I like Silk Market’s large range of cloths and silks, but note that the top-end ones fetch a high price. You can also get affordable customised suits from the many tailors in the area.
Maliandao Tea Market (11 Maliandao Rd) has over 900 stores selling Chinese tea. Store owners here are more than happy to share tips on how to appreciate Chinese tea.
It’s interesting to look around Panjiayuan Antique Market (west of Panjiayuan Bridge), which has a dizzying array of knick-knacks.
Big and small bites
Haidilao is one of the most popular hotpot chain restaurants frequented by locals. Basically, you cook your food by submerging raw ingredients in boiling soup or oil. The queue to get in may be long during peak hours, but the restaurant offers free hand massages while you wait.
One of my favourite cafés is Spoonful of Sugar. It is in a quaint hutong (alley) in the historic Dashilan district – now a creative hub – away from the bustle of the city. It serves interesting and affordable fusion food (below) like its duck sandwich with caramelised apple and purple Chinese spinach.
Try the street food at Donghuamen Night Market (near Wangfujing Dajie). Items range from kebabs and bingtanghulu (dried hawthorn candy) to the more exotic offal and fried insects.
Get the best and most inexpensive view of the ancient Forbidden City from Prospect Hill at Jingshan Park. Entrance to the park costs only 2 yuan (US$0.30). From Atmosphere Bar, on the 80th level of the China World Summit Wing, you can see the Forbidden City and distant mountains on a clear day. While entry is free, the drinks – more than 300 types of cocktails – do not come cheap. Go early as the bar can hold only about 130 people.
Wake up early to watch the flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng just before sunrise. Even though you’ll be with a crowd of a few thousand, the feeling of watching the flag rise with the sun is indescribable.
I adore Beijing because it is so rich in history and culture, with many World Heritage sites. And yet, it is developing so quickly with modern architecture. A trip to Beijing is never complete without visiting Mutianyu or Badaling to scale the Great Wall of China.
If you are up for an adventure, take part in the annual Great Wall Marathon (below). The tough but rewarding race takes you through villages.
The Forbidden City is one of the most well-preserved royal palace complexes in the world. You can spend an entire day walking around it and the Temple of Heaven outside.
The landscape is dotted with intricate traditional sculptures and architecture. In winter, locals ice-skate on the surrounding frozen lake.
About an hour’s drive from the city, at the foot of Mount Tianshou, are The Ming Tombs. At the resting place of the 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty, you’ll see ancient artefacts that offer a glimpse into their lives. The surrounding area is also great for nature walks.
Rent a bicycle to explore the alleys near Guloudajie (Drum Tower St). You’ll see traditional courtyard houses (siheyuan) that once dominated the city’s landscape, as well as the Drum and Bell Towers.
Talk to the locals; they may let you take a look around their homes. Many residences are extremely modern inside – a stark contrast to their exteriors.
798 Art District is a former complex of 1950s factory buildings. Now a hipster enclave with cafes and art galleries, it is good for people-watching and photography.
View other useful insider’s guides.
PHOTOS SHEN HONG, SEAN GALLAGHER (CORBIS) / CATCHUPHOTO / SPOONFUL OF SUGAR BAKERY CAFE
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.