National Centre for the Performing Arts

Architecture in Forbidden City & Dongcheng Central

Image by Christian Kober Getty Images

Critics have likened it to an oversized metallic egg (although it more closely resembles a bead of mercury), while modernists love it to bits. Plonked in the middle of an artificial lake behind the Great Hall of the People, the NCPA, also known as the National Grand Theatre, is a surreal yet spectacular location in which to catch a show.

Examine the bulbous interior, including acres of wood, glass and the titanic steel ribbing of interior bolsters (each of the 148 bolsters weighs 8 tonnes), and peek into the three concert venues (occasionally closed for rehearsals). For theatre buffs, a terrific exhibition showcases the NCPA's own recent commissions (including several triumphalist Communist Party epics), along with an engaging primer on world operatic styles. English-language tours can be booked in advance over the phone. See the website for details on concerts.