Things to do in Beijing for 50RMB or less: culture

Soak up the best culture in Beijing, without the price tag

NCPA by Max Pixel
It’s a week more until payday and that horrible practice of coughing up three months of rent at a time is fast approaching. You want to get out and see some of Beijing, but you're running low on cash. We’ve got your back. Here’s a huge heap of cultural things to do – all for 50RMB or less.

Peep some top-tier art

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art

At 10RMB, it’s not like the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art is a rip-off normally, but ‘free’ is our favourite price most of all – and that’s the cost of entry every Thursday. Or just be a student or senior (with ID it’s always zilch to get in). The UCCA regularly presents some of the city’s best and biggest-name exhibitions, including more mainstream shows like the Dior retrospective earlier this year. On free Thursdays, complimentary guided art walks are offered every hour.

Get up close and personal with a modern feat of architecture

Tickets to an opera or ballet might be well over your pauper’s budget, but you can still enjoy one of Beijing’s most iconic modern buildings for only 30RMB. The National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) is a show-stopping piece of architecture from street view, but inside it’s even more stunning. The entry ticket allows you to wander throughout the halls and levels of the centre, as well as check out bilingual exhibitions about the NCPA’s construction and performances. Tours of the space are offered with admission, however expect only Chinese to be spoken. Spend an afternoon here; it’s stunning (and also perfect for that artful selfie).

Treat your ears

If you want a terrific classical performance on the cheap, Time Out Beijing’s very own Sunday Salon can give you just that. Not to toot our own horn too loudly, but if we’re talking about bargain cultural experiences, this monthly series offers one of the best deals in town. Hosted at The Bookworm, the programming has seen some of China’s best talent, like Ning Feng and Chen Sa, playing for an intimate audience for a mere 40RMB (with the current issue of Time Out).

Learn ALL of the history

Well, maybe not all of it, but you can try. Museums in Beijing are, for the most part, free or charge a nominal fee. Sure, we’d take a pass on a lot of them (The Museum of Tap Water sounds great for kitsch and ironic value. We went once. It’s not). But there are some real gems, too. The four-storey Urban Planning Exhibition Centre (40RMB entry) near Qianmen has an impressive scale model of the whole city. Great for Godzilla role-play. Whether you’re only in town for a few days’ visit or a long-term resident, it’s a don’t-miss.

Wander the hutong gallery scene

Art walk: hutongs

You might have Caochangdi and 798 Art District on heavy repeat for a standard good day out of gallery hopping. That’s all well and fine, but seriously consider throwing the hutongs and their burgeoning art scene into the mix. Lots of small, independent galleries, including Aotu Studio, Intelligentsia Gallery and Institute for Provocation, have sprung up. Several of these spaces are configured to give 24/7 curb-side views of the exhibitions – like LAB47 – while many, such as I: project space, are open by appointment only or for performance-based exhibitions. But the one common thing? There’s no coughing up cash for a ticket. Call ahead to book an afternoon of appointments, then that’s your ultra-cultured, romantic date cycling around the hutongs sorted.
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