It’s easy to be sceptical in Beijing. The chaos, pollution, traffic and often downright dangerous methods of doing things frequently cause the wide-eyed visitor to stare in disbelief and question when it will inevitably fall apart. Yet the city somehow manages to thrive, through its own bizarre methods.
Beijing is in a rush to modernise (as the 2008 Olympics showed), yet the city’s rich history remain ever-present in its temples and palaces, food, art and culture.
Beijing is the home of Chinese opera, which is completely different from its Western counterpart (relatively few old, obese prima donnas pretending to be nubile sex kittens, for starters). Atonal singing mixes with mime, dance, and acrobatics to magical effect, just as it’s done since the days of the Qing Dynasty. If you get the chance, take in a show at the Huguang Guild Hall or the Beijing National Grand Theatre.
For another blast from the past, discover the narrow alleys (hutongs) of Beijing to get a feel for ancient Chinese architecture and design. Many are now being demolished for the construction of new streets and buildings, so see them while you can. And then go either further back in time at the World Heritage-listed Forbidden City.
Where to Shop in Beijing
Shop ’til you drop. Not necessarily the first phrase that comes to mind with regard to Beijing. The capital of the People’s Republic of China has a lot going on, most visibly as the political and cultural nexus of a country that is home to 18.5% of humanity. We know Beijing is a vital global hub and premier alpha city. But is it a hotbed for conspicuous consumption? In a word:
It helps, undoubtedly, to have a municipal metro population in the 20 million persons range. Check. A relatively wealthy expat, merchant and politburo class is a good harbinger as well. Check. Then, of course, there is the fact that despite hikes in hourly wages, China is still factory to the world. Exports aside, a lot of goods (domestic and otherwise) funnel to the inimitable polestar of the nation.
Shanghai is Shanghai. Hong Kong is Hong Kong. The Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province is special. But do not think for a second that the home of icons like Tiananmen Square and the UNESCO World Heritage Forbidden City, as well as new stars like the National Centre for the Performing Arts and Bird’s Nest Stadium, is bereft of retail bliss. With that, discover where to shop in Beijing.
In Beijing you’ll find culture, innovation, chaos (and people!) at every corner. Prepare to be overwhelmed in the nicest possible way.
Beijing’s Top 10
10. Beijing Zoo Two words: giant pandas. (Plus 14,000 other animals and surprisingly picturesque grounds. Great for families.)
5. Fragrant Hills Park Spanning over 1.6 km², this Park is home to native flora, fauna and cultural artefacts.
9. Temple of Heaven During harvest moons, ‘ancient rites’ were performed here to ensure a bountiful crop. The mind boggles!
4. Lama Temple All Buddhas great and small. Seriously. There’s a lot of them.
8. National Stadium The 2008 Olympics took place here. A fine example of contemporary architecture.
3. Tiananmen Square The largest public square in the world, it was also the site of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre when mostly peaceful protestors were fired upon with live ammunition. It is estimated that thousands died. Is there even a plaque acknowledging that? No. Is it wise to ask a policeman why not? No.
7. Summer Palace Nestled in Kunming Lake, Summer Palace is China’s largest imperial garden. Don’t miss out.
2. Forbidden City The former home of the emperors, the Forbidden City now displays the customs and traditions of imperial China.
6. Ming Dynasty Tomb Here is where 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty were laid down to rest. Not suitable for the faint-hearted or believers in ghosts!
1. The Great Wall of China is one hour away by train, but worth the trip for obvious reasons.
- Great Wall of China – One of China’s ancient marvels and most important historic structures. Badaling has a section of the wall close to Beijing.
- Forbidden City (Gugong) – Home of Chinese emperors from the mid-14th century through 1911.
- Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) – The lakeside summer retreat for emperors and empresses.
- Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) – The 300-year-old gardens contain ruins evoking a former glory.
- Tiananmen Square – This square was host to Beijing’s famous (or infamous) protests in 1989.
Beijing Art & Culture
- Lama Temple (Yonghegong) – Located in Beijing’s Dongcheng District, this is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.
- Capital Museum – Contains a collection of more than 200,000 cultural and art artefacts.
- Chinese Ethnic Culture Park – Learn about China’s 55 ethnic groups among replicated traditional homes.
- Lao She Teahouse – Enjoy Chinese opera in this nostalgic (if a bit touristy) teahouse whilst feasting on local snacks.
- 798 Art Zone – This avant-garde art community is located in a former factory complex.
- Wangfujing – This large, multi-block pedestrianized street offers stores from H&M to silk shops.
- Xidan – The closely packed malls typically draw a younger crowd and offers the latest (youth) trends.
- Qianmen – Get your souvenirs and more at the vendors, teashops and bookstores in the alleyways and streets here.
- Sanlitun – This once-seedy expat area has given way to some of Beijing’s most upmarket shops.
- Silk Market (Xiushuijie) – Find souvenirs and “authentic” luxury goods at this well-known shopping centre.
