It’s not just the ancient architecture that wows tourists. Běijīng is also home to some of the world’s most innovative modern buildings. You will be intrigued by Běijīng’s ability to reinvent itself. Spending time here is to be on a permanent journey of discovery, where eye-popping buildings appear seemingly overnight, historic hútòng are transformed into hip hang-outs, and new venues open all the time. But some things never change in Běijīng and that is equally enticing. The food is always outstanding and the parks and temples remain oases of peace. Above all, you will love being surrounded by the tangible evidence of China’s amazing, dramatic history, whether it’s the Forbidden City or the Great Wall.
What to do in Beijing for 24h to 48h?
Places of Interest
The Great Wall of China
China’s greatest engineering triumph and must-see sight, the Great Wall wriggles haphazardly from its scattered Manchurian remains in Liáoníng province to wind-scoured rubble in the Gobi desert and faint traces in the unforgiving sands of Xīnjiāng.
Ringed by a 52m-wide moat at the very heart of Běijīng, the Forbidden City is China’s largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings, and the largest palace complex in the world.
Temple of Heaven Park
A tranquil oasis of peace and methodical Confucian design in one of China’s busiest urban landscapes, the 267-hectare Temple of Heaven Park is absolutely unique.
As mandatory a Běijīng sight as the Great Wall or the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace was the playground for emperors fleeing the suffocating summer torpor of the old imperial city. A marvel of design, the palace – with its huge lake and hilltop views – offers a pastoral escape into the landscapes of traditional Chinese painting.
798 Art District
A vast area of disused factories built by the East Germans, 798 Art District, also known as Dàshānzi , is Běijīng’s main concentration of contemporary art galleries.
This exceptional temple is a glittering attraction in Běijīng’s Buddhist firmament. If you only have time for one temple (the Temple of Heaven isn’t really a temple) make it this one, where riveting roofs, fabulous frescoes, magnificent decorative arches, tapestries, eye-popping carpentry, Tibetan prayer wheels, tantric statues and a superb pair of Chinese lions mingle with dense clouds of incense.
Flanked by stern 1950s Soviet-style buildings and ringed by white perimeter fences, the world’s largest public square (440,000 sq metres) is an immense flatland of paving stones at the heart of Běijīng.
Gate of Heavenly Peace
Characterised by a giant framed portrait of Mao Zedong, and guarded by two pairs of Ming stone lions, the double-eaved Gate of Heavenly Peace, north of Tiān’ānmén Sq, is a potent national symbol.
National Museum of China
Běijīng’s premier museum is housed in an immense 1950s communist-style building on the eastern side of Tiān’ānmén Sq, and is well worth visiting. The Ancient China exhibition on the basement floor is outstanding. You could easily spend a couple of hours in this exhibition alone.
The modest, grey-stone structure of the Bell Tower is arguably more charming than its resplendent other half, the Drum Tower, after which this area of Běijīng is named. It also has the added advantage of being able to view its sister tower from a balcony.
Chairman Mao Memorial Hall
No doubt one of Běijīng’s more surreal spectacles is the sight of Mao Zedong’s embalmed corpse on public display within his mausoleum. The Soviet-inspired memorial hall was constructed soon after Mao died in September 1976, and is a prominent landmark in the middle of Tiān’ānmén Sq.
Where to Eat?
In a city glaringly short on international fine dining, the Georg delivers with its gastronomic menu of fusion cuisine. It’s an enterprise by Copenhagen designer Georg Jensen, creating a refined, intimate space with Danish design and heritage silverware. Tasting plates with a Scandinavian twist are creative and original.
Crescent Moon Muslim Restaurant
You can find a Chinese Muslim restaurant on almost every street in Běijīng. Most are run by Huí Muslims, who are Hàn Chinese, rather than ethnic-minority Uighurs from the remote western province of Xīnjiāng. Crescent Moon is the real deal – owned and staffed by Uighurs, it attracts many Běijīng-based Uighurs and people from Central Asia, as well as a lot of Western expats.
The Běijīng branch of the famed Shànghǎi restaurant, Lost Heaven specialises in the folk cuisine of Yúnnán province. While the spices have been toned down, the flavours remain subtle and light and are guaranteed to transport you to China’s balmy southwest.
Run by young, friendly staff and housed in a cute courtyard conversion, Little Yúnnán is one of the more down-to-earth Yúnnán restaurants in Běijīng. The main room has a rustic feel to it, with wooden beams, flooring and furniture. The tables up in the eaves are fun, and there’s also some seating in the small open-air courtyard by the entrance.
Where to shop?
British-owned, this iconic Nanluogu Xiang T-shirt shop prints ironic takes on Chinese culture onto its good-quality T-shirts and tops (from ¥168). Also stocks decent smog masks (from ¥225).
Alien’s Street Market
Located just north of Rìtán Park – and part of Běijīng’s ‘Little Moscow’ precinct – this market is packed with a huge variety of clothing, as well as heaps of accessories.
Hands down the best place in Běijīng to shop for art, crafts and antiques. Some stalls open every day, but the market is at its biggest and most lively on weekends, when you can find everything from calligraphy and cigarette-ad posters to Buddha heads, ceramics, Qing dynasty–style furniture and Tibetan carpets.
Shard Box Store
Using porcelain fragments from Ming- and Qing-dynasty vases that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, this fascinating family-run store creates beautiful and unique shard boxes, bottles and jewellery.
Nightlife in Beijing!
Great Leap Brewing
Běijīng’s original microbrewery, this refreshingly simple courtyard bar, set up by American beer enthusiast Carl Setzer, is housed in a hard-to-find, but beautifully renovated, 100-year-old Qing dynasty courtyard and serves up a wonderful selection of unique ales made largely from locally sourced ingredients.
In a scene dominated by North American expats, NBeer is an all-Chinese affair that produces some of Běijīng’s best beers.
Jing A Brewing
Though Jing A has been brewing in Běijīng at Big Smoke for some time, now it’s finally opened its own taproom. Set within the classy red-brick 1949 precinct, the bar has earned its reputation as a producer of some of Běijīng’s best (and most experimental) beers, with a fantastic selection of ales using local ingredients.
Making full use of its space, bohemian Modernista is a mix of glamorous bar, eatery and live arts venue. Set up by a Barcelona expat, its front area is done up like an old-school Spanish tapas bar with polished wooden decor, bar stools and black-and-white checkered tiles. Its adjoining building is an atmospheric space that hosts cabaret shows, live jazz, and wildly popular swing and salsa dance classes.
From the palm leaves and Exotica soundtrack to the carved totem poles and Polynesian knick-knacks, this is your quintessential tiki bar down to the finest detail. However, of course, it’s all about the drinks, which is where Tiki Bunglaow really shines, delivering some of the finest and most extravagant rum-based cocktails you’ll taste. All are based on vintage tiki recipes from the 1930s to 1960s.
Spa’s in Beijing !
Thai-owned Bodhi focuses on western, Thai, and Chinese treatments. The spa takes pride in the fact that a treatment at Bodhi provides an affordable retreat, as it’s one of the first high-quality but non-hotel spas in Beijing.
Originating in Singapore, Hummingbird Spa offers a variety of soothing services to international clients, ranging from massages, facials, body treatments, waxing, and nail care.
Liangzi Massage and Gym
Liangzi is a chain massage parlor best known for their foot and other massage options, especially those rooted in Chinese traditions and TCM principles. Jump on Dianping for deals, including as little as RMB 168 for a 90-minute foot massage and reflexology treatment.