The Forbidden City's red walls and golden roof tiles. Labyrinthine lanes running through low-slung grey brick hutong neighborhoods. Futuristic skyscrapers punctuating the horizon in all directions, broad avenues and the expanse of Tian'anmen Square. Traffic jams and dust storms, ancient imperial gardens and bustling electronics markets.... Beijing (Běijīng, 北京) holds an astonishing range of experiences for the curious and adventurous.
Steeped in the past even as it focuses with all its might on the future, Beijing is continuously emerging and re-emerging on the global stage, cementing its place as the capital of a bona fide world power after hosting the 2008 Olympic Games. Since the Olympics, vast areas of the city have been transformed as new high-rise complexes displace old hutong warrens, yet Old Beijing holds fast in surprising ways and places.
As one of China's most developed cities, Beijing boasts a variety of hotel options, ranging from big international chains and Chinese five-stars to an array of budget options. Visit our Beijing hotel section to search, browse and book a Beijing hotel to suit your needs.
Those looking for a slice of authentic old Beijing should overnight in a spruced up hutong dwelling like the Duge Courtyard Boutique Hotel or Qintang Courtyard 7 where traditional architecture melds with modern comforts.
If you prefer your luxury living in a more contemporary setting, then check out the numerous brand name five-star hotels in Beijing such as the Sofitel, Grand Hyatt or Ritz-Carlton, many of which are situated in the Chaoyang or Dongcheng districts and within walking distance of tourist hotspots the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square and key business and commercial areas. For 360° views of the city, head to the Park Hyatt Beijing perched in the upper floors of the China World Trade Center.
There are also a number of excellent and unusual hotel options out of town as well, particularly around the Great Wall of China. Add a new dimension to your experience with offerings like the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu or Great Wall Freshprogram at Chenjiapu where sustainable tourism is the name of the game.
Getting Around Beijing
Beijing has a reputation for being a city that is difficult to get around, though that has changed somewhat with additions to the subway and highway systems following the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The city's notorious traffic—the source of much of its equally infamous air pollution—tends to clog the inner ring roads and highways during the day, with traffic only clearing after the evening rush hour winds down around 8pm. This often makes a subway-taxi combo the best bet, limiting road time to a ride to the nearest subway station. The trains are usually packed, but the system is efficient and quick. The cars make cycling less appealing than it once was, but most main roads have separate bike lanes and exploring the heart of the Beijing on two wheels is a great way to go. Walking the center is also advised, though the size of the capital makes frequent cab—whether taxi or pedicab—trips a necessity for many visitors.
By far the best option for the carless in Beijing (and it’s only getting better as the city adds to the existing network at a brisk pace) the subway links most major areas of the city together. Stops are conveniently spaced to allow for easy walking or a cheap cab fare to your ultimate destination. You can get an all-around public transportation card from vendors in most subway stations; these cards work for the buses and the subway system as well. With the exception of the Airport Express, the flat fare for the subway is only RMB 2 per ride. Trains arrive every few minutes and even though some of the major stops (Tian'anmen East and Tian'anmen West for example) can be very crowded, the price beats a cab and the convenience beats a bus any day.
Beijing taxi drivers have a reputation for tricking tourists, especially from the airport, so always make sure you're in a metered cab and don't accept negotiated fares. That said, the city government began enforcing regulations in advance of the Olympics, and cabbie behavior has reportedly improved. Taxis come in cheap and expensive versions. The cheaper ones are the older cars that charge RMB 10 to start and RMB 2 per km after the first 3 km; newer, more expensive cabs start at RMB 12. The starting rate goes up to RMB 3-5 at night.
You can call 961001 or 68373399 to request a cab, but don't expect English to be understood. If you can't tell your driver where to go in Chinese, prepare by printing out your destination address in Chinese characters or having someone write them down for you, and always carry a business card for you hotel.
Pedicab (Sānlúnchē, 三轮车)
Pedicab drivers congregate along busy intersections and tourist areas, offering weary pedestrians a respite from walking. Scenery passes by pleasantly in a pedicab—just remember to bargain before boarding.
