Chaoyang is Beijing’s most populous district, and plenty of people means plenty of great things to see and do.
Occupying a huge chunk of Beijing’s west, the Chaoyang district covers some of the most exciting neighbourhoods in the Chinese capital. From the bohemian galleries of the 798 Art Zone to the non-stop nightclubs of Sanlitun, these are the experiences you need to tick off in Chaoyang.
The centrepiece of Chaoyang is the huge park that bears the district’s name; it’s actually the biggest green space in Beijing. The 3,000-hectare park was built on the site of a former prince’s palace in the 1980s, with running paths, playgrounds and swimming pools adding to the greenery. Wander through the area and admire the scenery, which includes the Chaoyang Park Plaza building, a space-age skyscraper that looks like blades slicing through the cityscape.
This area, a north-eastern corner of Chaoyang, used to be a dreary Mao-era military complex. That is, until contemporary artists converted the old warehouses into trendy galleries, turning the Dashanzi area into Beijing’s hottest cultural precinct. The 798 Art District, as it’s now known, is bursting at the seams with industrial-chic exhibition spaces – check out the 798 Space, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) and the Faurschou Foundation to start your cultural journey in Chaoyang.
Sanlitun – Beijing’s embassy district east of the city centre – is one of the Chinese capital’s most cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, and city residents flock to its non-stop nightlife. The Dirty Bar Street has been tidied up in recent years, but the best nightlife spots are still found around the gates of the Workers’ Stadium (known as Gongti to the locals). Elements, Baby Face and Destination are a few of the favourite destinations for a great night out.
The Olympic precinct on the northern edge of the city feels like a bit of a ghost town during the day, but the glittering venues built for the 2008 Games are a compulsory visit for sports buffs and architecture nerds. The National Stadium (also known as the Bird’s Nest) and the National Aquatics Centre (the bubble-lined Water Cube) are the two highlights not to miss.
This flea market is the best place in Beijing to pick up an authentic Chinese souvenir. Catch the subway to Panjiayuan in the city’s south-east to peruse over 3,000 stalls peddling almost anything you could possibly want, such as retro propaganda posters, carvings, calligraphy and even life-size terracotta warriors. Head out there on weekends to see the market at its bustling best.
If you’re in the market for something slightly more sophisticated than the counterfeit brand names at Chaoyang’s many markets, check out Sanlitun’s Taikoo Li. This shiny shopping mall contains Beijing’s flagship franchises of Rolex, Nike, Apple, Armani, The North Face and Longchamp. Keep an eye out for the amateur street photographers snapping stylish shoppers outside.
Beijing’s CBD falls within the Chaoyang district, and the jewel in its architectural crown is the CCTV Headquarters. This physics-defying skyscraper is nicknamed Da Kucha (or ‘Big Pants’ in Chinese) because its peculiar shape meets at the top, forming what looks like a gargantuan pair of trousers. CITIC Tower (better known as China Zun because it resembles an ancient Chinese wine vessel by the same name) is another towering marvel to admire in the CBD.
Sitting a couple of blocks from the Temple of the Sun, the Silk Market is a six-storey mall that sells almost everything you could possibly want to stuff in your suitcase – knock-off luxury goods, clothing, jewellery, electronics, and of course, silk. Up to 50,000 people visit the thousand-odd shops and stalls on weekends, so join them to practise your bargaining skills and purchase beautiful silk scarves and bolts of cloth.
You could spend hours wandering through this huge park in Beijing’s east, admiring the ornate Temple of the Sun and the quaint pavilions surrounding it, strolling through the dazzling gardens, and watching the locals perform tai chi and play games of mahjong. Popular picnic spot Chaoyang Park, the thousand-year-old Beihai Park, and Jingshan Park looming above the Forbidden City are other free green spaces where you can grab a breath of fresh air in this smoggy city.
Peking duck is Beijing’s signature dish, and Chaoyang boasts the best in town. Locals have voted Duck de Chine, an upscale restaurant in the 1949 The Hidden City precinct in Sanlitun, as the premier Peking duck in the Chinese capital, roasting their crispy-skinned fowl over fragrant 60-year-old jujube (date tree) wood. Look out for the late-night food trucks selling two other Chaoyang specialities, chuanr (barbecued meat skewers) and tang er duo (fried sugar cake in the shape of an ear) to party animals pouring out of Gongti’s nightclubs.