Done with swamped tourist traps? Check out these alternative things to do in Beijing, great for both savvy tourists and Beijingers alike.
Temple of Successive Dynasties.
If you like The Forbidden City
Constructed from 1406 through 1420
during the Ming Dynasty, the Forbidden City
– the world’s largest walled palace – served
as China’s imperial palace until the end of
the Qing Dynasty in 1912, housing a total of
24 emperors. A Unesco World Heritage Site
and the home of the Palace Museum, the
(not-so) Forbidden City now opens its gilded
gates for anything up to 80,000 tourists
per day. Open 8.30am-5pm daily (peak
season). 40-60RMB. Subway station: Tiananmen East or
Try Working People's Cultural Palace
Break away from the masses heading to
the Forbidden City and duck off east at the
Working People’s Cultural Palace
its prime location between Tiananmen
Square and the Forbidden City, this palace
park remains largely unexplored by tourists
ticking the Beijing landmarks off their
bucket lists. Designed in the same style as
the rest of the Forbidden City, the Workers
Cultural Palace – originally the 'Royal
Ancestral Temple' before it was renamed
by Mao – was an important place of worship
for emperors. Now a tranquil space away
from the madding crowds, it’s a great spot
to get the Forbidden City-feel, but with
smaller halls, cheaper entry and more space
to breathe. Open 6.30am-7.30pm daily.
2RMB. Subway station: Tiananmen East.
Try Temple of Successive Dynasties
Originally built in 1530, the Temple of
Miao), was used by rulers of the Ming and
Qing dynasties to offer sacrifices to past
emperors and, later, to hold a memorial
service for Republic of China leader Sun
Yat-sen. Unfolding across a 21,500sqm
perimeter, the grand buildings are touted for
their architectural likeness to the Forbidden
City, even featuring the same yellow-gold
bricks used to pave the floor in the main hall.
Despite the fact that this mini Forbidden City
opened to tourists in 2004 after a lengthy
restoration project, it’s never really made
its way on to the typical tourist hit list. While
there’s no English audio tour to help you
navigate the halls, info tablets explaining the roles and achievements of the honoured
emperors are available in the East Annex
Hall. 131 Fuchengmennei Daijie.Open
9am-4.30pm Wed-Sun. 20RMB. Subway station: Xisi.
View from Jingshan.
If you like The Summer Palace
The largest royal garden in Beijing, the
was essentially a deluxe,
giant play area for imperial families. Today,
the throngs pile in to see temples and
pagodas dotted across Longevity Hill. Climb
to the top for beautiful views of Kunming
Lake. 19 Xinjian Gongmen Lu. Open
7am-7pm daily (peak season). 30-60RMB. Subway station: Beigongmen.
Try Jingshan Park
Originally a private garden located
just north of the Forbidden City,
aerial views of the imperial
palace in its entirety. On a clear
day, walking around the viewing
platform – the highest point of land
in central Beijing – you can expect
striking panoramic views of the entire (non-forbidden)
city. Jingshan Qianjie. Open
6.30am-9pm daily. 2-10RMB. Subway station: Dongsi.
A booze-fuelled alternative to Jingshan,
80 stories up the China World Summit
Wing building, Atmosphere
– aka Beijing’s
highest bar – has some of the finest views
the city has to offer. Situated smack-bang
in the CBD, you can look down over the
CCTV 'pants' building, Beihai Park, the
Workers’ Stadium, the National Centre for
the Performing Arts, the Forbidden City
and more – weather permitting. As part of a
pop-up cocktail series, you can also order
a range of Forbidden City-themed tipples.
80th Floor, China World Summit Wing Beijing,
1 Jianguomenwai Dajie. Open midday-2am
Sun-Thu; midday-4am Fri-Sat. Subway station: Guomao.
Atmosphere at night.
Baiziwan Lu Graffiti Wall.
If you like The Mao portrait
Located at the north side of Tiananmen
Square, Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly
Peace) and the Mao portrait that hangs
high at its centre is one of Beijing’s most
iconic sights. A snapshot recognised the
world over, you’ll be lucky if you find a spot to
squeeze in with your selfie stick. Subway station: Tiananmen East or Tiananmen West.
Try Baiziwan Lu Graffiti Wall
Shake up your Beijing backdrop at this
colourful urban canvas on Baiziwan Lu. A
recent addition to Beijing’s street-art scene,
the 800sqm wall features works of visiting
artists from all over the Mainland,
Asia and Europe. The mural is also
located opposite 22 International
Art Plaza, Shuangjing’s answer
to 798, housing contemporary
galleries, shops and restaurants.
