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Forbidden City
Photo: Time Out Beijing

The essential guide to Beijing

What to eat, drink, shop and see while you’re in China’s capital city

Time Out in partnership with AirAsia X
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Occupied by 22 million people across 10,000 sq km, Beijing is a daunting city to explore for any traveler, veteran or otherwise. To make it easier for you, we highlight the top places where you can capture the essence of the mega-city within a relatively short span of time.

AirAsia X flies to Beijing twice daily from Kuala Lumpur, and now features a promotional all-in fare from RM299 from now until July 30, with a travel period valid from now until February 8 2018. For more information and booking details, visit AirAsia.

Eat and drink

Peking Duck at Jing Yaa Tang or Country Kitchen

You can’t visit Beijing without having Peking Duck, a dish whose popularity can be traced back to the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368), when the Mongol Emperors ruled China. Today, it’s a staple dish that is served across the city, with a varying degree of prices that reflect the quality of the duck and skill of preparation. For a mid-range budget of about RM250 per duck, we suggest you visit Jing Yaa Tang, which delivers an authentic rendition of the Peking Duck; the skin may be oily for some but it's all about getting the perfect amount of sugar to stick to each sliver. If you’ve got extra change to spare, head out to Country Kitchen where for RM200 you’ll get a duck of the highest quality to go along with the traditional dishes and forgotten delicacies of northern China. Don’t forget to order the soup made from carved-out bird while you’re here.

Jing Yaa Tang, The Opposite House, 11 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district; Country Kitchen, Third Floor, Rosewood Beijing, Jing Guang Centre, 1 Chaoyangmen Dajie Chaoyang district.

Late-night food and drink run at Jiaodaokou

Jiaodaokou, the area directly east of Gulou, is full of trendy restaurants, bars and nightspots so it's no surprise that our walking food tour of the area is made for 24-hour party people. For dinner, a visit to Zhang Mama is a must; it has long been popular with Gulou kids for its spicy home-style Sichuanese specialities and its extremely modest prices. Try the deliciously hot bowls of fire engine-red dandan mian.

After getting your belly filled, check out some of the bars in the area, especially Gulu Bazz, is a small tapas and vermouth lab located on Xiguan Hutong, opposite the Beijing Middle School, which focuses on the culture of fortified wines and amaros. For the midnight owls, look for the steaming towers of bamboo that cradle the morning’s dumplings and stuffed buns on Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie, heading north towards Andingmen. If you’ve done a proper job of staying out all night, by the time you exit Yugong Yishan the early morning commute is well underway and breakfast staples of fried dough sticks and baskets of freshly steamed dumplings abound.

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Qing-Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop

With more than half a century of history, Qing-Feng is where you can find reliably good and cheap steamed dumplings – just ask President Xi Jinping, whose visit a few years ago prompted long queues of people in the following weeks. Here, ‘steamed dumpling’ means baozi, lush puffs of bread concealing pork or beef fillings. They come three to an order and combinations are classics like pork and fennel (zhurou huixiang), or beef and leek (niurou dacong). Try the susanxian, which  translates as ‘vegetarian three fresh’ and includes three varieties  of mushrooms mixed with egg.  Other offerings include wonton soup, bowls of noodles, porridge and various cold dishes. If you want to go all out, order what the President did: a combination of six pork and leek buns (zhuroudacong), a bowl of fried liver (chaogan) and a plate of seasonal greens (banshishu). A full meal here will set you back about RM10-15, making this a bargain, if you have the patience to wait and stand in line.

Various locations including, Xinyuanli, 6 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District ; Qianmen, 52 Qianmen Dajie.

Janes and Hooch

Ever since it opened 2012, Janes and Hooch has played a big role in raising the quality of Beijing’s cocktail scene – and being named in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2017 certainly helped pull in the crowds. Together with Milan Sekulic, co-owner Warren Pang continues to be one of the more brilliant minds in the city’s cocktail scene, creating Asian-inflected beverages that emphasise the use of local ingredients. The cocktails change from time to time, but you can’t go wrong with an Old Fashioned here.

4 Gongti Bei Lu (diagonally across from Q Mex), Chaoyang district.

Shop

Beijing Farmers’ Market

For that market buzz, there’s nowhere better than Beijing Farmers’ Market. Started by a group of expat artists in 2010, it has since hosted more than 200 markets each attended by around 40 farmers, craftsmen, social enterprises and NGOs.

The market attracts thousands of people, and you can find everything from organic vegetables, meats and eggs to homemade cheeses and bread that come from farms around Beijing and beyond. Although some of the vendors haven’t undergone official organic certification, the market organisers visit each farm and make sure they’re producing safe, healthy food using organic methods.

