Beijing, the capitol of China, is a vivid pastiche of modernity and history. Having served as the capital of the country for more than 800 years, it is home to some of the finest remnants of China’s imperial past. Beijing is heralded for its glorious and controversial history, but is by no means trapped in the past. From the commanding austerity of the Forbidden City to the hectic bar scene at Sanlitun, Beijing is laden with a unique charisma, alluring visitors from around the world to lose themselves in the bewildering pace. The following items should be on the top of your Beijing BUCKiTLIST.
1- See The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty, the years 1420 to 1912. It is the largest ancient palatial structure in the world and located in the center of Beijing, China. It will take the better part of a day to see the whole City, and there will be long waits to see certain throne rooms and other significant halls. I suggest you visit the Forbidden City on a Monday. They are only open for a half day on Monday, and this keeps the large crowds away, making for a much more comfortable and easy-going tour. Tiananmen Square is located at the entrance, and behind the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park, where you can climb a hill that looks out over the City and central Beijing.
2- Drum Tower
Drum Tower of Beijing, or Gulou, has a very steep and narrow staircase one has to ascend to get to the top, where the drums are located. The view at the top of the Drum Tower is exquisite and it is worth going early just to soak it up. There is a traditional drumming show put on at the start of every hour and the group of performers wear matching traditional silk outfits and put on a very exciting and syncopated drumming display that will give you goosebumps.
3- Bell Tower
Located directly next to the Drum Tower, is the Bell Tower, known as Zhonglou. This tower also has panoramic views of central Beijing and Houhai (a picturesque lake and the surrounding neighborhood in the Xicheng District). It was originally built for musical purposes, and later used to announce the time.
Hutongs are alleys formed by rows of siheyuan, the traditional courtyard residences that were the tradition style of living in northern Chinese cities, such as Beijing. The alleys give a wonderful glimpse into yesterday’s world, the old way of life and traditional Beijing culture, and highlight the dramatic changes the rest of Beijing has undergone. There are a few remaining hutongs around Beijing and they are still under threat from modernization and the building boom that comes along with China’s economic prosperity. You can walk around these old ornate alleyways or you can take a tour, usually on a rickshaw.
5- Great Wall
I don’t think anyone needs an introduction on what the Great Wall of China is. (But,) This structure built to keep out invading people from the north, was first erected around 220 BC, but a majority of the exisiting wall was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). To visit the Great Wall, you have to travel for about 90 minutes and leave the main “rings” of Beijing. Mutianyu is a touristy, but well preserved (and in parts rebuilt) section of the Great Wall. You can hike for miles in either direction. It is truly an amazing sight to see it trail off and disappear in the far distance, winding up and down the perfidious peaks. Remember to take your good walking shoes with you as this is a vigorous workout. The many, many stairs are as steep and difficult to ascend and descend as any I have ever come across. A fun surprise at Mutianyu, you get up to the Wall from the parking lot by chairlift, and you can opt to return to the parking lot by toboggan.
6- Wangfujing Street Food markets
The Wangfujing night markets is home to over 100 stalls selling 100’s of snacks from all over China. For the adventurous palate, it is a food paradise with unique snacks like centipedes, lizards, scorpions, and deep fried crickets available to eat. This delicious food market is open every night from 6pm to 9pm.
7- 798 art district
798 is an area of Beijing that is the epicenter of contemporary Asian art. It is an old munitions factory district that closed down and then was reborn as an area for artist to live, work, and sell. Now it is a very established and globally respected art district boasting over 200 art galleries and museums. I have recently written an in-depth blog post about 798 you can see here.
Sanlitun is an area of the Chaoyang District in Beijing containing many popular bar streets, infamous nightclubs, food, art, fashion, and shopping. The shopping options includes everything from Nike to Uni Qlo, to couture shops, and brand names like Dior and Versace. Take a look inside Yashow garment market to find extreme deals.
9- Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is located in southern Beijing. It was first constructed in 1420, and renovated during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was the place where the emperors would worship to heaven and make animal sacrifices in hopes of a good harvest. Covering an area of 273 hectares, it is the largest architectural complex in the world for rituals to pay homage to heaven.
10- Johnnie Walker House
The world’s largest embassy for luxury Scotch whisky, the Johnnie Walker House Beijing will provide consumers with bespoke experiences to immerse themselves into the world of whisky and Johnnie Walker. Blending a bar, museum, retail outlet and an exclusive members club, the Johnnie Walker House Beijing is a very fun and luxurious experience. It is housed in the original American Embassy building and has been exquisitely designed with many private tasting rooms, storage vaults, and rare whiskies.
11- See a local sports event
Beijing is host to many touring and regular sporting events. The Beijing Ducks basketball team has a large and loyal following and attending a game makes for a very fun night. The crowd is so into the game and everyone knows specific cheers to shout out for each player upon scoring. NBA great, Stephon Marbury, has led the Ducks to several national championships now, and is a valuable addition to the Chinese sports scene.
12- Go to Beijing Air+Style
Air+Style is a global event series that blends live music, action sports, art, and culture. One of the most influential snowboard challenges today, the festival features the world’s best snowboarders going head to head on a signature 16 story high snowboard jump. Previous musical guests to grace the Air+Style stage include J. Cole, Incubus, Kaskade, HAIM, Big Grams, All Time Low, Rudimental, A-Trak, Gramatik, Netsky, A$AP Ferg, Danny Brown, Flatbush Zombies, Travis Barker (Drum & DJ set), and Allie X. The world’s best snowboarders, music performances, and an epic 16-story snow jump. I can’t wait for this event! Beijing, here I come!