Beijing, the eclectic capital of mystical China is a city as rich in history as it is innovatively modern. On the streets, you see aged residences and makeshift street stalls surrounded by skyscrapers and shopping malls, juxtaposing a storied past against rapid development. Beijing has an estimated population of 22 million and a sizeable expatriate community, and many regard the city as a gateway to greater prospects in Asia. The metropolis offers many exciting and unforgettable new experiences, even for long-time residents. Here are five things to do in Beijing.
The Forbidden City
Built in the early 13th century, The Forbidden City is China’s iconic palace and the seat of its imperial powers from the Ming dynasty, up till the abdication of the Ching Emperor in 1912. Located in central Beijing, its main entrance faces Tiananmen Square, site of the tragic student protests in 1989.
Surrounded by a small moat, the palace is made up of an Outer or Front Court and an Inner Court, otherwise known as the Back Palace. The former was used for ceremonial purposes, while the latter served as the residence of the Emperor and his family, and to conduct daily affairs of state.
Six separate, intricately designed halls are divided between the Front and Inner Courts. The Hall of Supreme Harmony was used for the grandest imperial ceremonies such as the emperors’ enthronement, and because of its symbolism, no other building was allowed to rise taller than it during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Even today, it remains the largest wooden structure in the world with a floor area of 2,377 square metres.
The Forbidden City is also home to the Palace Museum which holds China’s largest collection of fine relics and treasures. Tickets for this UNESCO World Heritage Site are CNY40 (Nov-Mar) and CNY60 (Apr-Oct). Spring and Fall are ideal times to visit and admire the sprawling Imperial Garden with its ancient cypresses and rockeries.
The Great Wall of China
The only man-made structure visible from outer-space, the Great Wall was built to prevent invasions from various nomadic tribes and subsequently used for border control. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, much of it has been worn away and destroyed with age and conflict, but two stretches are still accessible to visitors from Beijing, in Badaling and Mutianyu.
Some 70km from Beijing, the more popular Badaling is equipped with handrails and facilities for the elderly or disabled. One can hike, take the cable car or the more exciting pulley up to the Great Wall’s entrance. A round trip ticket for any of these options costs CNY80. Some parts of the wall feature steep inclines but breath-taking views.
About the same distance away from Beijing, Mutianya is northeast of the city and less visited. Ascending to the wall entrance here is limited to either hiking or cable car but an extra fun option for going downhill is the luge. Both options cost CNY80 (one-way) or CNY100 (round trip).
Houhai, or “Rear Sea” in Mandarin, is the largest of three northern-most lakes in Beijing collectively known as Shichahai. Rent a paddleboat or simply stroll along the banks to admire the beauty of the lake and its surrounding nature.
Ensconced within “hutong” (narrow alleyways) neighbourhood in the central district of Xicheng, the Houhai district features a contemporary lifestyle in an ancient setting. Walk or take a trishaw to navigate the alleyways of these classic structures which have been conserved and restored over the past two centuries. Today, quirky tourist shops, restaurants and bars occupy the rows, and the area boasts a lively nightscene.
798 Art Zone
Comprising a complex of half century old decommissioned military factory buildings, 798 Art Zone is located in Dashanzi within the Chaoyang District of Beijing and a must-visit for art lovers.
Famous for its many galleries and ateliers, the works of international artists feature alongside rising local, contemporary artists. 798 Art Zone plays host to many exhibitions and events through the seasons, and you’ll also find fashionable shops and international cuisine restaurants here. A multi-cultural hotspot, 798 Art Zone features open spaces, sculptures and eye-catching graffiti works making it the venue of choice for the creative and their cohorts alike.
A trendy gathering point in central Chaoyang District, Sanlitun features the upmarket Taikoo Li (formerly known as Village), which is a retail haven housing many international brands including a full-fledged Apple Store. Behind it is Nali Patio and Sanlitun back alley, which offer more fine dining options, indie shops, pubs and bars. Street food vendors here cater to late-night partygoers from clubs nearby. Famous sister to Hong Kong’s trendy Upper House, Opposite House boutique hotel can also be found here, adjacent to Nali Patio. Indulge yourself in any of her two feature restaurants or at the lobby bar, Mesh. In-house guests can enjoy the comforts of their minimalistic room interiors and excellent services with the option of renting from a selection of their chauffeured limousines to move around in ease and style. In any season, at any time, Sanlitun’s vibe is always active.
Discover the old, the new and exciting, all in one awesome city—fantastic Beijing.