courtyard, filled with tanks a-plenty.
Estimated timeTwo hours.
English provisionsSignage is good and fairly comprehensive.
China Tank Museum (我国坦克博物馆)Yangfang Zhen (northwest corner), Changping district.
8.30am-5pm Tue-Sun; 8.30am-4pm (winter). Admission: 18RMB.
China Watermelon Museum
There’s nothing seedy about the Watermelon Museum of China. In fact, it’s a modern, well-laid-out shrine to China’s favourite summer fruit. The museum is filled with facts about cultivation, breeding technology, distribution and more. Unsurprisingly it is not geared towards foreigners, so be prepared to rely on pictures for information – although, really, unless you have a deep-rooted interest in watermelon culture, this place is all about the novelty.
Don't missThe unintentionally hilarious statues in the sculpture garden.
Estimated timeTwo hours.
China Watermelon Museum (我国西瓜博物馆) Inside Zhengfu Dayuan Penggezhuangzhen, Daxing district (8928 1181).
8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri. Admission: 20RMB.
Foreign sports stars have poured into China over the last decade, but few have known the admiration, accolades, statues, permanent residency, range of commemorative stamps, dedicated museum, loosely biographical musical and then feature film that former NBA star Stephon Marbury can now boast.
Opened in 2015 after the baller guided the Beijing Ducks to a third CBA championship, Marbury’s Home tells his story from birth to Chinese superstardom via college and the NBA, with various jerseys, trophies and even a letter from Bill Clinton on show.
After his switch to city rivals Beijing Fly Dragon at the end of the 2017 season, you'd think they might have burnt the place to the ground, but it’s still standing proud, and remains one of Beijing’s most amusing novelty museums. All it took was a simple swap of the jersey on the life-sized Marbury waxwork.
Don't missThe selfie-ready, slightly cross-eyed waxwork of Marbury.
Estimated time20 minutes.
English provisions Translations are solid and comprehensive.
Marbury's Home (马布里之家) China Post flagship store, 18 Jianguomennei Dajie, Dongcheng district.
9am-6pm Mon-Fri. Admission: Free.
Red Star Erguotou Museum
The Red Star Erguotou Museum – way up in Huairou district – is worth the journey. Incredibly clean and well-maintained, the entire complex is a factory that's still used to distil vats and vats of Erguotou – a brand of the throat-burning clear spirit, baijiu. At the entrance, a (Mandarin-speaking) guide greets you and takes you on a journey through Erguotou’s brewing process and extensive history, and even allows you to sample a bit (if you can handle it). There is also, inexplicably, a kids’ funhouse.
Don't miss An obscure collection of 1950s photographs of Mao.
Estimated timeGuided tours last 30 mins.
English provisions None.
Red Star Erguotou Museum (北京二锅头酒博物馆) 1 Hongxing Lu, Huairou district (5120 2902).
8.30am-4.30pm daily. Admission: Free (reservation required).
For more great museums in Beijing, hit 'Read more' below.
You might have missed
More from Time Out Beijing
Stay up to date in Beijing