Watch an Traditional Chinese Opera Show
While visiting Beijing on a Fulbright over the summer, we were given the opportunity to attend a traditional Peking Opera. Though the show was entirely in Mandarin, it was highly entertaining and lively. The vibrant colors of the venue, coupled with a mystic, historic ambiance makes the Huguang Guild Opera Theatre, the oldest Peking opera house, one of the most atmospheric.
Try to Eat The Chinese Local Food
Delicious eater in “Ghost Street”. This street “Guijie” is lined with hole in the wall hot pot places and also home to one of my favourite courtyard restaurants Huajiayiyuan 花家怡园, that serves up some of the Beijing Peking roast duck in the city. There’s also a noodle Kung Fu master and tea master that performs in the courtyard. Perfect dining outdoors here in the late summer and fall.
Seeing Beijing by Sidecar
Co-existing amid electric and gas-powered buses, taxis and private sedans, scooters and bicycles and three-wheel vehicles, the sidecar motorcycle is a common sight on Beijing’s busy streets.
One group is using these handy vehicles to make a visit to the city even more special. Beijing Sideways offers two-hour to two-day tours that allow you to relax in a sidecar or behind the driver and take in the sights. As an added bonus, the drivers know the city and can get you to hard-to-find restaurants and shops.
Beijing Sideways uses the Chang Jiang 750 motorcycle, a distant relative to a BMW bike of a century past, and they have a retro feel. A typical two-hour tour might start after sundown and include passes of the Houhai lake area, Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium, the entrance of the Forbidden City, and more. Those with more time can opt for a longer tour that goes outside the city and includes an overnight stay at The Great Wall.
Location: No 57, Xingfucun Middle Road Beijing, China
Visit the Ancient Observatory
This is great sight if you’re interested in astronomy, science, ancient technology, the meeting of East and West, or you just need a break from the noise and crowds. The observatory was built in the Yuan Dynasty (1239-1368 AD). It was put to great use by the Qing Dynasty, and Jesuit missionary, who built most of the astronomical devices on the grounds.
There are tons of great English captions throughout the museum. Tickets cost 10RMB.
The observatory can be a bit hard to find; however, if you walk directly across the street from Jianguomen subway station, exit C, you’ll find it.
Location: 2 Dongbiaobei Hutong Dongcheng, Beijing, China
Overnight on the Great Wall of China
Hiking and sleeping on the Great Wall of China is a unique and memorable experience! This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will always cherish and recommend to future travelers to Beijing. We made many new friends, but still had our own personal experience while hiking on the Wall. We did not encounter any other people or tourist groups while on our hike/overnight, so it really was a special trip. It has been my favorite travel event yet.
After meeting at the China Culture Center in Beijing, two wonderful guides will take you by bus three hours to the starting point of the hike. You will only need to wear proper running/hiking shoes, carry your own water, warm clothes for the evening, and they will take care of the rest. Do not forget your camera! Since this is an overnight trip you will still have plenty of time to visit the other highlights of Beijing.
The China Cultural Center also offers a number of local tours, within the city of Beijing.
Location: 29 Liangmaqiao Rd Beijing, China
Escape to Charcoal Hill – JingShan Park | 景山公园
I felt obligated to visit the Forbidden City while in Beijing as it tops every “must see” list. I sort of wish I hadn’t. Even though I went early in the morning it was already mobbed with tourists. After about thirty minutes inside the compound all the little courtyards began to look the same and the crowds became overwhelming. I started to feel panicky and searched the maze for an exit. When I finally escaped I headed to the leafy park directly north of the Forbidden City and made the short climb up Charcoal Hill. From that vantage point I breathed a sigh of relief and admired the vastness and beauty of the Forbidden City from a safe distance. Hopefully you will luck out with a clear and sunny day like I did which greatly enhanced the city views. It costs RMB 10 to enter Jingshan Park (and RMB 60 to enter the Forbidden City but you’ve been warned).
Location: Xicheng Beijing, China
Try Pedicab Through the Heart of Beijing
One element of experiential travel is in the local transportation; in Beijing, the Hutong pedicab tour is a great way to experience the city and learn how people lived, both past and present. Pedicabs wind through the narrow streets with open courtyard traditional Chinese homes and take you through some areas you wouldn’t otherwise know about. My favorite stop gave us a view into the local elderly community doing their thing on a weekday morning; they were dancing, smoking, exercising and playing games, among other activities—and they even let us join in on some of the fun!
Location: Around Qianhai Beiyan on Houhai Lake Dongcheng district, Beijing, China
Yang Yong’s Psychedelic Lamps at the UCCA
The UCCA is home to a number of spaces dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions. It’s pretty amazing entering a Bauhaus-inspired architectural space filled with pop culture icons, printed on hundreds of lamps—quite a feast for the eyes! In the 798 vicinity, nearby Caochangdi, there are many more galleries with the same scale of works.
Location:4 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang, Beijing, China
Having Afternoon Tea at Capital M
Qianmen, which means “front gate,” ranks among the top tourist sites in Beijing. It stands south of Tiananmen Square and serves as the marker for a shopping street, refurbished ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games (to mixed reviews). The major point is that this area packs them in due to a nearly 600-year history, and its and proximity to major attractions.
One luxurious stop after pounding pavement in that area is Capital M, considered among Beijing’s top restaurants. It has a reputation for everything from its food and service to its annual literary festival, but what is especially of interest to visitors is the third-story terrace that looks toward Qianmen, Tiananmen, the original Beijing Rail Station, and other key landmarks.
This is the spot for afternoon tea, with tiny sandwiches, scones, jams, and more. Or, if you visit on the weekend, go for brunch. That usually goes three courses, starts with a Bloody Mary or Mimosa, and typically ends with the restaurant’s best-known dessert, pavlova.
You’ll be inspired to walk another three or four hours to work off those calories.
Location:China, Beijing, Dongcheng, Qianmen St, 2号3层
Cooking Class at The Hutong Kitchen
Want to learn how to make tasty dumplings? Or hand-pulled noodles? Or the cuisine of Hunan, Yunnan and Sichuan? The Hutong is a cozy retreat where you can gather with a small group and—all tools provided—learn how to make a dish or two.
The Hutong Kitchen isn’t limited to Chinese food. There are classes on Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Indonesian, and other cuisines, as well as foods that range from marmalade to meat pies. Market tours are also on the schedule. If you are into food and desire a hands-on experience, then this is a place to check out.
Note: The Hutong Kitchen is part of The Hutong proper, which also offers tea tastings, photography classes, art activities, and more on site, as well as treks around China.
Location: 1 Jiudaowan Middle Alley Dongcheng, Beijing, China, 100007
Visit and photograph in Beijing 798 Art Zone
Blocks and blocks of contemporary art galleries, tasty cuisine, cool cafés and designer shops mean that a visit to 798 Art District in Beijing will be a day well spent. Did I mention the amazing graffiti and public sculpture visible everywhere you go?