Beijing axis route: Tiananmen to Bird's Nest

Ogle the capital's big ticket items on one convenient ride

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You can tick of some of the biggest names on your Beijing bucket list in one fell two-wheeled swoop, riding along the city's historic central axis.

Around 16km
Bike time One-and-a half to two hours
Difficulty Hard – this is a long route and in places you’ll have to keep your eye out for traffic.
Highlights Forbidden City, The Egg, Drum and Bell Towers, Water Cube and Bird’s Nest

Beijing’s most iconic sights are rather conveniently laid out along one central north-south axis, making for an equally iconic ride. It’s most spectacular at night, when the architectural wonders are at their lit-up best. But you’ll have to set off no later than sunset (around 6-6.45pm in September) to reach the Bird’s Nest before 10pm, when its gates close.

Start at the south entrance of the Forbidden City. Observe Tiananmen Square to your south and the 1 giant portrait of Chairman Mao on the Gate of Heavenly Peace to your north. Cycle west along Changan Jie until you come to an enormous red arch on your right that marks Nanchang Jie’s entrance. To your left, in the mid-distance, you’ll see the 2 National Centre for the Performing Arts, otherwise known as 'The Egg' because of its oval shape, which looks like a gargantuan spaceship against the night sky. Head north up Nanchang Jie, right to the end of the Forbidden City, then turn right onto Jingshanqian Jie. heading east. On your right, you’ll see the back of 3 the Forbidden City reflected into its moat and people ballroom-dancing by the North Gate.

At the end of the road, continue on to Wusi Dajie until you get to the crossing with Beiheyan Dajie at the traffic lights. It runs alongside a long, thin park. Turn left into the road and, as you head north, you will be serenaded by music emanating from groups dancing there.

At the T-junction with the main road, turn left onto Di’anmen Dong Dajie, then, 750m later, turn right onto Di’anmenwai Dajie. You will see the dark silhouette of the 4 Drum Tower at the end of the road; cycle towards it. You might want to stop off at one of the bars or restaurants in the square between the Drum and Bell Towers. Back at the Drum Tower, you’ll see that Di’anmenwai forks around it. Take the road to the left, then the first right into Jiugulou Dajie. Head north, crossing under the Second Ring Road and over a canal. Head north along Jiugulouwai Dajie, turning right onto Andeli Bei Jie, then left onto Gulouwai Dajie. Marvel at how the buildings segue from hutong homes into monoliths; you are now leaving the old city centre. Cross the Third Ring Road and continue north on Beichen Lu. After Beitucheng Subway station, you’ll spot the strange towers of the 5 Chinese Ethnic Cultural Park.


At the end of Beichen Lu, 6 the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube (glowing an eerie blue) come into view. Turn left at the Fourth Ring Road, head west, and cross over on the first sky bridge on your right. After crossing, turn right into Beichen Xi Lu; a path on your right leads towards the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest. On the east side of the Bird’s Nest is a canal; head north along its west bank, crossing several roads, until you reach Kehui Lu. Turning left, you’ll spot the 7 Olympic Forest Park’s south entrance. This is the end point of our journey. Local cycling enthusiasts ride circuits around this area every Tuesday and Thursday evening from about 8-10pm. You may not have gear (or gears) as fancy as theirs, but you can feel smug knowing you’ve conquered Beijing’s Central Axis.

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