Over the past 1,000 years, Beijing has served as the primary residence for three major dynasties – Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Traditional Chinese thought perceived the world not as the Ptolemaic disc of the West, but as a square. It was believed that a city, especially a capital city, should reflect this cosmic order and adhere to its geometrical definition, with a north-south and east-west orientation of roads and buildings. In no other Chinese city was this idea fulfilled as completely as in ancient Beijing. Laid out in a grid according to feng shui principles, Beijing – the Northern Capital and seat of political power – is now a vast modern metropolis with an array of spectacular sights. The following tailor-made itineraries will help you know more about Beijing.
Itinerary 1: Forbidden City – Jingshan Park – Fangshan Restaurant – Beihai Park – National Art Museum of China – Wangfujing – Donghuamen Night Market (Schedule: one day)
Today, our first destination is the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City. Standing inside the huge palace complex, you can experience the solemnity of these ancient imperial structures and be amazed by them (Annie’s suggestion: a good tour guide can be a big help).
After visiting the Forbidden City, stroll to its north gate (Shenwumen). Across the street, you will see Jingshan Park, a famous imperial garden. There is a mountain inside the park where you can climb and relax in the pavilions at its top. Here is a good place for photographs: you can get an unparalleled view of the Forbidden City to the south, the Drum and Bell towers to the north and a broad expanse of Central Beijing. In the park you can also see local residents practicing their singing of all kinds of songs, especially in the morning.
After your visit to the Jingshan Park, exit its west gate and another imperial park awaits you: the Beihai Park. But now, you may be exhausted and ready for lunch. When entering the Beihai Park, veer to your right and go to the Fangshan Restaurant. It is famous for its imperial cuisine, with a range of dishes once reserved for the imperial family only. After lunch, you can walk around, visit imperial buildings or get in a boat and tour the lake.
From Beihai Park, you can visit the National Art Museum of China where you can appreciate masterpieces by top classical and modern Chinese artists and art from other counties and regions; then go to nearby Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s busiest shopping streets. Among things to see in Wangfujing is the St. Joseph’s Church (commonly known as Wangfujing Catholic Church or East Church).
Then, it’s the time to venture to the snack street along Donghuamen, where the aromas of some typical, some bizarre but always authentic Beijing snacks will captivate you; you can even have a dinner here you won’t soon forget.
Itinerary 2: Temple of Heaven – Hongqiao Pearl Market – Panjiayuan Antique Market – Donglaishun Restaurant (Panjiayuan Branch) – Liulichang Cultural Street – Dashila – Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant – Huguang Guild Hall (Schedule: one day)
Today, our first stop is the Temple of Heaven, where you can see amazing examples of China’s imperial architecture and unique buildings. The photo of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests can be seen from almost any vantage point. Here you can also experience local people’s lives. Many senior residences come to the park, singing, playing cards or Chinese chess, or practicing calligraphy on the ground with water, which is a unique feature of Beijing’s cultural life.
If you exit from the east gate of the Temple of Heaven, you will see the Hongqiao Pearl Market across the street. The market is full of pearl decorations, souvenirs and special products. The next stop is Panjiayuan Antique Market, which is full of authentic antiques and replicas, new versions of ancient products and goods and other rare items. The vendors here expect you to drive a hard bargain, so do! At lunch time, try the Donglaishun Restaurant at the Panjiayuan. Donglaishun is a time-honored brand restaurant, known for its hot pot specialties.
After lunch, we can go to the Liulichang Cultural Street, which specializes in classical paintings, calligraphy, old books and antiques. On the south section of the street, there are a lot of musical-instrument stores, even a lot of authentic traditional Chinese instruments.
Walk along the Liulichang Street to the east and you will find Dashila, a street lined with China Time-Honored Brand shops that now exist amid a variety of other restaurants, shops and bars. You can enjoy Beijing Roast Duck at the famous Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant before visiting the Huguang Guild Hall.
Itinerary 3: Badaling Great Wall – Commune by the Great Wall – Ming Dynasty Tombs – Summer Palace – Hongbinlou Restaurant (Schedule: one day)
This itinerary will take you away from central Beijing to a beautiful rural area (comfortable clothing and shoes are advised). The Great Wall was usually built upon mountainous ridgelines so the mountain scenery is fantastic. After your visit to the Great Wall, you can have a rest in the Commune by the Great Wall, which is a good and scenic place to have lunch.
After lunch, the next stop is the Ming Tombs, where, in addition to the tombs, you can enjoy a remarkable landscape carefully chosen to serve as the resting place of emperors and their concubines.
(The Sacred Way or Spirit Way, leading into the burial complex, is lined with statues of guardian animals and officials.)
Then, we will go to the Summer Palace, which is the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China, and a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. At dinner time, the Muslim cuisine of China awaits you at the Hongbinlou Restaurant.
Itinerary 4: Wangfujing – Silk Street – Yashow Market – Sanlitun Bar Street (Schedule: half day)
Beijing has been a charming ancient city since the Yuan Dynasty. It has also been a cultural city, with ties to the rest of the world by sea or via the Silk Road. This has strongly influenced Beijing’s sense of fashion. No matter how busy you are, you must to do some shopping in Beijing, and the Wangfujing Pedestrian Street, the new Silk Street and the Yashow Market are all good choices. When at the Yashow Market, you are in Sanlitun; the famed Sanlitun Bar Street lies one block to your east. Here you can experience fine dining, refreshing drinks, great people watching or perhaps rub shoulders with some Chinese pop stars or celebrities.
Itinerary 5: Nanluoguxiang – Drum and Bell Towers – Yandai Xiejie – Shichahai – Prince Gong’s Mansion – Houhai Bar Street (Schedule: half day)
This itinerary will greet you with fashion and traditional cultural characteristics, and you will visit also Beijing’s hutong (lanes and alleys) and siheyuan (quadrangle). Nanluoguxiang is one of the oldest and best preserved historical areas in downtown Beijing, where there are a lot of small boutiques nestled among small cosy bars and restaurants. At Nanluoguxiang you can drop in many hutongs, where there are a lot of historic siheyuan.
The famous Drum and Bell towers, which stand at the north end of Beijing’s ancient Central Axis, is not far from Nanluoguxiang. The sound of the drum and bell that once regulated life in old Beijing can be heard, sometimes above the modern din.
Then, head to the south of the Drum and Bell towers and stroll along the stylish Yandai Xiejie. Specialty shops line up the small street.
You can also try the rickshaw while touring around hutong and get a sense of the local residents’ lives. Then we can stop at Prince Gong’s Mansion, to get a sense of how senior officials lived in their grand garden-like home in feudal times. For dinner, consider the Kaorouji or Jiumen restaurants on the Houhai Bar Street.