Beijing is massive, so where does one start? China itself has a population of 1.3 billion, and Beijing itself 20.1 million (2011) so everywhere you go, there’s people, people and people.
Good and bad. For places that need a crowd for atmosphere such as the clubs, Beijing is rocking the beat with a party vibe that’s not easily rivaled. But if you’re walking round town on your own, in the heat of summer, the number of people jostling you can take its toll. So, with so little time in Beijing, what can one do? Here are our list of 10 thing to do in Beijing, in a week.. if that’s all the time you have!
Our top 10 things to do in Beijing are:
1. Get lost in the Hutongs
old timers with not a care in the world..
On the first day itself, we decided to go out and explore .. and to lose ourselves in the gorgeous hutongs of Beijing. It wasn’t difficult because we both don’t read a single character of Mandarin at all! Hutongs once dominated the city of Beijing, but in recent years many have been leveled in the name of modernization. The alleys give a wonderful glimpse into the world of yesterday in Beijing. You can see old timers playing chinese chess and little children running around and playing naked in the streets. While visiting the Beijing hutong, you can appreciate the dramatic changes that the rest of Beijing has undergone.Trishaw drivers hang around offering tours, but they tend to be rip-off’s and cost a lot more, so the best way is to rent your own bike and explore slowly, the back lanes of these lovely hutongs. It’s not hard to find bicycle shops nearby and some even offer tandem and up to three seaters for rental.
picture perfect hutong
many twists and turns along the hutong.. really gets me confused as to where I am!
tandem or ride trio on bicycles to explore the hutongs
Of the Beijing hutongs, Beixinqiao hutong has the most turns – it has more than 20 turns and for me, I would easily get lost as I am so bad with directions! The narrowest is Qian Shi (Money Market) hutong, measuring about 30 to 40 meters, located in Zhubao Shi Street outside the Front Gate. The narrowest part is a mere 40 centimeters wide, so when two people meet, they must turn sideways to pass each other! The longest one is Dong Jiaomin hutong, with a total length of 6.5 kilometers, lying between Chang’an Avenue and East Street and West Street of the Front Gate. The shortest one is Guantong Hutong measuring only about 30 meters.
2. Walk the Great Wall of China
Known to the Chinese as the ‘Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li’, the formidable defensive structures built to ward off invasion of the Celestial Empire by barbarians is called the Great Wall or the Wall of China. The Great Wall of China is not a continuous wall but is a collection of short walls that often follow the crest of hills on the southern edge of the Mongolian plain.
Whilst Badaling is rather touristy, the best wall to visit is at Mutianyu. It has a decent cable car which takes you up to the watch tower and the view up there is pretty amazing. At some points you see 3-4 layers of the wall and finally you can ride a toboggan all the way down!
Stretching approximately 8,851.8 kilometers (5,500 miles) from east to west of China, it has a history of more than 2000 years, and some of the sections are now in ruins or have disappeared. However, it is still one of the most appealing attractions all around the world owing to its architectural grandeur and historical significance. This is a must see, of course! But you know, I learned something here, and that is, the claim that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space or from the moon with the naked eye, simply is not true. It’s a myth but a great one, don’t you think?
check out the cable car trail on the left, the great wall on the right!
3. Eat Creepy Crawlies at Wang Fu Jing
Wangfujing shopping street was a mere 10 minute subway ride from our hotel at The Westin Beijing Financial street. Wangfujing is a fairly long street and is somewhat of a TimeSquare of Beijing. A walk from end to end would take you about 30 minutes, and that’s without looking at any shops. After walking down this street for 10 minutes, you will notice a turning off to your left – this is what the tourists call Wangfujing Night Snack Street.
girl says, must I eat that?! … and mum says, Eat it! It’s good for you!
is that a RAT on the extreme left? I have no idea.. but I definitely made out, snakes, earthworms, lizards and scorpions!
This 100-meter long snack street is open from 6:00pm to 9:00pm every day. The night market is home to over 100 stalls selling what seems to be like a thousand snacks from all over China! For adventurous dinners, it is a food paradise with such unique snacks as centipedes deep fried crickets available to eat on a stick. Nestled among the traditional chicken, pork and lamb kebobs, hungry diners will find trays of more unusual offerings. Items like deep-fried cicada, starfish, seahorses, beetles and silk worms to name a few. And don’t forget the deep-fried scorpions, which taste like keropok (crisps) if you’ve ever tired them! The worst of the creepy crawlies would be the trays of skinned snakes, lizards, earthworms and tiny birds all artistically spiked onto skewers. Lovely.. I think I just felt my dinner making an appearance all over again.. but that’s all part of the fun I suppose?
good lord.. baby birds?
these gave me the heebie jeebies.. brrr
4. Marvel at the Forbidden City
And who would not know of the beauty and opulence of the Forbidden City from the movie that made it famous.. The Last Emperor? The Forbidden City, also named the Palace Museum, shares the honor of being one of five world-famous palaces with the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in England, the White House in the U.S. and the Kremlin in Russia. The palace, the most magnificent and splendid palace complex in China, was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Building in 1987. It was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the construction of this group of buildings took fourteen years from 1406 to 1420.
