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.

A colossal monument to theatre, opera, and classical music opened in the Fall of 2007, just in time to impress the Olympic crowds.

Pack duty-free liquor in an imitation Wenger “Swiss Army” carry-on-size wheelie suitcase from this travel accessories store. Smarter buys include Snuggy Snoozer neck pillows ($19) and fresh earplugs to drown out the plane engines and crying babies ($6).

Jokes about all the tea in China aside, this shopping center (with a main cluster of stores surrounded by street stalls) is a must-visit for cuppa lovers.

It must have been quite a schlep for emperors of old—who traveled in slow-moving palanquins along with hundreds of courtiers to get to this beautiful, serene lakeside palace. These days, though, it doesn’t take much longer than a half-hour car ride to get here, and it’s well worth the journey.

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In the Central Business District, well-heeled urbanites take in live jazz over Moët champagne, crispy prawn fritters, and Cohiba cigars at Park Hyatt Beijing's bar.

Past the bookstore and the Arrival-level Starbucks, look for the English signs labeled “Lost & Found” and “Left Luggage,” where you can leave extra baggage up to three months if you’re touring China and will depart for home from Beijing ($4.50 per piece per day).

The main draw of this area west of Tiananmen Square is the new Financial Street area, home to high-rise office towers, a cluster of five-star hotels, and the tony Seasons Place Mall.

The central Houhai Lake is lined with lively waterfront bars and cafés, take a stroll along the promenade before sitting down to dine.

Stop here for Chinese books, periodicals, and a limited selection of overpriced English language texts, from President Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope ($19) to Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City ($20) to Time and Newsweek ($6.50).

This charming little pottery studio-cum-store, which features ceramics from talented local potters, has solved many a gift-giver’s dilemma. The emphasis here is on contemporary interpretations of traditional ceramic forms (vases, plates, cups, urns, teapots).

Well-known rock venue impresario Li Xuebing (or “Bing Bing”) and Hong Kong gallery owner Zhao Lei combined forces in 2001 to open the Yan Club as an arts center.

Don't be fooled by the fading paint and dusty velvet banquettes: the best young Chinese indie bands can be found cutting their teeth at this respected rock bar in the university district.

Pass a carved white stone wall and there, next to the bathrooms, is a vending machine with SIM cards from China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom ($22), usable in compatible phones. You can also buy prepaid phone cards in denominations of 50 and 100 yuan ($7–$15).

The now-restored Legation Quarter, the fabulous Temple of Heaven, and bustling pearl and tea markets are the highlights of this neighborhood southeast of the Forbidden City.

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."