Gay & Lesbian Beijing
- SoBear – Known as one of Beijing’s best gay nightclubs and attracting a manly crowd.
- Golden Sun Bar – This karaoke bar features late-night drag shows on Thursday to Sunday.
- Destination – A lively, trendy nightclub near the Workers Stadium with a younger crowd.
- Alfa – Featuring theme nights, outside lounge areas and a mixed, gay-friendly crowd.
- Houhai – Not outright gay, but this area offers lots of bars and cafes to choose from in a small area.
- Beihai Park – Stroll around this large scenic lake or join the locals and hire a paddle boat.
- Jingshan Park – Located right behind the Forbidden City, this park offers great views for those not afraid of stairs.
- Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) – Go early in the morning, and you will be greeted by Beijing locals practicing taichi exercises.
- Xiangshan Park – Near the Summer Palace, this is a great park to enjoy natural scenery and local flora and fauna.
- Beijing Zoo – See pandas and other exotic animals at this well-maintained zoo.
- Tour the Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest), the focal point of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
- Splash around Beijing’s National Aquatics Centre, or more famously known as the blue, bubbly Water Cube.
- Golf at the Beijing Tianan Holiday Golf Club.
- Climb the steep stretch of the Great Wall at Jingshanling.
- Watch the Beijing Guoan football team at the Workers Stadium.
Xicheng is the political centre of Beijing, but also serves as an important place for sightseeing. Stop at Beihai Park or visit pandas at Beijing Zoo. Alternatively, there’s the National Centre for the Performing Arts (which looks like something E.T. brought back from space – in a good way though). The district also contains many temples – among them the Taoist White Cloud Temple, which has been around since 793. For those with an interest in history and art, the Capital Museum may be your thing.
Head here for Tiananmen Square, the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the Great Hall of the People and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. If you’re feeling all philosophical and scholarly, Confucius say… give Confucius Temple a go. The temple was built in 1302 and pays tribute to China’s greatest thinker. For those who aren’t impressed by Confucius’ intellect, Fayuan Temple is also in the Dongcheng vicinity. It’s Beijing’s oldest Buddhist temple, and now is the site of the Chinese Buddhist Academy.
In Xuanwu you can include Grand View Garden (also known as Prospect Garden) in your itinerary. Built in the 1980s, this garden of pavilions and temples is based on a novel entitled Dream of the Red Chamber. Another couples of spots worth visiting are the Museum of Ancient Architecture and the Museum of Ancient Pottery Civilization.
Here you will find the Temple of Heaven and the Ming Dynasty City Wall. Only 1.5 km of the original 23.5km-long wall remains. For a taste of contemporary Chinese art, take a look at Red Gate Gallery. But for travellers who are less interested in the contemporary and more motivated by the traditional, then Chongwenmen Food Market is a better fit. This traditional market is perfect for purchasing cheap, fresh and often downright bizarre produce, or even just to see what a traditional Chinese food market looks like.
You can get combination fried rice and lemon chicken all over the world, but Beijing is where you’ll get the real deal (and you probably won’t find lemon chicken anywhere!).
Made in China at the Grand Hyatt is a swanky restaurant to visit if you’re after Beijing Duck and contemporary Chinese dishes.
Ching Pavilion dishes up contemporary Asian food with Western flair.
Capital M Offers fantastic views of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. It’s also award-winning and very popular with travellers. But why go all the way to China’s capital for European food?
Din Tai Fung You may have had the xiao long bao from this global franchise in another country, but of course it’s best in China itself.
Vasco’s at Hilton Beijing Wangfujing will astound you with its Macanese and Portuguese fare. It’s known for the Fizztastic Sunday Brunch.
Hutong Pizza You’re probably wondering why there’s a pizza joint in this list, but the fact that it’s in a hutong makes this square-pizza experience all the more charming and interesting.
Pure Lotus Vegetarians rejoice! This restaurant offers a multitude of vegetarian dishes. Even if you’re a carnivore, it’s worth a visit.
Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant Duck, duck and more duck! You can’t go to Beijing and not have Peking duck. This restaurant is famous for it.
Duck de Chine Awarded ‘Outstanding Beijing Duck’, this eatery combines French and Chinese duck-roasting techniques. 1949 Hidden City dining complex in
The Source has a set menu of Sichuan cuisine, but it’s different every fortnight.
The year kicks off with China’s most important holiday. In January or February the Lunar New Year celebrations will bring in the New Year with fireworks and parades. Most shops will be closed for a week and booking any transport will be a nightmare (unless you’ve booked in advance).
International Labour Day is celebrated on 1 May in Tiananmen Square. Rise early to witness the flag-raising ceremony.
In September, the Mid-Autumn Festival will tempt you to eat some moon cakes. Please do – they’re delicious!
