Most China toursare likely to visit Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. Beijing was my home for over a decade and a place that remains close to my heart. It is unlike any other Chinese city in that it has a unique blend of history, modernity, art, culture as well as having some of the most stand out sights of any city in the world, let alone China.
The Great Wall & Forbidden City
Some of the best parts of the Great Wall, arguably one of the world’s premium tourist sights and most recognizable features in the world, are a mere few hours drive away. The extensive Forbidden City dominates the centre of the city with Tiananmen Square, the world’s fourth largest, adjoined and takes in tens of millions of tourists every year. The Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace make up the most visited sights that Beijing has to offer but in fact there is so much more to this city than these heavyweights of international and domestic tourism. Here I’ll offer you a couple of alternatives to the main sights in Beijing and places I saw grow up from nearly nothing in my time living there.
Contemporary Beijing & 798 Arts area
For the art lovers out there Beijing offers a whole art district known as 798. This huge area has grown up since it’s purchase by Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1995 and since 2000 this growth really started to take pace with many of the country’s influential artists setting up their workshops there. It’s a place that is easy to spend a whole day just wandering around the open workshops, galleries and displays or just relaxing in the many cafe’s, bars and restaurants that have sprung up over the area. Big brand launch parties have maybe taken away a little of the raw energy of the beginning of the century but it is still well worth a visit.
The Drum & Bell Towers in the Hutongs
How about checking out the thriving area of Gulou, around the Drum and Bell towers. These towers once signaled important festivals etc but nowadays a thriving youth scene has sprung up in this area. Led firstly by Beijing’s underground rock musicians and those fanatical about comic books and gaming, this area now has many bars, restaurant and cafes as well as some of the coolest vintage clothes shops Beijing has to offer. Located near the lakes of Hou Hai, it is quite easy to spend a day wandering down new “trendy” streets such as NanLuoGuXiang where young designers show off their designs and street food is readily available. You can then wander over to the Drum and Bell Towers to one of the roof garden bars that surround the square there before heading over to the lake in Hou Hai for a boat trip tot he sounds of traditional instrument players before rounding the day of with some food, perhaps at the sizeable Vietnamese restaurant Nuage that looks over the lake and has expanded since opening into one of the areas most popular restaurants.
All in all Beijing has much more than this but these are a couple of ideas to show you another side to this amazing city.