A pulsating modern city littered with the trappings of a rich history, China’s capital Beijing is chock full of the kind of iconic images it’s impossible not to hunt down. There’s the portrait of Mao staring down upon his mausoleum on Tiananmen Square, the vast expanses of the Forbidden City, huge plates of roasted duck in the traditional pagoda restaurants and delicate cups of green tea that cost twice your hotel room. Beijing is so steeped in essential Chinese experiences, you could easily spend a couple weeks enjoying the temples, backstreets and expansive cuisine before moving on, absorbing the vibes of a city resplendent with post-Olympic delights.
The city is vivaciously modern now. Those once eminent backstreet hutongs (traditionally alleyways) are increasingly hard to find; Beijing’s Olympic modernization was all encompassing and came at the cost of some of the more traditional areas. The result is an epic modern city full of sky scrapers and multi-lane highways that is still home to night markets where you can sample seahorses fried on a stick or freshly boiled goat penis while listening to Chinese opera and perusing bargain electronics. Be aware when you shop in silk street market and Pearl market, the vendors will take advantage of tourists! If they give you a big discount from the stated price, they are still making a large profit. This applies to some of the mall stores as well. Practice your bargaining skills when you shop in China.
The grandeur of the Forbidden City, so named due to its years of inaccessibility, is a maze of courtyards and gem-clad buildings that still lie at the heart of Chinese government after more than 600 years, while the 700 acres of the Summer Palace incorporate an opera house, temple and lake within its opulent borders.
The Temple of Heaven and the surrounding parks are the perfect place to watch the world go by under a sea of kites, while the locals kick tiny sacks between them or play frantic games of cards. Each year the temple becomes the centre of numerous offerings and occasional animal sacrifice in the name of a good harvest.
The real must-see site, though, is outside the city. The Great Wall of China rises and falls over the hills north of the city, and can be accessed at numerous points for lengthy treks and striking photographs of the fortified barrier stretching to the horizon. Try the part called Mutianyu which offers both restored parts as well as untouched areas.