Beijing Hutong
Hutong in Beijing (Snowyowls). Licensed under CC Attribution-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Beijing, the capital of one of the most ancient civilizations in history, is a sprawling, crowded, and at times confusing metropolis; furthermore, you’re a lao wai (meaning foreigner in Mandarin, and a word that every traveler in China will hear continuously!). Never fear, however; below is a brief introduction to Beijing including some obvious and not so obvious activities that will help you fully experience one of the most fascinating cities on the planet.

Climb the Great Wall

Huang Hua Cheng is arguably one of the most unique spots on China’s most recognizable tourist destination.  Located around 75 kilometers (hour and a half drive) from Beijing this section of the Great Wall has been restored for the most part and has decent facilities around the site including farmhouse restaurants and hotels.  What makes this area so special is that parts of it are submerged by a reservoir and the Jintang Lake situated next to the wall.  There is also an attractive 500-year-old Ming Dynasty chestnut orchard at the foot of the wall.  Visit the site in the spring when the surrounding mountains are swathed in yellow blossom.

Enter the Forbidden City

As the name suggests in the Imperial era the Forbidden City was only accessible by the Imperial Family and their eunuch advisers and servants.  Now the largest palace in the world is a tourist attraction, museum and symbol of China’s incredibly sophisticated culture and captivating history.  Avoid visiting the Forbidden City on weekends or public holidays as the site will be packed and queues will be long.

Feast on Roast Duck

Succulent slow roasted duck served with wafer thin pancakes, shallots, cucumber and sweet plum sauce an arguably Beijing’s most delicious food.  Beijing Kao Ya (roast duck) is not to be missed) and can be found across the city, however try visiting the Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant for some of the best poultry in the city.

Fly a Kite at Tiananmen Square

Kite flying is a popular pastime in China and where better to try it out than on the biggest public square in the world.  Kites can be purchased cheaply (around 30-50 RMB, {~5-8 USD}) and you can soak in views of the Forbidden City and some impressive Communist era architecture as you fly your newly purchased toy! 

Cool Down in the Summer Palace

Beijing can be an oven during the summer, with the streets being dry, dusty and crowded.  Escape the sweltering heat and visit the Summer Palace to cool down. One of the world’s oldest and largest imperial parks, the Summer Palace is packed with a stunning lake, arched bridges, beautiful promenades, and ‘breezeways’ (a hallway that allows the passage of a breeze between structures) .

Visit a Hutong and Ice-skate!

Hutongs are narrow streets which give access to old-style Chinese courtyard houses and great places to visit if you want a glance back into Beijing’s past.  Try visiting the Qianhai (Houhai) area to visit a traditional Hutong neighborhood, which also hosts the city’s most popular outdoor ice-skating venue in the winter.

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