798 Art District

Top choice in Beijing

Photo shoot in 798 Art District.

Matt Munro

Contemporary art meets communist history at this thrilling enclave of international galleries installed within China's model factory complex of the 1950s. Most of Beijing's best galleries are here, staging shows from the likes of Ai Weiwei and David Hockney in gorgeous Bauhaus workshops that once produced munitions and electronics. Toss into the mix oodles of street art, stylish cafes and restaurants, art shops, and an elevated walkway offering views of astonishing industrial architecture, and you can easily spend a full day here.

The '718 Joint Factory', as 798 was originally known, was built with East German expertise in the 1950s, using materials imported from East Germany via the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way into the factory itself. Preservation orders have saved the old factory station, tracks and a steam loco, along with giant industrial chimneys, workers' dorms and, most importantly, the light-filled Bauhaus factories and workshops, now home to galleries like 798 Art Factory and BTAP, where scarlet slogans praising Chairman Mao are still visible on the lofty ceilings.

The most famous gallery is UCCA, which usually hosts two or three big-ticket international exhibitions at a time. Faurschou Foundation from Denmark and the Chinese-run M Woods Art Museum consistently stage thought-provoking exhibitions from the biggest names in art, both Chinese and international.

It's not all world class, of course; dozens of smaller galleries range from the edgy to the derivative, while on the streets, local portrait sketchers and cartoonists hawk their services to tourists.