PEKING OPERA: CHANGAN GRAND THEATRE

This theatre specialises in Peking Opera, a Chinese national treasure with 200 years of history.

ACROBATICS: CHAOYANG THEATRE

Chaoyang Theatre features an electrifying mix of Chinese martial arts and acrobatics.

OLD CHINA IN ACTION

A quintessentially Beijing attraction, hutongs – ancient alleyways - are filled with the spice of life.

PAST GRANDEURS AT THE IMPERIAL PALACE

Recalling days of yore, the Forbidden City is home to a stunning array of treasures and artifacts.

A PYRAMID OF MODERNISM

A project in sustainability and a high-end shopping mall in one, this is sleek, new Beijing at its best.

THE EPICENTER OF MODERN ART

The face of China’ newly emergent art scene at Caochangdi, this gallery is a pioneer of cutting-edge talent.

Modern Beijing is a scintillating mix between old China and new, between its dynastic past and the newly confident face of the capital. Here, visitors will find illustrious temples and ancient alleyways sitting alongside world-renowned art spaces and chic boutiques, often within the same radius. Shopping will prove to be a popular pastime for visitors with the abundance of markets and malls, but so will sightseeing and gallery-hopping. For lovers of art, culture, history and even unadulterated luxury, Beijing proves to be one of the most exciting destinations in the world.

DRINK

Janes & Hooch

You would be forgiven for thinking you had landed in Prohibition-era New York at Janes & Hooch – and that is a large part of the charm. When Beijing’s two most successful bartenders joined forces to open this subtle but brilliant Sanlitun speakeasy, it was not long before those who enjoyed a “proper” drink had it on speed dial. With its low lighting, cut crystal glasses and nostalgic cocktails this is a hidden gem.

Courtyard 4, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang district.

SHOP

Taikoo Li

The Tai Koo Li complex, with its big, colorful glass buildings and frivolous public fountains, has become the place for young Chinese to meet, sip lattes and shop till they drop. With a vast Page One international bookstore, an Alexander McQueen boutique and a Paul Smith flagship store all within spitting distance of each other, Tai Koo Li has come to embody a newer, sleeker, more confident Beijing.

19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district

Nali Patio

The authentic China is always just a step away, even in metropolitan Beijing. For visitors who want a taste of traditional Chinese crafts and mementoes, Nali Patio is the perfect place for a spree. Located half-way down Sanlitun’s famous bar street, this Spanish-style building is a magnet for independent boutiques. Featuring everything from Tibetan rugs to artisanal silver jewelry, as well as scarves, handbags and local designer threads, this is a showcase for new Chinese talent and one-of-a-kind souvenirs. With such an abundance of items on display, visitors can happily browse here for hours.

Sanlitun Road (entrance is halfway up Bar Street), Chaoyang District. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Wu Hao

Offering a new shopping experience in the form of a “curated” shop, Wu Hao is one of Beijing’s best-kept secrets. With a cutting-edge collection that is available by appointment only, this creative space showcases a rotating edit of both international designer pieces and specially commissioned items by local designers. The gorgeous environment itself is a revelation, but it is the pieces themselves that are the standouts – running the gamut from fashion and furniture to scented candles and ceramics, they represent the crème de la crème of new design.

Conceptual in nature, exhibitions are centered around the five traditional Chinese elements, with a display that changes from season to season. If visitors are hoping for an immersive experience that combines shopping with gallery-viewing, this is the place to be.

Tel.:+86 189 1135 5035. Email: contact@wuhaoonline.com
Hours: by appointment only, 2 to 5 p.m.

Pan Jia Yuan Market

Large-scale and Chinese to the core, this is the Asian “antiques” market that visitors dream of, filled to the brim with all kinds of crafts and relics. The giant flea market covers 48,500 square meters of over 3,000 stalls, and sells every kind of traditional product, curio or artifact, from Buddha statues, hand-embroidered minority clothing and shadow puppets to jade, Mao memorabilia and Tang dynasty knock-offs. Popular with both locals and tourists, it was once visited by Hillary Clinton on a Chinese tour.

Visitors to the old-style flea market – filled with wares that peasants purportedly ‘unearthed’ themselves, should be prepared to bargain. For the perfect bargain, they are advised to start early with the locals, grab a reusable bag, and start bartering away in order to secure their chosen memento. Although far from refined or exalted, the market is an indelible portrait of Chinese life and of Chinese culture, and charged with a unique energy of its own. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best places in Beijing for visitors to buy gifts for themselves or for their friends back home.

