On a daily basis, there is a flag raising ceremony on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing after sunrise. I am considering to go there in May, which means that the ceremony would start at around 5AM.

The ceremony is supposed to take about 15 minutes, so that it will be finished by 6 AM for sure.

I've a few questions regarding visiting this ceremony, which for now I combined in this single question.

  • Do I need to be there early to see anything?
  • The May 1st is a special day, will the ceremony be different, or more crowded?
  • Is there something interesting to do in the area right after 6AM?
  • 2
    Did you mean to put 1 AM?
    – DarkLightA
    Mar 31, 2013 at 22:54
  • 1
    I have visited Beijing many times and never done this because A) It is too early and B) It is something mostly only of interest to Chinese nationals. This definitely is not to say you shouldn't see it, just consider the relative impact it will have on your itinerary.
    – user5043
    Apr 1, 2013 at 10:51
  • @Andrew I did not decide completely whether I should go there, but I'd rather hear it from some-one that did go the ceremony :)
    – Bernhard
    Apr 1, 2013 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


China is notorious for having much heavier tourism during public holidays. I would expect much more people than the other days. Here is an image from the 2012 labor day flag raising: Here is an image from the 2012 labor day flag raising: This here is from the forbidden city 30th April 2012: This here is from the forbidden city 30th April 2012: And this here from the great wall May 1st: And this here from the great wall May 1st:

I would therefore strongly advise you NOT to go there before 4th of May. You will have a much better experience and waste much less time waiting longer in line than actually seeing something. I do not think sure the flag raising will be different that day though, it should take only 15 minutes, as you said

There is the forbidden city right next to it, but it opens 8:30. The large building in the background of the first image is the entrance to the city. The flag raising happens right in front of that. I would not be surprised if people would start lining up for entrance to the forbidden city right after the flag raising since it will take you more than 1.5 hours to get in anyhow during labor day. On a normal weekday, it should be a much shorter wait, specially if you arrive early.

Jingshan park opens at 6:00, so that might be the best option to visit first. On normal days you can see people practicing Tai Chi, social dance and lots of other stuff there, which is actually the best thing about this park. There are people practicing calligraphy with water on the stones, they might write your country name for you. If you stand there and take a picture, they are likely to start talking to you (but most likely in Chinese). I had a really great time there and the photo opportunities are all over the place. On labor day, if there is a major tourism flow, this might be even tricky since the local people might avoid the place too.

If you want to go to Mao's mausoleum, it opens at 8:00 am, please be aware that shorts or slippers are a no-go (but I guess early morning in May might be too cold for that anyhow). But more importantly, you cannot take bags or cameras inside. Photos are not allowed. If you do not have a place to store these (Car, tourguide etc), you are not able to go in! The lines in front of that even on a normal weekday will be at least 30 minutes. You can imagine how long it will take on labor day. Please note however that this is a walk-through visit. This speeds the line up to walking speed, but you are also not allowed to stop in front of the coffin. You walk past it in the crowd.

So the best schedule might be:

  1. Flag raising 6:00 - 6:20 (come 20 minutes early to get a a front-line spot)
  2. Jingshan Park (walking takes about 40 minutes) from 7:00 to 8:00 (plus walk back)
  3. Mao's Mausoleum (let's assume 30 minutes wait) 8:40 to 9:15
  4. Forbidden City (if you take your time, this can take 2-3 hours)

Of course, if you can catch a taxi instead of walking, you can be in most places more or less just when they open. Since you walk from Tiananmen square to the park and back to the same place, a taxi might be the better choice anyhow. There are multiple cafes and restaurants in the forbidden city to have some late breakfast. Around Tiananmen square and in the park this is a bit harder to find.

  • Thanks, good to know the forbidden city opens only at 8:30. Any shops in the area that open at a particular time? I it is sunny, then spending two hours in a park with a nice view seems survivable :)
    – Bernhard
    Apr 1, 2013 at 8:24
  • Shops in China generally rather open from 10:00am to 10:00pm. There might be some local small restaurants in the side streets that server breakfast, but would be surprised if they opened at 5:30 already. Regarding "survivable" might be a difficult point if 2000 other people want to see the same view from the same spot...
    – uncovery
    Apr 1, 2013 at 8:49
  • 2
    But more importantly, you cannot take bags or cameras inside. Photos are not allowed. If you do not have a place to store these (Car, tourguide etc), you are not able to go in! There's a locker room just across the road of the Mausoleum, especially setup for visitors of the Mausoleum. For a small fee you can leave your bag there. Apr 2, 2013 at 7:00
  • 1
    @BartArondson Thanks for this hint, good to know. And to leave it there before lining up in the queue probably. Anyhow, I will avoid the public holidays there :)
    – Bernhard
    Apr 2, 2013 at 7:50

I lived in Beijing for a couple months in 2008:

  1. Get there at least 20-30 minutes before sunrise, you don't need to be there much earlier but having a bit of extra padding won't hurt.

  2. I can't say for sure, but I don't think there will be much of a difference on International Workers Day.

  3. Visit the Forbidden City. It's just across the street from the square. I'd also recommend visiting Jingshan Park just to the north of the Forbidden City. There's a hill that you can get a great view of the Forbidden City from.

Forbidden city from Jingshan park (Public Domain Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gugun_panorama-2005-1.jpg)

  • The view is amazing. Is the park open at these times already?
    – Bernhard
    Apr 1, 2013 at 8:25
  • 1
    If you're early on Tiananmen Square anyways you could also queue up for the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. It opens at 08:00, but I remember there always was a waiting line of approx. 30 minutes. I found the mausoleum very impressive and surreal to see. Apr 1, 2013 at 11:29
  • Also every Sunday a lot of elderly people assemble in the Jingshan Park to dance traditional dances, sing, paint, and just socialise. It was a fun experience. Apr 1, 2013 at 11:32

There are public buses that depart for the Great Wall from Tienanmen Square, so you could watch the flag ceremony and then afterwards spend the rest of the early morning traveling to the Wall. This might be the most effective use of your time. (Beware of touts trying to get you to use their own private buses to the Great wall from Tienanmen Square, they are overpriced and often will not take you where you want to go).

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