Beijing is China’s rapidly changing and endlessly exciting capital, a modern metropolis clinging on to the vestiges of an imperial past.
Punishingly hot in the summer, numbingly cold in the winter and often covered in a pall of choking pollution, it is nonetheless fast becoming one of Asia’s hippest cities with a booming art scene, gorgeous boutiques and delicious food.
6pm: Ease yourself into the chaos that is Beijing with a pre-dinner refreshment at China Bar on the 65th floor of the Park Hyatt (www.beijing.park.hyatt.com) in the central business district. Observe the city’s vast expanse while gently sipping an exotic beverage.
7.30pm: You cannot come to Beijing and not eat Peking duck. Da Dong has the most authentic duck but for a less touristy, more sophisticated experience Duck de Chine is the place to be seen.
9.30pm: Sanlitun is Beijing’s bar street and options range from cold beverages to exotic ones in swish luxury. Boutique hotel The Opposite House (www.theoppositehouse.com) has two great places — Mesh on the ground floor and the darkly chic Punk in the basement.
9am: Start your day with proper coffee and fluffy eggs at Vineyard (www.vineyardcafe.cn), a tranquil courtyard and café in a hutong, or alley, near the splendid Lama Temple (Yong He Gong) and Confucius Temple. The eggs Benedict are excellent and the vegetarian options also come recommended.
10am: Flex those bargaining muscles and dive into Ya Show, one of Beijing’s popular attractions. Better than the Silk Market, it’s the place to go for everything from knock-off designer clothes to pearls. Visit Tailor Ma on the third floor for bespoke suits and jackets.
11am: Head next door to The Village in Sanlitun. Ignore the big brands and make a beeline for Chang and Biorck (www.changbiorck.com), Beijing’s hottest new home furnishings hole-in-the-wall for fabulous silk cushions, ties and bags.
Noon: Lunch at Brazilian new-wave favourite Alameda, hidden in an unremarkable lane off Sanlitun’s central bar street. Don’t forget to try their sinful almond pave.
1.30pm: Conveniently located next to Alameda is the cute Nali Mall. Small and perfect, it has a collection of little stores such as Qiancaohua, with its floral belts and colourful cube cushions.
3pm: No trip to Beijing is complete without going down the traditional hutongs that were once the city’s signature. And no trip to Beijing is complete these days without picking up a T-shirt at Plastered, down the fashionable Nanluo Guxiang. You can even shop online (www.plasteredtshirts.com).
5pm: A 15-minute walk from Nanluo Guxiang are the city’s old drum and bell towers. A little off the beaten track but well worth stopping by. Go now before the colourful alleyways are replaced by depressing malls.
7pm: Three food suggestions, all Chinese. Xian’r Lao Man on Andingmen for dumplings and mustard cabbage — sounds nasty but is fantastic. The Chuan Ban near Jianguomen, for real Sichuan food in a rowdy setting. Or Dali Courtyard, for alfresco Yunnan cuisine in an old courtyard. All three are quintessential Beijing restaurants.
9pm: Set in a soulless development of shops and offices by Guomao, Twilight is a huge surprise, hidden away up an unassuming staircase. The bar is Japanese-run, with typical attention to detail and service. You can’t really go wrong with the delicately textured beverages.
11pm: Chocolate, the Russian nightclub (www.club-chocolate.ru), is fantastic fun and really has to be seen to be believed.
6am: If you’ve not danced the night away, the Temple of Heaven is the perfect way to wake up. A must-see whatever the time of day for a touch of history.
8am: The Panjiayuan or Dirt Market is probably China’s largest antique market. Get there at dawn for the genuine Ming vases, otherwise much else on sale is far from authentic. The bookstalls at the back have everything from ancient Chinese classics to North Korean propaganda tomes and Mongolian language posters from the Cultural Revolution.
11am: Brunch at the effortlessly cool Salt (www.saltrestaurantbeijing.com). The setting is minimalist, the food modern and perhaps best described as European with a South American twist.
Or try the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu (www.theschoolhouseatmutianyu.com). Hire a restored old house for a night or two with friends or just go up for lunch. Then walk the Great Wall.
1pm: A stone’s throw from Salt is Spin. The master craftsmen and women behind this store know how to whip up a storm with the clay. Simple, clean and understated is the order of the day. Surprisingly cheap too.
2.30pm: Not far from Salt and Spin is Beijing’s main art district, 798 (www.798art.org). The galleries welcome casual visitors and are happier still if you want to buy a piece by one of the country’s growing band of avant-garde artists.
5pm: After all that walking, you’ll be in need of a good massage. Dragonfly (www.dragonfly.net.cn), Bodhi (www.bodhi.com.cn) and Oriental Taipan (www.taipan.com.cn) are worth a visit.
7pm: The restaurant Pyongyang Haedanghwa. Run as a money-making venture by the North Korean government, the grilled beef, pickled cabbage and seafood pancakes are possibly the best Korean food in Beijing. If you’re lucky, the staff will serenade you with North Korean folk songs.
9pm: A final beverage at Yin, the rooftop bar of the Emperor Hotel (www.theemperor.com.cn), will wash away the strains of the day. There are calming views over the Forbidden City and if the mood grabs, there is an open-air Jacuzzi.
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