14 hours in Beijing

From Beijing's best brunch spot to its flagship art galleries, here's our guide to a perfect day in the Chinese capital

By Chris Leadbeater
Published 1 Jun 2019, 08:00 BST
Photograph by Giulia Marchi

10am — Brunch at The Orchid

A boutique retreat with a small garden, The Orchid is a fine spot to rest your head if you want to stay in the direct vicinity of Nanluoguxiang and its shops (double rooms from £129, with breakfast). But it’s worth visiting even if you don’t need a bed. It’s known for its brunches. Go for the Avocado Rocket Ship (poached egg with rocket salad, avocado and red peppers) costs 68 yuan (£7.60), which proffers a light start to the day.

11am — Shopping on Nanluoguxiang

This alluring shopping district is festooned with retail delights. Plastered T-shirts splices fashion, digital art and graffiti in its clever design; adjacent music store M.F deals in international and Chinese artists, with a smattering of vinyl. If you feel the need for a shot of caffeine and perhaps a snack, Voyage Coffee, a little off the main drag at Beiluoguxiang 80, is a cosy spot to take the weight off your feet and catch your breath.

12pm — Get arty

Beijing’s flagship art gallery lies an easy one-mile walk to the south of Nanluoguxiang. It focuses, not unexpectedly, on Chinese artists — including the likes of Gao Hongxiao and Wang Yexiang — while staging temporary exhibitions that change on a regular basis. For a more contemporary contrast, try 798 Art Zone, an area of east central Beijing where galleries such as the pack-leading Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (aka UCCA) occupy decommissioned factory buildings.

1.30pm — Tiananmen Square & beyond

Dip into the traditional Beijing that fans out below the Forbidden City. Deyuan Roast Duck, 10 minutes’ walk south-west of Tiananmen Square, is a local favourite. What it lacks in sophistication it makes up 

for in atmosphere and tasty cuts of poultry and mutton (from 35 yuan [£4]). Once you’ve scoffed your fill, retrace your path to the city’s main plaza. You don’t need to go into the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong to see that it holds pride of place, but you may wish to enter the National Museum of China, which covers the country’s history up to the close of the royal era.

Deyuan Roast Duck, 57 Dashilan, Xijie.

3pm — Forbidden City views

A visit to the Versailles of the Far East is a must, the magisterial home of both the Ming and Qing dynasties between 1420 and 1912, cocooned within two miles of walls. At the very least, head to central Jingshan Park for its incredible hilltop views over the Forbidden City, and join in with early morning sessions of tai chi or jiànzi (a shuttlecock-kicking game). 

6pm —  Southern style dining

Dali Courtyard, down a series of alleys off Nanluoguxiang, has a low key, leafy setting recalling the laid-back southern province of Yunnan, the featured cuisine. The prix fixe menu puts you at the mercy of the chef: a good thing, with standouts including ru bing (grilled goat cheese), spicy Yunnan-style dumplings, ye cai (fried shrimp and stir-fried wild vegetables), and myriad mushroom dishes for which Yunnan is famed.

67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District. T: 00 86 10 8404 1430.

8.30pm — Jianchang Hutong

A three-mile cab ride north of the Dengshikou subway station, Jianchang Hutong is one of the city’s prime nightlife areas. Check out Arrow Factory Taproom, one of the stars of the city’s craft beer scene, with beers from 28 yuan (£3). If, incredibly, you’re still hungry, grab something quick at adjacent Stuff’d, which delights in sausages, such as the paprika-heavy, chorizo-fest that is The Siesta (30 yuan/£3.30).

10pm — Cocktails in Sanlitun

Many a Beijing night ends in Sanlitun, the north-easterly district that sings with hip watering holes. Infusion Room is a case in point — a speakeasy-style joint where the spirit racks rise as a pyramid behind the bar, and cocktails cost from 110 yuan (£12). Nearby, Janes + Hooch plays a similar game, with a mixology menu that changes by the month. Both stay open until 2am. 

Read our feature about Beijing 

Published in the June 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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