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Sprawling is an understatement – Beijing is one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities, and plans are in motion to merge it with neighbouring areas to form a megalopolis of 100 million. Here, in China’s political and cultural heart, there are endless sights, both monumental (Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, a stretch of the Great Wall) and intimate (ancient alleyways known as hutongs, some hiding excellent hole–in–the–wall restaurants).
Where to Stay
- Rosewood BeijingRosewood BeijingFor the peace and quiet
- Opposite HouseOpposite HouseFor the nightlife
- NuoNuoFor the best art
- ChaoChaoFor the architecture
- The OrchidThe OrchidFor the neighbourhood vibe
Eat & Drink
Peking duck at Da Dong The wood–fired duck is carved at your table at this moody banquet hall. The crispy skin comes off first (to be dipped in sugar), followed by the tender meat, which is sliced from the breast and served with pancakes, vegetables and garlic sauces.
Western–style brunch at TRB Behind a stone wall that once surrounded an ancient temple, servers deliver foie–gras–stuffed rigatoni, pork belly and toasted popcorn dunked in enoki–mushroom purée. Five courses are $110 and can take a couple of hours to be served from beginning to end.
Oysters and craft beer at C Pearl With a rotating raw bar of over 15 oyster varieties, cocktails and craft beer and Western–style plates like beer–battered fish and cheesy fries, this boisterous three–storey resto–bar feels like nouveau rustic Americana through a Beijing funhouse mirror. (Which is a good thing.)
Yunnanese flavours at Lost Heaven Lost Heaven is a celebration of folksy southeastern Yunnanese cuisine, seasoned with fragrant herbs and hot chilies. In a dimly lit dining room, servers bring platters adorned with tropical flowers and heaps of grilled beef served with egg, basil pancakes or lightly curried samosas.
Spicy fried chicken at Dali Courtyard Come here for the creative prix fixe and the cobbled courtyard; at least six months a year, it’s the most tranquil open–air dining experience in town. Servers inquire about allergies or aversions before bringing five freshly conceived dishes, like tofu “fettucine” in stewed peppers or spicy fried chicken with sesame–dusted French fries. Reserve in advance.
Deep–fried bites at Huguosi Xiaochidian Elbow through crowds to the counter and point at what you want, from deep–fried pastry brushed to a candied gloss to savouries like sesame buns stuffed with shaved beef – the Chinese version of sliders.
Rainbow dumplings at Baoyuan Dumplings Dumplings coloured with vegetable dyes glisten green, orange and purple at this nondescript restaurant. These celebrated dumplings (whether rainbow or au naturel) come stuffed with chive–flecked pork, herby greens or garlicky chicken.
Hotpots at Lao Liu Hot Pot In the hutongs above Beixingqiao metro, aromas from 100 grills, pots and woks mingle in the smoky air. The so–called Third Alley is beloved for this low–key eatery, which packs in parties for its coal–fired cauldrons. Order the hotpots, and you’ll get dishes of paper–thin–sliced meat, vegetables and crinkly tofu skin.
Taiwanese pastries at Nestgram Breads at this bakery are a cross between bagels and doughnuts: not too sweet, flavoured with traditional Asian goji and durian and riotously coloured. (The shop’s name comes from the Chinese word for seven colours of the rainbow.) Try the matcha rolls stuffed with frozen cream.
What to Do
Fresh air at Chaoyang Park This network of parks, bridged ponds and fruit trees is worth a visit, but the latest draw is the jet–black Chaoyang Park Plaza development. Take in views of the city from the main building’s top–floor observatory.
Shopping and people–watching at Sanlitun Go to this shopping district for the local outpost of Dover Street Market, called IT Market, and stay for the people–watching. Shopping is Beijing’s favourite sport, and its players offer some of China’s best entertainment, thanks to their outrageous style and capacity for hauling a dozen branded bags at once. Start at Sanlitun North Area, and migrate down to Bar Street for cocktails at a dimly lit speakeasy.
Up–and–coming talent at 798 Art District Galleries, studios and art centres cluster in this former factory district northeast of the centre, also known as Dashanzi. Hive Art highlights up–and–comers in a vaulted warehouse crawling with greenery. Follow the maze of boutique spaces to the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, home to big–time Asian artists and a design shop.
Cocktails and sunset views at Atmosphere The ear–popping elevator takes you up 80 storeys to a vista of glittering skyscrapers, massive sprawl and sunsets in 20 shades of pink. Sip a handcrafted cocktail and take in views from the city’s highest watering hole.
Tranquility at Beijing Confucian Temple Stroll through this tranquil 700–year–old community of lacquer–red halls with gilded artichoke–leaf eaves. The five–acre site sits at the end of a traditional street shaded by locust trees. Come for a respite after a street snack or before drinks in lively Fen Si Ting Hu Tong.
Grassroots design at Dashilar Explore Dashilar West Street and Yangmeizhu, where upstart designers and artists occupy the defunct printing houses; their workshops and galleries are open to walk–ins. Then take tea at Meeting Someone, where art installations hang from the ceiling.