Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Top Things to See in Beijing

Beijing is a city that embodies China’s ancient civilization and rich political and cultural history. Alongside all of the historical buildings, temples, and gates is the juxtaposition of a modern China filled with skyscrapers, luxury shopping malls, and a vibrant art and music scene. Here are suggestions of what to do when you come to the capital of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

Day 1: A Taste of Chinese History in the Present

Start your day with a dive into China’s ancient history. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasty (1368-1840). For nearly five hundred years, it served as the palace for emperors and their families, and was the political center of the Chinese government.  The Forbidden City is the world’s largest surviving palace complex and a UNESCO Heritage Site, consisting of over 900 surviving buildings with 8,000 rooms. Inside the Forbidden City visit the Palace Museum to witness China’s largest collection of ancient art works.
Forbidden City
The Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Just north of the Forbidden City is Tiananmen Square, a large city square in the center of Beijing. At Tiananmen Square, you’ll see the gate to the Forbidden City along with the iconic Chairman Mao portrait. Tiananmen Square was the site of a number of political events and protests. Now, Chinese visitors from all over the country come to Tiananmen Square to visit Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum and pay their respects.
Go for a late lunch at Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant located south of the Forbidden City. Here you’ll take in Beijing’s local specialty dish. The Beijing duck is known for its thin, crispy skin and is usually wrapped up in a pancake with hoisin sauce and spring onions.
After finishing lunch, head to the Temple of Heaven. During the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor of China would come to the Temple of Heaven to make sacrifices to heaven and offer prayers for good harvest. The Temple of Heaven is an architectural masterpiece and the design of the temple halls in circles and squares reflects the ancient Chinese belief that heaven is round and the earth is square. Nowadays, you’ll find the park inhabited by retirees playing Chinese chess or practicing tai chi.
Temple of Heaven
Chinese architectural masterpiece, Temple of Heaven in Beijing
Next, take a cab to the Drum and Bell Tower, then wander in the alleys (also known as hutongs) that run between compounds of housing built inside courtyards. These housing complexes are quickly disappearing as more and more high rises are being built. Lastly, climb aboard a rickshaw and visit Prince Gong’s Mansion, Beijing’s largest and best preserved Qing Dynasty royal mansion.
Near the Drum and Bell Tower, you’ll find Houhai (Back Lakes), where you can unwind after a long day with a classy meal and a glass of wine while enjoying a view of the night lights around the lake.

Day 2: From the Great Wall to Beijing Opera

No trip to Beijing is complete without a trip to the Great Wall. Get up early in the morning to beat the traffic and crowds at the Great Wall. There are several sections of the wall you can climb. Badaling is the most visited section of the wall and provides stunning scenery of the wall snaking into the distance. Mutianyu is a less commercial section of the Great Wall and is known for its guard towers and its awe-inspiring views.  If you like to climb steep hills, Simatai is the choice for you.
Great Wall
The Great Wall of China, stretching for 5,500.3 miles (8,851.8 km)
After a day of hiking, take a bus back into the city and visit the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was the vacation spot for the royal family. Inside the Summer Palace, you’ll find gardens, pavilions and lakes where Empress Dowager Cixi once frequented.
In the evening, take a seat at Lao She Teahouse and experience Beijing opera, a form of traditional Chinese theater, which includes cross-talk, music and acrobatics. Enjoy your show in a traditional teahouse and sip some green tea and enjoy light refreshments.

Day 3: Exploring (and Tasting) the Beijing of Today

Begin your morning at Panjiayuan, a lively weekend market selling a variety of antiques. This market is the best place to pick up art, crafts and antiques. You’ll find calligraphy, Tibetan beads, Cultural Revolution memorabilia, and a variety of knick knacks. Be prepared to bargain intensely before making a purchase.
After stepping through the history and culture of ancient China, soak yourself in Beijing’s modern architecture and art. First, visit the China Central Television Tower in Beijing, a 44-story skyscraper in Beijing’s Central Business District constructed in 2008. Then head over to 798 Art Zone to view artwork by up-and-coming local artists. Finally, take a trip out to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games site to view the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube.
Night Market Stalls
Stalls at Beijing's Dong Hua Men night market, Wangfujing Snack Street
Finish your evening snacking your way through Wangfujing Snack Street. Food vendors and restaurants are lined up on Wangfujing Snack Street sell a variety of food including lamb kebabs,  fried pancakes, candied fruits and even fried insects!