Probably the most cost-efficient, most fun and the healthiest (save for car exhaust) method for getting around the city. Large, clearly marked bike lanes run alongside most major artery roads and side streets and lanes generally make for good (if somewhat slow, on occasion) riding. Locals can seem to be aggressive riders at first, but soon you settle into the flow and realize that as long as you keep moving and fill the space in front of you, you’ll be fine, and when it comes to cars and buses, there are hundreds of thousands of bikes on Beijing’s streets and you can expect to enjoy the safety of the pack.
Rent a bike at one of the city's hotels or hostels. Rates range from RMB 20-30/day plus a refundable RMB 100-200 deposit.
To and From Beijing
Beijing is connected to the world at large and to major Chinese cities by a long list of daily Beijing flights that depart from and arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport. If departing, be sure you know your terminal, and when arriving, know how you plan to get to your accommodation—taxi, shuttle bus and subway are the basic options.
Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 1 is the Beijing hub for domestic China airlines including Hainan Airlines, Grand China Air, Deer Air and Tianjin Airlines.
Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 2 houses both Chinese domestic and international airlines, including China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China, Shanghai Airlines and international Skyteam and Star Alliance airlines.
The food scene in Beijing is as rich and varied as the vast country it has ruled for so long. The capital's cuisine boasts a wealth of dishes influenced by centuries of China's eight great culinary traditions. While Beijing Imperial Cuisine and Aristocrat Cuisine were developed for emperors and high officials by the best chefs from around the empire, common Beijingers created their own light snacks and hearty dishes, perfect fuel for a long day's work in either steamy summer heat or bitter winter cold. Unlike the south with its vast rice paddies, Beijing's staple is wheat, frequently made into flour used to make noodles and buns.
Of course, today's dining options extend far beyond China's boundaries, as foreign restaurants—from fast food to fine dining—open around the city at a rapid rate. From cheap and delicious street food to endless banquets of dishes once reserved for emperors to the latest in global fusion, Beijing offers the hungry visitor a wonderful range of choices.
Beijing Roast Duck
Slow roasted and succulent, the famous dish Beijing Roast Duck (Běijīng Kǎoyā, 北京烤鸭) or "Peking Duck," is served with thin crepe-like "lotus leaf pancakes"(héyè bǐng, 荷叶饼) sweet noodle sauce or hoisin sauce (hǎixiān jiàng, 海鲜酱) and finely sliced green onions. Often an adept chef slices the freshly roast duck table-side before serving, separating the skin from the meat. Once served, the meat is wrapped in a pancake with all the fixings and quickly enjoyed. There is, of course, much debate about where to get Beijing's best roast duck, but Quanjude and Li Qun are always at the top of the list.
Beijing Street Food
Carts, stalls and stands selling Beijing's delicious street food dot the city. For breakfast, try the sweet and healthy douzhi soy milk (dòu zhī, 豆汁) and a jian bing (jiān bing, 煎饼), which consists of a quick-fried crepe-like pancake topped with a scrambled egg and various condiments—typical options include sweet soy paste, chili sauce, pickled vegetables, chopped green onions and a crispy strip of fried dough (yóutiáo, 油条). Other snacks include a steamed wheat bun (mántou, 馒头) or a stuffed steam bun (bāozi, 包子) made with any number of fillings, the most typical being seasoned pork. Alongside bamboo steamers and flat jian bing frying pans, you'll often find immigrants from western China—often Uighurs from Xinjiang—grilling lamb skewers seasoned with cumin and other spices (yángròu chuàn, 羊肉串) or stalls selling the meat-filled pita pockets (ròu jiā mó, 肉夹馍) made of a sliced bun accommodating shredded pork or lamb along with lettuce and seasonings.
There are a number of areas in the city that are essentially devoted to food. Try Wangfujing Food Street for its large collection of stalls and locally owned restaurants while Longfusi Snack Street offers snacks specific to Beijing. If you're in the mood for a midnight treat, try Gui Jie or Donghuamen Snack Night Market on the north end of Wangfujing which, along with Longfusi, are both open all night long.
Long a place for artists and craftspeople to hone their skills and for traders to ply their wares, Beijing remains a wonderful place to find art, antiques, and handicrafts—as well as the bounty of modern China's churning factories.
Shops and markets hold a wealth of Chinese calligraphy, paintings, carpets, embroidered silk, jewelry, stone chops, Chinese musical instruments, furniture and Mao memorabilia. There's also a plethora of real and knock-off luxury watches, bags and clothing, pirated DVDs and sports equipment of top quality as well as questionable provenance.
