Beijing is a city that is famous for showcasing China’s rich history, displayed by stunning temples and memorials that lie amidst towering skyscrapers. However, Beijing’s extensive modernisation has paved way towards a new scene that emphasises creative freedom.
Straying away from Beijing’s conventional sights, this four-day itinerary is perfect for those who are looking to experience an alternative side of Beijing. Due to the city’s high levels of pollution, don’t forget to bring a mask.
Morning: Dine on a European-inspired brunch. Make your way to Cafe Zarah, a multi-purpose space that is a combination of a cafe, lounge and art gallery. Its menu spans from North European to Chinese influences, and its terrace is a perfect destination for warm days. Now you can enjoy your breakfast and art at the same time.
Afternoon: Visit Beijing’s Museum of Contemporary Art. This 50-acre gallery aims to develop contemporary art by providing a platform for independent local and international artists to showcase their work. This is the first gallery that encouraged professional Chinese artists to display works emphasising a non-mainstream Chinese culture.
Evening: Wander through Wudaoying. This hutong (small road) remains a local hangout spot amongst Beijingers. It is a lot quieter in comparison to more popular hutongs and is dotted with an array of shops, restaurants and bars. Grab a bite to eat or explore the alleys surrounding Wudaoying.
Watch some live music at Hot Cat Club. This intimate bar regularly hosts bands that plays a diverse genre of music ranging from rock to blues to electronica. If it is a nice night, make your way to the beer garden out the back.
Morning: Start your day with a coffee at Cafe Flatwhite. Located in the sprawling 798 Arts District, this cafe is inspired by the taste of New Zealand, and has become a haven for coffee lovers as it presents a selection of different roasts to suit your palate. You are also able to choose from sweet and savory brunch or indulge in dessert with your coffee.
Afternoon: Explore the 798 Arts District. Previously a military factory complex, this district is now Beijing’s most famous art area. View an exhibition or one of the many installations that are on show. By advocating freedom in creativity, the 798 Arts District is the pinnacle of Beijing’s contemporary culture. The biggest perk is that it is tucked away from the bustle of Beijing.
Evening: Indulge in a traditional dinner at Fodder Factory. With all the newfound artistic inspiration, you must be starving. This Sichuan-style restaurant is popular for its decently priced meals and availability of import beers. Usually attracting a fairly artsy crowd, this is the perfect place to unwind and engage in conversation, whether it is with an old or new friend.
Then, go for a cocktail at Migas. This rooftop bar is decked out in all-white interior and palm trees, creating a beach vibe that can be enjoyed over breathtaking views of Beijing’s skyline.
Morning: Begin your day by visiting Zajia Lab. This independent art space was created in the front hall of an old Taoist temple and aims to provide a free space to encourage the appreciation of independent films and performing arts. From live performances to indie films, there is something for everyone here. This space funds itself through the cafe next door and private donations, so show your support by grabbing a coffee on your way out!
Afternoon: Contemplate the afterlife at Dongyue Temple. Not for the faint-hearted, this temple exhibits the 76 departments of the Taoist supernatural world. Some may find the statues gruesome, due to violent messages that are implied, and some may find the poorly designed statues humorous, but they are all definitely bizarre. You can even prep for your afterlife by appealing for forgiveness through donation boxes that are provided.
Evening: Treat yourself to Peking duck at Da Dong Restaurant. If you’ve never tried this dish before, now is your chance (and you won’t regret it!). This is one of Beijing’s top-rated restaurants, recognised for its Peking duck. You deserve it after that day of walking you just did.
Morning: Bring a friend to The Central Perk. I’m sure you have watched an episode of Friends at least once. Inspired by the hit TV show, this cafe has replicated every detail of the show’s famous hangout spot, down to its decor and items on the menu. Complete with a TV that screens reruns with Chinese subtitles, this tiny cafe is bound to impress!
Afternoon: Shop for souvenirs at Panjiayuan Flea Markets. This is the largest market for secondhand goods in China. This is a great place to shop for antique collectibles and souvenirs. If you are an avid gemstone collector, this is a goldmine for cheap gems, especially jade.
Evening: Have dinner at Guijie Street (Ghost Street). The character Gui refers to a bronze vessel that has a round mouth with two or four handles, used to contain food in ancient times. This hutong lights up at night, as red lanterns line the stretch of street. With more than 100 restaurants that serve local cuisines from different provinces, you will definitely find something to satisfy your tastebuds here.
Pop over to Broadway Cinematheque MOMA and watch an arthouse film. This was the first arthouse cinema built in mainland China, and is connected to a café bookstore named after the influential filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.
How to get around:
- Bicycle: A common form of transportation in Beijing. The roads are bicycle friendly and you will be able to rent a bike from most hotels.
- Subway: This is the most efficient form of public transport and a comprehensive map is available via the Metroman app. Subways signs are marked with a blue (D) and ticket fares range between RMB3 to RMB8.
- Taxi: The base fare is RMB13 for the first 3km and RMB2 per km after. The rate rises to RMB3 per km on trips over 15km and after 11 pm, the flag-fall also increases to RMB14. Make sure the fare is on to avoid fare negotiations as most taxi drivers don’t speak English.
- Rickshaw: Though rickshaws are available, it is best to avoid them if you do not speak Chinese as many of them try to scam tourists.
AirAsia flies to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. For flight and info fares, visit airasia.com