The must sees and do’s in Beijing

9 May 2016

The must sees and do’s in Beijing

Beijing is no ordinary city. It's the new capital of the world, a supercity of extraordinary proportions. The sprawling urban mass is home to over 21 million people and has a history that dates back over three millennia. It's kind of hard to narrow down the top ten things to do here. Top 87 would probably be more appropriate. But we've cut, snipped and trimmed to refine our list of the top ten things to do in Beijing.

  1. Lace up your walking shoes for the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park

You will be unprepared for the massive scale of the Forbidden City – it sprawls over 72 hectares in the heart of Beijing. It used to be home to the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors but these days it houses the expansive Palace Museum, which holds a huge collection of Chinese art and artefacts. Jingshan Park used to be the private palace gardens – climb Jingshan Hill for views across the whole complex. This is a massive day out, so wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk.

  1. Wander, cycle or rickshaw through the old hutongs

Hutongs are Beijing's old alleyways, lined with traditional houses that were connected together. They are culturally rich and very picturesque with their ramshackle layouts, single story houses, courtyards and traditional shops. The lack of cars makes the hutongs the perfect place to stroll, hire a bike or take a rickshaw to thoroughly explore the last remnants of old Beijing.

  1. Hang out and people watch in Temple of Heaven Park

The Temple of Heaven complex – including the iconic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests – is a real city highlight. The surrounding park is absolutely massive and is a haven for people watching. Masses of people head to the park for group exercises – and for playing cards, flying kites, practising opera, waving flags, doing calligraphy... anything and everything, all on display at any time of day.

  1. Eat a Peking duck. And lots of other things.

You simply have to eat this classic dish in its home town. Crispy skin, melting duck, fermented bean sauce, crunchy cucumber and spring onion, all rolled in a light pancake. It's a serious contender for the world's greatest dish. Savour your duck. Then, next morning, get up and continue eating. Eat your way across the city – noodles, crab, dumplings, pigs feet, tofu... whatever comes your way. Just eat.

  1. Get amongst the crowds at Tienanmen Square

Tienanmen Square is one of the world's largest city squares. At the northern end is the iconic Gate of Heavenly Peace, but the square is also home to the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Monument to the People's Heroes, the National Museum of China and the Great Hall of the People. It's huge and it's popular. The flag raising and lowering ceremonies bring even greater crowds – get there for the ceremony before dawn or dusk to really rub shoulders with the locals.

  1. Absorb some culture in Beijing's contemporary art scene

Check out the National Centre for Performing Arts – it's an architecturally stunning building. By day it looks like a futuristic bio-dome and by night it's a shimmering, glistening jewel. Next, hit up the 798 Art District for contemporary galleries, a cinema, bars and artist studios all set in a disused industrial complex.

And later, grab a performance by the famous Beijing acrobats for a jaw-dropping demonstration of physical feats.

  1. Walk along the really, really Great Wall

It's well worth heading an hour or two out of town to visit one of the more remote sections of the Great Wall like Mutianyu or Simatai. Here you can walk along the wall and experience the grandeur of being on a 6000-kilometre-long fortification without the Beijing crowds.

  1. Shop at the markets and shopping streets

The Panjiayuan Antiques Market is best on the weekend, when hundreds of vendors display their art, trinkets, jewellery and all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. The Hongqiao Pearl Market is a haven of cheap stuff as well as pearls, and Wangfujing shopping street is packed with curios and crafts, high-end boutiques and big malls. Wangfujing snack street provides all sorts of interesting treats (like scorpions on a stick) to re-energise you for more shopping.

  1. Boat, drink and sing at Houhai Lake

Houhai Lake is set in a traditional area surrounded by hutongs, but is rapidly developing into an entertainment precinct. For a quintessential Beijing experience, take a pedal boat out on Houhai Lake, then, as dusk falls, watch the lanterns light up on the waterfront bars and restaurants. Take a wander down Skewed Tobacco Pouch Street, then pull up a chair in Bar Street for a bevvy and some dumplings, before heading to a KTV for some late night karaoke.

  1. And cram in some more historic and cultural sites

Putting these diverse and geographically separate sites together is just a cheat's way of getting more than ten things into our top ten. But you really can't miss the beautiful Summer Palace with its imperial gardens, the richly-decorated Buddhist Lama Temple, the Capital Museum and the Ming Tombs.