Beijing Travel Guide
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.
Big, riotous, and open around the clock, this lacquer-walled music lounge is hugely popular with the after-work crowd.
It doesn’t have a street address—which is only fitting for a place that was once considered the center of the universe.
For really distinctive souvenirs, avoid the dreary state-run stores and samey hotel-lobby shops in favor of this boisterous, treasure-filled market.
A brick-walled gallery that, come night, morphs into a gathering spot for fashion designers and media types. The most creative drink: “emperor’s whiskers,” made with tea-infused vermouth.
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.)
Take home China’s drink.
In-the-know shoppers head to this Tianamen square locale for bespoke qipaos (traditional full-length dresses) in rich silk or brocade.
This sprawling district east of Tiananmen Square has lots of variety: some areas are dotted with lively clubs and cutting-edge restaurants; others have upscale hotels and slickly modern malls; and still others have clusters of old-style hutongs.
Upon arrival, go one flight up directly to the Departures hall Passenger Service Center for excellent help (finding a car, hotel, transfers, sightseeing) in fluent 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).