To the first-time visitor, Beijing seems a vast and sprawling city. It is characterized by long, wide boulevards and a labyrinthine network of overpasses and freeways that comprises the six ring roads.
Fortunately, there is order in the chaos. At the heart of Beijing lies the
There are 16 urban districts and two rural counties in Beijing municipality proper, with each district containing distinctive neighborhoods. Most areas of interest are in the eastern Chao Yang and central Dong Cheng and Xi Cheng districts. Dong Cheng District With
Wang Fu Jing
This is Beijing's premier shopping area. It is partially closed to cars and crowded at all times of the day and night. The wide, sprawling central street is a showcase the best of Beijing's commercial success. Stop off at the
Chao Yang District
As the most concentrated commercial and residential area in Beijing, Chao Yang offers many areas of interest for visitors. Within this district are
San Li Tun
Originally the embassy district, San Li Tun is home to some of the best of Beijing’s nightlife. This is a loosely designated area of bars and pubs with San Li Tun North and South Streets at its heart. With the recent reconstruction efforts for the Olympics, the actual street and its many fabulous bars and restaurants have shifted, much to the confusion of return visitors to Beijing. Besides the ubiquitous cafes and bars, you will also find numerous boutiques selling everything from framed prints to Tibetan handicrafts and clothes. The lending library and gourmet cafe
Chao Yang Park
Da Shan Zi
The Bauhaus-inspired factories and workshops of Da Shan Zi once produced the audio equipment for the
Xicheng covers a great deal of the old city. It is just west of the
Chong Wen District
Located in the south of the city, this is a long-established commercial area, selling everything from eyeglasses to sporting goods. Check out the
Feng Tai District
This southwest district Beijing houses the Yangtai Sports Center where the Olympic softball tournament was held. Mainly an industrial area, there are several cultural and historical sites worth visiting, such as the China Space Museum, Feng Tai Park and
Hai Dian District
This northwestern part of the city is also known as the university district. Along with Beijing University and Qinghua University, who compete to be China's top school, there are ten major national universities within a four mile radius here. Owing to the young student population, this area has a reputation for being hip and full of cheap eats and dive bars. Hai Dian district is also designated a high-technology zone, so this is where you will find start-ups and high tech companies, such as Sohu and Google’s China headquarters. Interesting shopping can be found along Chengfu Road. Check out the old map section in
Xi Dan and Xuan Wu
Like Wang Fu Jing, these areas are known largely for their shopping. While the former is a place to be seen, Beijingers shop in Xi Dan and Xuan Wu. In imperial times Xuan Wu was home to the lower classes unconnected to court life. After the republic was established, it became known as “Little Lanzhou” because the large number of Hui or Uighur families, restaurants and shops here. Browse the small shops and stalls for bargains on clothing, shoes and CDs. Shopping centers here include
Beijing offers a staggering supply of places to eat, drink and be merry, and the number only continues to grow. As capitol, the cosmopolitan flavors available should not be shocking except to those who remember the days when choices were limited to incredibly sumptuous Peking duck banquets or greasy attempts at Western cookery. How times have changed.
Chinese cuisine is a regional affair. Southwestern Sichuanese food is notoriously spicy, Cantonese food includes dishes familiar to the west but best known for unusual ingredients combined in absolutely inspirational fashion. Northern Chinese cuisine includes Mongolian hotpot and plenty of lamb. Beijing specialties include imperial delicacies (think Peking duck) but also the everyday cuisine of the lao bai xing or regular folks not connected to the court. North China eats more wheat than rice, as is reflected in the delicious and cheap snacks widely available. Breakfast items such as dou zhi with you tiao, or warm fermented meng bean milk (not unlike soy milk) with an unsweetened Chinese style doughnut, also make an excellent midnight snack. Steamed baozi and jiaozi are two kinds of meat or vegetable dumplings within a doughy wrap. Chinese style crepes with scallions, or you bing are also a popular, widely available, and cheap.
If you are ready for a different flavor, there is not shortage of international cuisine from any part of the globe, including a number of cozy Western comfort food stops of increasing quality. Just about every kind of food in Asia is available, as is a great variety of Russian staples.
