Though a shining contemporary example of China’s economic power, Beijing’s charm lies in the remnants of its storied past.
If you get the chance, wander down some of the quieter hutongs, which reveal a glimpse of the old Beijing residences that really capture the charm of the city’s past.
A sense of power can be felt in most parts of Beijing, from its lofty airport halls upon arrival to its formidable skyscrapers when you reach the city centre. Visitors may notice that many of the major historical attractions on the typical must-see list share the same grandeur, harking back to imperial times. While these places are effective in conveying the metropolis’ sense of might, some of the more obscure spots leave the most enduring impression.
View from the Top
Situated in one of Beijing’s most prestigious addresses, China World Summit Wing, Beijing encapsulates the pinnacle of modern luxury. Whether you indulge in a heavenly aroma vitality massage at CHI, The Spa, the highest of its kind in the city, or go for a dip in the indoor infinity pool which plays music underwater, everything is just a bit more special at soaring heights.
Breakfast will never be the same again after you have devoured waffles at Grill 79, gazing through floor-to-ceiling windows at panoramas that span further than the eye can see. Meanwhile, on the 80th floor, Atmosphere provides an unparalleled cityscape and some of the city’s most innovative cocktails.
The rooftops of The Forbidden City can also be seen from the hotel. While the 72-hectare palace is iconic for good reason, some of the less obvious surrounds are just as worthwhile. Located directly behind is Jingshan Park, offering one of the best views of the palace if you climb to the top of one of Beijing’s few hills. Philip Marlowe, journalist and Beijing resident says, “Aside from offering a verdant oasis, it’s also a popular spot for the older generation who gather to sing, play traditional instruments and practice tai chi in the morning.”
When it comes to serene settings, few are more idyllic than the Summer Palace, where Empress Dowager Cixi retired until her death in 1908. Its majestic grounds, arched stone bridges and exquisitely landscaped gardens bordered by Kunming Lake could easily have been the inspiration behind any traditional watercolour painting. Commissioned by Emperor Qianlong in 1750 as royal retreat for his mother’s 60th birthday, the exclusive domain represented the height of opulence at the time.
Experience more stately treasures with a stroll around the adjoining lakes in the Shichahai area, which used to be part of the Emperor’s gardens. Houhai, in particular, buzzes with cafes and restaurants in the evenings. However, if you get the chance, wander down some of the quieter hutongs, which reveal a glimpse of the old Beijing residences that really capture the charm of the city’s past.
Another hutong worth visiting is Dongcheng District’s funky Nanluoguxiang, a buzzing alley filled with trendy boutiques selling everything from kitsch trinkets to vintage typewriters amongst a sea of courtyard breweries, gig venues, galleries and dinky eateries. Foodies can eat their way through the 800-metre-long lane, which is filled with tempting local treats like crepes, doughnuts and ice cream.
Walk off the indulgence with a little retail therapy on Wangfujing Street, which has been a hub of commercial activity since the Ming Dynasty. Aristocratic estates and princess’ residences were also built in the district during the Qing Dynasty, but today it is home to a buzzing combination of 280 international and Beijing-born brands. Among the most unique are the Shengxifu Hat Shop, established in 1911, and Yong Zheng Tailors Shop, specialising in tailor-made suits.
A trip to Beijing would be incomplete without feasting on Peking duck. While it is hard to go wrong with the ubiquitous bird served everywhere, Duck de Chine serves the unctuous roasted duck and accompanying pancakes, plum sauce, spring onion and cucumber in the most glamorous of settings. The meat is flavourful and the skin is delightfully crisp without being fatty in the slightest.
The perfect end to the day involves putting your feet up, literally, with a touch of reflexology. A popular way to unwind in Beijing, the extravagant pastime dates as far back as the Shang Dynasty, when King Zhou Wenwang enjoyed podiatry complete with knives, hands and scratching boards. The contemporary experience is decidedly more calming and equally fit for royalty. Sit back, relax and enjoy…
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The quiet Hutongs is where you will dig up old memory and treasures. Wondering down some of them and see. Hutongs are also the place you will find some forgotten famous places to dine and enjoy.