Stop–start capital since the Mongol Yuan dynasty, Běijīng is one of China’s true ancient citadels. It is also an aspiring, confident and modern city that seems assured of its destiny to rule over China ad infinitum.
A vast and symmetrical metropolis, Běijīng is the orderly seat of the communist political power in China, so its architecture traces each and every mood swing from 1949 to the present, from felled hútòng (narrow alleys) to huge underground bomb shelters scooped out during the paranoid 1970s. One moment you are sizing up a blank Soviet-style monument, the next you spot a vast, shimmering tower rising up from the footprint of a vanished temple.
History may have been trampled in Běijīng over the past half century, but there’s still much more substance here than in China’s other dynastic capitals, bar Nánjīng or Kāifēng. You just need to do a bit of hunting and patient exploration to find the historical narrative. It’s also essential to sift the genuine from the fake: some of Běijīng’s once-illustrious past has been fitfully resurrected in the trompe-l’oeil of rebuilt monuments. Colossal flyovers and multilane boulevards heave with more than three million cars but ample pockets of historical charm survive. It’s the city’s epic imperial grandeur, however, that is truly awe-inspiring.
Frank and uncomplicated, Běijīng’s denizens chat in Běijīnghuà – the gold standard of Mandarin – and marvel at their good fortune for occupying the centre of the known world. And for all its diligence and gusto, Běijīng dispenses with the persistent pace of Shànghǎi or Hong Kong, and locals instead find time to sit out front, play chess and watch the world go by.
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Best places to stay in Běijīng
4-Day Private Tour of Beijing: Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Peking Duck Dinner
Discover the most popular attractions in Beijing on this multi-day, all-inclusive tour of the city with a private guide. On this stress-free Beijing tour, visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and learn about Beijing’s political history.
Beijing city guide
It's the contrast between the distant past and the super-charged present that makes Běijīng so captivating. Traditional but ever-changing, no other city manages to be so timeless yet so contemporary.
Hip Beijing: a neighbourhood guide
Once the great grey heart of China’s communist regime, Beijing now boasts colourful districts that mix historic buildings with contemporary art and design. Here are three places to plug into this hip new side of the Chinese capital. Beijing Inner City from Di'anmen Street to the Drum Tower...
Private Tour: Ming Tombs and Great Wall at Mutianyu from Beijing
On this full-day private tour, visit two of China’s most famous sites -- the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall at Mutianyu. See the Chang Ling Tomb, an impressive royal tomb of the Yongle Emperor from the Ming Dynasty.
The Great Wall
China’s mandatory, must-see sight, the Great Wall (Chángchéng) wriggles fitfully from its scattered remains in Liáoníng province to Jiāyùguān in the Gobi Desert. The ‘original’ wall was begun over 2000 years ago during the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC), when China was unified under Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Best places to eat in Běijīng
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Beijing by night
A city more than 3,000 years old, Beijing is known for its epic palaces and ancient temples, co-existing happily alongside neon billboards and ultra-modern skyscrapers. By night, the city's attractions are a mixture of ancient traditions and modern hedonism...
Scholar-Led Contemporary Art Walking Tour: Beijing 798 Art Zone
Be inspired by Beijing’s creativity with a local scholar introducing you to the city's burgeoning art scene. Explore the galleries of the 798 Art Zone on this 3-hour guided walking tour of Beijing art. Built as a military factory in the 1950s, the district was inhabited by avant-garde artists decades after the buildings were abandoned.
Hutong alleyways: Old Beijing at its timeless best
China's capital may be racing towards the future at breakneck speed but sneak behind one of the city's glittering, ultra-modern tower blocks and you find a slice of old Beijing that seems to have been lost in time...
Rocking out in Beijing
Think of Asian rock and traditionally, it is Japanese bands that have had the biggest profile in the West. China, though, has been undergoing its own musical revolution in the last few years and Beijing has emerged as the centre of the country’s alternative rock scene...
With more than one billion speakers worldwide, Mandarin is the most widely spoken language on the planet. How can you miss the chance to communicate with one in seven people on Earth?
Beijing Old Hutongs Tour by Rickshaw
Take a historical tour of Beijing’s narrow streets, known as hutongs, on a traditional rickshaw (a type of tricycle designed to carry passengers in addition to the driver). See the old Beijing that still exists for millions of people today, and visit the gardens at Prince Gong’s Mansion, Beijing’s largest and the best-preserved royal mansion of the Qing Dynasty.
The story of duck
Most people would agree that Peking (or Beijing) duck is the capital’s most famous dish. Once imperial cuisine, now the legendary duck dish is served at restaurants around the world. The culinary history of Peking duck goes as far back as the Yuan dynasty, where it was listed in royal cookbooks as an imperial food...