50 things to do in Beijing: escape the city

Find tranquillity just outside of (or above) the busy Beijing streets

We love Beijing, we really do. Sometimes though, it can be good to get a little little and metaphorical breather by stepping outside the hustle and bustle of the street and enjoying a moment of calm.
Go leaf-peeping in the Fragrant Hills

Go leaf-peeping in the Fragrant Hills

Every year in October and November, locals and tourists alike throng to the Fragrant Hills to see the brilliant colours of the changing leaves. The hillsides are blanketed in reds, oranges and golds – a truly spectacular landscape. You will have to brave the crowds (erm, which can reach the tens of thousands), but consider it an anthropological study.

Spend a night away from the noise

Spend a night away from the noise

Located in the mountains of Mentougou district west of Beijing, the historic village Cuandixia features courtyards dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties. It’s a stark contrast to the bustle of modern Beijing. Stay the night on a traditional kang bed in one of the village homes and visit the stunning Yi Xian Tian Gorge, a short hike away, the next day. Winter’s a glum time to visit the Beijing countryside (better spent indoors sipping hot toddies), so plan your trips for warm weather and avoid the weekends if possible, as the village can fill with tourists.

Be a tourist in Tianjin

Be a tourist in Tianjin

We’re unabashed fans of Tianjin – it’s half an hour away on the bullet train and small enough to digest in a weekend. Architecture in the foreign concessions is unlike anything in Beijing. Stay at The Astor Hotel, once frequented by luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin and Emperor Puyi. The five-star hotel offers reasonable stay-cation packages. Or for the plushest luxury, albeit less history, stay at the Ritz-Carlton across the way and pop over to The Astor for a tour.

Soak up the views from CCTV Tower

Soak up the views from CCTV Tower

Although the CCTV Tower lives in the shadow of its controversial sister building, the 'Big Pants' (formally known as the CCTV headquarters), it is in fact the tallest structure in Beijing. If it's a sprawling cityscape you're after, the 360-degree viewing platform is perfect for a view of Beijing's notorious landmarks and the mountain ranges beyond. 

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