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Photo: lylevincent

Suggestions for your Beijing itinerary after you’re done with the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
1. Grab a Drink at a Rooftop Bar Overlooking the Forbidden City

A full exploration of the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City, a complex sprawled over nearly eight million square feet, takes the better part of a day. When you’re done, order a cocktail and rest your legs at Yin, the rooftop bar at the Emperor Hotel.

You’ll find the building near the east gate, and Yin is reached via an ascending series of terraces from the boutique hotel. Views take in a panorama of the royal grounds, and the menu is stocked with innovative concoctions — many made with the evil Chinese liquor baijiu, so it’s drinker beware.

Photo: Author

2. Ride a Tandem Bike around Houhai Lake

Houhai Lake is one of the hippest spots in Beijing. It’s also known as the “back lake” and is surrounded by restaurants, bars, coffee houses, and boutiques set along cobblestone lanes.

To save on rickshaw fees, hit up one of the bicycle rental stands, which rent by the hour and day, and pedal yourself around the lake district. You can even pick up a three-person tandem. I’m happy to say it’s a whole lot of fun to wobble down the narrow streets with the locals cheering you on.

A word of warning: our bike seemed to date from Chairman Mao’s day. We quickly discovered the tires were half-flat and the brakes were shot, resulting in Fred Flinstone braking moves by three pairs of feet.

3. Cook Dumplings in a Local’s Kitchen

Tour operator East Tours runs a gig where you can take dumpling making lessons at the home of a local. She’ll show you how to put together the filling and roll out the dough — harder than it sounds, believe me.

Stuffing the dumplings requires even more practice; don’t lose heart if your first half dozen look pathetically deformed.

Photo: Author

The beauty of this tour is not only in getting a look at traditional Chinese cuisine but also at the homes and lives of everyday citizens in a real neighborhood — probably not an opportunity you’d have otherwise.

And of course, you get to eat what you cook.

4. Go Karaoke

Karaoke is a staple of the social fabric in China, just like in other East Asian nations. Don’t miss out. Venues can be found in most hotels and seemingly along every major street. They’re sometimes called KTV, so watch for that on signs.

Protocol: Check in and pay for a specified amount of time at the front desk, after which you’ll be escorted to a private room with audio-visual equipment, microphones, a TV, and couches. You can order drinks and sometimes food.

When my three travel companions and I went, the five-pound song library featured plenty of familiar tunes, but the same video of a bunch of Chinese teens running around in the snow played during every song.

5. Crunch into a Scorpion or Seahorse on a Stick

The Donghuamen Night Market, near the Forbidden City, is the place for street food.

…a vendor screamed “sheep penis!” right in my ear, laughing at my double-take as he dangled the organ in front of me.

You can find more sedate offerings such as dim sum, soup, and fresh veggies, but don’t bypass the bamboo skewers of silkworms, scorpions, seahorse, snake, and starfish. I also discovered a caramelized lotus root I couldn’t get enough of.

You don’t have to eat to enjoy yourself — half the fun is in gawking at the food and talking with vendors and other patrons. Our group of Americans and Canadians made friends with some Greek tourists; as I walked behind the others, a vendor screamed “sheep penis!” right in my ear, laughing at my double-take as he dangled the organ in front of me.

6. Walk an Unrestored Section of the Great Wall

The Great Wall is long. Busloads of tourists get dropped off at the famous sections near Beijing every morning, but at other places unmarked by restoration or tourism, there are surprisingly few people. The experience of discovering the “wild wall” is powerful.

The Simatai-Jinshanling section allows you to do this. At the Xiangshui Lake scenic area there are another two, as well as a restored section. To get there, instead of walking ahead to the main gate, turn right or left; both directions lead farther into the village and towards original stretches of wall.

For more, consider a horseback tour along the wild wall, or a stay at one of the two hotels that have private access. Red Capital Ranch, Beijing’s first eco-tourism resort, owns ten restored villas set on 50 acres, while Commune by the Great Wall is another recommended resort, with villas surrounding a path that leads to part of the wall available only to guests.

Community Connection

Make sure to check out the Matador classic, I was on the rebound with a Chinese clown.

There’s also Losing My Travel Virginity: Beijing and How Love And Money Conquered Communism At The Beijing Olympics.



About The Author

Shelley Seale

Shelley Seale is an author and freelance writer. When not in Austin, she's usually traipsing around the world whenever possible. Her new book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India, follows her journeys through India and tells the stories of many amazing children.

  • Audrey

    I’d add Factory 798 (a.k.a. 798 Dashanzi Art District) to this list. This area has converted industrial factory buildings into a space for modern art galleries and museums. When we visited in 2007, these galleries had the most open expression of life in China that we had seen – a photo exhibition of migrant construction workers in Beijing, timeline of modern art expression in China, an exhibition of art drawn by mentally ill patients.

    I definitely second hiking along the Great Wall at Simatai-Jinshanling. Depending upon the time of year, you may have large sections of the wall to yourself. Really impressive.

  • Shelley Seale

    Absolutely right Audrey! I only had to select so many for this article, but I agree that the 798 District is phenomenal. I visited it as well, and in fact have written about it in other articles about China. Very cool and lots of fun!

  • Glen
  • Jphi

    Some pictures of the GreatWall section between Simatai and Jinshanglin (and even farther : Gubeikou) on my website :

    A nice run !

  • ryan

    great article. i did 3, 4, and 6 while i lived in beijing. and many times i walked past the food stales in donghuamen night market, but never desired to eat a live scorpion or sea horse. guess i am not tough enough.

    and i agree, the arts district is indeed cool.

  • Shelley Seale

    Ryan, I will admit I never ate a scorpion or sea horse either! I stuck with chicken, sichuan soup and lotus root!

  • http://n/a William

    Audrey (great name btw), I loved 798. My friend had an film showing there and despite the heat and stagnant air they were forgotten once the films started rolling.

    KTV was always a blast. Although it may have killed my love of that song American Boy.

    I would probably add Haggling in the Silk Market to this list. Not only was it an exercise on your language and negotiation skills, but was also a place to check how small you can get your personal bubble.

  • Sophia

    Yes, I can still remember the shocking expression on my travel partner’s face when the vendor in Wangfujing Food Alley screamed “sheep penis” at us. So hilarious…

  • yangshuo travel

    What attracts me in Wangfujing is definitely not its night food street, the snacks here just make me cry.

  • bobby c

    Great stuff. Just got back from China and I’d agree with most of the above. And yes, you will have “penis” screamed in your ear more than once at the Night Market. (To my surpise, the English in Beijing was surprisingly poor, but they certainly know that one!)

  • Niki

    You can check out my blog on Things To Do in Beijing — I have a large number of suggestions on day trips and places to visit in and around the city…. The blog link is

    I keep adding stuff on a slow pace, but then I try to stay away from the obvious…. :-)
    Happy Travels and drop me a line if you have questions about Beijing and China.

  • Tim

    Beijing is a great place.

    If you travel to Beijing, you can come to our hostel —-Beijing happy dragon hostel

  • seceret

    needs more weid things

  • Lyndal Barrett

    hey just discovered this phot of you as I’m researching things to do in Beijing. Is this a blast from the past? Wilma

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