Things to do in Beijing
Walks and rides
- The Great Wall of China (长城 chángchéng) about a 1 hour train trip or 1.5 hour bus ride from the city (be aware of bus scams). The Badaling section is the most famous, but also over-restored and crowded. Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng and Simatai are more distant but offer a better view of the wall away from the crowds. (As of March 2011, Simatai is closed for restoration. It is expected to re-open in the 2012-2014 timeframe) Crowds are a definite issue with the Great Wall: at popular sections at popular times, it becomes not the Great Wall of China, but rather the Great Wall of Tourists. Mutianyu has been restored, but is far less crowded than Badaling and more popular with foreign visitors. The unrestored Jiankou section is dangerous and widely regarded as the most beautiful. It is possible to rent a taxi for ¥400-800 for the round trip including waiting time. You may want to bring a jacket against the wind or cold in the chillier season - in the summer you will need lots of water, and it will be cheaper if you bring your own.
- Hutongs (胡同 Hútòng). Beijing's ancient alleyways, where you can find traditional Beijing architecture. They date back to when Beijing was the capital of the Yuan dynasty (1266-1368). Most buildings in hutongs are made in the traditional courtyard (四合院 sìhéyuàn) style. Many of these courtyard homes were originally occupied by aristocrats, though after the Communist takeover in 1949 the aristocrats were pushed out and replaced with poor families. Hutongs can still be found throughout the area within the 2nd Ring Road, though many are being demolished to make way for new buildings and wider roads. Most popular among tourists are the hutongs near Qianmen and Houhai. The hutongs may at first feel intimidating to travellers used to the new wide streets of Beijing, but the locals are very friendly and will often try to help you if you look lost.
- Rent a bicycle. Traverse some of the remaining hutongs. There is no better way to see Beijing firsthand than on a bicycle but just be very aware of cars (Chinese driving styles may differ from those you are used to). See above for bike rental information.
- Hidden City Game. Sunday 1pm - 5:30pm. Explore Beijing's hutongs and parks in a bi-lingual monthly competition on Sunday afternoons. It's the fun way to discover Beijing's history and culture, enjoyed by locals and international visitors alike. Includes activities based on Chinese traditions, such as calligraphy, music, art, food, science and games. Restaurants sponsor prizes totaling up to 5000rmb. The next event will be held at 1:30pm 21st August 2016, at Five Dragon Pavilions, 500m west of Beihai Park North Gate, Beihai North Line 6.
Theaters and concert halls
National Centre for the Performing Arts in Xicheng District was finalised in 2007 and finally gave Beijing a modern theatre complex covering opera, music and theatre. This is worth a visit even if you do not go to a performance.
The Beijing Opera is considered the most famous of all the traditional opera performed around China. This kind of opera is nothing like western opera with costumes, singing style, music and spectator reactions being distinctly Chinese. The plot is usually quite simple, so you might be able to understand some of what happens even if you do not understand the language. Some of the best places to watch Beijing Opera are found in Xuanwu District including Huguang Huguang Theatre and Lao She Teahouse. There are also a number in Dongcheng District including Chang'an Grand Theatre.
Acrobatics shows are also worth a visit if you want to see some traditional Chinese entertainment. Some of the best shows are found in Tianqiao Acrobatics Theatre in Xuanwu District and in Chaoyang Theatre in Chaoyang District.
Drama plays have had a slow start in Beijing and are still not as widespread as you might expect for a city like Beijing, and you will most likely not be able to find many Western plays. However, some good places for contemporary Chinese plays do exist including Capital Theatre in Dongcheng District and Century Theater in Chaoyang District.
Classical music has got a much stronger foothold in Beijing than drama plays. Some of the best places to go are the National Centre for the Performing Arts and the Century Theater both mentioned above as well as Beijing Concert Hall in Xicheng District.
- Opera/Kung Fu Show at LAOSHE tea house (near tien an men square).
- Foot massage. Have a highly enjoyable and relaxing foot massage and/or pedicure etc (for a fraction of the price in the West) from any of the respectable and professional offerings in central Beijing (in the vicinity of the Beijing Hotel for example).
- Debate!, Runqiyuan Tea House, 65 Andingmen Dong Dajie. 润琦缘茶馆 安定门东大街65号. W 20:00-22:00. If you think yourself a very argumentative person, are looking for intellectual exercise or just want to meet people you should attend at least one of the meetings of "The Beijing Debate Society" (BDS). BDS is a not-for-profit, non-religious, non-political organisation that seeks to improve argument-building skills. BDS is governed by the British Parliamentarian Debates rules. The debating language is English. free.
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