As China’s role and influence on the global stage burgeon, Beijing, the capital of China and the hub of its politics, economy and culture, has become an increasingly popular holiday destination for Western tourists. However, things like dearer flight tickets, over 10 hours of being stranded in a stuffy air cabin, or the potentially daunting experience of being unable to speak Chinese language may impede your decision unless you’re certain of a real blast in the trip. In order to fully enjoy exploring the capital and have a cultural, unique and unforgettable experience, here’s a list of 7 things you can do during a getaway to the Chinese city.
1. Cherry-pick signature attractions to witness Beijing’s history and cultural relics
Undoubtedly, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Tiananmen Square are the household names and the tourists, no matter who are domestic or from abroad must pay their visit. As one of the 4 biggest ancient cities in China, with over 3,000 years of history, Beijing is brimmed with wonderful historical buildings and sites and it would be impossible to see all the attractions in one single trip.
So hand-pick some of the most renowned and culture-rich ones, i.e. the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, as they’ll take you back to the history of the Ming and Qing dynasties and for you to witness the elegant and imperial garden embellished with lakes and mountains, the significant altar the emperors used for worshipping the heavens, praying for rain and harvest, as well as the largest Buddhist temple of the Huangjiao in Tibetan Buddhism, up to today still attracting many believers to come and pray each year.
2. Stroll around beautiful local parks and lakes and unearth the secret how the elderly locals keep super fit
Beijing is dotted with beautiful parks and lakes. The most popular parks are Beihai, Xiangshan, Zizhuyuan and Zhongshan while 3 famous lakes of Qianhai, Xihai and Houhai are situated in the historic Shichahai area. Unlike the UK, the parks in China are enclosed with walls and the admission is required. Wandering inside the parks, you'll be appealed by the beauty of natural and man-made landscape, and also be offered an interesting peek into how the Chinese elderly stay fit by turning up daily and doing group dance, Tai chi, sword dance and watery calligraphy on the floor.
3. Savour authentic and mouth-watering Beijing cuisine
Being the ancient capital of 6 dynasties, Beijing cuisine has taken in the essence and culinary techniques of various regions of China and has combined royal feasts with ordinary family dishes. Beijing Crispy Roast Duck and Lamb Hot Pot are ranked the top among other must-eat local dishes. The best restaurants to please your taste buds are 全聚德 (Quan ju de) and 聚宝源(Ju bao yuan). Other Beijing popular grub includes Zhajiang noodles (the noodles with minced meat and vegetable cubes), Tanghulu (the candied hawthorn fruit on a skewer), Beijing-style kebab, Beijing yogurt, stir-fried liver, Ludagun (the sweet and glutinous snack, literally translated as the donkey rolling), etc.
4. Be a guest in a traditional Chinese tea house, Laoshe Tea House
It’s said the Chinese discovered and used tea for more than 4,000 years. Different from the UK or Europe, the tea culture in China is profound as it embraces spirituality as well as physical substance. The tea ceremony and its spiritual meaning had been reflected through ancient Chinese poetry, painting, calligraphy, religion and medicine.
Therefore, sipping Chinese tea in the most well-known tea house, Laoshe Tea House would be a unique experience. The Laoshe Tea House, named after a famous Chinese novelist and writer and built in 1988, was equipped with Chinese hardwood furniture, antiques, curios and lanterns, maintaining the charm of quaintness and ancient Beijing life style. Here you can try authentic royal fine dishes and traditional Beijing snacks, and watch the dazzling folk performances, such as Beijing opera, Beijing drum, traditional tea art, acrobatics, Kungfu and Bian Lian (the facial mask changing trick), etc.
5. Take a rickshaw tour of Beijing Hutongs (alleys)
Visiting Hutongs is one of the most exciting activities in your Beijing trip. There are many Hutongs in the city, mainly sprawled in the Dongcheng district and the Xicheng district. Some houses in these alleys look old and ill -maintained but give you a taste of the old Beijing and local people’s daily life.
In order to see more Hutongs or avoid getting lost, hire a rickshaw. The most worthy-visit Hutongs are Liulichang, Bada Hutong, Maoer Hutong, Lumichang Hutong, Yangmeizhu Xiejie, Wudaoying Hutong, Qianliang Hutong, Nanluogu Xiang, Yandai Xiejie, Dongjiao Minxiang and Tieshizi Hutong.
6. Secure accommodation in a Siheyuan-style hotel
Siheyuan, a courtyard house, is vividly reflective of Beijing’s history and traditional culture, together with Hutongs. The capital has well preserved a lot of streets and buildings of the Yuan dynasty, including Siheyuan. Siheyuan witnessed China’s modern history and becomes symbolic of the city. In order for the tourists to experience the traditional culture and the old life style of Beijingers, many Siheyuan-style hotels sprang up accordingly. Find yourself such kind of hotel as it’s claimed you can never truly appreciate Beijing without staying in Siheyuan.
7. Shop and haggle in the Silk Street (Xiushui Jie)
As the saying goes, while travelling in Beijing, you have to climb the Great Wall, see the Forbidden City, taste Beijing Crispy Roast Duck and visit the Silk Street. In a word, the Silk Street is one of these 4 famous Beijing symbols and a city landmark for the domestic and foreign tourists.
Established in 1978, the Silk Street used to be a narrow street with small shops to sell silk products, clothes, accessories, Chinese art crafts and local specialities, etc. and was the favourite shopping place for foreigners. Today the previous open market has turned into the international tourism shopping mall, selling leather goods, brand and fashion clothes, shoes, bags, knitwear, children's clothes, ties, silk, jewellery, antiques, calligraphy, accessories, watches and clocks, as well as Beijing Roast Duck and local snacks, etc. The goods price here is negotiable and you might as well hone your haggling skills with Chinese shop owners.