As the capital of China, Beijing is a populous city with lofty aspirations. For centuries now, people all over China would flock to this city in pursuit of a better future. Sadly, its cultural and historic significance has long been undermined by the communist government. Many historic sites have since lost their grandeur, plagued by poor maintenance and lack of regulation.
The Great Wall of China is undoubtably the most iconic structure in China. Badaling (八达岭长城) is nearer to the city centre, which makes it more crowded. Conversely, Mutianyu (慕田峪长城) is further away, but promises better view with less tourists.
Located at the heart of Beijing, Tiananmen and the Forbidden City have witnessed the rise and fall of dynasties, and even set the backdrop in the controversial Tiananmen massacre. Unfortunately, beneath these expansive structures, most of the artefacts had been looted.
The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan (圆明园遗址公园) was destroyed together with the Summer Palace (頤和園) by the British and French troops during the Second Opium War. We spent one day at each of these palaces. Wearing a good pair of walking shoes is advisable.
The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan (圆明园遗址公园)
Open Jan-Mar, Nov-Dec: 7am – 730pm; Apr, Sep-Oct: 7am – 830pm; May-Aug: 7am – 9pm
Admission fee ranging from 5-15 yuan are required at various entrances.
Summer Palace (颐和园)
Outer garden: Open 630am – 6pm (peak), 7am-5pm (off-peak)
Inner garden: Open 830am – 5pm (peak), 9am-4pm (off-peak)
Admission fee: 60 yuan (peak), 50 yuan (off-peak)
ARTS & CULTURE
Artists in China are surprisingly vocal and spunky; they are not afraid to incorporate dissenting messages into their works. 798 Art District houses numerous artists and galleries, showcasing a massive collection of art pieces. It’s nearly impossible to comb the entire area within one day, plus it’s easy to lose your way, so it pays to trace your steps and explore systematically.
798 Art District (798艺术区)
Open daily 10am – 5pm
Today Art Museum (今日美术馆)
Open daily 10am – 5pm
For a more traditional peek into the arts and culture of China, head down to Panjiayuan Antique Market (潘家园旧货市场) and Liulichang Cultural Street (琉璃厂文化街).
Panjiayuan Antique Market (潘家园旧货市场)
Open Mon-Fri: 830am – 6pm, Sat-Sun: 430am – 6pm
Liulichang Cultural Street (琉璃厂文化街)
Open daily 8am – 6pm
In Beijing, you can find various styles of Chinese cuisine originating from different parts of China. The lamb slices at Donglaishun (东来顺饭庄) were too pungent for our liking, but apparently, that’s the mark of authenticity.
Guijie (簋街) is a popular food street lined with over 100 restaurants open until the wee hours. Although Wangfujing Night Food Street (王俯井小吃街) may be touristy, it’s a convenient stop at the heart of Beijing.
Wangfujing Night Food Street (王俯井小吃街)
Open 24 hours daily
The city is specked with numerous tiny independent cafes, and though coffee quality may not impress, they provide sweet refuge from the hustling city crowd.
Treescape Cafe (钱粮美树馆)
Open Tue-Sun: 11am – 830pm
Sculpting in Time (雕刻时光咖啡馆)
Outlets at various locations
Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷) used to be where the young and hip reigned, but commercialisation has intercepted and many shops are now selling the same touristy products. Wudaoying (五道营胡同), on the other hand, is less crowded and more interesting.
Taikoo Li Sanlitun (三里吨太古里), previously known as Sanlitun Village, offers a good mix of brands for discerning shoppers. The Sanlitun district is also filled with restaurants and bars that come alive at night.
Open Tue-Sun: 12pm – 830pm
Open daily 1030am － 8pm