Pond with lily pads and stone bridge

Six reasons to extend your stay in Beijing

The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, the Great Wall – Beijing rivals any world capital for spectacular sights, with more than enough to keep most visitors busy. But it’s when you’ve ticked off the big sights and stepped away from the tourist trail that the soul of the city starts to reveal itself

Selection of Chinese food in bamboo steamers

Take a food tour

Beijing is a delicious adventure for gourmands, but if you don’t speak or read Chinese, its tastiest morsels could remain tantalisingly out of reach. That’s where companies such as UnTour Food Tours come in, guiding eaters from one alleyway hole-in-the-wall to the next, serving up everything from Beijing-style hot pot to braised donkey-meat sandwiches, with a side order of fun food facts. Free-flow of local beer is included in the price, and for the brave there is also erguotou, Beijing’s sorghum-based firewater.

Decorative kites flying in the sky

Go fly a kite

Invented in China around the time of Confucius, kites remain a popular pastime among Beijing’s retirees, who fly them in parks and plazas across the city. A little-known gem close to Houhai Lake is Three Stone Kite Shop, one of the last traditional kite crafters in the capital. The handmade, hand-painted designs include dragons, phoenixes and other mythical creatures of various sizes. The owner’s great-grandfather served at the Forbidden City during the late Qing Dynasty, making kites, lanterns and fans for the royal court. Stop by for a non-touristy souvenir to take home.

View over the Great Wall of China

Hike the unrestored Great Wall

The vast majority of tourists visit a handful of ticketed Great Wall sections outside Beijing, where the battlements have been rebuilt and the hillsides furnished with cable cars and souvenir stalls. There remains, however, hundreds of kilometres of ‘wilderness wall’ within range of the city, where crumbling, difficult-to-access ruins snake through remote mountain country. Beijing Hikers, a long-established outfit, runs guided hikes several times a week, each graded for difficulty, so there’s something to suit everyone.

Workers Cultural Palace

Visit a secret temple

Right next to the Forbidden City, but passed over by almost all visitors, is the Workers’ Cultural Palace, formerly the Imperial Ancestral Temple where emperors would go and pay their respects to their royal forebears. Grand temple halls are surrounded by ancient cypress and pine trees, but the highlight is the Sacrificial Hall, the largest structure built entirely of precious nanmu wood in China. The carpentry inside, faded by the years, is exquisite, and the scale of the chamber itself will take your breath away.

Visitors admire bright flowers in the Ming City Wall Ruins Park

Find the remnants of Beijing’s City Wall

Up until the middle of the 20th century, Beijing was defined by its mighty Ming dynasty walls, 20 metres thick and 15 metres high, stretching for 24km right around the city. Dismantled to make way for a subway line and ring road, they are now a distant memory, save for a 1.2km stretch preserved in the southeast of the city. The Ming City Wall Ruins Park affords a tell-tale glimpse of Beijing’s once iconic battlements, and connects on to the awe-inspiring Southeast Corner Watchtower, which has an exhibition of historic Beijing photographs inside.

Garden pathway at Old Summer Palace, Beijing

Visit the Old Summer Palace

The splendid Imperial gardens, buildings and waterways that comprise the Summer Palace make it one of Beijing’s most famous attractions. Much less well known, however, is the Old Summer Palace nearby, considered so beautiful it was known as the ‘Versailles of the East’, before it was looted and destroyed by British and French soldiers in 1860. These days a public park, you can wander among shattered hunks of marble and stone between meadows and waterways, as you imagine how it might have looked to the Qing emperors in its heyday.

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City views from Café Zi Terrace, Beijing

One city, five ways: Beijing

Culinary capital, imperial treasure trove, contemporary art hub – like the painted faces of Peking opera, Beijing presents multiple personalities to the adventurous visitor