Beijing, China’s capital and second largest city, is a truly astonishing city that enchants, enlightens and entertains at every turn. A startlingly modern, youthful and progressive place, you’d be forgiven for thinking China has completely abandoned Communism in favour of more Western ideals, but delve a little deeper and you will discover the cultural and historical treasures that have intrigued outsiders for centuries, as well as haunting echoes of its notorious past.
At the heart of Beijing lies the vast Tiananmen Square and magical Forbidden City, both a must for any visitor looking for a comprehensive and colourful glimpse into China’s illustrious Imperial past and its eccentric-but-somewhat-terrifying post-revolution endeavours. Explore the city from here and you will find a plethora of remarkable temples, ornate houses, atmospheric hutong (narrow passageways,) sparkling lakes, bustling markets, tranquil parks and exquisite palaces.
Exploring Beijing by bicycle. Beijing is virtually completely flat and its wide roads and cycle lanes make it perfect for an exciting, refreshing and safe cycle. Join the flocks of local cyclists as they make their way from one side of the city to the other, do some laps of Tiananmen Square or simply enjoy the vast grid of peaceful, tree-lined boulevards. Most hotels have cycle hire facilities and rates are usually extremely competitive.
No tour of China would be complete without a stroll along the mind-boggling Great Wall. Beijing is an ideal base from which to take a daytrip to the superb Badaling and Simitai stretches, which are just a couple of hours away.
While you cannot leave Beijing without first savouring some genuine Peking Duck, there are plenty of other delicious, traditional dishes to sample such as dumplings, fiery Sichuan delicacies. With an abundance of authentic restaurants serving a range of national cuisine, the long, winding passage from Tieshu Byway to Dashilan West Street is an unforgettable place to give your taste buds a work out, especially at the enchanting Tianhai restaurant, with its antique gramophone and old photos evoking a bygone Beijing.
For somewhat more adventurous foodies, check out one of Beijing’s bustling night markets where appetising grub on offer includes snake, cockroaches and scorpion.