• The city pollution can be breathtaking, literally, due to overwhelming traffic, under-controlled factory emissions and dust storms. See Chinese urban pollution.
• Ubiquitous construction sites are rampant.
• Major sights are overrun with tourists, Chinese tourists.
• Much of modern Beijing consists of a dull black lattice of eight-lane ring roads.
• Don’t be surprised to see wild western consumerism at work, this is not old China.
This is a monster must-see but it’s near Beijing (around 70kms/44miles away depending on the gate), not in the city. Try to make it a full day trip at least, 2 hours there (start early! ), 4 hours walking at least, 2 hours back. And stay away from Badaling!
North of Tiananmen
Located in just north of the Forbidden City, Jingshan (Prospect Hill) Park is well worth the climb for great views of the Forbidden City and Beijing. The hill with five peaks was made with the earth removed to create the city moat; the best view of Beijing is from the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring (Wanchun-ting) on the middle peak.
This peaceful park was where the last Ming emperor, Chongzhen, hanged himself as the Manchus successfully invaded the city in 1644.
Northwest of the Forbidden City is Beihai Park. Bordered by ancient alleyways (hutongs) and village-style suburbs that are sadly being overrun by Beijing’s building boom, Shichai lakeshore is the place to get an idea of old Peking’s community lifestyle.
Wander alone or easily find a pedicab driver to give you a tour.
Two other highlights of Shichai Lake are the magnificent Drum and Bell Towers, visible from all around the area and Lotus Lane’s cluster of watering holes for parched tourist throats.
South of Tiananmen
The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven or Altar of Heaven in Tiantan Park. Photo by Jim.
2km south of Tiananmen, is one of Beijing’s greatest hits, a stunning piece of multi-coloured Ming design and wood workmanship finished in 1420 AD, the temple sits on the spot where Heaven meets Earth and the emperor (aka the Son of Heaven) consequently conducted many ceremonies.
The main building, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, is the largest religious building in China and constructed entirely of wood without use of nails and is the structure that appears in most pictures.
– The Baiyun Guan or White Cloud Temple is a tranquil, non-touristy and fully functioning Taoist temple west of Tiananmen.
– The nearby 400m high TV Tower offers an incredible view over Beijing at a high price.
– Yonghe Gong, a Tibetan Lama temple (Buddhist) built in the 17thC is popular with tourists and contains many gorgeous mandalas, statues and gardens, though the temple’s authenticity as a real place of worship is questionable, it makes a convenient political statement and is conveniently located next to the Yonghe Gong metro stop.
– 100m away down the street west of Yonghe Gong is the cool but somewhat confused Kong Miao Confucius Temple and museum.
A taste of the old life
Mianhua Hutong, aka Cotton Lane, in Old Beijing where the textile mills were located during Ming Dynasty. Photo by hermann luyken.
Qianmen, just south of Tiananmen Square, is another fascinating little labyrinth of hutongs crammed with odd little shops, traditional eateries and most bizarrely a bomb-proof underground city.
Take a tour, walk or even better cycle around the old hutongs (traditional little streets) of Houhai, Nan Luo Gu Xiang, Dong Cheng, Qianliang, Bao Chao, Beiluo and Wudaoying.
Also visit Donghuamen Food Market to see or eat edible oddities such as scorpions on skewers and stroll Liulichang area for the antiques.
Pleasant little hotels and B&Bs in the city centre with good atmosphere can be found for less than $100 per night for a double, especially the Chinese-run hotels. Depending on the season ‘walk-ins’ (i. e. not booked in advance) can get good deals though the best places may be booked in advance at peak times.
Try to stay centrally, of course, to save time, though both metros and taxis are easy enough for non-Chinese speakers, but beware prices of taxis that are waiting nearby or called by the doorman! It’s easy to find a cruising cab.
‘Bird’s Nest’, the spectacular Beijing National Stadium located in the Chaoyang District and built for the 2008 Summer Olympics. At present it is mostly used for football matches. Photo by Peter23.
Traditional tourist entertainments such as the Beijing Opera and Chinese acrobats are still popular and recommended but live music bars patronised by locals are the new wave, offering everything from heavy metal to zither music.
The Legend of Kung Fu is one of many purpose-built theaters in Beijing.
Wild nightclub scenes, often DJ’d by foreigners, are commonplace.
That’s Beijing ex pat listings paper is a good source of what’s on information.
Beijing’s Kung-Fu theatre. Photo by Jim