Beijing is not just a place to admire the Great Wall and eat roast duck. With a unique history dating over three thousand years and the vitality of being the capital city of the world’s second largest economy, Beijing certainly has a lot more on offer than just the obvious touristic elements. Become an expert of the city and tick off everything on this bucket list.
Try the notorious Mung Bean Milk (Douzhi)
While roast duck is the obvious choice for every tourist in Beijing, few would dare to try the Mung Bean Milk (Douzhi). Using the remnants of mung bean noodles, Douzhi is a traditional snack that old Beijingers delight over, yet the younger generation tend to shy away from, due to its notoriously potent taste. Try it, and then have a go at describing the taste to someone else – it’s exceptionally hard to define!
Speak Chinese with a bit of r-coloring (Erhuayin)
You can only become a Beijing expert if you learn the local dialect. And r-coloring (Erhuayin) is the essence of its accent. It is a phonological process that adds the “er” sound to certain syllables. For example, when you order the Mung Bean Milk at a traditional snack bar, you say “Douzhi’er” rather than “Douzhi”. However, it’s not easy to decipher when the “er” sound cab be added, even Chinese migrants in Beijing can’t figure it out!
Cycle around in the hutongs
Existing since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 C.E.), hutongs are lanes that represent the old town of Beijing. Among the most famous hutongs, there are Eight Great Hutongs which used to be Beijing’s red district and the One Hundred Flowers Hidden Deep Hutong (Bai Hua Shen Chu), which is renowned for the Baihua Studio in which top Chinese rock musicians have recorded their songs since the 1980s. Instead of the rickshaws frequented by tourists, why not do as the locals do and cycle instead.
Get your shoes wet in Beihai Park
With a history dating over one millennium, Beihai Park is the best preserved royal garden of China. The mirror-like lake covering more than half of the entire park has been a year-round playground for Beijingers for decades. You can leisurely sail around the park in the duck-head paddle boats in warm weather and ice skate across the frozen lake in winter.
See the Forbidden City in the snow
There’s simply no weather that suits the crimson walls of the imperial palace as well as snow. The iconic building housed the Chinese Imperial family for over 500 years and has been one of the most popular destinations in Beijing for over six centuries, attracting an estimated 14 million visitors annually.
A ride on the Beijing Subway Line 2 train
Beijing is known for its ring roads that mediate between the main roads, together forming a chessboard pattern. The second ring road, as the most inner of the concentric ring roads circling the Forbidden City, acts as a line separating the historical hutong areas and the new, modern Beijing. While most of the Subway Line 2’s route overlaps with the second ring road (except for its south part), there’s probably no better way to learn about the historical and modern Beijing simultaneously.
Watch a flag raising ceremony in the crowd at Tian’anmen Square
The flag raising ceremony is held at sunrise every morning. The time is calculated by Beijing’s astronomers to be the exact moment when the first streak of sunlight shines through the horizon seen from the Tian’anmen Square. You can find the timetable on the official website.
An art tour in 798 District
In terms of the artistic areas in Beijing, 798 Art District is a place that you can’t miss. The avant-garde art zone is adapted from a Bauhaus-style socialist factory compound that was built in the 1950s. Some of the Mao-era slogans are still visible on the interiors of buildings which have now become galleries.
A gig at Yugong Yishan Livehouse
At first sight of the Yugong Yishan Livehouse, you may think you’ve entered the wrong place. But in the yard of the solemn Duan Qirui Former Government Building is the Yugong Yishan Livehouse, one of the most famous venues in Beijing. Here you can enjoy the performances of celebrities as well as the future stars of the music industry.
Watch a game at the Workers’ Stadium
Every time there’s a match in which Beijing’s Guoan football team are playing, a sea of green jerseys will be visible on the street in front of the Workers’ Stadium, stretching from Sanlitun to Dongsishitiao. It’s fun to watch the game with Beijing locals, with their cheers and swears surrounding you like a hi-fi stereo amplifier, though it may not be so pleasant an experience if you are a supporter of the opposing team.
A beer at Jing-A Tap Room
It can be frustrating when you come all the way to Beijing, only to find the same beers sold in Tesco and Walmart, for six times the price they are at home. So try the locally brewed craft beer at the Jing-A Tap Room instead. Besides, it is located at the 1949 Hidden City, a perfect distance from the bustling Sanlitun bar streets.
A traditional mutton hotpot at Jubaoyuan
It’s an absolute must to try the traditional Beijing copper hotpot if you are in the city. As the most time-honored hotpot restaurant, Jubaoyuan is famous for its handmade mutton slice and sesame seed bun. It comes highly recommended that you book in advance, as there’s always a long queue during their dining hours.