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 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.

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 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.

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.

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).

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.