Welcome to Beijing!
A city where you can travel through time, either back in history or into the future, Beijing is a truly unique city. As the last of the 6 ancient Chinese capitals, the city has a lot of cultural and historical sights, waiting to be explored. Tourists know popular destinations like the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the Temple of heaven; but a worldwide local knows how to experience the city, fully. This is an insider’s guide of Beijing’s best-kept secrets.
Beijing is known for its rich history, delicious and in some cases quirky foods, and fascinating traditional culture. With so many people living in the city, it can be overwhelming for a visitor trying to explore it all. This guide will help you make the most out of your visit.
Worldwide Local Tip: The Beijing weather can be harsh, with severe air pollution which fluctuates from time to time and is at its worst during the winter months. The best time to visit is when the quality of air is good, during the Spring months of April and May and the fall months of August and September.
Where to Stay in Beijing
The central district of Beijing boasts skyscrapers and modern architecture. Rather than staying in these cookie-cutter Beijing hotels, opt to stay in the ancient suburbs just outside the city, where the locals live. This is the perfect place to get a taste of Beijing’s local life as you walk down the hutongs (small alleyways). Sitting at a Beijing cafe, you can see local men out playing cards and chess and the women talking and laughing as the children play in the streets.
Worldwide Local Tip: Avoid the crowded, touristy areas of Gulou and Nanluguoxiang and stay at Wudaoying. A favorite among locals, it is also a great starting point for further exploration in the area. It’s close to some of the best things to do in Beijing, including both the Lama Temple and Ditan Park (Temple of Earth), as well as the stunning tree-lined Guozijian hutong.
Making Your Way Around
Getting around Beijing is easy, as the city has a convenient transport system. The most convenient means of transport is the subway, as the underground system connects most parts of the city. You can also use a taxi, but make sure to have your destination written down in Mandarin, as most taxi drivers don’t speak English. For long distance tours, you can either use the electric train or a tour bus.
Worldwide Local Tip: Traffic in Beijing is quite hectic, and traffic rules are not strictly followed. Where possible, use overpasses and underpasses. If you have to cross a street, the safest way for you to cross the road is with a group of pedestrians.
Culture and History
Beijing has been the epicenter of Chinese arts for over 3 millennia. Paper cutting, shadow puppetry, clay curving, mass painting, and calligraphy are all on UNESCO’S Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Some of the ancient protected artifacts can be viewed at the National Art Museum of China, but for a more hands-on experience, you can take part in an art tour and visit the shops of local artists that still practice the ancient arts. Learn how to perform calligraphy or paint the inside of a bottle--you will leave having learned a new skill, and be able to take home a more personalized souvenir. If you still need to get more souvenirs, head out to shop in the largest and cheapest antique market in China, the Panjiayuan Antique Market.
Worldwide Local Tip: Make sure to get either WeChat or Alipay, China’s mobile payment applications, as many shops no longer accept cash, and an international credit card won’t work in Beijing.
The Best of Beijing Cuisine
One of the tastiest dishes to eat in Beijing is Peking (roasted) duck (not to be confused with a Beijing Duck, which is a member of the basketball team!). Eat like a local--find the best authentic and traditional foods like Miancha (porridge made of millet flour and sesame paste), dumplings, and Zhejiang noodle soup in the hutong alleyways. The food will be better than at any fancy Beijing restaurant.
Worldwide Local Tip: Bugs are eaten in other parts of China, but not in Beijing. Be warned that any stands you see selling them as a delicacy in the city are just tourist traps, that even the locals avoid. But if you feel adventurous and can stomach them, go right ahead, as they are safe to eat.
Beijing After Dark
Beijing has a very vibrant nightlife that warrants the name “the city that never sleeps.” Where you choose to go for a night out in the city depends on how much you are willing to spend. You can head to Wudaokou, a popular hangout spot for students, if you’re looking for cheap drinks and packed nightclubs.
Enjoy Beijing as a Worldwide Local!
There is so much to do and see in Beijing. Following this guide as a worldwide local will help make sure you don’t fall for the tourist traps. Instead, you’ll live like a citizen of the Beijing population--you will have the best experience and leave with unforgettable memories.