Grand Tourismo: Beijing tour itineraries

Beijing tours for shopping, partying, parks, opera and culture

All photography by Chen Chao
New in town? Got friends coming to visit? Or just want to see the city through the eyes of a tourist? We've go everything you need in our Beijing tour itineraries, from high art to scorpions on sticks. See our Beijing travel tips to make your Beijing tour even better!

Beijing tour itinerary one: Shopping and partying

Get off to a swinging start with funky bars, Chinese tea and bargain clothes

Couched amongst hundreds of small tea shops is Maliandao Tea Market (also known as Maliandao Tea City), the largest such market in northern China. Those expecting a traditional scene – sage men with wispy beards selling hand-picked tea leaves in bamboo baskets along a bucolic street – are in for a disappointment. In reality, the market is a sprawling, modern indoor behemoth with myriad traders neatly compartmentalised over three whopping great floors.


Nevertheless, the huge range and competitive prices make it the best place to pick up some of China’s finest brews. With teas from across the country – mostly Oolong (oxidized tea), Pu’er (fermented dark leaves from China’s south-western Yunnan province), and various types of green and flower teas – the scale can be quite daunting. Take a deep breath and dive in – most vendors are happy to let you sample their produce and take you through a traditional Chinese tea ceremony without then trying to aggressively fleece you of your last yuan after the fact.


Prices depend on the tea’s quality, reputation, the current season (prices are highest in spring when the tea is freshly picked) and your bargaining ability. A lot of vendors don’t speak great English – a little Chinese goes a long way (and much improves your bargaining position) here. You can pay anything from 20RMB for a 50 gramme bag of medium-grade tea for a few cuppas up to thousands for the highest grade produce, if that's more your cup of tea.

Your next destination: Take a taxi to the Gongzhufen subway stop (approx 15 mins). Take the Line 1 east to Yonganli Station. Walk for 5 minutes along Dongdaqiao Lu to the market.

Silk Street Market is something of a misnomer. Not only is it a huge indoor complex, rather than a street, it’s alarmingly easy to navigate its six floors and miss its biggest pull – the fine quality silk garments, which are mostly on the third floor. Much of the rest of the market is taken up with counterfeit clothes, traditional objet d’art; and much else besides.


The standard varies between vendors but, on the whole, the quality and price can’t be beaten in Beijing. Browse the inordinately large selection of silk scarves (from 50RMB if your bargaining chops are well-practiced) or pick up a traditional, handmade fan; parasol or a qipao (the traditional, body-hugging Chinese one-piece dress). Several tailors offer a 24-hour turnaround on dresses and suits and all vendors speak English – some speak many more.

Make out like an exquisitely tailored bandit then head up to the fourth floor to accessorize. The whole floor is full of stores selling fresh and saltwater pearls, jade and other precious gems. We recommend the bizarrely named stall ‘David Pearl’ for great prices and quality service – check out their high-quality single-strand pearl necklaces and multi-strand pearl bracelets made to order. The real pull here is the exquisite silks and pearls – the neighbours back home never need know you got your high-end wares as such an inelegant location. We won’t tell if you don’t.

Your next destination: Take a taxi (approx 15 mins) or walk back to Yonganli Subway Station. Go one stop east on Line 1 to Guomao then change to Line 10 and travel three stops north to Tuanjiehu Station. Walk 10 minutes west along Gongti Bei Lu – Yashow will be on your right.

If China is the ‘factory of the world’ then Yashow market is its outlet store: theses seven floors are packed to the rafters with counterfeit clothing and electronics, pirated DVDs, traditional Chinese crafts; pretty much anything you can conceive of – and, of course, the obligatory ‘I heart BJ’ T-shirts.

Located in the Sanlitun, one of the city’s original nightlife hubs and still home to the highest concentration of western restaurants and bars in Beijing, Yashow is very much aimed at tourists. As such, prices usually start out about four times higher than the bottom line; peddlers can be quite aggressive at times – and may even grab hold of you as you start to walk away. But enter with conviction and a thick skin and you’ll come out with bargains galore. There are even ATMs and a couple of currency exchanges inside if you burn through all of your yuan.