No.18, Huawei Nan Li, Chaoyang District, Beijing. Tel: +86 10-5120 4671. Hours: Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday, 4:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hong Qiao

The Hongqiao Pearl market is a treasure trove of finds for those who like pearls and jewelry – be it freshwater, saltwater, Tahitian, South Sea, black, white or pink. With over 30 years of history, it has grown from peddlers at the roadside to today’s modern building – one of the most reputable pearl retail markets in Asia, and popularly known as “The Great Wall in the hearts of foreign women.” So far, it has attracted the presence of more than 6000 senior officials and ambassadors from almost 100 countries throughout the world, and was awarded the Best Pearl Market in Beijing by the Gems & Jewelry Trade Association of China in 2005.

There is a wild mix of merchandise here, but its main claim to fame is pearls, available in all colors and shape, natural and dyed, in overwhelming quantities. Besides pearls, jade, Russian amber, coral and Australian opals, there are also are arts and crafts, traditional calligraphy and painting works. Although quality does vary from stall to stall, the sheer variety ensures that patience will reward visitors with some exquisite, bargain finds.

No.46 Tiantan Dong Lu, Chongwen District, Beijing. Tel.: +86 10 6713 3354. Hours: 9.30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Liu Li Chang

A historical street south of Hepingmen (Peace) Gate, Liulichang is known throughout China and the world for its ancient rubbings, ink stones, ink, books, calligraphy and paintings. Centered around a series of traditional Chinese stone dwellings, the area used to be one of Beijing’s flourishing cultural centers during the Qing Dynasty, visited by scholars, painters and calligraphers, but has now been transformed into a hotspot for cultural artifacts.

The name “Liulichang” comes from the Ming Dynasty when an eponymous, renowned colored glaze factory was in production on the street, which made glazed tiles for the palaces, temples and residences of officials. Its history, however, stretches further back, and can be traced to the Tang Dynasty. The famed kiln, which makes the glazed tiles it became famous for, was first built in the Yuan Dynasty, and was further enlarged in the Ming Dynasty. Illustrious in history, this short, traffic-free street is essentially an antiques market in a Chinese village setting, and a must-see for tourists hoping to witness Old Beijing in action.

115 Liulichang Street, Xuanwu District. Tel.: +86 10 8315 2783. Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Parkview Green

One of Beijing’s largest sustainable projects, The Parkview Green Mall’s unique architectural design and emphasis on recyclable materials has made it one of the most iconic structures in the capital. A large glass building in the shape of a pyramid, this is more than an environmental project- it is also an artistic hub that doubles as a high-end shopping mall. A must-stop shopping attraction, it features an array of classy brands such as Alfred Dunhill and Cerruti 188, amongst others.

No. 9, Dongdaqiao Road, Chaoyang District. Tel.: +86 10 5690 7000. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

LISTEN

East Shore Live Jazz Cafe

Without a doubt one of Beijing’s most enjoyable bars, East Shore Live Jazz Cafe is a discerning venue set up by two respected local aficionados, Tom Li and Liu Yuan (the latter was accompanist to legendary American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis). Overlooking the tranquil Houhai Lake, it’s the perfect place to hear some of the city’s most talented jazz musicians or just sip a glass of red wine and drink in the atmosphere.

2 Qianhai Nanyan Lu (by Dianmenwai Dajie), Dongcheng district

THEATER

Peking Opera: Changan Grand Theatre

For a true cultural experience, this traditional form of Chinese theatre combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. With over 200 years of history, Peking Opera is a prized national treasure where performers don heavy, opulent costumes and artfully sing, mime, and brandish swords. At this contemporary theater, guests may sit at tables to eat and drink while watching the lively performances. English subtitles appear above the stage.

Acrobatics: Chaoyang Theatre

In China, acrobatics has been an integral part of Chinese culture since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and it continues to play an important role in modern art and entertainment.

ART

The Capital Museum

The Capital Museum is a spectacular piece of architecture that integrates both classical and modern beauty. The museum houses a large collection of ancient porcelain, bronze, calligraphy, painting, jade, sculpture, and Buddhist statues from imperial China as well as other Asian cultures. Its regular exhibitions include collections on the ancient history and culture of Beijing, urban construction, ancient chinaware, Buddha statues and old folk customs.

The China National Art Gallery

The National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) is one of the largest national museums and it is dedicated to the collection, research and exhibition of modern and contemporary artistic works in China. Housing more than 100,000 pieces in various collections, it also features some masterpieces from the late Ming Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China.

Cao Chang Di

Off the beaten path is the Caochangdi Art District, one of China’s least commercial and most individualistic art districts. Whereas the 798 Art District has been increasingly gentrified, Chaochangdi remains off the radar, exciting because it is still relatively unfamiliar to most Beijingers. One of the pleasures of browsing its galleries is that it is far from touristy – most of them, minimalist in style, are scattered in an unassuming area outside Fifth Ring Road, in a quiet suburb.

