To simply label Beijing as China’s powerhouse is an understatement. The megacity has come such a long way since its beginnings as an ancient walled capital –one which has hosted imperial dynasties, survived a Mongolian invasion, and become ground zero for Chairman Mao’s communist revolution.
Still, as one of the oldest cities in the world with a three millennia-long legacy, Beijing is proud of its history, and its landscape is a testament to that. The same pride is also seen in its people and their penchant for hospitality. Little wonder then that it has been chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, making it the first city with the honour of ever hosting both Olympic events.
From architecture and culture to dining options and attractions, here’s everything you need to include in your itinerary to the Chinese capital.
WHERE TO STAY
Aman Summer Palace
The Aman Summer Palace is perhaps the most glorious place to discover everything that is beautiful and charming in Beijing. Conveniently located on the east wall of the Summer Palace — one of the city’s shiniest historical jewels — the resort-style accommodation draws on the pomp of the Qing dynasty to offer a labyrinth of luxurious spaces.
Modern travellers here will be treated to a rare peek into the lives of royalty. Courtyards intersect across the symmetrical property, leading guests into manicured gardens and high-beamed chambers. As with any Aman property, the Aman Summer Palace is beautifully understated. All 51 rooms are generously laden with amenities, and furnished with Ming-inspired furniture that’s suitably palatial.
Despite being so deeply imbued with heritage, modern facilities are in abundance here. A 25-metre infinity pool and a well-appointed spa accompany a pair of squash courts, a gym, and even a 35-seat cinema. Should you decide to spend a relaxing day in, the library bar offers afternoon tea, where you’ll be able to fully take in the romance of the establishment with delectable sweets in hand.
Address: 1 Gongmenqian Street, Haidian District, Bejing, China.
Cours et Pavillons
Yet another that bucks the trend of cookie-cutter five-star hotels is Cours et Pavillons, an intimate boutique hotel fashioned from a collection of hutong homes. Located in the Wangfujing Street and Forbidden City area of Beijing, the hotel and its seven rooms sit in the heart of all the action as a masterclass in chinoiserie and modern Italian aesthetics. Here, sprightly-hued latticed doors open up to a refined space, complete with high ceilings and luxurious marbled bathrooms.
Address: 26 Weijia Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.
Red Capital Residence
Those looking to fully steep in Beijing’s Liberation-era days should look no further than the appropriately named Red Capital Residence. An unadulterated celebration of 1950s communist optimism, the kitschy establishment was one of the city’s first courtyard hotels. Expect the property to be crammed full of memorabilia, antiques, and curios from the forgotten past. To drive the message home, even the staff are dressed in Red Guard uniforms.
There are only five rooms here, two of which are inspired by opium dens, another two named after revolutionary writers Han Suyin and Edgar Snow, and finally, the Chairman’s Suite, named in honour of the big man himself.
Address: No 9 Dongsi Liutiao, Dongcheng District, Dong Zhi Men, Beijing, China.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Duck de Chine
A trip to Beijing is far from complete if you didn’t sit down to at least one meal that comprises of a Peking duck. It is, after all, one of the city’s biggest culinary gifts to the world. As the birthplace of this revered roasted dish, Beijing isn’t short of restaurants which have perfected the art. At the top of this list is Duck de Chine.
Located inside 1949 — The Hidden City (a factory that has been transformed into a dining and nightlife complex) in Sanlitun — Duck de Chine is a favourite even among the locals. Jujube wood is used during the roasting process, giving the duck’s skin a crispy and caramelised finish while its meat remains juicy and exceptionally tender.
Opening hours: Lunch: 11am – 2.30pm; dinner: 5pm – 10.30pm (Last order 10.15pm)
Address: 98 Jinbao Street, Dong Cheng District, Beijing, China
Huguosi Hutong Snack Street
If you’re up for a culinary adventure, the Huguosi Hutong Snack Street is a traditional snack street with a history that spans centuries. Located in the east of Beijing City, the area is home to an impressive number of restaurants and stalls, offering everything from steamed rice cakes and miancha (a local breakfast porridge), to cold noodles and local pancakes.
Address: 68 Huguosi Street, Xicheng District, Beijing ,China.
Beijing’s historical past not only lives on today via storied palace grounds, but also through its culinary heritage. At Rosewood Hotel’s Country Kitchen, Chef de cuisine Leo Chai has taken the liberty of digging up lost recipes from Beijing’s countryside in the pre-1950s. Northern Chinese dishes are widely celebrated here, so expect a menu that includes stellar iterations of knife-cut noodles, koushuiji (Sichuan chicken in chilli oil), and Liu Gou Village tofu.
Opening hours: Lunch: 11.30am – 2.30 pm; Dinner: 5.30pm – 10.30 pm.
Address: 3F Rosewood Hotel, Jing Guang Centre, Hujialou, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China.
