The Best of Beijing

The old rule of thumb – eat at the busiest stalls – applies.

The Icon: Tiananmen Square 

The largest public square in the world, Tiananmen Square usually evokes memories of tanks versus students, but it’s the symbolic heart of China. Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum is worth checking out, if only to watch the queues of reverential Chinese tourists passing through for a glimpse of their former leader’s sarcophagus. The square is flanked by the Great Hall of the People  where the National People’s Congress meets  and the National Museum of China. Look up for the Monument to the People’s Heroes  a thoroughly unsubtle 10-storey obelisk that rather dominates affairs.

The Shopping Strip: Wangfujing Dajie

Beijing’s main shopping strip is an odd fusion of modern department stores and neon signs alongside traditional stores and tea houses. Most global designer labels, including Burberry, MaxMara, Tiffany & Co, Kenzo, Tommy Hilfiger and Ermenegildo Zegna, can be found in the huge 120,000-square-metre Oriental Plaza shopping mall. Nearby, the four-floor Wangfujing Gongmei Emporium specialises in gold, jewellery, handicrafts, souvenirs and jade. It's the place to go for local arts and crafts and the jade comes with a certificate of authenticity. The Foreign Languages Bookstore is where non-Mandarin speakers can pick up good reading material.

The Eat Street: Wangfujing Snack Street

Just off Wangfujing Dajie, Wangfujing Snack Street is a street-food lover’s paradise. Traditional stalls serve China's many specialties, from almost Middle Eastern Uygur fare to Yunnan noodles and chilli-laden Szechuan dishes. More adventurous options include horse stew, seahorse skewers and scorpion kebabs. It’s a standing-room-only affair more suited to a quick break between meetings than entertaining clients. The old rule of thumb  eat at the busiest stalls  applies.

The Sight: The Forbidden City

Sealed off for more than 500 years and inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987, the Forbidden City is an extraordinary ancient palace complex surrounded by a brash, modern city. The emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties rarely left its confines. The palace buildings were constructed using the finest wood and marble. Enter via the Gate of Heavenly Peace beneath an enormous image of Chairman Mao. If you have time to see only one building, make it the Hall of Supreme Harmony where the emperors ruled by decree from the absurdly ornate Dragon Throne.

Words by David Whitley - Published in Voyeur March 2011
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 20,000,000
Time Zone GMT +8 hours
Languages Mandarin, Beijing dialect
Currency Chinese Yuan Renminbi
Electricity 220V, 50HZ, AC
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