It is impossible to sum Beijing up in just one word – it is that diverse and impressive. The city is steeped in tradition and century old cultures, yet it is forever moving and changing, looking to the future and inspiring people worldwide. A food lover’s idea of heaven and an art lover’s paradise, Beijing has something for everyone. Whether you go exploring the many temples throughout the city or relish in visiting one of its 6 UNESCO World Heritage sites, you will never get bored in Beijing and will struggle to get your plane home. Affluent areas of Beijing offer luxury 5 star hotel accommodation and backpacker hotspots offer hostels and guesthouses for those on a budget; and the same goes with food, with Michelin star restaurants on one corner of the city and traditional street food outlets on the other, a truly diverse city at its best.
The best area to stay in Beijing is Doncheng: an area in the east of the city that is the prime commercial area. Before the communist takeover, Doncheng was home to wealthy businessmen and middle-class families that could afford high rents in the area. Xicheng is also a popular area to stay when in Beijing as it is packed full of activities that will give you a true taste of China. From temples such as the old White Cloud Temple, concert halls and the large Xidan shopping complex, you will never be short on things to do.
The Doncheng district lies at the heart of Beijing and acts as the chef business and political centre. Beijing Railway Station resides in Doncheng, making it a great base to stay if you want to explore Beijing and beyond. The district lies north east of Tian'anmen Square and is packed full of activities to keep you entertained. Many of the main temples in Beijing can be found in Doncheng and there are many art galleries, theatres and historical sites to visit, for those seeking to soak up Chinese culture on their holiday. The Chinese National Museum and Tian’anment Gate are just two of the top tourist attractions that make Doncheng the place to stay.
With many large parks, such as Zhongshan Park and Liuyin Park, Beijing can be a place to take children as there are playgrounds, cafés and tea houses where you can take a little time out of your busy schedule. Holiday makers looking for a taste of old Beijing will delight in strolling around the Hutongs (old neighbourhoods) of Doncheng and savouring the traditional street food along Xin Dong An and Long Fu Si, where you can enjoy the best Quanjude Roast Duck in the city. Of an evening, the Hutongs light up, with stalls selling food late into the night and bars and clubs opening up for locals and tourists to dance the night away. A trip to Donghuamen Night Market is a must visit site, where you will be tempted to try deep fried scorpions and lizards on sticks! When you first arrive, the size of the market and the hustle and bustle may be overwhelming for you but locals are very welcoming and there are English signs sat alongside Mandarin signs, so you will not get lost!
Doncheng has a popular theatre district, where you can catch shows in Mandarin or English and enjoy a true taste of Chinese opera at its best. Tourists have every convenience on their door step in Doncheng with areas like Dongdan, Dongsi, Hepingli and Beixinqiao offering up plenty of shops, restaurants and bars as well as a fine selection of hotels. Although Doncheng is a busy business district and generally attracts people wanting to spend their cash, there are youth hostels and budget apartments that cater for students and the backpacking community.
Other areas to stay in Beijing
Xicheng, meaning ‘West City’ is a popular district of Beijing, where locals doing business and tourists exploring the city come together. Primarily a commercial and financial district, Xicheng takes up the majority of old town Beijing and, although embracing modernity, it still adopts some of its old world charm. The Xidan commercial district is packed full of big brand shops as well as quaint boutiques, where you can pick up traditional Chinese gifts. Locals and tourists like to hang out at Beihai Park and Jingshan Park, to have picnic or play sports, so this is a great place to stay if you have children with you on holiday. Beijing is not usually a place to take young children but if this is something you want to do, it is not a problem as the people of Beijing love children and will do their best to cater for families in the big name hotels. You will find Beijing Zoo and the Temple of the Moon in Xicheng, just some of the attractions that will entertain children and families.
Most attractions are centred around the Xicheng area of the city, making it easy to get about on foot. Transport is very good in the city, though, as you will never be too far away from a bus or the rail network. Once again, the highlight of Beijing is the large open markets and food stalls, where you can get a true taste of Chinese food, unlike many of the Chinese restaurants in the West. The Houhai area is good for fine tasting budget food but if you want the best Beijing has to offer head to one of the many fine dining restaurants in Xicheng. Night times are usually spent in Houhai, with many bars and clubs playing modern music or holding karaoke and live music nights to entertain guests. There is a larger backpacking community in this area, making it easier to find hostels and low rent apartments for those wanting a long term stay in the city. Nevertheless, Xicheng prides itself on providing luxury hotels for foreign tourists.