Located in the center of Xicheng District in Beijing is Xidan, a major commercial area. Full of culture and shopping opportunities, the area makes for an enjoyable way to while away anywhere from a few hours to a day. For bibliophiles, foodies, shopaholics, and the like, Xidan is an area full of excitement. Continue reading for our guide to the best things to see and do in Xidan, Beijing.
Spend your day surrounded by literature at Xidan Books Building
For bibliophiles looking for something to do in Xidan, making a trip to the Xidan Books Building is a must. The massive book haven is home to some of the city’s best titles – from classic Chinese literature to foreign best sellers, book lovers here can expect a variety of bound goods. Setting this bookshop aside from others in the city is its eager-to-help English-speaking staff, who will not hesitate to aid shoppers in navigating the bookshelves. When it comes to browsing books, the Xidan Books Building is a great place to do so.
To date, Xidan’s Culture Square is the largest culture square in all of Beijing. Home to quirky boutiques and a massive performing arts center, the area covers a total of 8.65 acres of land. Perfect for people-watching and leisurely strolls, Xidans’ Culture Square – when it’s not being used to host events – makes for a lovely place to experience Beijing and all of its eclectic culture.
Xidan, which translates to “West Single” in English, was named after a historic Chinese arch – paifang– in the area. Originally located on the west side of Xidan, the paifang’s placement led to the naming of what is now one of Beijing’s most bustling commercial areas. In 2008, the original paifang was rebuilt and relocated to the center of Xidan’s Culture Square – it can be seen here now. For a look at an important relic from Xidan’s past, making a visit to the commercial area’s namesake paifang is an absolute must.
Try some traditional Chinese confectionary at Daoxiangcun
With over 100 years of history, Daoxiangcun is a Beijing staple, and an absolute must-do while in the Xidan area. The bakery is known best for its decadent desserts, which come in a variety of flavors and styles. Sold in a beautiful red box, Daoxiangxun’s confections are bought year-round and are typically gifted for special occasions. The dense and flaky goodness that is Daoxiangcun is so much more than a cake – it is a time-honored tradition. For a taste of Chinese culture, trying Daoxiangcun’s cakes is the way to go!
Fill a day with shopping in Xidan’s Shopping Center
If you’re looking to empty your wallet a bit while in the Xidan area, treating yourself to a shopping spree at Xidan’s Shopping Center is the perfect way to do so. While there are many options for shopping in Xidan’s Commercial area, the Xidan Shopping Center is a time-honored mall with roughly 70 yearsof history. Xidan’s Shopping Center not only is a piece of history but is also a place to pass the time and stock up on cheap clothing while in the Xidan area.
Situated inside of a classically charming hutong in Xidan, the Backyard Board Game Room is a place where competitive gaming meets relaxing get-together. Backyard Board Game Room provides prospective gamers with games – PSP, PS2, and Wii – and a comfy spot to play them. An affair fit for the entire family, wasting away a day gaming at the Backyard Board Game Room will only set you back roughly 30 RMB (US$4.75) for six hours of play. For game lovers in the Xidan area, getting in touch with your competitive side at the quirky Backyard Board Game Room is a definite-do.
Treat yourself to some of the area’s finest gelato at Vai Milano
Restaurant, Chinese, Dessert
If you’re a foodie in Xidan, consider yourself lucky – with storefronts and buildings full of various foods, dining in Beijing’s major commercial area is always delicious. For food fanatics with a bit of a sweet tooth, treating yourself to Vai Milano’s gelato while in Xidan will prove to be a scrumptious surprise. Vai Milano’s menu is sprawling, offering what feels like every flavor under the sun – who knew that choosing gelato could be so difficult? This decadent dessert will have you forgetting that you’re in Xidan just for a moment, and makes for a perfect midday pick-me-upper!
Buy Beijing souvenirs at one of Xidan’s many malls
It is widely known that part of going on a vacation means taking the initiative to leave room in one’s luggage to bring back souvenirs. For someone traveling through Beijing, shopping in Xidan for memorabilia to return home with is always fun. With the commercial area’s prominent culture and accessibility to stores of all kinds, shopping for trinkets at one of Xidan’s many malls makes sense. While there are many independent storefronts that tourists can go to for souvenirs, browsing the shops of a mall like Joy City in Xidan may prove to be more exciting – for endless choices and decent prices, buying Beijing souvenirs at one of Xidan’s many malls is a must.
Take a walk through history while strolling down Lingjing Hutong
Considered to be the largest hutong alley in Beijing, Lingjing Hutong stretches a whopping 2,000 feet (610 m.) long, and 105 feet (32 m.) wide. Lingjing Hutong’s spectacular size attracts the attention of tourists visiting Xidan from all over. Additionally, the hutong’s history dates back to Ming dynasty, although many renovations were made to the historic housing during the Qing dynasty, which can be seen in its varying architecture. Lingjing Hutong is impressive not only to tourists, but locals as well, and is apparent through the masses of people taking a stroll down the street on any given day.
Indulge in one of Xidan’s most outrageous desserts at Freak Shake
Restaurant, Dessert Shop, Japanese
Specializing in monstrous milkshakes, Freak Shake, located in Xidan’s Joy City mall, is an ice cream oasis serving up some of the city’s craziest treats. Very appropriately named, Freak Shake is known for concocting milkshake creations unlike any other – served in large mason jar mugs, the shakes and their flavors cannot be contained. Freak Shake offers a wide variety of flavors, ranging from chocolate pretzel to strawberry shortcake, and are equipped with all the works – salty pretzels, strawberry syrup, whipped cream, and macaroon toppings spill over the sides of the mugs. While the milkshakes are out-of-this-world when it comes to creativity and taste, their size is almost too large to enjoy on your own, so grab a friend and couple of spoons and indulge in Xidan’s most decadent dessert.
One of the best (and most fun) ways to immerse yourself into a culture is through consumption of media. Catching a Chinese film while you’re in China is a great way to get to know the language, and the culture as a whole, in an enjoyable way. It just so happens that Xidan is home to the largest cinema in Northern China that – who would have guessed – shows Chinese films. While not understanding the language can be a bit of a barrier, some films offer English subtitles, while others are completely in English (foreign films). So, make your way to Xidan, grab some popcorn, and catch a film at the Capital Cinema.