Most travelers enter the Forbidden City through Tian’anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Through the gate, across an expansive brick-paved square, you will reach the main entrance to the palace, Meridian Gate (Wumen in Chinese). Meridian Gate was the place where the Emperor announced the new lunar calendar on the winter solstice. Enter through Meridian Gate, and go across Golden Stream Bridge, then you will arrive at the outer court. The Forbidden City falls into two parts: the outer court and the inner palaces.
5. Feel the Burn at Hai Di Lao
Ah, the Chinese sure like their hot pot and any time of day is a good time for Sichuan Hotpot. Hai Di Lao is one of the best restaurants to check out this spicy dining experience. This restaurant serves up authentic Sichuan hot pot and hand-pulled noodles and has exceptionally good service to boot. They also allows customers to order half dishes, making it perfect for smaller groups or perhaps a single diner to still binge on a hot pot by themselves.
Be warned however, that the minimum wait is ONE hour, but though long queues are the reality, Hai Di Lao makes it really comfortable for the diners to wait -with ample seats, board games, hand massage counters, complimentary tea, snacks and manicures to boot! Alternatively, take your number from the waiter who will give you an estimated time of 1 hour, go downstairs and shop (shopping district below) and come back for your slot! Easy peasy.
You can order your La Mien and watch the guy put on a real show for you – pulling the ramen.
here’s the guy moving so fast we cannot catch the ramen in flight!
fabulous chewy la mien!
there is a sauce counter where you can go to select your sauce dip, to go with the meats in the hotpot. There’s something like over 30 sauces to choose from so just imagine the permutations! Here you see the concoction expertly prepared by my buddy Cheryl.. it’s her special mix!
they give all diners a bib, so they don’t mess up their clothes getting the red sichuan pepper sauce on themselves while eating
they give you a rubber band to tie up your hair as well! Talk about anticipating every discomfort and making it more comfortable!
6. Visit Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is the geographical center of Beijing City. It is the largest city square in the world, occupying an area of 440,000 square meters and accommodates 1,000,000 people at one time. The square is huge, flat and rather hot (no shade in summer) with the main attraction being the red national flag which flutters in the wind, flying high.
The raising of the national flag is something which should not be missed by visitors to Tiananmen Square. With the towering Monument to the People’s Heroes at the center, Tiananmen Square has the magnificent Tiananmen Tower in the north, the solemn Mao Zedong Memorial Hall in the south, the National Museum of China in the east and the Great Hall of the People in the west. Surrounded by these lofty buildings, the Square looks most splendid and majestic and attracts many tourists every day. In the center of the Square stands the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which commemorates the martyrs who devoted their lives to the Chinese people. Engraved is the epigraph written by Mao Zedong, the founder of People’s Republic of China. Eight reliefs depict the crucial events which took place in modern times, showing a part of the centuries-old history of China.
7. Crispy Up with Duck de Chine
You ain’t been to Beijing, if you ain’t had Peking duck. And Duck de Chine is the place to have it in style. There’s much debate if the Peking duck at Da Dong, is better, but we only had time to go to Duck de Chine, and we loved it. Anyway Duck de Chine is a chic restaurant in a beautiful garden area complex in Sanlitun. Great ambience, excellent duck and good service. It is an upmarket restaurant so expect to pay a little more for the food. We were recommended here to try some of the best Peking duck in China.
sound the gong.. the expert meat carver is about to carve your duck..
the lady demonstrates how to make the first roll.. you make the rest
Sets ranging RMB 188-388 per person feature an impressive variety of duck and non-duck dishes to sample. Of course, the classic Peking duck combo – crisp roast duck to roll in pancakes with plum sauce, spring onion and cucumber – is also available as a standalone dish. Other dishes worth trying are the plum-infused pumpkin and braised oyster mushroom wrapped in tofu skin.
the waitress is amazing – she adds the dollops of different colored sauces, gives it a firm swirl .. and VOILA!
perfectly pretty and rather hypnotic peking duck sauce in a saucer! Love it!
The duck itself was rather ostentatiously presented – its arrival announced by a gong at the table before the chef expertly carved it in front of us. What can we tell you about the duck? Way more crispy than the ones you get in KL, and even finer in texture. The meat is also firm and juicy – served with the skin – unlike in KL. The pancakes are more chewy – Cumi found it too chewy but I liked it! The waiting staff showed us how to make the pancakes and then we were left to our own devices. Watch the waitress swirl your sauce into a nice hypnotic pattern in your sauce dish. Tres chi chi.. we will be back.
I wouldn’t go near that knife. He cleaves the duck at lightning speed! Very impressive!
The end product is served to us – individual plates of amazingly neat and well proportioned duck – meat laid out first, and then the skin on top
Pretty fingers eating a well rolled pancake!
