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China’s capital is a heady blend of the fiercely modern and proudly traditional, a city in the midst of a boom which shows few signs of abating. Lose yourself in the Forbidden City, take in the views from soaring glass skyscrapers and sate your inner foodie in backstreet restaurants.
Beijing’s clean, fast and modern subway system is the best way to get around the city. There are 14 lines, serving all of the main districts and key tourist sights. Local buses cover the centre and the suburbs and taxis are easy to flag. Just remember that the traffic here is notoriously bad.
All trips to Beijing should start with a visit to Tiananmen Square. This vast public space is surrounded by a number of must–see sights: Mao’s mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. All focus on China’s recent past and are a huge draw for both Chinese and international tourists.
After seeing Mao lying in state, the next stop has to be the Forbidden City. Its entrance, behind the impressive Gate of Heavenly Peace (from where Mao’s portrait looms over the square), leads to a magical world where Chinese emperors once ruled. Its hidden rooms and temples, pretty gardens and stunning architecture make it the most popular destination in Beijing.
Fans of Chinese history should be sure to make for the Summer Palace, the equally spectacular royal retreat in the north west of the city. Its lakeside location is a relaxed alternative to the thrum of the Forbidden City and the centre of town.
Beijing’s fast–changing skyline is the most obvious sign that this is a city of constant change. The China World Trade Centre III has an observation deck and restaurant on its 74th floor, where you can see the full extent of Beijing’s vast spread.
Step away from the main drags and boulevards and Beijing’s other side reveals itself in its narrow streets or hutongs.
Art fanatics can find cutting edge work in the Caochangdi and 798 districts. The latter, centred around an old factory, hosts exhibitions by the best new Chinese artists. Smaller hutong galleries, such as Jiali, are well worth spending time at too. This is a side of Beijing that many visitors miss, understandably wowed by the bright lights of the Forbidden City.
Old Beijing can be found in traditional Peking Opera Houses. The best is undoubtedly the Temple Opera Theatre, where you can see modern day and traditional performances.
Being China’s capital means you can easily find any kind of Chinese cuisine that takes your fancy.
As with so much in Beijing, the most impressive food can be found in the hutongs. Mea Fu Jiayin, in Da Xiang Feng hutong, serves family–style banquets with more than 600 items on the menu. The dumplings and noodles at Black Sesame Kitchen in Heizhima hutong are not to be missed, either.
The drinks scene in Beijing has developed rapidly in recent years. Try Mao Mao Chong for cocktails and ultra hip El Nido for local and imported craft beers.