Beijing is chaotic and dusty, yet the city has its charms for those who want to peel back the layers of history and explore its nooks and crannies. This two-day guide is for travelers who have already been to Beijing and seen the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Frequent travelers to the capital are often surprised by the sophistication and openness of its people. Beyond the landmarks, there are other fun ways to enjoy the city, from fashion and art to food and wine.
10:30am Moka Bros in Nali Patio (81 Sanlitun Rd N.) A healthy casual restaurant to start the day revolves around the “eating well and feeling good” concept. The menu features crepes, wraps, sandwiches, salads, juices and great coffee. The place has a relaxing ambience with an international clientele.
1pmShopping at Taikoo Li Sanlitun
Paloma Sanchez is a jewelry store inside Nali Patio. The Spanish jewelry designer and GIA gemologist creates whimsical designs that show her love for natural gems in their uncut, original state. The shop houses a nice selection of rings, bracelets, pendants and earrings.
Not far from Nali Patio is Taikoo Li North. It’s home to a big selection of designers, including prominent names and upcoming locals.
Beijing looks cool from the side-car of a motorbike. An experienced expatriate runs Beijing Sideways, giving tours of historical sights, new landmarks and lesser-known hutong.
Hop into a vintage 1930s motorbike with sidecar and get a tour of the Beijing the Sideways crew love. The company’s philosophy is to give tours as though every customer is a “friend of a friend or friend of the family.” This means clients can spend more time at places they really enjoy.
The 2-hour “Beijing in a Nutshell” option takes you to the oldest parts of the capital including the ancient city wall, and many hutong for a glimpse into the fabric of locals’ lives. The tour also includes the new National Opera Theater, CCTV Tower, a ride around Houhai Lake and ends at the 600-year-old Lama Temple complex. It was converted into Temple Restaurant, one of the capital’s hottest spots for dinner and wine.
7:30pm Dinner at Mercante (4 Fangzhuangchang Hutong, Dongcheng District)
Mercante is one of the best-kept secrets in the capital. Hidden inside a hutong near Houhai Lake, this 10-table Italian trattoria is likely to leave a lasting impression. It is owned by Chinese-Italian couple, Yuan Yuan from Beijing and Omar Maseroli from Reggio Emilia. The menu features Bolognese dishes including handmade pastas. Signatures include tagliatelle with ragu Bolognese or pappardelle with duck ragu or spinach tagliatelle with vegetable sauce. Other recommended dishes include ravioli or tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta, pumpkin and fruit chutney or potato and smoked pork belly among others. The location offers a glimpse of life in hutong as bicycles pass by, old men play Chinese chess, grandmas chat and children run around.
10pm Terrace drinks at New World Hotel (8 Qinian Rd)
End the day with a drink at one of the best rooftop terrace bars in town. YIN on 12, a modern Oriental-style lounge, features one of the largest open-air terraces in the city. With views of the second inner-ring road of the Chongwen Gate area, the East terrace is a lively al fresco corner featuring draft beers and freshly grilled bites while the West terrace is a lounge space. An extensive selection of vintage Champagnes, premium wines and fine single malt scotch whiskeys are available. The terrace is open from 6pm to late from Tuesday to Saturday.
10am Art tour
The capital is at the forefront of the country’s contemporary art scene. While the popular 798 Art Zone may be too commercialized for some, Caochangdi, or The Grass Frontier, is a fertile breeding ground for young artists. This hub of galleries is just five minutes from 798 and is the place for more serious art collectors.
Some of the galleries worth checking include Video Bureau, de Sarthe Beijing, White Space, Telescope, Beijing Art Now Gallery and Three Shadow Photography Art Center.
Shanghai-based architect and designer Lu Yongzhong moved to Caochangdi last year and set up Banmoo Gallery. It displays his recent works combining fine materials, exquisite craftsmanship and modern Chinese elements.
1pm Lunch at Country Kitchen (Rosewood Beijing, Jing Guang Center, Hujialou)
Country Kitchen is the place to dine in the capital at the moment. Combining the ambience of a rustic Chinese village with a stylish contemporary aesthetic, the restaurant inside the Rosewood Beijing specializes in northern Chinese food such as wood-roasted Peking duck.
Its chefs have resurrected “lost recipes” including roasted and clay pot pork belly, which was popular among upper class people in Beijing in the 1950s.
The restaurant has a laid-back feel with an open kitchen.
4pm Afternoon walk around old hutong
In Shanghai there is Tianzifang. In Beijing there is Wudaoying, a hutong that is close to Yonghe Temple.
It offers a closer look at a local neighborhood although a trendy scene has sprouted up as young people have opened cafes alongside vintage boutiques, studios and stores selling handicrafts.
The result is a balance of an old Beijing hutong neighborhood with contemporary flair.
Another spot worth exploring is Yangmeizhu Crooked Street, not far from Qianmen Gate where you will be able to find a book shop specializing in art and design titles. The shop also sells old radios to revolutionary memorabilia.
7pm Old Beijing Zhajiang noodle dinner
Locals are extremely proud of Zhajiang noodles, made from wheat and served slightly warm with a tangle of shredded cucumber bean sprouts, bright radish and soybeans. Don’t forget to mix in the oily brown bean sauce before eating. These noodles can be found in many local eateries around the city. Pentahotel Beijing offers an authentic version in its Noodle bar on the first floor.
Where to stay
The capital has a wide range of hotels to choose for different tastes and budgets. For luxury travelers, the recent addition of Rosewood Beijing (Jing Guang Center, Hujialou) is a nice option. As Rosewood Hotels & Resorts first property in China, the 283-room hotel has received rave reviews. The hotel’s design honors the history of the city from a fresh and contemporary perspective. It offers apartment-style accommodation and thoughtful details such as a selection of specially sourced books in the guest rooms. The hotel has six restaurants and lounges.
For those on a limited budget who don’t want to sacrifice on quality and style, Pentahotel Beijing (3-18 Chongwenmenwai Street) is tough to beat. It’s comfortable without unnecessary frills. It’s a 10-minute walk from the Temple of Heaven. Guests can rent a bike and explore the neighborhood and discover little-known gems that are often only discovered on two wheels.