Beijing

Things to do in Beijing

If you’re an early riser looking for things to do in Beijing, visit Ritan Park first thing in the morning. Here you’ll find the Chinese tradition of using public spaces; traditional swordsmanship, Mah-Jongg, T’ai Chi and ballroom dancing, even a climbing wall. A less restful but exciting Beijing activity awaits you in the Silk Market, with buzzing carts and shops. No Beijing tour would be complete without the Forbidden City. Visit the grand 16th-century palace early, since it takes at least three hours to get around. Temple of Heaven Park is a Confucian style urban landscape, equally worthy of a visit.

Tiananmen Square is the world’s largest public square, surrounded by Soviet-style buildings, is a reminder of China’s turmoil and political history. It’s not a place to sit and relax, but it is certainly a site not to be missed by any Beijing visitor. Summer Palace is a marvel of temples, gardens, bridges, and pavilions to explore. There are also riverside walkways, shops and restaurants. The 798 Arts District is a popular artist hangout with cafes lining the streets. Beijing is also the best departure point to see the Great Wall of China, easily done as a half-day trip.

The historical and geographical heart of Beijing, this district contains the Forbidden City and is crisscrossed by scores of atmospheric hutongs. Many of Beijing’s five-star hotels are located here; so is Wangfujing, the city’s most up-market shopping zone.

If you’re new to Beijing, forgot your own guidebook, and no one is meeting you, consider picking up the best (if overpriced) guidebook in stock, Lonely Planet China ($52, but purchase in the States beforehand for $31.99). Forgo the cheap maps the store stocks for lack of details.

The heritage center offers educational tours through the city's traditional, and fast disappearing, hutong neighborhoods.

The airport’s mini-spa offers small, semi-private rooms with two comfy chairs each.  Try a 50-minute Tibetan Sweet Herb Alga Mud foot massage ($29). Here, the tea and dumplings may be overpriced, but water and Chinese TV are free. (Channel 9 broadcasts the state’s official news in English.)

The television headquarters will be the second-largest building in the world, after the Pentagon, and the architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren have attributed at least part of the building’s dramatic form to the need to make it visible in the heavily polluted air hanging over Beijing.

British expat and longtime Beijing resident Dominic Johnson-Hill mines a rich seam of local nostalgia with his line of quirky, retro T-shirts—which depict Communist revolutionary heroes, coquettish Chinese pinups, and iconic Beijing images (subway maps, taxi and noodle-shop signs).

A gallery opposite the Nangao police station, in an area just outside The Fifth Ring Road.

Set in the city’s northeastern Chaoyang district, the newly built Olympic Park is home to the fabulous “Bird’s Nest” national stadium (an inventive, spiderweb structure of interlocking steel beams), along with the “Water Cube” National Aquatics Center (with an exterior made up of hundreds of what

In a hurry and/or traveling light? Speed your international check-in on busy travel days by taking your carry-on luggage, ticket, passport number, and frequent-flier number (if you have one) straight to a bilingual electronic self-check-in kiosk.

A day trip to the Great Wall is an absolute must when in Beijing. The only question is, what part to visit?

If you’re a first- or business-class passenger on China’s national airline, take a seat in a big upholstered chair in your own private skybox while you wait for your flight and watch the world go by—and through security—below. Drinks, snacks, and magazines are complimentary.

This tower and its counterpart, the Drum Tower, kept Beijing people up to date on the official time through three dynasties. Drums beat out at night, while the bells rang out during the day. The Bell Tower burned in the Qing Dynasty and was rebuilt, this time of fire-proof brick.

Hidden away along a bland, utilitarian suburban block, this über-hip space is a major haunt for Beijing fashionistas.

Laetitia Gauden, a French curator, started the Imagine Gallery in Feijiacun in 2003.

Capable of holding a million people, the 100-acre Tiananmen is the world’s largest public square.