Where to Go in Beijing
Published: April 2009
By Aric Chen
Headed to the 2008 Summer Olympics?We’ve got the lowdown on the city’s can’t-miss sites, shops, restaurants, and tour guides. It’s everything you need (gold medal not included).
There are 31 sports venues scattered throughout Beijing, but the Olympic Green (beijing2008.com) will be the epicenter of the Games.
- It’s the site of the Herzog & de Meuron–designed “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium; the gymnastics and aquatics competitions (at the showcase “Water Cube”); and Olympic Village, where more than 10,000 Olympians will be based.
- The central Houhai Lake is lined with lively waterfront bars and cafés.
- This summer, expect the promenade to be filled with an international parade of sports fans—Australian cricket fanatics, Argentine fútbol addicts, and American basketball enthusiasts.
- Still the heart of Beijing— indeed, of China itself—the recently restored Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square now abut the National Centre for the Performing Arts (4 Shi Beihutong; 86-10/6606-4705), a colossal monument to theater, opera, and classical music, which was unveiled last fall, just in time to impress the summer 2008 crowds.
- Long before the “Bird’s Nest” came along, the 675-acre Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Donglu; 86-10/6702-8866) was the city’s ceremonial center.
- For a respite from the Olympic crowds—and for extra good fortune, according to Chinese numerology— arrive at 8 p.m. on 08/08/08. The opening ceremonies begin at this auspicious moment.
- China’s contemporary art scene is almost as competitive as the Games themselves. Experience it all in the Dashanzi Art District (4 Jiuxianqiao Lu; 86-10/ 8456-2421; chinesecontemporary.com)—also known as Factory 798—a Bauhaus-style complex that houses the new Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (4 Jiuxianqiao Lu; 86-10/ 6438-6675; ucca.org.cn)
Haven’t reserved a hotel room or bought tickets to the Games yet?Don’t waste another second. Beijing has an abundance of new hotels, but most are already booked solid. Your best bet is a travel company that has secured blocks of rooms. At press time, CoSport (877/ 457-4647; cosport.com), the official U.S. outlet for Olympics tickets, still had hotel and sporting-event packages available.
Don’t leave Beijing without an authentic Peking duck experience. Locals swear by Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant (3 Tuanjiehu Beikou; 86-10/6582-4003; dinner for two $40), conveniently located just a 10-minute walk from the Chaoyang Park Beach volleyball stadium.
- Come evening, treat yourself to an over-the-top dinner at the Philippe Starck– designed LAN (LG Twin Towers B12, fourth floor, Jianguomenwai Dajie; 86-10/5109-6012; dinner for two $100), full of Baroque accents and crowd-pleasing dishes (oysters in spicy sauce; stir-fried lobster).
- A global array of restaurants in the mega retail, entertainment, and nightlife complex Legation Quarter (23 Qian Men Dong Dajie; 86-10/6522-4848; legationquarter.com) is opening in time for the Games. Among the first: Maison Boulud, by New York chef Daniel Boulud, which is scheduled to begin serving in May.
For a spectacle of a different kind, elbow your way through the antiques stalls of the labyrinthine Panjiayuan Flea Market (just off the Third Ring Rd. at Panjiayuan Lu), open only on weekends.
- In-the-know shoppers will head to Ruifu Xiang (5 Dazhalan Jie; 86-10/6303-5313), among the centuries-old stores near Tiananmen Square, for a bespoke qipao (the traditional full-length dress) in rich silk or brocade. Who knows what sartorially minded athletes you might find among the bolts of fabric?
- Not everyone can perform like an Olympian—but now you can dress like one. Adidas (19 San Li Tran Lu; shop adidas.com) has created footwear that will be worn in competitions from sprinting to tae kwon do, and it’s all for sale at the new Beijing flagship store.
More than half a million visitors are expected to descend on Beijing for the Games, but that doesn’t mean you have to fight the masses.
- Australian expats Mark Thirlwall and Stacey Shine arrange customized tours of everything from historic sites to hard-to-find Olympic sports facilities through the one-stop cultural immersion center The Hutong (86-10/8915-3613; the-hutong.com; tours from $30 per person).
- Enlist Abercrombie & Kent (800/554-7094; abercrombiekent.com; 13-day all-inclusive packages from $6,415 per person) for full- and half-day excursions to the Forbidden City or a behind-the-scenes look at the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium.
- To see what life was like before the Games arrived, head to the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (86-10/6403-4932; bjchp.org; tours from $14 per person), which offers educational trips through the city’s traditional—and fast- disappearing—hutong neighborhoods.
- For air travel, tours, and hotel rooms (along with hard-to-get sports tickets), we recommend trying T+L A-List agent Karin Hansen (Frosch Travel; 800/323-1276; froschvacations.com), Sunshine Travel USA (212/268-6886; sunshinetravelusa.com), and Success Travel and Tours (973/758-0008).
Beijing is working to reduce its notorious traffic for the Games, and as of this spring, there was talk of dedicating lanes to Olympic shuttle buses. Whatever the case, taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, and the subway and bus networks are extensive. See the official Olympics Web site, beijing2008.com, for updates, city maps, schedules, and more.