Things to do in Beijing

Get Your Bearings in Beijing

By Biju Sukumaran
Travel Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where to Stay

Beijing offers accommodations of all types. The city center contains everything from high-end luxury hotels to budget hostels, and is located close to many of the city's attractions. Perhaps the best hotels are in Chaoyang, a center frequented by diplomats in an area close to the Central Business District and Sanlitun, the main nightlife center of Beijing. Many luxury hotels are also spas with traditional Chinese medicine treatments and masseuses and additional accommodations like pools and gyms.

Caution:

Many hotels will overcharge guests unless you talk to them directly rather than reserving rooms indirectly.

What to Eat

Western-style restaurants of all types are available in several of the city's international districts like Sanlitun and Chaoyang. But Chinese, from meat-heavy Muslim cuisine (from far-off Xinjiang Province) to spicy Sichuan, is in evidence in formal restaurants and humble corner establishments. A more picturesque area to dine is around the Black Lakes, where a spot of preserved traditional buildings is home to eateries amid the narrow lanes and lakes.

Hot Tips:

Tips are not necessary at restaurants, but a 15% service fee may be charged by hotels or higher-end restaurants.

Things to See

Beijing is filled with internationally famous sites like The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square, and seeing all of them can be a challenge unto itself. In addition, the city contains numerous museums, monuments, gardens and religious sites. Traffic, distance and the sheer scope of the city make seeing the numerous sites a challenge, so be sure to plan in advance.

Caution:

Many of the standard tour operators will overcharge you, but will include transportation and translation.

Places to Party

Most of the nightlife is centered around the bars in Sanlitun, many of which offer live music of all types throughout the week. Several venues and theaters offer Chinese opera, acrobatics and puppet shows. The Beijing Symphony Orchestra performs throughout the year, and the city hosts a number of international ballets and international music events.

Hot Tips:

Several publications, like Time Out and The Beijinger, contain a schedule of events going on in the city.

Where to Shop

Beijing's largest shopping area is Wangfujing Dajie, a long, closed-off walking street filled with large international chains, restaurants and smaller shops selling everything from high-end luxury goods like electronics, fashion and fashion accessories to souvenirs. The Village in Sanlitun's bar district has a more relaxed selection of clothing stores, electronic shops and cafes. Liulichang is another shopping district specializing in handicrafts. with antique shops and other stores selling art, books and tea.

Caution:

Beijing is famous for its fakes, so be especially careful while shopping for items like pearls and jade.

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Things to do in Beijing


Beijing is known for...

Five of Beijing's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Heavy Bargaining:

One of the most fun activities for tourists is bargaining and negotiating when shopping in Beijing. This can be an amazing experience. The general rule is to take their initial price at bargain until you've agreed to pay one-third of the original asking price. Keeping the banter positive is easy with Beijing's talented and fun-loving sales folk. At the fakes markets and on busy tourists streets you'll have to pull out your best bargaining skills to score a good deal. There are, however, a few places you don't have to bargain, including cabs, hotels, most restaurants and bars and in department stores.

2. Peking Opera:

Beijing is known nationally as the soul of the opera scene. The city's many cab drivers are often heard wailing along with the opera performances on the local radio, and there are signs throughout the city for different operas on performance. It's a must-see experience for any tourists to Beijing, and a stark contrast to the opera of Europe and the US. The opera can be confusing in China, but many of the theaters offer English-language subtitles to help urge the audience along.

3. Peking Duck:

Beijing is famous for it's Peking Roast Duck. Served in over one hundred slices, the whole duck arrives on a platter served with cucumber slices, duck sauce, onion slivers and little pancakes to roll it all together into a burrito-style dim sum. The duck is fatty, rich and so full of flavor that it packs a punch. One duck can easily feed four hungry people. The most famous peking duck establishments are Da Dong and Qienjuda. Both offer interesting and exotic side dishes like duck-heart dumplings, coagulated blood soup and duck tongue. But if you'd like to avoid the oddities the duck meat is delicious.

4. Ancient History:

Beijing was a planned city, the northern capital to get away from the heat of Nanjing (the southern capital) in summer. As such, the city is steeped in culture. The center of the capital is the Forbidden City, with ring roads emanating out from there. Most of the city's cultural and historical sites are located near the Forbidden city, like Tienanmen Square, Houhai, Nanluoguxiang, the Drum and Bell Towers, and the Temple of Heaven. In fact, if you stay near the Forbidden city you'll have access to most of the city's history in quick succession.

5. Hutongs:

Unlike many of the country's major cities, Beijing has retained it's hutong scene. A hutong is an old-style home usually made of brick and mortar a single level high. Whole communities of hutongs create a vast netowrk of mazes in Beijing ripe for exploring. One of the most famous hutong areas is Nanluoguxiang, located near Lake Houhai and the Drum and Bell Towers. This alleyway boasts some amazing bars and restaurants, like 12sqm Bar & Cafe or Pass by Bar and Drum and Bell Bar, where you can steal a quick pint or snack as you stroll through the old-style communities.