Where To: Eat, Sleep, Shop and Play in Beijing
Here are a few of our insider tips to this exciting city.
While Beijing has its fair share of 5-star hotels (think The Peninsula, Waldorf Astoria, and Aman) there’s much to be said for the some of the city’s boutique hotels hidden away in the city’s many alleyways and courtyard residences. Not to mention the currency conversion to ZAR! Thankfully there is something for virtually every budget in Beijing. Our pick? The Orchid Gulou Hotel (www.theorchidbeijing.com for its ‘old Beijing with a serving of cool’ offering. Just ten rooms are set around a traditional courtyard setting in the Hutong neighbourhood surrounding Nanluoguxiang. Expect stylish architecture, roof-terrace dining and regular dumpling and noodle-making classes. From R1 451, per room, per night.
With language a barrier to ordering food in some restaurants in Beijing (particulary if you’re being adventurous and wandering off the beaten track), it’s good to know what to order. We’d recommend Beijing Roast Duck, Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings) Jing Jiang Rousi (Shredded Pork in a sweet bean sauce), Zhajiang Mian (noodles with soybean paste) and the Rolling Donkey (a traditional Beijing snack of red bean stuffing in a rice flour case). Don’t mistake this for a Donkey Burger, that does contain shredded donkey meat. Wangfujing Snack Street with its carnival atmosphere is an absolute must! Entry via the paifang (an antique archway that stands 10 metres high) will deliver you into an alleyway lined with food stalls. Here you will find food from all over China, think crab’s legs to chicken feet, steamed rice balls to scorpion kebabs; not to mention cockles, mussels, escargot and candied Hawthorn fruit. Fear not: Peking Duck wraps and noodles are in plentiful supply here too.
Don’t miss a visit to the city’s traditional Hutongs –a narrow maze-like system of alleyways that offer a glimpse into the city’s original persona. Defined by the single-storey old-style courtyard dwellings that were built when the capital moved to the location of modern Beijing, these interconnecting courtyard houses were first built around the Forbidden city and ensured a strong sense of community, culture and tradition. In the last century, many have been demolished to make way for modern developments, necessitating the city to make their protection a priority in recent years.
For a good taste of Beijing’s art scene head to 798 Art District, in the Dashanzi area northeast of the city. The complex is a vast spread of low-slung Bauhaus-style decommissioned military buildings that have been turned into art galleries, restaurants, quirky shops and creative commercial spaces. Always interesting art installations to be found here. It’s also where Beijing’s annual Design Week is held every September.