1. EXPERIENCE PARK LIFE
Go to Ritan Park first thing in the morning for a taste of real Chinese life. Named after its Temple of the Sun, the park dates back to 1530 and is one of Beijing’s oldest. You’ll see everything from Tai Chi and Mah-Jong, to ballroom dancing, sword-fghting, and community singing if you’re lucky. There are ponds and pines for quiet contemplation plus a climbing wall and outdoor gym for fitness fanatics – a favourite with Chinese pensioners.
2. BE A TOURIST IN TIANANMEN SQUARE
Undoubtedly one of Beijing’s sightseeing icons, Tiananmen Square is consequently the best place for people watching. Brave the crowds and go at sunrise or sunset for the raising/lowering of the national flag. Chances are you’ll be asked to pose for photos with Chinese tourists as well as taking your own.
3. FORBIDDEN CITY
Walk north from Tiananmen Square to the gargantuan palace complex known colloquially as the Forbidden City or more formally as the Palace Museum. Go under the famous portrait of former communist leader Mao Zedong and take in the scale of the outer courtyard – you don’t need to pay until you go into the city itself at the Meridian Gate.
4. VISIT THE MARKETS
Visiting a market in Beijing is almost a rite of passage. At the Silk Market you’ll probably be harangued in English and are likely to be physically dragged into stalls to look at things. Here you’ll get a better deal than at some other English-speaking markets. The Panjiayuan weekend antique market is one of the best places to shop in China. Its history goes back to when traders from remote provinces brought goods old and new from all over China each weekend to sell and trade and it’s a wonderful place to buy gifts and souvenirs, although the antiques tend to be ‘New Dynasty’ fakes.
5. DISCOVER OLYMPIC DREAMS
The legacy of the 2008 Olympics includes an excellent subway system and some fantastic architecture. The best examples are the National Stadium, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest; and the National Aquatic Centre, dubbed the Water Cube. You can go inside both, though charges apply. See them for free at night when both buildings are illuminated.
6. EXPLORE THE HUTONGS
Their numbers may be dwindling, but there are still places to see the city’s historic hutongs – narrow alleyways – thanks in part to a resurgence of interest from travellers. The restored buildings along Nanluoguxiang (near the Drum and Bell Towers) combine hip and historic reasonably sympathetically. To the area south of Tiananmen Square you’ll find the narrowest alleyway in Beijing, Qianshi Hutong (just o Zhubaoshi Jie) – or the most crooked alley in Beijing, Jiuwan Hutong, which is of Liuxue Lu.
7. EXPRESS YOUR ARTISTIC SIDE
To the north-east of the city is the 798 Art District. This collection of galleries, cafes, public art and quirky boutiques is the place to get to grips with contemporary Chinese art and culture. Inside a converted Communist- era electronics factory and other industrial buildings, you’ll find kitsch references to the proletarian roots of the district jostling with the cutting-edge of China’s art scene.
8. TRY ALL THE TEA IN CHINA
Ma Lian Dao Tea Street claims to be the largest tea market in northern China, with over 900 tea shops and stalls selling all imaginable varieties. Look for the statue of the 8th-century sage Lu Yu, who wrote The Classic of Tea, the ?rst book on growing, preparing and drinking tea. On the first floor of the iconic Bell Tower (next to The Drum Tower – also two must-visit attractions) you can join in an impressive traditional tea ceremony and tempt yourself with some beautiful tea sets, teapots and paraphernalia.
Kris Madden travelled to Beijing courtesy of Travel Directors and China Southern Airlines.