Originally one of more than 300 urban villages in the city of Beijing, it grew organically in the past decade becoming a haven for artists who could no longer afford the rents in the 798 Art District. It also began to attract prominent galleries, such as Pekin Fine Arts, Galerie Urs Meile and the Three Shadows Photography Centre.

Like any hidden gem, Caochangdi is not immediately accessible or navigable – it is located on two sides of a railway track, and many visitors are not sure, upon alighting from the bus stop, if they have arrived at the right destination. But for those who love contemporary Chinese art, this artistic Holy Grail is definitely worth the trek.

No.319, Cao Chang Di Art District, Cuigezhuang Village, Chaoyang District, Beijing Tel.: +86 10 6432 5598

798 Art District

Flying the flag for “new” China’s booming art scene, the 798 Art District has now grown into a full-fledged cultural concept, as well as being the byword for a trendy, urban lifestyle embraced by both artists and hipsters. Transformed by contemporary artists from a 1950s Bauhaus building into a pioneering space for artistic freedom, it combines avant-garde galleries, artists’ studios, design companies, independent music and trendy eateries all under one roof. It also serves as the locus of a growing art and culture community in the city.

Taking its name from the original 798 Factory location, the area leapt to life when original factory spaces were redesigned and rented out by artists and cultural organizations, gradually developing the spot into an artistic powerhouse. Nowadays, it features international galleries such as the UCCA and Pace - which presents the best Chinese artists, amidst a myriad of local galleries, boutiques and cafés. A day here presents visitors with the perfect opportunity to dip into China’s contemporary arts scene – here, one can watch artists at work, sample their best offerings, and still retire for a quiet coffee in the afternoon.

Of particular architectural and social interest is the 798 district itself. Historically, it is a former Mao-era munitions factory designed by East Germans. It is the largest collection of preserved Bauhaus buildings in the world. A place where socialist heritage meets creative liberation, the District is a must-visit for any art-lover, as well as anyone interested in the “real” Beijing underneath the landmarks.

798 Art District, No.4 Jiuxian Bridge Road (Jiuxian Qiao Lu, in Dashan Zi), Chaoyang District, Beijing. Email: info@798district.com.

Nan Luo Gu Xiang

Old Beijing is full of traditional delights, and nothing is more fascinating than hutongs, which manage to combine the historical with the everyday. With labyrinthine alleyways that crisscross between grey brick courtyard homes in old neighborhoods, these architectural relics still bind the laobaixing (ordinary people) together in a rich tapestry of life. One such neighborhood is Nan Luo Gu Xiang, located in Doncheng District, a popular tourist destination.

Approximately 800 meters long and eight meters wide, Nan Luo Gu Xiang runs from Guluo East St. to Dianmen East, dates from the Yuan Dynasty and received its current name around 1750, during the Qing Dynasty. Authentic, vibrant and full of life, the area comprises a maze of old lanes beyond the grey stone Bell Tower, providing the perfect opportunity to people-watch. With its rise in popularity, the area has also slowly grown into a haven for independent shops and retailers, selling everything from vintage wear to kitsch souvenirs.

YuEr Alley, Nanluogu Xiang, DongCheng, District, Beijing

Tai Chi at Temple of Heaven

On any given day, if one heads to any park near the center of Beijing between five and eight in the morning, one can see rows and rows of retirement-age Beijingers practicing the ancient art of tai chi as their morning exercise. One of the most graceful and powerful forms of martial arts ever performed, tai chi has informed the Chinese way of life for centuries - balancing people’s qi, boosting their energy and enhancing their health and longevity.

Known as “Chinese shadow-boxing” in the West, “tai chi chuan” translates to “supreme ultimate fist.” There is very little that is combative about the technique, however. Essentially, tai chi is about balancing the yin with the yang, the soft with the hard, and speed with slowness. As a form of martial arts, it is one of the gentlest, and is the polar opposite of the fast and forceful movements of Shaolin Kung Fu. Nowadays, it has remained true to the spirit of its invention – as an art form for young people to keep fit, as a way for old people to avoid illness, and as an exercise in spirituality.

If visitors wish to partake of this ancient art, they should head for Temple of Heaven in the early morning, where they can engage in an invigorating lesson with a practicing master. It will do wonders for every practitioner’s well being.

No.7 Tian Tan Nei Dong Li, Chongwen District, Beijing. Tel.: +86 10 6701 2402 / +86 10 6701 3036 / +86 10 6702 8866. Hours: 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (winter), 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (summer)

Lama Temple

Befitting its status as China’s cultural capital, Lama Temple area encompasses not only the atmospheric temple itself, but also home the Beijing Imperial Academy and the historical Confucian Temple. Eminently walkable, it also offers a more glamorous side to the city, in the form of some of Beijing’s best independent boutiques.