You will find most of the city's restaurants in east and central Beijing, in the Chao Yang and Dong Cheng districts, respectively. Due to the wealth on offer, it is not possible to cover them all here. However, the places in the following areas are highly recommended.
Chao Yang District
Anything you want to eat is found here. For Chinese cuisine try Green T. House, with its devotion to taking the culinary history of China to a new level. Craving Peking roast duck? Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, with its long standing popularity, will surly provide you with the experience you seek. Chinese dumplings reach their height at Bao Yuan Jiaozi Wu. What about Japanese? Try Hatsune with its plethora of fresh sashimi and delectable rolls. There is also Brasserie Flo, the famous French restaurant which is as close to Paris as you can get in Beijing. An evening at Lan will not soon be forgotten with its scrumptious cuisine and decadent decor. Vegetarians will be delighted by the Lotus in Moonlight. The ultra hip can cool down over a shaved ice desert at Bellagio. It has been unofficially agreed that a visit to Taj Pavillion is an integral part of a journey through Beijing. Although the selection of native beer in China may be on the light side, good selections of Belgian beers can be found at both Tree and Schiller's. The truly chic martini lounge Centro is a place to see and be seen as well as enjoy a chocolate martini with some live jazz.
Chao Yang Park
This once humble park is rapidly becoming one of the hippest spots for dining and drinking. Beijing's favorite Italian restaurant, Annie's, can also be found here. For new interpretations on Chinese classics give the cozy Andie Anniang a try. If you prefer to participate in sport via the barstool, check out the Goose ‘n' Duck Pub. French inspired authentic Vietnamese has found a home at Muse. If you would like to sample an imperial style meal, reserve a private room at Summer House. Their meals fit budgets from affordable to royal, and are truly a one of a kind experience. The evening destination Ultra-i not only has regular events but also an interesting drinks menu.
San Li Tun
The cozy cafe in The Bookworm, offers delicious dining and excellent atmosphere for conversataion. Down the street from there you will find the intimate Golden Elephant, which serves well-prepared Indian and Thai food. For something more sophisticated try the award winning Morel's where you can get some of the best Belgian food and beer in town. If you are looking for upscale Thai cuisine, try Purple Haze, the much talked about restaurant and bar that has received honorable mention from several different Beijing city guides. A late night pizza carving will meet its match at the Kro's Nest. Any place on San Li Tun Bar Street is good for a drink, but for those who want more ambience with their beer, Havana Cafe is alive with Cuban rhythms and beats. Q Bar, the bar sporting Beijing's best cocktails, can also be found here. With so much to choose from picking the perfect drink is a difficult task so don't limit yourself to one. A drinking tour through San Li Tun is best ended at Rickshaw, where it does not matter the hour, breakfast is served all day. If you seek a place to dance and drink, VICS by the Workers Stadium offers patrons space to do both. Speaking of space, long time Beijing nightspot Public Space is still going strong.
Jian Guo Men Wai & Ri Tan
From fast food to fine dining, this area has it all. Naturally, you will find the standard Pizza Hut, McDonald's and Starbucks franchises. For those who want more variety, Mexican Wave, an expat favorite, serves decent Tex-Mex. For Chinese food at affordable prices and in a romantic courtyard atmosphere, the Xi He Ya Ju Restaurant near Ri Tan Park is an excellent choice. Also located near the park is the fabulous Schindler's Tankstelle, a which serves delicious cold beers and tasty German food you won't get anywhere else. If you are craving wood-fired pizza, then Adria is the spot to head towards. Tradition and comfort are taken to new heights at Xiao Wang's, where classic Northern Chinese flavor dominates the menu.
Northeast Third Ring Road
This area is renowned for its plentiful restaurants. For those who crave Thai but are on a budget, the Asian Star is a good bet. You can also sample a variety of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian dishes here. For American food with hearty servings, the Hard Rock Cafe and T.G.I. Fridays are hard to beat. For something out of the ordinary try Whale Inside for a meal in the dark! The fabulous Zeta Bar is a fashionable stop, although a quick drop in can turn into a whole evening.
