Beijing, China’s massive capital, has history stretching back 3 millennia. Yet it’s known as much for its modern architecture as its ancient sites such as the grand Forbidden City complex, the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Nearby, the massive Tiananmen Square pedestrian plaza is the site of Mao Zedong’s mausoleum and the National Museum of China, displaying a vast collection of cultural relics.
When in Beijing you must see the highlights; Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and the Great Wall. But to get a good feel for the real Beijing, check out these unique and cool things to do in Beijing. These sites are all easily accessible by Beijing’s very efficient subway system although taxis are also pretty cheap. Just pick up a Time Out in English, or ask your hotel concierge for contact details.
We suggest: Explore Beijing’s hutongs or alleyways in a rickshaw. There are central rickshaw rental locations at the Drum and Bell Tower and Beihai Park. Make sure to negotiate the fee beforehand. Use hand signals if you don’t speak Chinese. They’re used to it and will understand you. Plus it’s fun.
Visit Wangfujing’s night market. Wangfujing is a major pedestrian shopping street. A few yuan (Chinese currency) will get you a steaming plate of spicy dumplings. They also have a very interesting variety of food specialties including scorpions.
Spend an afternoon at 798 Art Zone. This is about 5 square blocks of reclaimed factory space converted to an art venue. They have special exhibits, nice restaurants, shops selling unique pieces of art and a funky vibe.
Enjoy the view from the Drum and Bell Tower. These structures were built around 1272. Make sure to see the Drum Show. The climb to the top of these towers is very steep but the panoramic view of Beijing and the surrounding hutongs is worth it.
Get a massage at Dragonfly. Dragonfly is a chain of massage spas found in many major cities in China. Beijing has about 5. The reasonably priced massages at this oasis of tranquility are heavenly. Spend an entire day if you can afford the time and get everything done; facial, mani-pedi, head and foot massage.
Dress up like an Empress in the Forbidden City. Ok, it’s tacky, I know. But dressing up in period costumes is one of my guilty pleasures and it might be one of yours. So there you have it. One of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had was dressing up with one of the attendants at the Forbidden City and pretending to be members of the ancient Royal Court.
Party at a jazz club in Beihai Lake Park. The park is right next to the Forbidden City. It’s beautiful during the day with its gardens and graceful curved Chinese bridges. But at night it really rocks with clubs featuring all kinds of music.
Sample world-class dumplings at Dintaifung. If you eat nothing else in Beijing, you must sample dumplings at Dintaifung, a Taiwanese chain of restaurants featuring dozens of dumpling flavors and other delicacies.
Hunt for antiques at the Panjiayuan Antique Market. You go here more for the experience than the actual antiques. It’s an open-air market with stalls displaying paintings, jade art, porcelain and many other offerings. It’s fun to walk around but unless you’re an antique dealer, you never know what you’re buying. Still, they have some very pretty things.
Beijing Capital International Airport is the main international airport serving Beijing. It is located 32 km northeast of Beijing's city center, in an enclave of Chaoyang District and the surroundings of that enclave in suburban Shunyi District.
Address: Shunyi, Beijing, China. Code: PEK. Elevation: 115′.
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