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Beijing is a city that defies superlatives, and yet on a blue-sky day, which is increasingly most days, it can feel like the best place on earth. Dizzyingly modern with skyscrapers like the CITIC Tower, which reaches a height of 1732ft, and futuristic Zaha Hadid-designed buildings at every turn, the city’s impressive grandeur and historic attractions are its true draw. Where else can one climb the Great Wall, tour an imperial palace, and warm up with Mongolian hot pot all in one day? If checking off sites doesn’t appeal, simply wandering down Beijing’s iconic narrow hutong lanes and dipping in and out of the small shops, restaurants, and bars that fill the alleys makes for an afternoon well-spent. Plus, although the sprawling city is home to almost 22 million people from all over the country and world, the capital rarely feels overcrowded, and the multiple parks, lakes and waterways provide places of solace to escape the masses.
Beauty, the cosmos, and imperial history collide at the Temple of Heaven. Completed in 1420, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is where emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties would pray for a rich harvest. Designed according to ancient Chinese beliefs about the relationship between heaven and earth, the complex features stunning architecture amidst serene grounds. Visit in the early morning to see locals practicing tai chi and more.
Beijing is more than history and politics—it’s also the cultural capital of China. Check out a show at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) to see why. The titanium and glass dome-shaped building resembles an egg floating on water—a foil to the city’s more traditional architecture—and features an opera house, concert hall, and theater. Tickets range from cheap to not-so-cheap, while performances span ballet, orchestra, and theater, meaning there is truly something for all.
Restored just before Covid-19 hit, Longfusi has since cemented its place as one of the city’s coolest destinations. Located near the center of Beijing, the historic area was once a famous commercial street. Now it houses a local craft brewery, boutique restaurants, and the eponymous Longfu Temple, refurbished from its former Ming Dynasty days. Grab a coffee from the Kyoto chain % Arabica and soak up some art from the M Woods art gallery next door.
Sichuan restaurant Zhang Mama is famous for its legendary lines. Locals flock to the family-run eatery for its fiery boboji (vegetable or meat skewers simmered in a pot of chili oil), chewy dan dan noodles, and gongbao chicken. Tightly packed tables add to the buzzing atmosphere. Though the restaurant now boasts several locations, you’re more likely to spot the Zhang mama herself at the Jiaodaokou branch. To avoid a long—and we mean long—wait, visit outside of peak dining hours.
When in Beijing, Peking duck is a must—and Jing Yaa Tang always delivers. Set in a chic hotel in the trendy Sanlitun area, the Michelin-starred restaurant exudes class but isn’t stuffy, serving up some of the city’s finest duck (roasted over a date-wood open flame) and dim sum (the all-you-can-order deal is a steal). Its stylish surroundings and attentive service provide a welcome respite after a busy morning shopping or people watching.
The sourdough movement lives on at Mesa Madre, a recent addition to the central business district that serves its signature loaves alongside traditional Filipino cuisine (it’s purportedly the only Filipino restaurant in Beijing). Here you’ll find hearty dishes like tender pork belly adobo and kare kare, an oxtail stew with peanut sauce. The cozy space houses only a handful of tables but packs plenty of personality with an eclectic playlist, colorful decor, and specialty beers.
Visit the Forbidden City—or save your precious travel hours by climbing the hill at Jingshan Park to capture a perfect photo of the palace instead (half a day versus 15 minutes). Scramble to the summit of Jingshan, a mound built from the sediment dug up to make the Forbidden City moat, and a breathtaking panorama of the capital awaits—not to mention majestic views of the Forbidden City. An oasis in the middle of Beijing.
Whether you’re looking for a propaganda poster, delicate tea set, traditional Chinese artwork, or even crystals, Panjiayuan Antique Market is the place to go. The flea market, known as the largest of its kind in Beijing, comprises both stalls and shops, which display a dazzling array of antiques, collectibles, and curios from all over China. Haggling with the good-natured locals is a must unless you want to pay seriously inflated prices. It’s liveliest on weekend mornings.
Tiny café/bar/music store Nugget opened last year amid a spate of live music venue closures. The minimally designed space, hidden among Beijing’s charming hutongs, was created by Nugget Records, a local DIY label. It is a nostalgic music lover’s dream: cassette players and tapes produced by the label line the shelves, and dirty coffee and cocktails make up the menu. Rummage through the recordings, catch an acoustic show, or join one of the many nightly events such as drink and draw.
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