Dong Cheng District
With many different styles of restaurants from east to west, this part of town is yet another of Beijing's culinary treasures. For classic and delicious Chinese fare order yourself a hot pot at Ding Ding Xiang. Their sesame sauce will be hard to forget. Looking for a place to take a date? Head over to the famed Court Yard Restaurant, for exotic cuisine and romantic ambiance. Rain Club offers fresh cuisine straight from their own garden made to order while Waiting for Godot is a cafe and meeting ground only possible in Beijing. For dinner accompanied by Beijing style live theater head to East is Red for a musical supper. Within the twists and turns of the hutongs here, folks on foot often find themselves at Pass By Bar for either a meal or a drink. With an extended library of titles and a lovely courtyard, it is easy to see why.
Wang Fu Jing
Dining in Wang Fu Jing is akin to shopping here, with the high class selection, everything looks fabulous, but after awhile, it also begins to look the same. Several of the hotels have restaurants with excellent reputations and well known chefs. Jing in the Peninsula is just one example. If you are feeling adventurous, you are in for a treat at the Dong An Night Market, where traditional night market foods (i.e., fried or grilled and eaten off a kebab stick) are served up every night. This may be your best chance to try garlic fried scorpion, or indulge in chili covered grasshoppers with a chaser of roasted squid. Not feeling THAT adventurous? Then try the sweat pasty desert served from a dragon kettle.
Xi Dan & Xuan Wu
For Peking Duck, you cannot go wrong at any one of the Quan Ju De Roast Duck Restaurant branches in the city. But for sheer opulence, try the flagship branch on Qian Men Avenue. For a total tea experience accompanied by healthy organic food try out Geng Xiang Shi Fu. Jin Yang Restaurant offers a unique dining experience as the restaurant is over 100 years old, an elegant rarity in Beijing.
Xi Cheng and Hou Hai
Lotus Lane at the entrance to Hou Hai sports an ever changing make up of small restaurants and bars. Some of the music venues here are the best places to hear live music in Beijing. Within the immediate area are also some of Beijing's oldest and most reputed restaurants, such as Hong Bin Lou, at over 100 years old and serving traditional Hui cuisine, it is not to be missed. The Beijing opera star Mei Lan Fang used to live here, and his home is now the excellent Mei Mansion restaurant, serving imperial style cuisine. Zhejiang cuisine reaches inspirational levels at Kong Yi Ji. A dinner here may inspire you to rethink your travel plans and dip down to see the southern province that inspired the food. If you are looking for a more quiet location on your night out, try Taozhi Yaoyao for a special spot with a particularly traditional feeling. Another peaceful spot that is also quite social is found at Shui Bar. Guangfuguan Greenhouse was originally a Taoist temple complex. As a bar and music spot, it is especially wonderful on a warm summer evening.
Hai Dian District
To fit the student budget, there are many cheap "hole-in-the-wall" style establishments that serve some of the best Chinese food in town. Wu Dao Kou, known as Korea Town, has many small, authentic Korean restaurants catering to the large, Korean student population. If you want to eat like the locals and love Korean barbecue, Han Na Shan is an absolute must. For those seeking an exciting and non-traditionalist dining affair, a trip to Blu Lobster is in order. The cook's innovative style will have you eating combinations you have never tried before including hot rice with cold ice cream. Vegetarians can eat to their hearts content at Buddhist-run Still Thoughts. To try unique regional cuisine from Shandong head to Feng Ze Yuan Fanzhuang. For an extra treat reserve one of their 17 private rooms for a party. Old school and always open, Lush is a bar, a 24 hour restaurant, a music venue, and just about anything else you might want it to be, just as long as you ask. Part of the punk legend of Beijing, D-22 serves up plenty to drink.
Beijing has a long and tumultuous past. Archaeological evidence unearthed at nearby Zhoukoudian introduced the world to Peking Man, a hominid who inhabited the area half a million years ago. More recently, the city has seen imperial dynasties come and go along with wars, rebellions, foreign invasions and revolution. Since the 13th Century Beijing has dominated as the capitol of China under the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, and serves as capitol today for the People's Republic of China.
The earliest records of human settlement in Beijing date back to 1000 BC. During the Warring States Period (453-221 BC) the town of Ji served as a trade outpost for Koreans and northern tribes. Ji became Yanjing, or the capital of the Kingdom of Yan, and its strategic position led to struggles for control between Mongolians and Manchurians.
