What to do and where to go if you have 72 hours in Beijing?
From Jan 1, transit passengers from 45 countries will be able to stay in Beijing for 72 hours without a visa. This makes the capital city a convenient short-term tourist destination.
Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world. Some say you need a whole life to explore the ancient city’s glorious past and flamboyant present. But three days will give any visitor a taste of something special and will definitely tempt them to return for a longer stay.
Famous sites include the Forbidden City, Great Wall and Summer Palace. These are must-see places for first-timers in Beijing. But the city can offer much more as many of its treasures are off the beaten path. Let’s take a look, Most people start their Beijing trip from the Forbidden City, the palace grounds that were home to the emperors of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, which showcases traditional Chinese culture. But unless you climb up the hill in Jingshan Park, located to the north of the ancient palatial structure, you won’t be able to have a bird’s-eye view of the whole compound.
According to the dictates of feng shui, it is favorable to site a residence to the south of a nearby hill. Hence, Jingshan mountain was constructed artificially when the Ming emperors built the Forbidden City.
At 45.7 meters high, it is an easy climb. When you arrive at the pavilion on the top, you will have a great view of not only the imperial palace compound, but also the central axis of Beijing.
Donghuamen Road and Xihuamen Road, immediately outside the Forbidden City’s boundary walls but within the moat, are perfect for a relaxing walk to soak up the nostalgic atmosphere. This is probably the only place in Beijing where your sight won’t be diverted by high-rises that are popping up every day.
On one side is the Forbidden City, on the other, across the moat, are two royal gardens. If you are there early enough, before the other tourists arrive, you can imagine yourself in medieval times.
Walk south across Tian’anmen Square – one of the largest squares in the world – and you will arrive at Qianmen, a gentrified old district.
Stroll along Qianmen Pedestrian Street and go into an old lane called Xianyukou to taste the miscellaneous traditional Chinese snacks. But beware, some might taste a bit strange. For a safer choice, check out Du Yi Chu, which sells flower-shaped siu mai that is recognized as China’s national intangible heritage.
The pedestrian street has two of Beijing’s oldest Peking roast duck restaurants.
Quanjude, China’s biggest Peking roast duck chain restaurant, preserves an ancient wall in its Qianmen joint, from 1864, when it was founded. Another restaurant, Bianyifang, which uses a closed-oven roasting technique, is even older, dating back to 1416.
The area also accommodates some of Beijing’s best Western restaurants. Capital M at the northern end of Qianmen Pedestrian Street has a view of the Tian’anmen Square on its roof-top terrace.
Ch’ien Men 23, location of the old American consulate, houses French restaurant Maison Boulud, and Italian restaurant Sadler.
The founder of Maison Boulud, Daniel Boulud, runs a three-Michelin-star restaurant in New York, and Sadler’s founder’s restaurant in Italy holds two Michelin stars.
The Drum Tower of Beijing was built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan. It functioned as the official timepiece until 1924, when the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty was forced to leave the Forbidden City, and Western-style clockwork was made the official means of time-keeping.
But the drum tower structure still exists in Beijing today. From the top of the tower, you will be able to see hutong (traditional alleyways), one-story houses and courtyards in the area. For a small sum, you can also experience beating the drum.
The area around Gulou is popular among young people, with hip-looking shops, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. Some of the foreigners who hang out here even speak with the Beijing accent.
Among the dignitaries who have dined near the drum tower area are US Vice-President Joe Biden, who had lunch at Yaoji Chaogan’er in August 2011.
It is in places like this that you see how ordinary Beijingers live their lives. Check it out, and order a bowl of soybean drink instead of a Coke.
If you happen to be strolling along Nanluoguxiang, a hutong off East Gulou Street with many souvenir shops, check out Wenyu cheese store, which sells Beijing-style double-boiled cheese jelly. There is usually a long line of people waiting.
From Gulou, take a short walk to Houhai, a lake that has become known for its nightlife. The lake itself is an attraction. Here you can row a boat in summer or ice-skate in winter.
For a panoramic view of the lake, sit by the window on the third floor of Nuage. The wooden structure of the restaurant exudes historic character. It offers both French-style Vietnamese food and Shandong-style cuisine.
There are numerous bars around Houhai, but the problem is that they all look identical.
For places with more personalities, go back to Gulou. Check out Zajia Lab, a former Taoist Temple that offers gigs of original music, various beverages and delicious homemade dumplings.
Guomao is the center of the Central Business District (CBD), while Sanlitun is an area of shopping malls, bars and restaurants built around the biggest concentration of foreign embassies in Beijing.
If you are tired of the tourist sites, you can unwind in the restaurants, cafes or bars on this side of Beijing. English is almost always understood.
Sanlitun is a hodgepodge of international cuisine. Spanish, Thai, Japanese, Turkish, American you name it.
One hot spot is Nali Patio at 81 Sanlitun Road. This is a Spanish-style building with restaurants, cafes, delis and small designer shops.
Opposite Nali Patio is Alameda, a popular Brazilian-style restaurant known for offering reasonably priced fusion dishes.
Sanlitun Village is a popular contemporary community, with a big Apple store and quite a number of restaurants. Union Bar & Grill, an American eatery, offers a delectable molten chocolate cake. Element Fresh is a cozy fusion spot combining Western and Asian fare.
To get a taste of Chinese cuisines in a comfortable setting, visit 1949 the Hidden City, a quiet yard adapted from an old Beijing house. Apart from Chinese food, it also has restaurants serving different types of food – Mediterranean, a mini noodle restaurant and a wine bar. The Chinese restaurant offers one of the city’s best Peking roast ducks.
If you are near CBD, and feel like pampering yourself, visit Summer Palace Chinese Restaurant at China World Hotel. The restaurant offers some of the best Huaiyang-style dishes and Cantonese dim sum in Beijing, along with consistent good service.
Eastern Beijing is where most of the city’s high-rises are concentrated, so it’s justifiable to have afternoon tea at Atmosphere, the highest bar in Beijing, perched on the 80th floor of the China World Trade Center Tower 3.
Another bar to check out in the vicinity is China Bar, on the 65th floor of the Park Hyatt. Although not as high as Atmosphere, China Bar offers an incomparable 360-degree view of the CBD.
The bar’s Chinese name, which literally means “Beijing Bright”, describes the feeling when you visit the venue in the evenings when Beijing puts on her evening gown.
China Bar is also one of the best clubs to soak up Beijing’s nighttime atmosphere. Order yourself a cocktail and enjoy the live jazz music.