National Day is on 1 October. Festivities commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
When To Go
Beijing has somewhat bizarre weather, thanks to its monsoon-influenced climate of hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters (and, frankly, the pollution isn’t doing it any favours in global-warming, ozone-layer-depleting terms).
In spring, temperatures can range from 0-24°C (32-75°F). It’s also the season that brings dust storms, as if the smog wasn’t enough to obscure your vision.
Summer in Beijing is wet and warm with temperatures of 20-31°C (68-88°F) feeling even hotter thanks to the steamy humidity.
The best time to visit is autumn, when the weather is pleasantly around 6-18°C (43-64°F)
Beijing’s winter is cold and dry, with temperatures often staying well below freezing. You may even see snow! But it won’t be pretty snow.
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Getting There & Around
You won’t have any trouble finding an airline that’ll take you to Beijing. If you’re coming from another city in China, you can take a bus or train.
Within Beijing, you can take your pick from taking the subway, renting a bicycle, riding the bus, flagging down a taxi or taking a gamble with a rickshaw.
Unless it’s a DeLorean that can hover above the scrum of traffic (or take you back in time to an era in which Beijing’s streets were not so crowded), don’t bother renting a car. Your hair will be grey by the time you get out, both from stress and the sheer amount of time you’ll have spent in a bottleneck.
What To Miss
Don’t get scammed by rickshaw drivers.
Be cautious of girls who tell you they’re university students and are speaking to you to improve their English. They’ll often try to scam you by inviting you to expensive tea ceremonies or dinners and then leaving you to foot the bill.
When you book a tour, make sure you know where you’re going and paying the right price. Dodgy tours will send you off to Jade shops or expensive teahouses. Use your common sense – this is a city of hustle as well as bustle.
Find more information about the Exceedingly Rewarding Club on http://chuclub.asia
Beijing welcomes travelers anxious to embark on a grand tour of China. Expect more than just a wealth of historical treasures as the city is racing towards modernization. There is a staggering growth of commercial havens in the last 5 years yet the allure of the ancient sights still manages to draw in visitors to China's capital city.
Beijing on which the Forbidden City stands makes for one sentimental journey through China's imperial past. Many temples and palaces show how opulence and grandeur ruled over the land. A few hours drive from Beijing will take you to the monumental Chinese attraction which evokes awe among those who have seen it. The Great Wall remains as the most popular landmark for travelers holidaying in Beijing. Be mindful though that summer in Beijing is definitely not the time to visit this favored feature, if you prefer a more peaceful means of enjoying the experience!
You can get a glimpse of one of the world's oldest civilisations by taking on China's foremost tourist sites. Beijing definitely has the best sights the country has to offer.
Crowds swell onto the Great Wall which can be viewed in various locations a few hours drive from the city. The sections of Badaling and Mutianyu that have been fully restored are closest to the city. A bit far from the swelling crowds is the Simatai section recommended for its spectacular location amidst steep hills. Although partially restored, it is not as touristy as the other sections.
The Forbidden City is also a major draw in Beijing which sits in the heart of the capital. This was the former home of the emperors and offers visitors a showcaseof the customs, history and architecture of imperial China. Right infront is Tiananmen Square and nearby is the People's Revolutionary Museum, the Great Hall of the People and Mao's Mausoleum. Summer Palace, on the other hand, served as a relaxing royal retreat in Kunming Lake when hot and humid days swept across Beijing.
The Temple of Heaven is also another famous Beijing attraction. It used to be the site of ancient rites during harvest moons to ensure bounty in the land. The park provides a quiet time amidst old cypress trees. You'd come across locals practising tai-chi in the mornings and folk songs being played by street musicians at dusk.
To immerse yourself in more of old Beijing, do drop by the old villages called hutong where narrow, winding alleys link courtyard-style houses that are not short on charm and quaint appeal! For more fine examples of old architecture, the areas surrounding Houhai and Qianhai lakes used to be home to generals and officials inthe Imperial Army so expect to admire houses that are well-preserved. A worthy side trip from Beijing, Xian is best remembered as the main hub of the Silk Road trade. Here you can visit the Terra Cotta warriors, an impressive archaeological find 45 minutes from the city centre.
More Info On Events
In either late January or early February, the Lunar New Year is the biggest public holiday in all of China. All business establishments are closed, and there is an exodus of locals heading home to their provinces, so do remember that travelling within this period is definitely chaotic. If you do find yourself in Beijing, enjoy the fireworks and parades.
Mid-Autumn Festival brings out mooncakes in late September. Beijing can also get busy during the International Labour Day and National Day holidays on the weeks surrounding the 1st of May and the 1st of October respectively.
- Spring (April - May) 0 to 24 oC; temperate
- Summer (June - August) 20 to 31oC; sunny, wet and humid
- Autumn (September — November) 6 to 18oC; pleasantly warm with very little rainfall, best time to visit
- Winter (December — March) -7 to -5oC; less humid with little rainfall, the weather is quite cool
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