In 1215 AD, the city fell to the Mongolian empire builder Genghis Khan. By 1267 it became Khanbaliq (Khan's Town) or Dadu (Chinese for Great Capital), and capitol of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), from which Genghis' grandson Kublai would rule one of four Mongolian khanates, Beijing served as capitol to most of South and East Asia. It is believed that the outer wall of the city at the time ran along the canals near Xueyuan Lu near Qinghua and Beijing Universities.
In 1368 mendicant monk Zhu Yuanzhang led an uprising against the Yuan Dynasty and seized the Khan's great city. Thus began the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Under Zhu's control, the city changed its name to Beiping (Northern Peace) and was replaced as imperial capital by Nanjing (Southern Capital) in the Jiangsu Province. In the early 1400s, the third ruler and usurper to the throne Yong Le (reign 1403-1425), fearing the ghosts of his recently executed political rivals in Nanjing, returned to his base of power in the north and renamed it Beijing (Northern Capital). Because the Mongolian capitol had been completely wasted at the end of the Yuan, it was at this time that the foundations for the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Bell Tower were laid.
The Sinicized northern Manchu tribe put an end to the Ming in 1644, establishing the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Under the Qing, Beijing was further expanded and modernized with the construction of the Old Summer Palace and the (new) Summer Palace. The popularity of Chinese tea and silk in Europe brought prosperity to China during the Qing, but the court was unable to adjust to western style trade and diplomacy, which served to destabilize the Confucian social order. By the end of the 19th century, wars, foreign occupation, and rebellions had weakened the Qing court, then ruled by the Emperess Dowager Cixi (1835-1908). The Qing Dynasty finally collapsed in 1911. With the leadership of Sun Yat-sen, the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) rose to power and the Republic of China was founded. Warlord power and foreign influence limited the control of the Nationalist government and encouraged corruption. Modernizers and intellectuals flirted with new ideas, such as democracy, Marxism, and modern science. The blending of nationalism and education culminated in the May Fourth Movement of 1919, based at Beijing University, and writers such as Lu Xun encouraged the updating of the Chinese written style to more accurately reflect life in modern China.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai in 1921. During the war with Japan, the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek, allied with the Communists to seize control from the warlords and foreigners to reunify China. The alliance was never whole hearted and World War II lead to civil war. Defeated, Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, and on October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally declared by Mao Zedong (1893-1976) from Tiananmen Gate.
Under Mao's leadership, China struggled to create social equity and collectivity, erase the effects of feudalism and build a new nation. Progress met with hiccups of power struggle such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), both of which led to disastrous results for Beijing and the country. In an attempt to eradicate all capitalist or exploitative influences, the youth-lead Red Guards destroyed temples, monuments and works of art, and persecuted intellectuals and writers. Political infighting and power struggles within the Party further contributed to the chaos, which remained until Mao's death in 1976.
In 1979, Party leader Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) launched the four modernizations which began the shift to market socialism. The effects were felt politically in Beijing and the creation of the Democracy Wall in Xi Cheng was representative of the student- and worker- lead Democracy movement that abruptly ended in July 1989 in the Tiananmen Square Incident. At the turn of the 21st Century, Beijing is once again being revitalized as a new center of culture. The fireworks that accompanied the announcement of World Trade Organization membership in 2001 and fanfare surrounding the 2008 Summer Olympics have encouraged the massive updating of infrastructure and reinterpretation of cultural importance for post-Mao China.
For easy access to all of Beijing's attractions, shops, and restaurants, consider staying in the city's eastern district, Chao Yang, or central district, Dong Cheng. On the other hand, hotels in the northeast of the city, are best for those with early flights or for those wishing to avoid the chaotic Beijing traffic. Visitors will also find great places to stay in the less crowded northwest district Hai Dian.
Northeast Third Ring Road
In this corner of Chao Yang you will find a number of four- and five-star hotels. The area is in easy proximity to downtown, the airport, Beijing's cultural and night life, and accessible transportation. Mainly geared for affluent business travelers, the hotels are comfortable although a little pricey. The Kempinski Hotel, the Great Wall Sheraton and the Hilton are perennial favorites. The distinguished Landmark Hotel can also be found on North Third Ring Road.
