Beijing is a city full of possibilities, and whether visiting as a tourist or settling down as an expat, there’s no lack of great food, culture and fun to be had.
Be warned though, no matter where one goes, there will probably be crowds, especially on public transportation and at tourist hotspots. This is only to be expected in a booming city of more than 21 million people. Still, it is worth fighting through the crowds to enjoy everything that is available to see and do in Beijing.
Attractions in Beijing
Great Wall of China
There are various sites for expats to visit along China’s legendary Great Wall, but one of the best is Mutianyu. The site has a cable car that takes visitors up onto the wall and offers a toboggan slide down for those willing to walk far enough. As with most of the sites, getting there is the tricky part. The best bet would arguably be to hire a car for the day, although there are bus options available from inside the city.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Obviously a given for anyone visiting Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are connected geographically and one of the best sightseeing experiences in Beijing. The square really is enormous, as is the portrait of Mao Zedong at the entrance to the Forbidden City. Those who have already seen ancient Chinese architecture may not want to walk through the whole City – it costs more and looks much the same as many other places.
The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is located in the southern part of central Beijing, close to the city centre. If going early in the morning, it's possible to see long-time Beijingers out exercising and doing Tai Chi. The temple and altar can get crowded with tourists, but the massive park that surrounds the attractions can be just as interesting. Visitors making their way to the east gate of the park will find themselves right across the street from the Pearl Market (Hongqiao), where they can bargain to their heart’s content.
Picnics in Beijing
Believe it or not, Beijing actually has a variety of green spaces where residents can lay down a blanket, pull out a picnic lunch, and play some Frisbee. After tromping around seeing the cement city's sights, this may be just what the doctor ordered. Chaoyang Park sits on the east side of the city, and there are thousands of little picnic spots to be found by water or even amidst a cluster of trees. The Summer Palace is a little more expensive (30 RMB entrance fee), but the lake is beautiful and there are lots of areas to settle down and relax in the afternoon sun. Those looking to get away from larger crowds should head toward the south gate.
Hutongs in Beijing
Locals at a Hutong in BeijingVisiting a hutong area is a uniquely Chinese cultural experience and a delightful city pastime. These areas are home to a variety of local and Western restaurants, bars and shopping, and can provide the perfect backdrop for a well-spent weekend in Beijing. Visitors can rent bicycles or hire a pedicab to take a nice ride through the backstreets of the area and absorb the ancient, courtyard-based family housing that is being torn down little by little. Two well-loved hutong areas are Houhai Lake and Nanlouguxiang, both of which offer lots of eating, drinking and window shopping options that will surely be unique to the modern expat eager to absorb Ancient China.
Shopping in Beijing
There are endlss options for good shopping in Beijing, whether one is on the prowl for high-end products or cheap market items. The China World Shopping Center is a massive complex of stores located at the Guomao subway junction and those wanting a break from aisle cruising can head to the Le Cool Ice Rink, located inside the mall.
Residents with knowledge of Chinese good enough to say and understand prices and general sizes should get themselves to the Zoo Market, a sprawling underground market near the zoo. Prices here are so low that even bargaining is fairly optional; the merchants simply can’t go much lower to still make a real profit. Larger sizes are available for foreigners, although shoppers will be hard-pressed to get a merchant to let them try anything on. To find it, take the Line 4 subway to the Beijing Zoo stop, take Exit C, and walk east along Xizhimen Outer Street until the canopied stairs leading underground can be seen.
Nightlife in Beijing
After negotiating a new culture and a challenging workplace, many expats prefer to spend their weekends in Beijing letting loose and blowing off some steam.
Home to an immense assortment of bars and restaurants, Sanlitun has long been known as the home for the party crowd. With the addition of The Village shopping complex, it has become a hub of activity even for people uninterested in general debauchery. When The Village closes down for the evening, there are still plenty of clubs and bars open along Sanlitun Bar Street.
Those looking for more of a student party scene should visit Wudaokou. Most of the large universities in Beijing are located in this northwest corner of the city, with many bars and clubs catering to students eager for some high-energy socialising. Many of the cafés and restaurants are also open until the early morning.
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