Beijing Destination Guide
Beijing is a cultural, political and economic powerhouse. It is China's current capital – and has been an ancient one too. With a broad wealth of treasures and history spread across the country's bustling infrastructure; it's home to about 20 million people. Given the sheer expanse of the city, visitors will be best able to appreciate the cultural legacies and modern attractions as part of a Beijing tour. Weather in Beijing swings from hot, humid summers, to cold, dry winters – the best time to visit is autumn: September and October. Even if you're not sure how to pronounce the contents of your Mandarin phrase book, your efforts to do so will be appreciated, just keep the book in view to be sure!
Here's a handful of the city's top attractions that should be kept on your list of things to do in Beijing. Tiananmen Square – the world's largest public square, rimmed by grand buildings, including the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which is the entrance to the Forbidden City. Relatively untouched during the cultural revolution, the World Heritage-listed Forbidden City is a preserved palace with almost 1000 buildings. It was home to emperors for almost 500 years, from the early 1400s. The old hutongs of Beijing (alleyways with traditional courtyard residences) are a delightful warren too. The Summer Palace is popular, with reason, and parts of the Great Wall of China lie 1–1.5 hours beyond the city.
Peking/Beijing roast duck is probably the most famous local food export to the world. There are restaurants in Beijing dedicated to the art form of roasting a duck perfectly. For an authentic dish, try the outlets of the Quan Ji De restaurant chain in Qian Men and in He Ping Men. If you're a mushroom fan, try fuling jiabing – a traditional snack food comprising a pancake with filling made from a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine. Whatever you try, this is real Chinese food, which varies a lot, depending on which region's style the food is cooked in. If you're just craving the food of home, don't worry, there are many Western restaurants too. And to drink? Tea. This is the land of tea houses – you'll be spoiled for choice.
With a lot of properties opened in time for the 2008 Olympics, there's no shortage of Beijing accommodation. You'll find everything from hostels to luxury hotels in centrally-located Dongcheng District. If you're looking for a touch of Old Beijing, try the Hans Royal Garden Hotel, set around restored courtyards just off a busy alley in the city centre. If green space in the city is your style, you might like the Bamboo Garden Hotel. Design aficionados will see why Opposite House and Hotel G are front runners with the 'in' crowd. Several mid-range to higher end hotels have kids' clubs, just check at the time of booking.
Traders have been doing business in Beijing for centuries so you've no shortage of opportunities to perfect your haggling skills here. Beijing shopping is diverse. Popular markets are at Xizhimen (for clothing) in Xicheng District; Silk Street (for more than just silk) in Chaoyang District; and Hongqiao (for pearls) in Chongwen District. Don't be afraid to just walk away to affect a trader's price change! Once you've had your share of haggling and hustling, there are also pedestrian shop-lined commercial centres at Qianmen Street, Da Shi Lar and Silver Street, to name a few. Keen to get your teeth into the wares of traditional Chinese food shops? Head to The Tea Street in Xuanwu District and Chongwenmen Food Market in Chongwen District.
Beijing like a Local
Many people don't realise the Great Wall of China isn't one unbroken fortification/landmark; it's in bits. The Badaling section is 70 kilometres north of Beijing and as it's the most readily accessible from the city, is the busiest. Though slightly further away, a more rewarding experience is to take the 10.5 kilometre walk on the section between Jinshanling and Simatai. It's not restored for the full length, so feels more authentic. One other tip: the ring roads which concentrically circle the city, are actually rectangular.