1. You can hangout in hutongs
Most of Beijing’s hutong districts have, alas, been swept away by the tide of progress, demolished to make way for new roads and shiny skyscrapers. But some of these low-rise, narrow-street neighbourhoods have clung on and today they offer a rare glimpse of a bygone Beijing. Some of the city’s best bars, restaurants and markets can be found in the last remaining hutongs where residents live cheek by jowl as they have done for centuries.
2. There’s a giant wall
Myths abound about the Great Wall of China, which, contrary to popular belief, cannot be seen from space (at least not with the naked eye). Built to keep marauding armies out of China, the defensive wall – which dates back to the 7th century – meanders roughly 5,500 miles across the country. Some of the best preserved sections, however, are located just outside Beijing, such as the scenic Juyong Pass.
3. You are (now) permitted to enter the Forbidden City
A visit to the world’s largest palace complex is forbidden no more; in fact, for many tourists, a trip to this rambling fortress is one of Beijing’s numerous highlights. Off limits for nearly 500 years, the Forbidden City was home to two reclusive dynasties between 1420 and 1912, but today everyone can enjoy the imperial architecture and art of this Unesco World Heritage Site.
4. You can feel the weight of history in Tiananmen Square
China’s ceaseless censorship tsars work overtime to stop its citizens learning about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when government troops brutally supressed a pro-democracy rally, leaving scores dead. Feel the weight of history with a visit to the square, where the “Tank Man” famously stood in front of a column of tanks the day after the massacre.
5. It has (nearly) all the tea in China
Taking tea is a time-honoured tradition in China and for travellers wedded to a builder’s brew, Beijing’s bountiful infusions could provide grounds for divorce. There’s a tea for every occasion in the city – green tea, gunpowder tea, golden monkey tea and jasmine tea, to name a few – and the best place to sample them is Maliandao Tea Market, where some 900 vendors ply their leafy trade.
6. It does the best Peking duck
Most of us know a Chinese restaurant that does a decent Peking duck, but for the genuine article you really need to visit Beijing, formerly Peking, which invented the dish.