32 Baiziwan Lu. Subway station: Shuangjing
798 Art District.
If you like Tiananmen Square
A focal point for the still-revered communist
revolutionary Mao Zedong’s vision of
greatness for China, Tiananmen Square
is adorned with Soviet-style buildings and
communist monuments. For a truly patriotic
experience, catch the national flag raising
ceremony at sunrise and pair it with a visit
to Mao’s mausoleum at the south side of
the square. Allegedly the final resting spot
of the Great Helmsman himself, devout
supporters from all over the country make
the pilgrimage to Tiananmen Square to
pay their respects to his (so we’re told)
embalmed body at the Chairman Mao
Memorial Hall. South side of Tiananmen
Square. Open 7am-midday Tue-Sun (hours
may vary). Subway station: Tiananmen East or West.
Try 798 Art District
Despite its reputation among hip Beijingers
as a stuffy, over-commercialised art
district with overpriced cafés and gentrified
is actually a good spot
to get a feel for communist Beijing in its
heyday. The art district is a former industrial
zone, and the decommissioned factories
and warehouses – made with a little help
from East Germany in the infancy of the
PRC in the '50s – are a reminder of China’s
communist past. At 798 Art Factory the
writing is (quite literally) on the walls:
the grey factory hall is plastered with
motivational Maoist slogans. Heading
further east, beyond the train track that
saw the arrival of trains from East Germany,
take a walk over the steel highline walkway
running north to south to get a good view of
the German Bauhaus-style buildings in their
entirety. As you walk along, you’ll notice
a number of additional Maoist slogans
still dotted around the space. For a full
communist experience, Bespoke Beijing
offers a guided tour through the area.
4 Jiuxianqiao Lu. Subway station: Jiangtai.
If you like Lama Temple
Still an active space of worship, Yonghegong
is one of China’s most well-known and
important lamaseries (a monastery for
Tibetan Buddhist monks). While its ornate,
incense-filled halls and 18-metre-tall
sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha
in the final hall attract pilgrims from all over
the world, they also lure in the masses. 12
Yonghegong Dajie. Open 9am-4.30pm daily
(peak season). 25RMB. Subway station: Yonghegong.
Try Miaoyang Temple
Tucked away in one of the city’s treasured
low-rise districts, Miaoying Temple, also
known as Baitasi, is generally overlooked in
favour of its glitzier counterparts. But what it
lacks in stature, it makes up for in historical
significance and solitude. Originally built
during the Yuan Dynasty on the orders of
Kublai Khan in 1271, the temple was an
important political symbol of unification
between Tibet and the rest of the empire.
The white dagoba (Tibetan-style pagoda)
that sits inside its wall remains the tallest
and one of the oldest in China. The temple
halls house a collection of Tibetan Buddhist
artefacts, including a number of scriptures
and statues. 171 Fuchengmennei Dajie.
Open 9am-4pm Tue-Sun. 20RMB. Subway station: Fuchengmen or Xisi.
Parkview Green mall.
If you like Beijing National Stadium
The 2008 Beijing Olympics may be long
gone, but its legacy lives on. The Beijing
, aka the Bird’s Nest,
remains a shrine to China’s grand entrance
onto the world stage. The largest steel
structure in the world, the giant and
intricately designed nest holds up to
80,000 spectators and should withstand
an earthquake up to eight on the Richter Scale. Used to hold the athletics events
and the opening and closing ceremonies
during the 2008 Olympics, the stadium’s
main purpose now is to draw in the tourists
to fund its yearly maintenance fees of 11
milion USD. Beijing National Stadium Nan
Lu. Open 9am-7pm daily (peak season).
50RMB. Subway station: Olympic Sports Center.
Try Parkview Green mall
Built using materials specifically chosen for
their sustainability factor, this large glass
has its very own self-regulating
microclimate and uses 50 percent less
energy than most buildings its size. Plus
it looks magnificent. If that isn’t enough
reason to stay forever, the high-end mall
houses a private collection of valuable art
works from around the world, including
one of the greatest private collections of
Salvador Dali’s work outside of Barcelona.
Sprinkle in a smattering of Beijing’s best
restaurants, high-end shops and a five-star
hotel and you have the complete shop-eat-stay
package. 9 Dongdaqiao Lu. Open
10am-10pm daily. Subway station: Dongdaqiao.
If you like Temple of Heaven
The most prominent of four well-known
sacrificial temples in Beijing, the Temple of
(Tiantan) was originally constructed
in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and used
by emperors during the Ming and Qing
dynasties to appease the heavens and pray
for good crops. Sitting in a large park, the
three main altars – the iconic Hall of Prayer
for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of
Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar – draw
in the crowds all year round. Tiantan Dong
Lu. Open 8am-5.30pm daily (peak season).
10-35RMB. Subway station: Tiantan Dongmen.
