Tourists in Beijing often prioritize visiting places like the Great Wall and Forbidden city. They have good reason to. These are not only beautiful attractions in their own right, but also emblematic of China.
However a lot of people don’t want to deal with the crowds or stress of traveling around and trying to check off every box on their Fodor’s travel guide. They want to experience the city as a local might.
This list is for those people.
We all love China. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that sometimes a guy has got to eat a slice of pizza and try to visualize he is anywhere else but here…in China.
Don’t judge me, OK?
1. Visit Wangfujing Bookstore and have a coffee above the Oriental Mall
218 Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng District
Wangfujing and its adjacent snack street filled with scorpions and fried shark fin is a great place for tourists. However, those whom live in Beijing prefer to skip all that and instead visit the Wangfujing Bookstore, located directly across from the snack street. The store has six floors of books, with the third floor containing English books as well as Chinese language learning materials (in case, you know, you want to be less helpless in the city).
After visiting the book store you may be tempted to try fried scorpion… Take my word for it, you can skip that. Instead, ride the escalator up to the office buildings above the Oriental Mall and have a coffee at one of the most underrated Starbucks in Beijing next to the Hyatt. This is a great place to get a view of Jianguomen Wai and some buildings beautiful examples of contemporary Chinese architecture.
2. Eat pastries and drink coffee north of “The Village”
1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie
Sanlitun Village is the de-facto foreign quarter of Beijing.
The reason for this being that it is surrounded by many embassies and is beside the city’s main business district. North of of the main area for restaurants and shops, called by many “The Village”, is a tidy corridor of cafes owned primarily by an Italian gentlemen who I have never met. Anyway, you can get meals there and, more importantly, eat sweets at the pasticceria while sipping a cappuccino.
3. Eat Nachos in Sanlitun Village
S4-32, 3/F, Bldg 4, Sanlitun Village South, 19 Sanlitun Lu Chaoyang District
Taikoonli is an upscale shopping center in Sanlitun Village, and is also home to a few restaurants that Expats swear by; one of which is called Cantina Agave and has some of the best Mexican food in town. Sure, Chinese food is good and all, but what self respecting traveller doesn’t enjoy a good dose of sour cream and guacamole from time to time?
4. Relax in Changping and Mentougou Districts
Link (Mangshan National Park): http://www.ebeijing.gov.cn/feature_2/BeijingParks/BeijingParksA_Z/t1177019.htm
Tired of honking horns, screaming mothers, and heavy pollution? Well, Beijing’s mountains in the west of the city offer some of the best medicine for urban headaches.
Completed in 2015, the Changping Line departs from Xierqi Station in Hadian and travels out into Beijing’s Changping District. The Dongguan subway stop provides access to Mangshan National Park nearby the Ming Tombs, which is a nice hour hike up to a pagoda. This is but one of the many options in Changping.
Another way to take advantage of the surrounding mountains is to ride Line 1 until you reach Pingguoyuan, the most western station. From there you can access Mentougou district, which is a popular area for villages and buddhist temples. One of the most famous Buddhist temples in Beijing, Tanzhesi, is located here.
5. Relax With A Massage
17 Gongti Beilu Chaoyang District
Massages in China are considerably cheaper than in western countries. You should take advantage of this! Remember, you won’t be here forever. One of the most popular places to get a massage is at Bodhi in Sanlitun village. They offer a solid middle of the road option.
6. Ride the Beijing Subway
Taxis are cheap in China. Yes, I know it. But you know what is even cheaper? The subway. It used to be that you could travel anywhere in the city for just 2 RMB. Now it’s gone up to a distance fare system where the most you pay is 7 RMB. Still, nobody is complaining.
7. Spend the Day at Ikea
The Swedish furniture importer is much more than a simple warehouse, it is also a place to sleep, hang out with friends, and eat. Chinese and foreigners alike enjoy going to Ikea on dates or just to kill time. Sound crazy? Well, some things you have to see to believe.
8. Bike Around the Hutongs Aimlessly
Beijing is a city known for its history, and a big part of that is its traditional houses called hutongs. Although the hutongs are rapidly disappearing as the city pushes into modernity, there are still plenty to see (particularly within the second ring road).
If the hutongs are Beijing’s most famous style of architecture, than the same can be said for the bicycle mode of transportation. Although the time of everyone riding on two wheels has long since passed, it is still a very pleasant experience to cycle in Beijing as its an extremely flat city. Spend a day either alone or with a friend and get lost in some of Beijing’s old inner city.
9. Eat barbecue and drink watery beer
One of my first memories in Beijing was eating chuar (barbecue) and drinking watery yanjing beer late into the summer nights. During the winter this isn’t an option. But when the weather is still warm enough and you can get away with it, I highly recommend pulling up a plastic stool and ordering some roasted lamb and mantou bread.
(I also recommend making sure that the restaurant you choose is at least halfway decent and that you are not going to eat anything questionable, such as rat or dog.)
10. Play Football in Chaoyang Park
Location: 1 Nongzhan Nanlu, Chaoyang District
Beijing is an international city and so it is only fitting that it has a decent football scene (soccer for us Americans). Chaoyang Park is located just east of Sanlitun and holds five on five games on various nights of the week. This is a great way to let off some steam and keep sane. Sometimes all you need to fend off homesickness is a to work up a sweat with some friends.