While Beijing’s major sights are some of the best in the world, it’s the smaller, less-touristed places that are the most fascinating. Schedule your itinerary so that after each mega-attraction, you have time to delve into the lesser-known jewels of Beijing.
Dongcheng is Beijing’s centre, and home to three of the city’s unmissable sights: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Lama Temple. Once you’ve ticked those off your to-do list, dig deeper into this dynamic neighbourhood for some truly exceptional treats. Lunch at King’s Joy, Beijing’s foremost vegetarian restaurant, where items like braised spicy tofu and chilled papaya milk are made with ingredients brought from local organic farms. The Yung Ho Chang-designed space resembles a courtyard home or siheyaun, and has a peaceful bamboo grove for quiet al fresco dining.
Post-lunch, pop into Red Gate Gallery, China’s first private contemporary art gallery. Exploring fabulous Gulou can take most of an afternoon – this historic area, offers Nanluogu Xiang, a small street packed with hipsters patronising its trendy cafés, bars.
If the weather is cooperative, stop at a nearby bar for a cocktail before leaping forward into the 21st century with dinner at Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard. The eponymous chef composes exquisite dishes – a garden salad is adorned with a cube of dried olive salad dressing. The tiny restaurant’s setting, alongside the Forbidden City’s moat, is particularly alluring in the evening.
Now a linchpin of the country’s arts culture, 798 Art District in Chaoyang is a series of small streets and repurposed factories packed with art galleries that range from the unknown to the world-renowned. After a couple of hours exploring, refuel with an Italy coffee or Chinese tea at artist-owned At Café. Then stop by UCCASTORE to pick up a piece of limited-edition artwork as a souvenir. For clotheshorses, Fei Space is perfect.
The Dashilan neighbourhood in northwestern Xicheng District, packed with tiny hutongs (alleyways), is cramped but fascinating. The historic buildings, sitting low to the ground, are filling with art galleries and boutiques that draw the city’s foreign residents. Step into Ubi Gallery which sells contemporary ceramics and jewellery. Spoonful of Sugar, a newly opened café, is ideal for stopping for an organic coffee or glass of wine, and a sneak peek .