48 Hours in Beijing: Choose Your Own Adventure

Culture | by Dan Shapiro
Posted: July 11th, 2008 | Updated: May 6th, 2011 | Comments
Welcome to Day 2 of our 48-hour insider guide to Beijing. See Part 1 of to take it from the top. For more self-guided Beijing tours, click here. Day 2 – 8:00 am – 9:30 am The same breakfast and survival pack recommendations from day one apply. 10:00 am – Choose Your Own Adventure We all have different ideas, hopes, opinions and aspirations for their China experience. Day one was jam-packed with major sites—and there are plenty more to fill many days' worth of sightseeing—but the morning of Day 2 of High-Impact Beijing offers four distinct options for different types of tourists. The Shopper Beijing's "Silk Street" marketplace (Xiushui Jie, 秀水街) is a super-sized venue for virtually all your souvenir shopping needs. Whether seeking traditional Chinese goods (jade, silk, pearls, etc.) or knock-off brand nams (it's okay, we all do it sometimes), "Silk Street" has it all (even a Starbucks—Beijing probably has more than Seattle). Conveniently located near the Metro Line 1 Yonganli station, it's a great place for bargaining. The Bohemian Beijing has become home to a unique and burgeoning art scene with the epicenter lying in Dashanzi (大山子) in the Chaoyang District (朝阳区).The 798 Gallery (constantly features interesting and provocative exhibitions from contemporary Chinese artists and is one of modern Beijing's true gems. The gallery space doesn't open until 10:30, so if you're interested in an authentic bohemian morning, you have time for a few extra taps on the snooze button. A Different Kind of Museum Rather than spending your morning viewing paintings and sculptures, head west on Metro Line 1 to the China People's Revolution Military Museum (Junshi Bowuguan, 军事博物馆 … don't worry about the pronunciation—the museum has its own subway stop) for a little modern Chinese history (spiked with a healthy dose of propaganda, of course). The 60,000 square-meter facility tells the Party's official story of China's Communist revolution through photographs and war memorabilia, making it a source of intrigue for Chinese history buffs and the layperson alike. The Straight-Up Tourist If you're interested in more traditional history and culture, hop in a taxi and head northwest to the Summer Palace (YiHeYuan, 颐和园). Although a bit far from the city center (approximately RMB 50-60 cab fare and 45 minutes in moderate traffic), the Summer Palace is another Beijing sightseeing staple, featuring classical gardens, a manmade lake, ornate temples, monuments and pagodas. It's great place for a picnic (which you really should pack because the on-site food is limited in variety, low in quality, overpriced and requires standing in line) or a never-ending hike. Completed around 1764, the Summer Palace was commissioned by Qing Emperor Qianlong as a present to his mother for her 60th birthday—surely one of the world's top most extravagant birthday gifts ever. Of all the various pagodas, the amazing Pagoda of Buddhist Fragrance (which requires an additional ticket, but don't worry, it's cheap) offers the best view of Kunming Lake (昆明湖). Of course, there are many more Beijing attractions worth visiting—check out our Beijing attraction guide for alternatives to the Summer Palace. 2:00 pm – Qianmen Gate and Tian'anmen Square Regardless of your choice of morning activity, by 2 o'clock you should be ready to head back to Tian'anmen Square (天安门广场), this time starting on the south side at the Qianmen Gate (前门), which also has its own metro station. Formerly Manchu-era Beijing's main gate, Qianmen, which literally means "front gate," offers yet another view on the capital's military traditions, having previously served as a lookout post. Head north past Qianmen into the main square for more photo opportunities. Although one of the most famous tourist attractions in Beijing and the largest city square in the world, when you get down to it, Tian'anmen is really just a vast space dotted with a few statues of dubious artistic merit. Mao ZeDong's Mausoleum is situated on the south side of the square; however, its hours of operation are limited and lines consistently long. Regardless, every visit to Beijing requires the requisite snapshots of you in the square making funny faces next to the constant military presence (they are not as stolid as the guards of Buckingham Palace and will occasionally crack a smirk, although come the Olympics it will no doubt be all business). 3:00 pm – Temple of Heaven Park A short cab ride, or reasonable walk (by now you realize that there are no short walks in Beijing) south of Tian'anmen lies the Temple of Heaven Park. Tiantian Gongyuan, as it's known in Mandarin (天坛公园) is home to China's most famous temple and the intriguing Echo Wall. It's true that in the past two days, if you have followed the prescribed itinerary, you've already seen numerous parks and temples, but several—the Temple of Heaven among them—stand out as being exceptional—and years after your Chinese expedition when you're showing slides to the grandchildren you'll be glad you made it. So push through any temple fatigue you might be feeling and prepare to be wowed. 5:00 pm – A Brief Intermission It's been a long couple of days and most likely exhaustion will begin to set in after such intense sightseeing. So, whenever you are done wandering around the park, head back to your accommodations, sneak a quick shower, drop off any gifts/souvenirs, and eventually head to the northwest toward Dongzhimen Nei Lu. (东直门内路) on the second ring road. Dinner on the "Ghost Street" – Dongzhimen Also known as Gu Jie, Dongzhimen Nei Lu. is home to dozens of excellent restaurants that feature various types of Chinese cuisine. For hot and spicy selections check out Jin Gui Xiao Shan Cheng (金簋小山城, 214 Dongzhimen Nei), while Xiao Mian Yang (小绵羊, 209 Dongzhimen Nei) offers up some exquisite hot pot. Regardless of your preference, Dongzhimen (located in the DongCheng district, 东城区) has so many excellent choices that you could eat at a different restaurant for a month and still have great eats in your future.
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