With its mix of hard-nosed communism, ancient classical and encroaching consumerist, China’s capital is dauntingly vast, enchantingly beautiful, confusing, frustratingly addictive and yet still far too undiscovered to many a western traveller. There’s a myriad of options available, here’s some of the best…
The Great Wall of China
Contrary to popular belief, this most Herculean of human accomplishments cannot actually be seen from space but that certainly doesn’t take away from its sheer and utter magnificence up close. Built over hundreds and hundreds of years to keep out would-be invaders from the north (think Genghis Khan and the like) The Wall is a series of structured fortresses that total over 5000 miles and snaking across sheer mountain drops provides some of the most awe-inspiring vistas on earth.
Unfortunately, the name will forever conjure up images of the appalling scenes of the brutal mass quashing of demonstrators in 1989 (something that is not talked about and still pretty unknown by many in China), but the third largest square in the world is a must-see for any visitor. The heart of China’s Central Government, you don’t have to look far to find soldiers of the famous ‘Red Army’. Get up early to see the raising of the flag ceremony.
The Forbidden City
In stark contrast to many of the rather unimaginative communist buildings that it overlooks, the world’s largest palace complex is one of China’s most beautiful monuments to their wondrous imperial history. Built in the early 15th Century, its imposing red walled architecture topped with gold slated rooves is a maze of grandiose, visual treats. Afterwards, head up to Jingshan Hill for a bird’s eye view of the site.
An array of numerous old-school tea houses and the like wrapped around a gorgeous lake, Houhai is one of Beijing’s many hidden treasures. Take a sunset rickshaw tour or, if you can handle the sub-zero temperatures, head there in winter to sling on the skates and venture onto the frozen lake – surely one of the world’s most charming ice-rinks.
Maybe not one for everybody at first glance, but a trip out to the home of Beijing’s 2008 Olympic Games is well worth the effort, if only to see the mind-boggling allure of the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Try and get there just before dusk to see the Olympic Green in its daylight form and hang around for when the sun goes down the lighting of the stadium and the blue-cubed Aquatics Centre make for some smashing holiday snaps.
Eat Peking Duck
It’s the area’s most famous dish. It’s incredible. Crispy duck, fresh shredded spring onion and cucumber, wrapped in pancakes that are lighter than air and dipped in the most divine of sauces – my mouth’s watering just typing this. Wash it down with an ice cold bottle of Tsingtao.
As China ‘modernises’, high-end stores are opening everywhere. However, there are also so many markets selling very, very decent copies and rip-offs – whether they be watches, handbags or clothes – why pay the extra? It’s all made in China anyway. Quality tailor-made suits can be picked up at a snip too.
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