If you can only visit one city in China, then you should choose Beijing. Admittedly, the Chinese capital doesn’t have the best reputation. She regularly suffers from heavy smog, and the daily traffic jams are also frustrating. But on the other hand, there is an almost infinite amount of sights in Beijing: Historic buildings, charming side streets, and modern architecture are often only a few steps away from each other. Here are top things to do alone in Beijing. Before you even fly it is only wise to check the flights to Beijing. Cathay Pacific airline offers the best deals and good customer care as well.
- Visit the classic sights
It is almost always the same images that come from Beijing to us in the West. The most famous is the Mao painting on Tiananmen Square. Right behind it is the Forbidden City, the former Imperial Palace. Even if you otherwise prefer insider tips, the visit is worthwhile because of its great historical importance. Another picture that we keep seeing from Beijing is a round tower with a blue picture hanging. This is the Temple of Heaven. In particular, the extensive park in which the temple stands is worth seeing. It is best to come early in the morning to watch the city dwellers doing their morning tai chi exercises. Have you ever seen a two-story marble ship standing in a lake? It is a well-known sight in the Summer Palace, the former summer residence of the emperors. The palace itself is less worth seeing than the magnificent park around it.
- Walk through the hutongs
One of the most beautiful parts of Beijing, I think, is the old town with its winding streets (hutongs). Here you can still watch the real life of the long-established residents of the capital. The Lama Temple area, the Drum and Bell Tower (Gulou) and Lake Houhai are lovely (but also very touristy). You can also visit these highlights together on an organized tour. The area around Xuanwumen is a little more authentic. Unfortunately, large parts of the historic old town have been demolished in recent years, and the destruction is continuing at a slower pace.
You should avoid Qianmen Street just south of Tiananmen Square: it may look historical, but it is a fantasy construction for the Olympic Games. Just like the old-style tram there.
- Enjoy a rock concert
Beijing is the melting pot of underground music. So it is not surprising that there are numerous independent concert halls across the city. The quality of the bands is different and ranges from professional arrangements to barely bearable scratches. Friends of punk music, in particular, get their money’s worth. The two most famous concert organizers are the Mao Livehouse and the Yigong Yushan, both in the city center. There are also some lesser-known venues in the Wudaokou student district. Note: These restaurants do not serve the typical Chinese fabric softener songs that you usually hear in Chinese bars everywhere.
- Browse the galleries
You may have already noticed that contemporary art from China has been earning record prices for years. But there are also great artists among the lesser-known painters, sculptors and photographers. One of the most famous centers in the art factory 798. It is said that weapons were manufactured in the secret factory many years ago with the GDR’s help. Today, a large number of galleries with very different focuses have settled in the former production halls. One, for example, shows exclusively socialist art from North Korea.
- Shop for what it takes
Except for branded and luxury goods, most goods in China are cheaper than here in Europe. Take advantage of that and go shopping! An excellent place to start is Silk Street (Yonganli Metro Station), which has tons of cheap clothes and souvenirs. But remember that the first-mentioned prices are always over the top, and you should bargain every item down to at least half. Beware of counterfeit brands. Less because of the low risk of getting problems at customs, but more because the quality is mostly underground. If you are looking for cheap electronics, the Zhongguancun district is ideal, where several malls are next to each other. You can also find great souvenirs in the artist mentioned above, neighborhood 798 or the Panjiayuan flea market.
- Walk the Great Wall
The Great Wall is undoubtedly the most famous sight in China. It is located just a few kilometers north of Beijing in the mountains. You should visit the Great Wall of China and possibly even spend the night on it. Which wall section is the best is often controversial. I’ve visited almost every restored area over the years and find that the differences aren’t that great. If you are after a carefree package, almost every hostel offers a guided tour. But you can easily reach most of the sections on your own. The easiest way to get to Badaling is. To do this, take the express train from the Xizhimen metro station directly to the wall. Avoid weekends.
- Enjoy the view of the city
When Beijing isn’t shrouded in smog, you should see the city from above. My favorite is the TV tower in the West of the town because you have a great view of modern Beijing’s skyline. An alternative is Tower 3 of the World Trade Center in Guomao, the tallest building in Beijing. There is a stylish sky lounge on the top floor, where you can comfortably sip your slightly overpriced drink. Attention: sometimes long waiting times. The coal hill (Jingshan) is located immediately behind the Forbidden City and offers a magnificent view. You can get a slightly different overview of Beijing in the City Planning Museum: There, you will find a giant 3D model of the city center and learn how Beijing should develop in the coming years.
- Swim in the Olympic pool
The Olympic City is definitely worth a visit – after all, the bird’s nest and the water cube have become essential icons of the Chinese rise. If it is not enough for you to stroll between the sports facilities, you can visit many of them. The water cube is particularly recommended. Shortly after the Olympic Games, it was transformed into a public swimming pool with a fun factor. So if you fancy splashing around in Michael Phelps’ footsteps, this is your ultimate chance. To be on the safe side, clarify the opening times beforehand.