Beijing is an enormous municipality abundant in culture, history, beautiful landscapes, and fine cuisine. The first sight is one of a sprawling city, dotted with towering buildings with only the giant, red Chinese characters atop to show visitors they have arrived in China. This is when it becomes important to look a little closer in order to find out what Beijing has to offer.
The real gems in this city are the low-rise, narrow alleyways known as hutongs, which give you an exciting glimpse into the local culture and history. Strolling into a hutong, with its grey brick walls and upturned ‘artichoke-leaf’ roofs, you disappear into the Beijing of old. The noisy city melts away and is replaced by sleepy seniors sitting and watching the world go by, people going about their daily business, and the curious and delicious smells of truly authentic restaurants. It is a view of old Beijing before modernization, and represents the continuation of a centuries-old lifestyle.
Just minutes away from the hutongs, China reveals itself again in all its giant grandeur. The expanse of Tiananmen Square feels vast after the confines of the hutongs. North of Tiananmen Square is the Forbidden City, the high-walled home of China’s Ming and Qing emperors. The Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and Jingshan Park all of these were refuges once exclusive to the emperors and their entourage.
The city itself is full of great sites but there is even more on offer outside the urban area. The Great Wall is the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of China and the many sections of the Wall accessible from downtown Beijing offer something for every traveler. Near the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs offer a fascinating insight into the history of the Ming dynasty. West of Beijing, the preserved village of Cuandixia offers an insight into traditional village culture, with village life going along much as it has since the Ming dynasty.
Ancient and modern collide in Beijing’s nightlife scene. The area around Houhai Lake and Nanluoguxiang is buzzing with hidden bars serving everything from craft beer to complex cocktails. You will never be short of choice on a night out in Beijing! If you prefer dinner and a show, the Chaoyang Acrobat Show and The Legend of Kung Fu are must-sees.
Beijing has a climate similar to Washington DC. It is cold in the winter with occasional snow. April, May and June are pleasant and there are flowering trees which can be especially picturesque in May. July and August, while still good, can be hot. September and October are again pleasant, green, and a popular time to visit. November is still nice with a fall feel in the air. December through March are winter months, a good time to go skating in Beijing's city parks.
Beijing is an essential inclusion on the itinerary of any visitor to China. In addition to all the sights in the city itself, there are several destinations within easy reach of Beijing that are perfect for people who have a surplus of time in Beijing but not enough time to travel to another major destination. Tianjin and Chengde are two lesser-known destinations that can be reached from Beijing in under half a day.