We are blessed to have family and friends who are willing and able to take the trip across the world to visit us in China. The people who have been here so far have been impressed with the amount of things to do and see in Beijing. Even two weeks don't seem to be enough time to cover even the most famous sights and a mere fraction of the restaurants here - but here is what an ideal visit to Beijing looks like to me.
Sights and shopping:
1) The Great Wall
If I had ONE day in Beijing, I would spend it by the Great Wall! It is simply magnificent!
My dear friend Agne and her daughter Indra have just been to visit us for 10 days. The Great Wall was on our programme the first weekend! This time we went to the Mutianyu section of the Wall. It's located around 90 minutes drive from Beijing and is one of the most well preserved and beautiful sections. Yes it is quite touristy but once you're up on the wall (we took the Cable car up the toboggan down) you completely forget about the selfie stick and "I climbed the Great Wall" t-shirt craze at the entrance.
We chose to stay at a small courtyard hotel in a village 6 K from Mutianyu. A perfect way to avoid the evening traffic back to the city and to experience something really authentic at the same time!
2) The Lama temple
One of the only "active" buddhist temples in Beijing. The atmosphere at the Lama Temple is what I love the most about it! The beautiful alley leading down to the entrance, the smell of incense, the monks and the devoted Buddhists who pray. The halls and courtyards are also stunning and the last hall of the temple hosts the biggest sandalwood Buddha in the world.
3) Temple of Heaven
This Iconic park is a popular sight with our guests. Not only is it stunning and full of life but it is also conveniently located right next to the Pearl market a place where guests tend to almost literally shop till they drop!
4) The "trio": Tiān'ānmén Square, The Forbidden City and Jingshan park
These 3 sights are so easy to combine in one day - and each impressive in their own way.
a) Tiananmen Square is the world's largest public square and you probably know it from the Student protests (and massacre) in 1989 and from the Beijing news reporters' background shot: the enormous portrait of Chairman Mao.
b) The Forbidden City. Probably Beijing's most famous sight! It is also the largest palace complex in the world and 24 emperors lived here! I have been there several times but must admit that we've never taken a guided tour. We've only explored on our own - and with our "Lonely planet" book. This place is enormous and I believe that if you took a guide, you could walk around for 4-5 hours. And while I like learning about China's history and culture, I am not that much of a hard core history fan. I do, however, always recommend that our guests watch the wonderful movie "The last Emperor" before going to the Forbidden city!
c) Jingshan park: Come here for the view! You won't regret it! Right across the street from the exit of the the Forbidden city lies "Jingshan park" also known as "Coal hill". The park itself is beautiful and seems like a botanical garden. But it is an absolute must to make your way up to the temple on the hill! The view over the roofs of the Forbidden City is simply indescribable as is the view over "modern Beijing" on the other side of the temple.
5) Guloudong Dajie and Houhai lakes
I love the street Guloudon Dajie! Such a vibrant street with loads of restaurants and quaint shops. It is the perfect point of departure for a nice walk around the surrounding Hutongs, the Bell and Drum towers and the lively Houhai lake.
6) "Atmosphere" bar on the 80th floor of the ShangriLa hotel
I've included this bar in the "sights" section because it is the perfect place to enjoy the view over Beijing. I don't think one really grasps the size of this city that is home to almost 25 million inhabitants until you've seen it from a high rise building in the middle of the Central Business District. And of course the view only gets better while you sip one of their great (and rather expensive) cocktails - or while you enjoy their weekend brunch.
7) Tuanjiehu Park and market
I've written about Tuanjiehu Park before! You won't find it in the guide books but it is definitely one of my favourite places in Beijing! And it's only a short walk from our apartment! I call it our little gem in the middle of the city. Always full of activity! Tai chi, opera singing, work-out, traditional dance, a choir that meets 3 times a week and so much more! I usually combine our visit to the park with a visit to our local market the Tuanjiehu market, It is not only a wet market but there is a "non-food" section with everything from souvenirs and clothes to stationary and cleaning products.
What and where to eat
1) Peking Duck
The Imperial dish Beijing roast duck is a must when you visit Beijing! The roast duck is characterised by its crispy skin and in the best restaurants, it is carved in front of you. It is served with small, thin pancakes, a variety of thinly sliced vegetables and hoisin sauce. If we want to go a bit fancy, we take our guests to the famous Dàdong restaurant - otherwise a simpler and cheaper option is the Great Wall restaurant near our place.
2) Hot pot
I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of hot pot but I'd say it's a must to try it! At the centre of the table, you receive a huge pot of boiling broth. You can choose spicy or non-spicy broth. You then order your choice of meat and vegetables to cook in the broth and have a good time around the table fishing what's yours!
3) Jian bing
I rarely let my guests leave Beijing before they try my favourite street food snack the "Jian bing". It is a big pancake with coriander, egg, spring onion, green salad and crispy strips of fried wonton inside. Yes I know it sounds strange but trust me - I could eat it every day!!
Our guests normally try dumplings at least once during their stay! Whether it's Beijing style or my favourite Cantonese style. Most people like them and they are often a hit with kids....except mine, You can choose different kinds of filling but the most popular type in Beijing seems to be pork and/or green vegetables - and too much garlic for my taste. BUT there are two dumpling places I love! One is the rather fancy chain "Din Tai Fun" (originally Taiwanese) and one is our little local Cantonese dumpling place.
5) Yunnan cuisine
The Yunnan province is located in the southwest of China and borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. It is on the top of my list of places I want to visit but so far I have only been able to enjoy the food from this region. It is absolutely delicious! It includes many spicy dishes (but not too spicy in my opinion) as well as lovely fresh noodle dishes, crispy spring rolls and even goats cheese. My 2 favourite restaurants in Beijing are, in fact, both Yunnan restaurants! One is called "In and Out" and is located in the Sanlitun "embassy area" while "Dali courtyard" is located in Xiaojingchang Hutong in a very charming courtyard setting!
6) Japanese food
Yes we live in China but also very much enjoy other types of Asian cuisine. I love Japanese cuisine! I often go for Japanese for lunch (almost all Japanese restaurants have a large variety of set lunches on their menu. For around 70 kuai (more or less 10 euros) you get a very generous lunch with all kinds of delicious food to taste. Our family often goes to a Japanese "all you can eat" restaurant down the road for dinner, It's called "Four Seasons". Order anything on the menu as many times as you like for 168 kuai (23 Euros) per person. Drinks included,
7) Finally: my preferred Western options
I think most westerners who live in China crave Western food from time to time! I do too! And when I have days like that, my 3 favourite places are:
- "Cantina Agave": Mexican food and drinks in Sanlitun Village
- "Moka bros" : Swedish chain of cafe style food. I always end up ordering their yummy kale and goats cheese grilled sandwich!
- "Blue Frog": American style burger/diner joint. The food is really tasty and the calorie intake enormous. But who cares!
Voilà I hope our next guests are ready - and hopefully some of my dear followers are now inspired to come and visit Beijing!
I should perhaps mention that you should always make space for cheap but wonderful massages, manicures and pedicures in your programme :-)