The location of the market is not fixed, but you can follow them at weibo.com/farmersmarketbj and facebook.com/farmersmarketbj to find out where their next stop will be.

Qianmen

One of the oldest streets on this list with a 600-year history as a commercial centre, Qianmen Dajie is a pedestrianised shopping area just south of Tiananmen Square. Renovated in time for the 2008 Olympics, Qianmen is now a commercialised shopping street with trams that run during Chinese holidays. There's Western high street staples galore here, but be sure to stop by the original Liubiju Pickle Shop for something more local, or, if you want a break from shopping, Madame Tussauds.

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Liulichang Xijie

In the market for a calligraphy brush at tall as you? Liulichang is your spot. Situated a couple blocks south of Qianmen, this shady hutong consists solely of shops dedicated to Chinese crafts – think calligraphy, paper cutting, water colour paints – a handful of which have been in business in some way or another for a few hundred years. Perhaps the street’s most famous store is Rongbaozhai, a time-honoured brand which dates back to the 17th century and sells stationery and calligraphy supplies, as well as high-quality porcelain, and has a sunny café-bookstore attached. A good one for Beijing visitors.

Yangmeizhu Xiejie

Besides being a hub for Beijing’s design scene, the hutongs of Dashilar are full of traditional craft shops as well as trendy designer boutiques. Yangmeizhu Xiejie is the most packed in the area. Along the alley, scout out Triple Major for indie magazines and contemporary lines like French label Lemaire and Croatian Damir Doma’s eponymous co-ed label. The street also has you covered for homewares: Ubi Gallery for ceramics, Book Design Shop for coffee table books and stationery, and Beijing Postcards for beautifully reproduced vintage maps. After all that shopping, get your caffeine fix at Soloist.

See

798 Art District

The 798 Art District is a must for anyone eager to see the modern artistic side of Beijing. Arguably the first significant creative cluster in Beijing, this area in the city’s northeast was once a buzzing factory complex that was designed by East Germans in the 1950s to produce military and civilian hardware, including acoustic equipment for the Workers’ Stadium and the loudspeakers in Tiananmen Square.

The present-day numerical name actually comes from a single sub-factory, ‘798’, a portion of which was the first location to host a major exhibition. After this, the whole complex became known by these three iconic numbers. There are numerous galleries and spaces here: the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Faurschou Foundation and Boers-Li Gallery are just some of the places that feature thought-provoking and boundary-pushing exhibitions on a regular basis.

Forbidden City
Photo: Time Out Beijing

Forbidden City

No visit to Beijing would be complete without visiting the Forbidden City, which is filled with crowds of tourists snapping photos within the 72 hectares of sprawling palatial grounds. A gradual expansion of publicly open areas, a large budget for research, and the production of guides and elucidating materials for the interested visitor makes the Forbidden City more accessible than ever – we recommend getting a copy of 'Candogan Beijing' and 'Insight Guide to Beijing' to take around with you. Those seeking the perfect Instagram shot should head to Wanchunting (Pavilion of Everlasting Spring), which allows visitors to take in an unrivalled view of the expanse of curved roofs and age-defying walls.

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Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is undoubtedly one of Beijing’s hottest attractions, offering a different experience for visitors in every season. Whether you’re coming to whizz across its frozen lake in winter, soak up some sun in the spring or summer, or admire its splendid autumn colours, it’s always a good idea to spend the day out here.

The history of Beijing’s Summer Palace can be traced as far back to the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), when it was used by imperial families and their entourage to get some rest and relaxation. Successive dynasties made their alterations and additions to its gardens, lakes, halls and pavilions, but it was during the late Qing dynasty and the regency of Empress Dowager Cixi (1861-1908) that it gained its current grandeur.

A fair warning: one trip might not be enough to see it all – which is why we recommend this ultimate guide produced by Time Out Beijing. If you’re pressed for time, pay a visit to picturesque locations of The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, The Garden of Virtue and Harmony and The Spacious Pavilion, where you can snap a few gorgeous photos to show to family and friends.

Badaling Great Wall

It’s China’s best known monument, one of the seven wonders of the modern world and a marvel to behold; there’s no other structure that matches the staggering scale and ambition of the Great Wall of China, which sits atop nearly every visitor’s Beijing bucket list. However, given the whole host of different sections with different qualities and defining features, choosing which one to start with – or which to visit next – can be a difficult decision.

It’s a long list to get through, which is why we’re recommending that you check out Time Out Beijing's roundup of the Great Wall, which includes a few history lessons, as well as the lowdown on transport and tickets. However long you have here and however wild you want to go, there’s a bit of wall for everyone, so get out there and get climbing!

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