Try Ritan Park
When you can no longer face the hordes,
reprieve awaits at Ritan Park
. The home
of the Temple of Sun, the altar was
originally built in 1530 and used by
Ming and Qing emperors to offer sacrifices
to the sun gods. While you can expect to
see similar, albeit less impressive, altars
to those at the Temple of Heaven, Ritan
Park carries its own. Its relative anonymity
makes it one of Beijing’s most peaceful
parks, with beautiful pavilions overlooking
the lake. It’s one of the best places to catch
old folk practising tai chi, dancing or playing
mah-jong without hordes of tourists flooding
the place – and it won’t cost you a penny to
enter. 6 Ritan Bei Lu. Open 6am-10pm daily
(peak season). Subway station: Yonganli.
If you like Silk Market
Once upon a time recognised
for its beautiful Chinese silk
wares, the Silk Market, now
one of Beijing’s most notorious
shopping destinations, has
been sucking in tourists and
spitting out 'I heart BJ' t-shirts
for close to two decades. The
Silk Market’s eight floors are packed
with stalls hawking all sorts of Beijing
souvenirs alongside every kind of knockoff
imaginable: from Prado bags to Fucci
loafers and replicas of high-end electronics.
And, of course, there’s a whole floor
dedicated to 'silks' and tailored clothing.
The merchants are fierce and well-versed
when it comes to tourists and getting a
real bargain takes haggling skills to match.
8 Xiushui Dongjie, Jianguomenwai Dajie.
Open 9.30am-9.30pm daily. Subway stationL Yonganli.
Expansive markets not your style?
Fortunately there are plenty of
where you can find one-of-a-kind
souvenirs. Shard Box Store
handcrafted trinket boxes and jewellery
made using broken porcelain pieces that
were thrown away during the Cultural
Revolution. For pottery, Spin Ceramics
reasonably priced pieces made and fired
in China’s ceramic capital, Jingdezhen.
Alternatively, the Liu family have been
crafting traditional bamboo-framed
Chinese kites for three generations at
Three Stone Kite
. Choose from decorative
and functional birds, butterflies, dragons
and more. Explore Beijing's best shops.
If you like Panjiayuan Market
This popular flea market
with stalls flogging all manner of Beijing
souvenirs, trinkets and (now mostly fake)
antiques: PLA caps, jewellery, books,
ancient coins, propaganda posters and
more. While it’s usually bustling with enough
tour groups to match its souvenir-shop
status, if you get in early (it opens as early as 4.30am on summer weekends) you can
usually snatch yourself a bargain. West of
Panjiayuan Qiao. Open 8.30am-6pm MonFri,
4.30am-6pm Sat-Sun. Subway station: Panjiayuan.
Try Liulichang Antiques Street
Known for its special-interest collection
of old Chinese book and handcraft stores,
at Liulichang Antiques Street you can find
pottery, paintings, calligraphy materials,
books and more. Even if you’re not looking
to buy, this place is worth a visit, especially
early evening: you’ll be hard-pressed to
find a more peaceful and better-looking
shopping area in Beijing. Liulichang Xijie,
Liulichang Dongjie. Subway station: Hepingmen.
Some tasty treats from Hugosi Jie.
If you like Wangfujing Snack Street
Famous for its 'exotic' offerings, largely
comprised of insects on sticks, Wangfujing’s
Donghuamen Night Market was forced to shutter its stalls back in June. But you
can still get your scorpion-on-a-skewer fix
at Wangfujing’s xiaochijie (snack street)
just west of Wangfujing Dajie. Entering
through the archway, you’ll join the
hordes opting between overpriced
scorpion and snake skewers.
West off Wangfujing Dajie. Open
9.30am-10pm daily. Subway station: Wangfujing.
Try Huguosi Snack Street
You won’t find any insects down
; old Beijing snacks are the
main flavour here. Once the home of Huguo
Temple, Huguosi Jie was well known for
its monthly temple fair, and its temple
fair snacks. Although the temple has
gone, the tasty morsels remain. The best
known restaurant on the street, Huguosi
Xiaochidian (护国寺小吃店) has more than
80 varieties of Beijing delights. Grab a
tray and take your pick from the sweet and
savoury (often dough- or soy bean-based)
offerings. Elsewhere on the street, you’ll
find slender pan-fried dalian
dumplings and crispy pan-fried donkey
burgers. Huguosi Jie. Subway station: Pinganli.
If you like UCCA
Founded over 30 years ago, Ullens
Center for Contemporary Art
Beijing’s most venerable and established
contemporary art institution. The massive
building is the prime attraction of Beijing’s
art district, where you can also check
in on brand-name galleries such as Pace
and Farschou Foundation. 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu.
Open 10am-7pm Tue-Sun. Admission prices
vary. Subway station: Jiangtai.
For a less commercial alternative to 798,
head to the nearby Caochangdi
which hosts a cluster of small galleries
with less established names. Check
the programmes of Pekin Fine Arts
, Taikang Space
or de Sarthe
to see what’s on during your visit. Northeast
of 798. No subway.