Beijing Bound – A few unmissable sights

    Whether you’re going to Beijing for vacation or coming over to study Chinese in China for a longer period, then there are a few sights that you definitely shouldn’t miss out on. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace are undoubtedly the most famous of these and are definitely worth a visit, but there are also many more things to see in China’s capital.

    Rickshaws at the Drum Tower
    Beijing for vacationStuck in Customs / / CC BY-NC-SA

    1. The Great Wall. “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a real man”, or so the traditional saying goes. No trip to Beijing would be complete without a visit to the Great Wall! Although the wall at Badaling is certainly the most convenient part to visit, with many transports links from central Beijing (e.g. buses from Dongzhimen long distance bus station near our Dongzhimen Chinese School), I would definitely advise you to go elsewhere, particularly in peak season when Badaling is completely overrun with tourists. The vast majority of Chinese tourists decide to go to this part of the wall, and in fact, many people I have asked seem to be unaware that there are other sections open to the public, meaning that sometimes you can’t even move for the sheer number of people! Mutianyu is also a bit too touristy and renovated, leaving you wondering whether it is really the original Great Wall at all or whether it has been entirely rebuilt. Once you’ve climbed up (or taken the cable car if you’re feeling lazy!), you can toboggan down it though, which can be quite fun! However, you might be better off going to Simatai, Jinshanling or one of the other parts which have not been renovated if you actually want to do some walking. Many of the hostels offer trips to these parts of the wall, or you can get a group of friends together and hire out a taxi for the day. If you let us know, our Chinese teachers can also help you organize a trip to the Great Wall!

    2. Hutong. Visit the hutong (small traditional alleys) near the old centre of the city to get a sense of traditional Beijing. Nanluoguxiang, located near Zhangzizhonglu subway station, can hardly be called a hutong anymore, as it has been renovated enormously and is now full of bars, cafes and shops, but it’s a good place to head either during the day or in the evenings for a night out.The more authentic hutong surrounding it are also fun to wander through, although it is easy to get lost in the maze of alleys! Unfortunately, many of these are now being destroyed to make way for new high rise buildings, so go and have a look while you still can. While you’re in the area, the Drum and Bell Towers are well worth a visit too. They never really seem to make it onto the lists of top attractions in the city, but they are some of the oldest buildings in the city and very interesting. The view from the top of the towers is also great, as you can see the divide between new and old Beijing really clearly!

    3. 798 Art District. This is one of the attractions in Beijing that never gets old for me, because the galleries constantly change their exhibitions, so even if you make a return trip two weeks later, things will have changed! 798 is located in Chaoyang District and is not the easiest place to get to at the minute, because although Beijing’s subway network seems to be expanding by the day, it hasn’t quite reached that area yet. However, it is full of interesting and imaginative exhibitions and although it has become increasingly commercial in recent years, a lot of the artwork on display is still quite cutting edge and done in styles rarely seen in China. There are also a lot of cafes, restaurants and bars there, most of which are a little on the expensive side, but it’s a great place to while away a day, particularly if the weather is nice. A lot of the galleries are closed on Mondays though, so going Tuesday-Sunday is your best bet.

    4. Beijing’s parks. A trip to the park is always a fun experience in China! The park is a place where people of all ages go to play sports, practice tai chi, dance, sing, play instruments, do calligraphy and much more. In Beijing, it’s always nice to escape from the city for a couple of hours and spend some time walking around a park, taking in the culture and scenery. The Summer Palace is always fun to visit, whether you are going for the first time or the tenth! There are temples and various other palace buildings which are interesting to look around, but it is still nice to take a stroll around the lake or hire out a boat for the afternoon, even if you have visited before. Beihai and Jingshan parks, located in the centre of Beijing are also good choices for an afternoon out, as are the Temple of Heaven and Temple of Earth parks.

    5. Beijing’s markets. Not a personal favourite, as being tall makes buying clothes in China slightly problematic, but if you like to shop, and then Beijing is a great place to pick up bargains! The Silk Market, located on Line 1 near Yonganli station is a favorite among tourists and does stock some bigger sizes in clothes, as well as many other items, from jewelry to toys and China souvenirs, but make sure you bargain hard! The zoo market, located close to Xizhimen, is a popular place for locals to shop and is consequently really cheap, but the styles of clothing available there might not appeal to some Westerners…China is the land of fakes, offering everything from knock-off designer goods to DVDs, so make sure you go and check out these markets while you’re in the city!

    This is just a very brief introduction to all that Beijing has to offer, as there is so much more to see and do than I have listed here. Come and check it out for yourself!

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