Things to do in Beijing
Beijing is a chaotic city rich with history, culture, and places to be discovered – from sightseeing to bars.
The Great Wall
Mutianyu section of The Great Wall located 70 km away from Beijing center: it was a whole adventure to get there by bus, but it was totally worth it. My expectation was that The Great Wall is always overcrowded with tourists, but luckily I was wrong.
On the day we went there it was rather foggy and rainy – so tourists weren’t so attracted by the idea to get into the great rain on the Great Wall. We went there anyway and were disappointed with the view at first – well, with the absence of it. The fog was so intense, that we barely saw anything apart from the stones under our feet. We were eager to climb up higher, but as we did so the heavy rain started. It was scary to be in a windy and rainy weather, making my way to the top stepping on the slippery stones, but soon rain stopped. After the rain, skies cleared out and the amazing view of the wall and nature around us was finally revealed. I can say without a doubt – it was one of the greatest “wow” moments on my travels. The view is breathtaking and makes you understand why The Great Wall is considered one of the Wonders of the World.
The Temple of Heaven
The complex of religious buildings and park around them in the center of Beijing is an impressive place to visit. Built around 600 years ago, the Temple of Heaven was the site for annual religious ceremonies. The largest building in the complex is Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests – a circular wooden building placed on the white marble platform, so-called Altar, where the Emperor was praying every year for good harvest. A building with its blue coloured glaze and its form, which tries to get closer and closer to Heaven, creates a magnificent impression. The hall is spectacular from the inside as well – with wooden pillars and colourful paintings on all surfaces.
Another building from this complex is The Imperial Vault of Heaven. It resembles the Hall of Prayer but is smaller in size. Interestingly, it is surrounded by the Echo Wall, which can transmit sound over long distances. If you are with a friend there, you should face north and stand close to the wall and in some distance from each other – legend says that you can even hear each other’s whisper. The Circular Mound Altar is also made from marble stones and decorated with carvings, which you can scrutinise for a long time.
Buildings are located in a park, where people spend leisure time playing, exercising and relaxing. My top favourite activity for parks like that is jianzi – a Chinese game of kicking an object that is made of feathers fixed into a rubber core. Trying to keep that one in the air and circle kick it with your feet among a group of friends is a nice way to do some sports and have fun.
The Summer Palace
An imperial garden of Qing Dynasty is now a UNESCO heritage and is open to visitors. The Summer Palace is easily reachable with the subway. The most challenging part of the visit – is to wait in the queue to get the entrance ticket. Luckily, even if the crowd is unimaginably huge – after getting inside you won’t be bothered so much, because an area of the Summer Palace is big enough for any crowd to scatter.
The park itself is enormous, but choosing a few places of interest are enough for a good long walk. We went through Suzhou Street – market on the bank of the river, passed through Long Corridor – it’s a picturesque corridor painted with scenes from Mythology and tales, crossed 17-Arch Bridge, climbed on Longevity Hill to the Tower of Buddhist Incense and enjoyed the view on the Kunming Lake. An Imperial Garden is a splendid choice for those who like to wander and enjoy the blend of nature and architecture on the way – this place gives a genuine aesthetic pleasure.
Sanlitun District: destination for a night out
Beijing is great not only for sightseeing and cultural life but also for a night out. If you are up for some dancing and having a great time after the sun goes down – you should head to Sanlitun District. During the day it is a good destination for shopping and eating out, but at night it’s filled with lights from opening bars, which become crowded with party animals. There are many choices so you can just drop in into any bar and see how you like it, but I advise you to try out rooftop bars. The one we went to for a few times was simple and nice – located in TongLi Studios on the 5th floor. The great view of the city, music, and swing by the bar – cool spot for a night out. Another option if you are out at night in Sanlitun, but for a mood to do something calmer – you are welcome at the Bookworm bookstore which is open till 1 AM.
Beijing is a great place to look for something exotic. For sure, while in the capital you should definitely try famous Peking duck – it is famous for a tasty reason. Although there are also other special things to try out. Before coming to China I thought that getting fried insects everywhere on the street is common and everyone surely tried them. Turned out that many Chinese not only haven’t tried insects but also it is not so easy to find that kind of a food in China. One of few places with exotic food is Wangfujing street. The street was too crowded and no wonder – it is one of the most popular shopping streets in Beijing.
While we were making our way through the crowd on the narrow street – we were able not only smell but sometimes also see what street food sellers were offering. Meat kebabs, starfish, scorpions, sea horses, full-size birds, crabs, bugs and all kinds of sweet fruits for dessert. Most of the food was interesting to see and to try, but as we were flying next morning we settled for something we wanted to taste and what seemed less dubious – fried scorpions. They were served on a stick, 3 scorpions in a row. We were hesitating for a bit but then dared to try. Interesting and crunchy, as chitin of an insect should be. The food there is rather expensive, but certainly worth to see and try it out.