Discreetly tucked within the carpark of a former warlord residence, Arch is truly a hidden gem that attracts both curious visitors and the city’s elite. Beyond its intimidating stone walls and pitched roof, however, is an intimate space with plenty of surprises on the cocktail front. Sous-vide banana-infused rum and truffle oil bourbon are just two of the many exotic liquors on offer at Arch, and the concoctions — while delicately crafted — have been known to also pack a punch. Be prepared for a hefty bill here, but we promise the experience is well worth it.
Opening hours: Daily: 7pm – 1am
Address: 3 Zhangzizhong Road, Ping’an Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China
Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant
Established in 1902, Li Jun Roast Duck Restaurant is a small courtyard eatery that’s nestled within a charming Beijing hutong. The family-run eatery’s interiors might not be much to shout about, but its remarkably aromatic iteration of the Peking duck more than makes up for it.
Each carefully roasted to perfection over fruit woods, the Peking ducks here boast a uniquely fragrant skin that’s crisp, light, and savoury. Other dishes worth ordering include the crispy duck bone with salt and pepper, salted duck liver, and the dry-fried four delicacies.
Opening hours: 10am – 8.30pm daily
Address: 11 Beixiangfeng Hutong, Qianmen Dongdajie, Chongwen District
Wangfujing Snack Street
Located to the south of Haoyou World Mall — one of the street’s most popular shopping centres — is the equally busy Wangfujing Snack Street, where hundreds of snack stalls and stands sell authentic bites to both curious tourists and seasoned locals. More than 500 kinds of food can be found here, so you’ll definitely be inclined to return for more. Those looking to immerse in Beijing’s historic culture over good food will also find Beijing opera performances and tea appreciation sessions here.
Opening hours: 9.30am – 10pm daily
Address: Wangfujing Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing
WHAT TO DO
The Forbidden City
China isn’t short of majestic palaces but its most glorious and celebrated sits right in the heart of Beijing. Constructed in 1406 during the Ming Dynasty, The Forbidden City is the largest ancient palatial structure in the world, preserving the essence of traditional Chinese architecture.
A visit here will comprise of a serene walk through impeccably-pruned traditional gardens, strolls past imperial and governing quarters, and stops at valuable art pieces and artefacts from the era. Set aside two to three hours of your day here to fully explore and immerse in its grandiosity.
Opening hours: April to October 8:30am – 5pm; November to March: 8:30am – 4.30pm. (Closed on Mondays, except the Chinese statutory holidays.)
Admission fees: April to October 60 yuan; November to March: 40 yuan
Address: 4 JingshanQian Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.
The Summer Palace is another site that truly reflects China’s reverence for its history. Originally constructed in 1750 to prepare for the lavish birthday ceremony of Emperor Qianlong’s mother, the Summer Palace sits the imperial garden that is the country’s biggest and best-preserved of its kind. Besides manicured gardens, its temples and pavilions have been carefully designed to achieve harmony with nature.
The massive compound naturally offers plenty of activities: a 10-minute boat ride on Kunming Lake is a romantic option for couples, while families often enjoy traditional Chinese performances that take place in a restored theatre.
Admission fees: April 1 to October 31 (peak season): 30 yuan; November 1 to March 31 (off-peak season): 20 yuan
Opening hours: Peak season: 6.30am – 6pm; Off-peak season: 7am – 5pm
Address: 19 Xinjian Dongmen Road, Haidian District, China.
Today Art Museum
It’s not all old and no new in Beijing. The Today Art Museum stands in Baiziwan Road as a reminder of how far the contemporary art scene has come in the city. As the first museum that’s dedicated to contemporary art, the establishment plays a crucial role within the local art community today, giving many homegrown artists a platform to showcase their works. Look forward to plenty of Instagrammable moments here, including a cluster of Yue Minjun’s silver laughing men at the entrance of the building.
Entry to the Today Art Museum is free for the public every first Saturday of each month, as well as on International Museum Day on 18 May.
Admission fees: 20 yuan
Opening hours: 10 am – 6pm; closed every Monday and during Spring Festival
Address: Building 4, Pingod Community, 32 Baiziwan Rd, , Chaoyang District, Beijing, China.
The Summer Palace might be a familiar name in Beijing, but the capital is also home to a Winter Palace. More formally known as the Beihai Park, the public area and former imperial garden is often overlooked on itineraries despite being adjacent to the Forbidden City.
Located in the northwestern part of the Imperial City, the picturesque grounds is one of the largest Chinese gardens in the country. Its history of over a millennia means that there are plenty of ancient temples, imperial palaces, and religious structures within to explore.
Admission fees: April to October (peak season): 10 yuan; November to March (off-peak season): 5 yuan
Opening hours: Peak season: 6.30am – 9pm; Off-peak season: 6.30am – 8pm
Address: 1 Wenjin St, Xicheng, Beijing, China
This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Singapore