Planning 24 hours in such a large city as Beijing would leave any traveler bewildered. This itinerary will help short-term visitors get a taste of what the city has to offer in just one day. Walking through the lively Gulou neighborhood, eating street food, hitting up some temples, and ending your day with karaoke and baiju will provide a glimpse into what the Chinese capital is really like — and will leave you wanting for more.
Start the day off with a neighborhood tour of Gulou. Walk down bustling Gulou Dong Dajie (“East Drum Tower Avenue”), heading from east to west. This street is a hip strip with local fashionistas displaying their plumes along with camera-touting visitors capturing the scene; sure, it’s a little touristy, but still fun to duck in and out of the shops.
Walking along the street you can get the essentials for a classic Beijing breakfast. Grab a jianbing, reminiscent of a crepe but with a delicious crunch, from one of the street vendors. Pair it with classic old Beijing yogurt from one of the many small convenience shops. The yogurt’s white ceramic pot with blue paper top is ubiquitous and must be finished on the spot so that the vendor can collect and return the containers. To wash it all down, stop into cozy Voyage Coffee for a mean cup of hand-poured coffee at one of the hippest spots in the neighborhood.
Conclude your morning walk at the western end of Gulou Dong Dajie, which is marked by the ancient Drum and Bell towers. The open area in between these two historic structures is a nice spot to take a seat and people watch.
After some rest, weave northeast through the hutongs to get to the Temple of Confucius. A relaxed tree-lined street leads up to the main entrance. Confucian precepts have been influencing Chinese morality and social relationships for millennia.
As the afternoon wears on, continue to the vibrant Lama Temple. This Tibetan Buddhism temple is a riot of color and full of activity, with maroon-draped monks striding through the grounds going about their work. Incense rises above the curved roofs while melodic and repetitious chants envelop visitors.
For an early dinner, head to the multi-floor, brightly lit, and ever welcoming Jindingxuan. This 24-hour chain restaurant is always bustling and its menus are the stuff of dreams — everything looks (and is) delicious. Jindingxuan serves Cantonese food (from the Guangzhou province in the south, formerly known as Canton), so many of the dishes are steamed in bamboo baskets. Some portions are tapas-style, and others are heartier. Order as many different dishes as you can to try as much as possible.
If you’re in a Mariah or Whitney kind of mood, pop into the huge karaoke venue just next door to Jindingxuan. Or if you’ve been wanting to try the belly scorching liquor called baijiu, take a 30-minute walk south down Dongsi Avenue and head to Capital Spirits.
If it’s just a 24-hour layover, continue to imbibe to your heart’s content. If tomorrow is another day of touring, get some rest for another full day. Be warned that there’s no hangover on Earth worse than a baijiu hangover.