Information on the spatiotemporal characteristics of Beijing's urban–rural near-surface air temperature difference, known as the canopy layer urban heat island (UHI), is important for future urban climate management strategies. This paper investigates the variation of near-surface air temperatures within Beijing at a neighbourhood-scale resolution (∼ 100 m) during winter 2016 and summer 2017. We perform simulations using the urban climate component of the ADMS-Urban model with land surface parameters derived from both local climate zone classifications and OpenStreetMap land use information. Through sensitivity simulations, the relative impacts of surface properties and anthropogenic heat emissions on the temporal variation of Beijing's UHI are quantified. Measured UHI intensities between central Beijing (Institute of Atmospheric Physics) and a rural site (Pinggu) during the Atmospheric Pollution and Human Health in a Chinese Megacity (APHH-China) campaigns, peak during the evening at ∼ 4.5 ∘C in both seasons. In winter, the nocturnal UHI is dominated by anthropogenic heat emissions but is underestimated by the model. Higher-resolution anthropogenic heat emissions may capture the effects of local sources (e.g. residential buildings and adjacent major roads). In summer, evening UHI intensities are underestimated, especially during heatwaves. The inability to fully replicate the prolonged release of heat stored in the urban fabric may explain this. Observed negative daytime UHI intensities in summer are more successfully captured when surface moisture levels in central Beijing are increased. However, the spatial correlation between simulated air temperatures and satellite-derived land surface temperatures is stronger with a lower urban moisture scenario. This result suggests that near-surface air temperatures at the urban meteorological site are likely influenced by fine-scale green spaces that are unresolved by the available land cover data and demonstrates the expected differences between surface and air temperatures related to canopy layer advection. This study lays the foundations for future studies of heat-related health risks and UHI mitigation strategies across Beijing and other megacities.