Located near the university and hi-tech districts is an abundance of small and modest Chinese hotels and guesthouses. A major exception to this trend is the impressive Shangri-La Hotel—an oasis of five-star luxury, catering to the companies that make up China's Silicon Valley. The Friendship Hotel and Xin Xing Hotel offer fully equipped business and leisure facilities in at moderate rates. Visitors who find their stay extended may way to look into the one and two bedroom suites at the Somerset Zhong Guan Cun. The inexpensive Beijing Xin Ze Hotel offers clean accomodation and a convenient location. The Western Hills District is removed from the throbbing pulse of the city and the resort created by architect I.M. Pei in the Fragrant Hills Hotel makes for a peaceful retreat.
Jian Guo Men Wai/Ri Tan
Not surprisingly, there are many hotels located close to the embassy and commercial areas of this district. Business hotels such as the massive China World Hotel dominate the skyline. More than a hotel, China World encompasses office towers, residential high-rises, a shopping mall and an ice-skating rink. Alternatively, those craving VIP pampering, might prefer to check into the exclusive St. Regis boutique hotel. If you are looking for convenience but are willing to go without the 24 hour butler service promised by the five star giants should look into Paragon Hotel or the Traders Hotel. Backpackers will be happy to find a number of clean and friendly hutong hostels near Hou Hai that offer an inspiring stay in an old style courtyard, including Beijing Hutong Inn and Sleepy Inn Downtown Lakeside Beijing.
Wang Fu Jing
Travelers looking for a little self-indulgence will enjoy the luxury hotels in this area. The five-star Palace Hotel has a tres chic shopping mall, which includes Chanel, Christian Dior and Salvatore Ferragamo. Being close to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, many hotels in the area also cater to value-oriented tourists, such as the slightly more affordable Crowne Plaza Beijing and the Peace Hotel. Hotel Kapok is close to the Beijing Central Train Station and offers both leisure and business travelers comfortable and well designed spaces. The formidable Peninsula Hotel is located right on the Wang Fu Jing walking street, as is the Tian Lun Dynasty Hotel. The Taiwan Hotel is tucked away on Jinyu (Goldfish) Hutong, surrounded by traditional gardens and offering comfortable, affordable rooms.
The Holiday Inn Lido is a popular choice for vacationing families. This expatriate enclave is much more than a mere hotel. You will find a bank, business center, European bakery and delicatessen, a Western-style supermarket and drugstore. For some reason, the Lido Starbucks is a common meeting place for small tour groups heading out of the city. Chao Yang District offers some of Beijing's most extensive dining, shopping and entertainment, so the hotels here tend to cater to leisure travelers, but most have facilities to keep business travelers well connected, rested, and prepared. The 21 Century Hotel near the Exhibition Center offers excellent value. The Qing Lan Plaza Hotel is a hidden gem in the center of town. For whatever reason you may be traveling, JW Marriot Hotel is an excellent choice for comfort and location. The Furong Hotel makes an excellent spot to discover the city from. If being in the center of the action is what you are looking for, yet your budget is small, head for Gong Ti Youth Hostel near the Workers Stadium. Likewise, some of the city's best night clubs are within a stone's throw of Beijing City Hotel. Beijing's reputation for sporting events can be enjoyed at Beijing Continental Grand Hotel which was built as part of the Asian Games Village complex. Luxurious surroundings and modest room rates are found at the Golden Leaf Building.
With a number of historical sites, the city's business center and main train station, Dong Cheng offers travelers a variety of hotels. Business travelers will enjoy the proximity to downtown and distinctive attention to detail provided by the Regent Beijing. The Grand Hyatt maintains quite a presence at Wang Fu Jing. The hotel within Poly Plaza has the benefit of an entire entertainment complex at their doorstep, including easy access to Beijing's cultural center, the Poly Theater. Visitors who are interested in exploring the historical sites around the capital might want to stay at Grand Hotel Beijing, which is the hotel closest to Tiananmen Square. Affordable hotels and hostels can be found north of the Tiananmen complex. Best explored on foot is the nearby historic Bei Hai Park and lots of hutongs. Such hotels as Yue Yuan Hotel, and Nei Meng Gu Hotel offer guests an affordable look at Beijing from the center of town. Backpackers should look into the comfort and affordability of City Central International Youth Hostel.