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.

Chairman Mao himself is said to have surveyed Beijing from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace and announced he wanted "the sky to be filled with smokestacks."

Also known as Factory 798, this Bauhaus-style complex houses the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.

If your flight is delayed, go down one level to the Arrivals hall and walk 100 yards east of Gate B (with the giant glass windows overlooking the street to your right) to 12 reclining chairs amid a stand of potted palms.

Kite flying is a hugely popular pastime in Beijing: visit Tiananmen Square on a breezy day and you’ll see scores of people—tots, teens, old-timers—watching their colorful kites flutter and bob over Chairman Mao’s tomb.

Treasures spotted here recently: a Ming dynasty bed; pharmacy cabinets smelling of medicinal herbs. Ships internationally.

A 12-seat Japanese whiskey bar stocked with a selection of rare vanilla- and cherry-scented whiskeys.

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 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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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