Beijing's Qianmen Lu houses many traditional stores including Chinese medicine shops, silk shops, teashops, and some great Chinese snack shops, including Duyichu, famous for its steamed shaomai (meat-flavored sticky rice). Xidan's night market is a great place for souvenirs. Liulichang is Beijing's antique district, with more than 100 vendors selling antique rugs, tapestries, art and historical memorabilia.
Xiushui Silk Alley in Jianguomenwai offers a maze of hawkers selling Mao-emblazoned goods and clothing. Modern shopping malls filled with international brands line Qianmen Lu, and the city's recent boom has given rise to a number of modern malls and high-end shopping complexes.
Beijing also has several amazing flea markets. Bargain for knick-knacks on the weekends at the Yashuo Market in Sanlitun and Panjiayuan Market near the Panjiayuan Bridge or explore the three floors of clothes, electronics, pearls and artwork at the Hongqiao Market (aka Pearl Market), located near the Temple of Heaven.
Visual artists, musicians and writers from around China—and, increasingly, from around the world—are drawn to Beijing for the same reason European artists flocked to Paris or Americans to New York in the past. The arts scene is established, but it still has a way to go, as the government continues to loosen restrictions that previously made things like rock shows, experimental theater and poetry punishable offenses. Part of the joy of Beijing today is being in the midst of what may emerge as a cultural boom every bit as impressive as China's economic boom.
Clubs & Bars
Today's Beijing offers a wide range of nightlife activities, from dive bars and chic lounges to mega clubs and live music venues.
The city's most notorious bar street is Chaoyang district's Sanlitun: a main drag and several off-shooting alleys and lanes, lined with drinking establishments. Not far from Sanlitun, on Gongti Bei Lu, mega clubs like Mix and VICS dominate the dance scene; offering locals, expats and tourists a heavy dose of hip hop and R&B.
On the more posh circuit, clubs like Block 8 (8 Chaoyang Park West Road, Tel: 010-6508-8585) and LAN (B12 Jianguomen Waidaji, 4/F Twin Tower, Tel: 010-5109-6012) appeal to Beijing's new upper class, while a host of rock venues: D-22, MAO Livehouse, 2 Kolegas and Yugong Yishan cater to the city's burgeoning music scene.
Another option is to check out the city's "lakeside libations," where you can watch the slow waters pass by and have a cold beer all at the same time.
Museums & Galleries
Chinese art has recently experienced a boom, museums and galleries bringing in the goods to feed a hungry public. Contemporary art receives a lot of press, but Beijing is, of course, also home to priceless ancient artifacts. View ancient Yuan and Ming Dynasty lacquer ware at the Capital Museum and classic Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Beijing Art Museum. For contemporary art, check out the 798 Art District, the Wan Fung Art Gallery, Creation Gallery, or the Courtyard Gallery. Additionally, consider Beijing's China Palaeozoological Hall, home to many scientific and historical subjects, or the Ethnic Museum, which features exhibits focusing on the 56 designated minorities in China.
Another interesting addition to the Beijing arts scene are the "Cinema Cafes" that have popped up around town.
Experience the world-famous Beijing Opera at the old Huguang Guildhall Theater, Chang'an Theater, Lao She Teahouse or any number of other venues. Theatrical offerings range from traditional folk dramas and music to contemporary Chinese theater. Kung Fu is also on display at the Red Theater, while Chinese acrobats display their talents at the Chaoyang Theatre. Western and classical Chinese music are both on the schedule at the Beijing Concert Hall, while Century Theatre focuses more on smaller chamber performances and the occasional ballet. The Forbidden City Concert Hall is the perfect venue for traditional Chinese music, while the Poly Plaza International Theatre features a mix of dance, opera and classical music performances.
Festivals & Events
Beijing is developing a reputation for big events, and its calendar seems to be growing as fast as the rest of the city. Traditional festivals fall on dates determined by the lunar calendar with Spring Festival(aka Chinese New Year) in the spring, the Dragon Boat Festival in the summer, and the Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festivalin fall. More modern regular events include the Beijing International Art Festival, the Beijing International Literary Festival and a burgeoning music scene has witnessed the launch of a number of successful music festivals and concerts such as the Beijing Midi Festival.