A visit to Beijing can be daunting for the uninitiated. What you really need is advice from a local expert who can give you the lowdown on where to experience the best of the Chinese capital. And who better to share their knowledge than a concierge? Here, Leigh Li, chief concierge at top Beijing hotel, The Peninsula (beijing.peninsula.com), gives her insider’s tips on what to experience when you visit Beijing.
1. Acrobatic Show — See the show staged at Wan Sheng Theatre in Qian Men District, one of the oldest districts in Beijing. Show starts at 7:15 p.m. daily.
2. 798 Art Area — icon of Chinese Contemporary Art — Located in the Dashanzi area, to the northeast of central Beijing, 798 is a cultural centre housed in what used to be several state-owned factories including Factory 798, which originally produced military machinery.
Artists and cultural organizations began to colonize the factory spaces in 2002 and it’s now home to galleries, art centres, artists’ studios, design companies, restaurants and bars as well as the new Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art.
3. Hutong Tour — Take a ride on a two-passenger, bicycle-driven rickshaw through the city’s historic “hutong” district, where many of the residents still live in traditional quadrangle dwellings.
4. The Olympic stadiums — Visit the newly-built Olympic stadiums including the Bird’s Nest and Cube Aquatics Centre.
5. Learn about Beijing history at The Capital Museum — This recently-opened museum features the history of Beijing and Chinese architecture — a must for anyone who wants to know more about the capital. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed every Monday).
6. Explore The Great Wall — China started building the Great Wall since before it was a nation. The best-known section of the Wall is Badaling in the mountains of Yanqing County.
For an alternative view, visit the Juyongguan Pass, just south of Badaling, in Changping County and a bit nearer to Beijing. The most recently restored part of the Wall, it spans one of the nine narrow passes crossed by the Wall.
7. The Forbidden City — It took a million labourers and 100,00 artisans to complete the first version of this Imperial palace between 1406 and 1420, during the Ming Dynasty. The total area of the complex is 183 acres, so it takes quite a while to walk through, especially if you want to have a close look at everything. There are 999 rooms in the museum, although not all of which can be visited. For an aerial view over The Forbidden City, walk to the top of the Coal Hill in Jingshan Park.
8. Panjiayuan Market — The mother of all antique markets, Panjiayuan is home to 3,000 dealers who scour the countryside in search of antiques, family heirlooms and curios. This is the place to go for everything from 1930 silk qipao dresses to 1990 Qing-looking furniture and almost everything in between. Open only on weekend mornings.
9. Tea Street — Tea Street was originally called “Iris Street.” It now houses eight wholesale markets and more than 600 tea shops selling more than 500 kinds of tea leaves. Close to West Beijing Railway Station.
10. Chill out in Hou Hai — Lotus Lane is the happening district of the Hou Hai lake area, where there are a number of small eateries and interesting bars, many with live music. There are also several small shops selling art.
11. Boating or Skating in The Summer Palace — One of the best parks in the city, it was established as a retreat for emperors to escape the scorching summer heat of Beijing.
Walk along the famous Long Corridor, the covered walkway that runs alongside the park’s Lake Kunming — it’s the longest painted corridor in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Also on the shore of the lake is the Marble Boat, the lakeside pavillion where royals used to take tea.
12. Fly a kite in Tiananmen Square — It’s easy to buy a kite in Beijing. In spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October), flying a kite in Tiananmen Square is the perfect way to enjoy this traditional activity to the fullest.
Beijing’s essential experiences
A visit to Beijing can be daunting for the uninitiated.