Lama Temple is heavily steeped in local culture and color – visitors will be drawn towards the tranquil scenes of heady incense, the Buddhist monks, as well as its pockets of quiet contemplation. Conveniently situated across the street is the Guozijian Road - marked by a ceremonial blue archway, it is home to the Confucian Temple and the Beijing Imperial Academy (Guozijian in Chinese.) The latter, first established in 1306, served as the supreme administrative headquarters for the organization of education and the highest seat of learning during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, from 1271 to 1911. Covering 37,000 square meters, it is the last surviving imperial academy in China, having undergone two large-scale repairs during the Ming Dynasty, and the construction of the Biyong Hall in the Qing Dynasty. Now listed as an important cultural relic site under state-level protection, it is a grand throwback to China’s dynastic past.

Nestled next to the imperial and the monastic is the trendy and emerging if visitors want a taste of what young Beijingers are into these days, they should stop by such boutiques as Lost & Found for some charming furniture, or the famed Feiyue for some hipster sneakers.

Hours: Summer: April 1 to October 31: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Winter: November 1 to March 31: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tel.: + 86 10 6404 4499. Email: yonghegong@china.com.cn

ESSENTIALS

Jingshan Park

Sitting quaintly behind the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park, a place where old tradition meets new energy. An oasis of flowers, it commands a breathtaking view of the Palace from the top of its central “coal” hill, which was constructed from the same mud used to build the Forbidden City’s moat. Sunday mornings are the best time to visit, as visitors will be able to enjoy the tune of revolutionary songs sung by older Chinese citizens, who periodically gather to reminisce over old times.

Summer Palace

One of the most beautiful and iconic structures built during the Qing dynasty, Summer Palace is an exquisite slice of China’ imperial past. Embellished with quaint pavilions and traditional halls, it is famous for both the majestic Kunming Lake and its beautiful oriental landscape, which reflects the philosophy and practice of authentic Chinese garden design. Serving as a summer retreat for the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi, today it remains a stunning weekend sanctuary for tourists, and a year-round attraction for those seeking a peaceful afternoon away from the Beijing crowds.

Houhai

An area which for hundreds of years was exclusively used by the Imperial household, today it is a veritable town of its own, and a popular destination for families and children to hang out in. Filled to the brim with eateries, traditional handicraft stores and bars, the bustling streets are complemented by a serene lake. A great place for visitors to soak in the vibes of modern Beijing, while catching a whiff of the old.

Forbidden City

Forbidden City is Beijing’s crown jewel, an ancient palatial structure housing a marvelous collection of imperial relics and artifacts, including stunning jewelry worn by kings and queens. For over 500 years, its majestic yellow rooftops towered over the imagination of the capitals’ people – it was home to 24 emperors and their concubines during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Named the ‘Forbidden City’ because only those of political status were allowed to enter, today this palace is one of the most visited attractions around the world. Visitors are recommended to hire to a tour guide to fully understand the secrets behind its walls.

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square is Beijing’s national monument, and an important symbol of political power. Famed for the large portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong which hangs at its gate, today it also features a number of significant modern-day buildings that adds to the grandeur of this vast symbol. From Paul Andreau’s “Egg” National Theatre to world-class restaurant, the Square offers visitors a taste of both the new, emergent Beijing, and the illustrious legacies of its past.

CCTV Tower

Beijing is primarily known for its imperial architecture, but when it comes to modernism, it is also at the cutting edge. The China Central Television Tower (CCTV Tower) is an iconic structure that represents Beijing’s continuous modern development. This Escher-esque construction was built by German Architecture Ole Scheereen and takes on a distorted, unconventional form. Although the station is not open to public, a glimpse would surely leave visitors in awe.

Great Wall - Mutianyu Section

Situated just 90 minutes from downtown Beijing is Mutianyu Section of the mighty Great Wall of China, one of China’s most recognizable relics, and a veritable modern wonder of the world. Although slightly father away from the main entrance, Mutianyu is usually less crowded and allows visitors to capture photos that embrace a better view. Visitors can enjoy a breezy cable car ride up to Great Wall, and choose the toboggan ride on their way back down – as they say, no visit to Beijing is complete without making your way up to Great Wall.

Temple of Heaven

For those hoping for a glimpse into the grandeur of Old Beijing, Temple of Heaven will satisfy. A sacrificial icon for the relationship between humans and God, it remains a popular tourist attraction today. In the days of yore, emperors of Ming and Qing would leave the Forbidden City and pay visits at the Temple twice a year, making elaborate sacrifices in return for good harvests. A masterpiece of Chinese architecture, the Temples’ centric structure is a religious oasis of Confucian design, while its impressive halls are built entirely without nails, a near-impossible feat in its time.