8. Visit the Panjiayuan Flea Market
If you like giant flea markets, you will LOVE Panjiayuan! Panjiayuan market covers an area of 4.85 hectares of land and accommodates over 3,000 stalls. It is the largest antiques market of its kind both in China and Asia. Secondhand goods, arts and crafts and antiquities are the main transactions in the market. Here’s the place to shop for strange artifacts and fake Tang dynasty knock-offs.
It used to be called the “dirt market” because peasants would cart in objects they supposedly unearthed themselves, squat in the market’s open field and hawk their wares. Many of the stalls are open through the week, but the flea market is best early on Saturday or Sunday. The market lies southwest of the Panjiayuan Bridge, on the southern part of Third East Ring Road. It is about a 15-minute taxi ride from the middle of town. Panjiayuan market is truly a market packed with Chinese traditional culture and worth visiting!
9. Party at Xiu
We have our host to thank for taking us clubbing at all the cool night spots in Beijing and Xiu was one of them. Located on level six of Beijing Yintai Centre, Xiu is a terrace garden bar that features Chinese pavilion-style houses, offering a unique entertainment experience. Ever since it open its door for Beijing’s nightlife, Xiu has been known as the city’s hot spot.
Inspired by Song Dynasty architecture, the bar is a swanky wooden structure that houses five bars and lounges including a main bar with a funky live band and cozy dance floor, a wine bar, a wood-fired oven for cooking Peking Duck, a bar that specialises in Martinis and vodkas, a quiet retreat where cigar-lovers can puff away while relaxing in Art Deco-style chairs and an executive lounge for private chats.
We went on ladies night, so drinks were free for the girls! Cumi paid RMB100 for his entry (around RM50) which was rather cheap really, as it came with a drink. Wide outdoor terraces allow people to enjoy drinks and freshly barbecued food while surrounded by the neon-lit, high-rise cityscape of booming Beijing. All the beautiful people started traipsing in at around midnight. The crowd for a weekday was impressive, but then again , that’s Beijing for you.. most places are crowded. A great vibe for partying for sure!
10. Get the giggles at The Westin’s Bubbly Brunch
Finally, saving the best for last.. how about a place where you can spend an easy 4-5 hours, people watching, while sipping fine champagne, chocolate martinis, and enjoying the freshest of seafood and priced cuts of wagyu beef?
The Westin Beijing Financial Street’s Bubbly Brunch starts at 1130am and can go on till 4pm if you like!
the selection of food is amazing
The Westin Beijing Financial Street’s Bubbly Brunch is known as the brunch to go to in Beijing. The first of its kind, it has become a sort of rites of passage for every discerning visitor gourmand to this city. Not only is the food terrific, but this is the place to be seen on the weekends and many ladies with perfectly coiffed hairstyles and all decked out in their Sunday best, will be parading up and down the buffet lines, showing off their glamorous outfits.
ladies dressed in their best
The Westin brunch is fun because there’s non stop entertainment in the form of magicians, and even a famous cultural performance of “face-changing” masks or Bian Lian. This performance is generally an ancient art form that is secretly held by its masters, but here at the Westin, it’s really fun the watch the performance right along the buffet lines! There’s even a Michael Jackson impersonator doing all his best moves from the hits of the thriller album. It does have a certain charm and adds excitement to the programme.
yummiest chocolate martinis on earth!
MUMM champagne in the background and bloody mary’s in the foreground
fascinating bian-lian entertainment.. the kids and adults loved it!
If you’re wondering what delectables are on offer, top on my list are the suckling pig, the peking duck, the roasted wagyu beef (and trust me, it really is wagyu), the lobsters and oysters. Also amazingly delicious are the shrimp dumplings, the dimsum, the lamb ribs, the curries and the super fresh sashimi and sushi. The spaghetti station featured several types of pasta and sauces that were fabulous as well – didn’t help with the carbo loading! The Eggs Benedict with salmon cream cheese bagel were exquisite, totally to die for and don’t forget the extensive selection of home baked breads to go with your gourmet cheeses. For the sweets, check out the tasty macarons, the chocolate fondue station and some excellent raspberry mousses, chocolate fudge rich brownies and all sorts of colorful cupcakes.
Peking duck and check out the suckling pig… divine!
the kids LOVE the chocolate fondue fountain!
Wash that all down with the MUMM bubbly, or chocolate martinis or even bloody mary’s and know that this world is a better place for it! The Westin Brunch includes wine, a cocktail station of martinis, and a coffee station as well as bloody marries. For the kids, they offer mini burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken wings, popcorn, and ice cream. And while the parents eat, the kids can play at the action-packed kids corner. The Westin Sunday Bubbly Brunch is priced at RMB 428++ per person (subject to 15% service charge) including free flow Mumm Champagne, wines, cocktails and juices. Totally fab!
the kid’s menu is great – caters to the hungry children so well
wagyu beef.. best I’ve ever had. There is a selection of sauces but have it with the green peppercorn sauce – really the best combo!
I heart sushi!
And that, my friends, are the 10 Things to Do In Beijing, if you have limited time… we really wish we had another week to cover all the things we missed but such is life! No worries – we will be back!
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