The Best Views in Beijing

Lots of people arrive in a new city, and the first thing they want to do is go up high. Upon entering a new environment, some part of the psyche yearns to grasp the bigger picture of a city, and acquire a perspective that can only be gained from a tall height. Granted, the number of clear weather days in Beijing seems to be fewer than those where “fog” limits views, so it’s worth checking the current AQI index before trekking out to any of these classic places to gaze down into the soul of the city.

Jingshan Park – Quintessential Beijing

The capital’s skyline is changing by the day, but almost a thousand years since its creation, Jingshan Park remains dead center of the core of downtown Beijing, sandwiched between the Forbidden City and the Drum and Bell Towers. It will always be the definitive place to check out Beijing.

Standing at a mere 48 meters above the rest of the city, Jingshan “mountain” may seem unimpressive in comparison to other mountains, as really, it is just a hill, but it’s a hill that was laboriously built up by the hands of men. The dirt and rocks which comprise the mountain were excavated from the very moat and canals which surround the Forbidden City. And even at its low altitude, it still provides epic panoramas of the city, as skyscrapers have all been held back from the immediate vicinity. For those who are after an impression of just how massive Beijing is, Jingshan is still the place to go.

But Jingshan offers much more beyond its views, with a rich history and full-on local culture. Old Beijingers rule this roost, often taking over the place to do tai chi, play music, and dance. This site is not to be missed.

The Central TV Tower – You Spin Me Right Round

Although many people believe that the China World Trade Center is the tallest building in Beijing (its China World Summit wing is 330 meters high), simple math shows that the building commonly referred to as the CCTV Tower, built in 1992, is still the tallest building in the capital (at 405 meters tall). The catch is that its public observation deck is nowhere near its high point. Nonetheless, the views from the CCTV Tower are particularly lovely when a rust sun sets over the bronzed mountains at the western edge of the city.

The open observation deck is exhilarating with the wind breezing past. It would be downright romantic if there weren’t so many people screaming themselves hoarse off the edge of the balcony. In fact, a sort of yell-o-meter invites visitors to shout themselves hoarse. For couples whispering poems about the onset of twilight, it could be a bit distracting. But for children (and parents) it does offer moments of focus and release.

To the east, views are dominated by the expansive Yuyuantan Park. Visitors line up for the free high-power binocular stations to spy on the strolling lovers below.

“When the building was designed, it wasn’t supposed to be a tourist spot,” noted the tower’s managing editor, Nancy Deng. “It was only meant to send out broadcast signals.” Hence the elevators can be particularly inadequate for accommodating crowds on holidays. The restaurant is particularly popular and Deng boasts that of all of Beijing’s revolving restaurants, this one is the best. It’s true that the popular buffet meal is pretty decent, and its 298 yuan price (entrance included) is quite reasonable.

Atmosphere Bar and The Lounge – Way Up High (Class)

Since opening in 2010, Atmosphere, on the 80th floor of the China World Summit Wing, has taken the title of Beijing’s highest bar, being pretty much the highest place in the capital to hang out, period. Although Atmosphere has no open airspace to speak of, it is, at least, spacious. Generally, the bar only accommodates as many people as seating allows, about 130 people. By ten o’clock, lineups are not uncommon as a smartly-dressed crowd hopes to look down on the city and unwind over designer cocktails.

The bar appropriately faces west, where, on a clear day, one can look out on the Forbidden City, Beihai Park, and even out to the distant mountains. But at Atmosphere, the views are admittedly more of a backdrop than a focus. The vertical windows barely allow for wide views. But Atmosphere never intended to be a tourist spot: it nails its niche as an upscale bar for a business clientele.

Part jazz bar, part night club, live music and a DJ proved beats every night bar Mondays. There is a dance floor, though it’s not usually used unless patrons drink enough to shake off their pretensions.

Drinks, such as the spicy house signature ATM Rum Punch, have a reputation for being well-mixed. The service is generally in line with drink prices, which is to be expected considering how many customers pay with their company cards.

If the bar is full, the adjacent Lounge offers a quieter, non-smoking environment and the same menus. It’s open all day, allowing for morning and daytime views. Grill 79, just one floor below offers fine dining with almost identical views to the bars above.(by CRI)