July 12, 2012

Beijing Bucket List of Attractions

Visiting the Great Wall.
The population of Beijing is 19.6 million human bodies. If you need a comparison to understand how massive and congested the city is, it’s the same population as the entire country of Australia. My friend Maggie has been working and living in the giant Asian metropolis for over two years so I decided what better time to pay her a visit!
Once I arrived via train into one of the numerous city train stations, I had directions to her office to pick up her apartment key and from there to the apartment since she was at work when I arrived. Over 4 hours after the moment of arrival in Beijing did I actually step foot into Maggie’s apartment. I asked people for directions along the way to confirm I was going in the correct direction, but before you know it I’ve backtracked, crisscrossed, and walked in the complete wrong direction. One of the buses I was on was so crowded that I couldn’t get off at my bus stop so I had to squeeze through the crowd to get off at the next stop. I attempted to figure out where I was on my map and find the nearest subway stop, which apparently was right next to me, but a man instructed me to walk in the complete opposite direction. Let’s just say once I settled in Maggie’s abode, I stayed put for a while. I spent about 10 days in Beijing and saw as much as I could but the huge city is bursting with history, activity and uniqueness that it’s impossible to do it all! Below is a Beijing bucket list of must see attractions.

Alycia’s Top Attractions in Beijing:
I got yelled at for taking a pic of Mao.

1. Forbidden City – This is the #1 tourist attraction in China. Yes, even more than the Great Wall. Get an audio-guided tour because you will learn about the soap opera shenanigans that went on inside this massive compound. Thousands of mistresses for one emperor, castrated servants, and architecture galore. It’s like “As the World Turns” China style but heaps more twisted.
The entrance into the Forbidden City.

A hutong in Beijing.
2. Hutongs – During my Beijing 101 lesson from Maggie, she explained one of her favorite things about the capital is exploring the many hutongs and now I understand why! Hutongs are small streets or alleyways that form neighborhoods. Meander and get lost in a community of hutongs. Nanluoguxiang is a necessity to visit due to its charming shops selling unusual clothing and accessories, eateries, and art galleries strung along a good mix of locals and visitors. Make sure to use a public squat in a hutong, you’ll never be more grossed out by anything ever again. I guarantee your tolerance for unclean bathrooms will shoot through the roof. Find a random restaurant where no one speaks English and have a beer in a hidden bar.
Nanluoguxiang hutong filled with locals and tourists.

Summer Palace with a view of the lake.
3. Summer Palace – On a clear pretty day, the Palace blows away all other fortresses you’ve ever seen. On a gorgeous lake with a view of the city in the background, Summer Palace gives off a peaceful vibe even amongst its thousands of daily visitors. 

Preparing a Peking duck.
4. Eat Peking Duck – Beijing (“Peking” in Mandarin) is famous for its delicious duck. Beaucoups of restaurants boast they have the best bird in town, but they’re all superb. I was taken to a local dive with the famous goose on the menu. I was served magnificently prepared duck meat with tortilla type wraps to place it in. Onion and celery slices should be added next and a thick teriyaki sauce last. Roll up and tadaa, you have tasted the most delicious duck in the world! 

Locals praying at the Yonghe Temple.
5. Llama Temple – There are hundreds of temples in Beijing but Llama (Yonghe) is one of the more popular for a purpose. The colors and intricate detail of the patterns and symbols become engrained behind your eyelids. Its one of those places you stare at for a few seconds, close your eyes, and see the psychedelic patterns and colors change like a kaleidoscope in your mind. It’s definitely worth a visit. 

Bird's Nest in Olympic Park.
6. Olympic Park & Bird’s Nest – When you step off the subway at the Olympic Park stop, you enter a futuristic time warp with giant steel structures and modern architecture. In 2008, Beijing hosted the Olympics and an entire new area of town was added to the old historical city. National Stadium, the most eye-catching attraction in Olympic Park, is an incredible arena that resembles a colossal bird’s nest. Nowadays, the space is used to hold festivals and large events. The plot is bustling with locals and tourists alike maximizing on the spaciousness to work and play.

A stunt at the Acrobat show in Beijing.
7. Acrobatic Show – Beijing is eminent for the acrobatic skills from over the years. Luckily, Maggie’s roommate is a tour guide so she was able to score some extra tickets for an acrobat show. The performance is usually about an hour but it’s jam packed with jaw dropping talent. The finale was a mind-blowing spectacle of 4 motorbikes zooming inside a dome cage without colliding into one another. 

Houhai lit up at night.
8. Nightlife – Houhai is a diverse area of bars and restaurants surrounding a lake. The district is lit up with multicolored illuminations like Christmas lights in the North Pole. The sight is really beautiful at night but if you’re looking for something low key, this is not the place. Each bar blares music louder than its neighbor and karaoke singers’ voices belt from door to door. Great Leap Brewery is a nice chill out pub hidden in a hutong with unique and potent beer. 

Jinshanling part of the Great Wall of China.

9. Great Wall – There are 3 different sections of the Great Wall that sightseers can visit. I chose the Jinshanling portion, which is the greatly unrestored part. There are other very Disney World-like portions but I wanted to see the barrier in its natural state, naturally. You can book this day trip with a tourist company, which are dispersed throughout the city. Jinshanling was a great choice and I highly recommend going to this portion to avoid the crowds.

A view of a shoe stall at the Silk Street Market.
10. Silk Street Market – China is the King of copycats. The country has managed to create an entire market for faux goods. From North Face pullovers and Charmin toilet paper to fake pork and alcohol, China has managed to counterfeit every item under the sun with exact precision. The Silk Street Market is 7 floors of every product ever imagined – Nike, Tory Burch, Swiss Army, Coach, Chauco, North Face, Toms. If you are in the mood, take a walk around this shopping mecca and be ready to bargain your face off. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about my bargaining adventure at the Silk Street Market.

There’s too much to do in Beijing - The Bell and Drum Tower, Temple of Heaven, the Beijing Zoo! These suggestions are some of the things I did during my few days but you can see and do so much more!


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