Top Things to Do in Beijing

See the city by bike

Four wheels may be good for getting around, but two wheels are better. The capital demands to be discovered by bicycle. Unlock a different perspective on the city by renting a bike from Serk (www.serk.cc) and spending a day in the saddle. Or take a tour with Bike Beijing (www.bikebeijing.com).

Dance the night away

Beijing’s older inhabitants love to dance wherever they can set up a sound system: parks, squares, streets, and underpasses. One of the best places to join in is outside Saint Joseph’s Cathedral on Wangfujing. Hundreds of movers and groovers gather here every night. Get yourself down there and sway along to the sounds.

Train in tai chi

You’ll see plenty of folk practicing this gentle Chinese martial art throughout town. Our favorite way to train is with Bespoke Beijing (www.bespoke-beijing.com), who can arrange a private hour-long class among the trees of the Temple of Heaven. It’s led by a tai chi master who trained at the Shaolin Temple as a child.

Eat scary snacks

There’s some wonderful food to be had here. There are also some truly terrifying dishes to try if you’re feeling brave. The likes of scorpions on a stick are served up at Wangfujing Snack Street. To be safer, choose carts with a high turnover. For something less weird but just as savory, head to Xiaoyou Hutong, where a dozen eateries, refugees from urban renewal, serve traditional specialties inside a renovated courtyard house.

Go for gold at the Olympic Park

If you have the time, a visit to the Olympic Park, just north of the Fourth Ring Road, is a chance to see the starkly modern side of China—the face it wants the world to see. The Bird’s Nest stadium dominates the landscape, while the Water Cube, the venue for Michael Phelps’s extraordinary eight gold medals, has been turned into a thrilling water park, complete with a lazy river and slides and rides for all ages.

Meditate with monks

If a visit to the downtown Lama Temple awakens your spiritual side, then a weekend away staying with monks at Chaoyang Temple—an hour or two outside the city in Huairou District—may be the key to reaching real enlightenment. A crash course in Zen Buddhism awaits the curious (www.90travel.com).

Enjoy a night at the opera

Peking opera is regarded as one of the country’s cultural treasures. If you want to check out this unique form of traditional Chinese theater then you won’t get a better opportunity than in its birthplace . Be warned: the sonic style may not be music to all ears, but finding out is all part of the fun.

Hike the Great Wall

There’s more than one way to see the world’s most famous wall. Abandon the tourist trail and escape the crowds with Beijing Hikers (www.beijinghikers.com). This walking group runs regular trips to some of the more interesting areas of the Great Wall. Join them to explore unrestored sections most tourists don’t even know exist.

Rock out

Beijing is the beating heart of China’s burgeoning rock scene. Join the city’s hipsters and rock kids at one of the many gigs on the local circuit. MAO Live House (www.mao-music.com) and Yugong Yishan (www.yugongyishan.com) are two of the best venues to crash if you’re out cool hunting.

Have a Beijing tea party

Fans of a nice cup of cha won’t want to miss Maliandao—the largest tea market in north China. For a more personal experience you should head to Fangjia Hutong, where you’ll find Tranquil Tuesdays (www.tranquiltuesdays.com), a local social enterprise dedicated to China’s tea culture. Its founder, Charlene Wang, personally sources the nation’s best natural leaves for sale. Call ahead for an appointment.

Check out the stunning stunts

China’s acrobats train harder than any others. The results, as seen in many of the shows across town, are guaranteed to elicit oohs and aahs. Take your pick of the bunch although the show at the Chaoyang Theater is the most conveniently located, and has an excellent Japanese whisky bar attached.

Take a look down the lanes

The capital’s ancient alleys are there for all to explore. Walk or cycle, it’s up to you. But for a completely different view of things we recommend booking a tour with Beijing Sideways (www.beijingsideways.com) who will whiz you off to hard-to-find places deep in the hutong network while riding aboard the sidecar of a vintage motorbike.

Hone your haggling skills

It's hard to resist: so much to bargain for in Beijing markets, and so little time! Visit outdoor Panjiayuan (aka the Dirt Market), where some 3,000 vendors sell antiques (both legitimate and otherwise), Cultural Revolution memorabilia, and handicrafts from across China. Looking for knockoffs? The Silk Market is popular with tourists, but local expats prefer Yashow Market, which generally has better prices.

Let the games begin

Basketball is so popular in China that it’s practically the national sport. Cheer on the Beijing Ducks (led to their first title in 2012 by ex-NBA star Stephon Marbury) at their nest in Shijingshan District. It is, however, quite the trek. For an easier sporting fix, go support the soccer team, Beijing Guoan, at the Workers’ Stadium in Sanlitun.

Get suited up

London’s got Savile Row. Beijing’s got top tailoring for a fraction of the dough. Where you go depends on how much cash you want to splash, but you can’t go wrong at Wendy’s (on the third floor of Yashow Market). There’s no way you’ll get made-to-measure shirts of this quality for such a low price back home.

Get cooking

If you dine right (with our help, we hope), you’ll eat so well that you’ll want to take the secrets of these tasty Chinese treats home. Hurry down to The Hutong (www.thehutongkitchen.com) for its packed calendar of cooking classes, which cover everything from making dumplings to creating sizzling Sichuan dishes.

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