Despite some of the less-than-salubrious vendors and occasionally shoddy merchandise, Yahow is also home to some surprisingly top-notch tailors. Our pick is Wendy’s Tailors (on the third floor, turn right from the escalator). Prices are negotiable but even the most timid of bargainers should be able to get a bespoke two-piece wool suit and a couple of fitted shirts for just over a thousand renminbi. It’s not Savile Row but on a cost-to-quality ratio it’s tough to beat.

Prepare for the chorus of ‘hey handsome man/beautiful girl, you wanna buy…?’ to be ringing in your ears for weeks afterwards. Best followed up with a cold shower or a cold beer at one of Sanlitun’s many bars nearby.

Your next destination: Sanlitun’s bars and restaurants are right behind you as you exit the market. To go to the Gulou area, best take a taxi (approx 15 mins).

It's time to party – Beijing style
Beijing’s nightlife gets better every year – regularly playing host to the world’s best DJs as well as fostering its own burgeoning electronic music scene – there are bars and clubs to suit every taste and budget. Follow one of our brief party programmes below or check out the Nightlife section for more on this month’s biggest events Choose to stay in the pulsating pathos of Sanlitun or head west to the more alternative, relaxed scene in the Gulou area; a well-known hipster haunt.

Start your night in style with a perfectly concocted cocktail (mostly 70-80RMB) from candlelit, prohibition-era-loving speakeasy Janes and Hooch and get ready to party like it’s 1929.


Feeling less flush or in the mood for something less affected? Nearby boozer Brussels Restaurant & Bar is a favourite for its range of imported and local craft beers on tap as well as some scrumptious pub grub. Head over to popular bar strip Sanlitun Bei Lu to perennially popular, convivial bar First Floor (1F). Be sure to keep your head down and walk straight past the strip of odious ‘girl bars’ – on your right hand side on Sanlitun Lu – and ignore the hawkers on the street with their incessant ‘hello, sir, you like? Lady bar?’ Get a beer (from 20RMB) and a seat on First Floor’s patio and watch the thronging masses stream by along the street; a central artery in the heart of the city’s nightlife scene.


Finally, head upstairs to the Migas terrace for premium cocktails and a well-chosen blend of mostly house music and nu-disco. Sip on a fabulous ginger mojito (55RMB) and watch the posers do their thing or fix your gaze further afar; at China’s capital city lit up around you.

Start at Great Leap Brewery – the hutong taproom of Beijing’s first foreign-owned micro-brewery. Be warned: it requires a ‘great leap’ of faith to find this place amongst the windy hutongs – best take a map.


Still, its courtyard terrace is the perfect spot for a summer sup from their ever-changing menu of delectable small-batch brews (around 25-50RMB). Next head to the Drum and Bell Bar; a rooftop terrace between the imposing, iconic Drum and Bell towers – Beijing’s timekeepers for hundreds of years – and admire these mighty, centuries-old structures. Watching the area’s elderly residents ballroom dancing at dusk over a beer (Tsingdao 20RMB) in the public quad below is an absolute joy – a humble slice of ‘real Beijing’.

Next up is Temple Bar a vibrant live-music venue with – yep, you guessed it – yet another breathtaking terrace. Line-ups and schedules change – the stage plays host to everything from hip-hop to post-rock – but the electrifying atmosphere and music-loving, energetic crowd always remains the same. End the night at Dada; the club at the forefront of Beijing’s underground electronic music scene.


Just downstairs from Temple Bar, the club’s stripped down, interior; so-hip-it-hurts regulars and cutting edge Intelligent Dance Music – think bass music, credible dub-step, trip-hop, d ’n’ b, psytrance; you name it – is the place to dance the night away to alt-sounds.
Beijing tour itinerary two: Park life and Peking opera
Get a taste of the local culture - past and present - and splash down in an Olympic pool

If you’re worn out from the stampeding hoards at the more popular historical sites, reprieve awaits at Tuanjiehe.  A public park, there is perhaps no better place to go to experience the life of a local. 


At dusk (or dawn) you’ll find, dotted in concrete courtyards and beneath willow trees, groups of ‘ordinary folk’ congregating in the hundreds.  Elderly men and women practice tai chi; ordinarily timid office workers jump up and down to vigorous aerobics routines; and amorous couples stare longingly at each other while lilting to the Viennese Waltz.  Participation is free.  

Elsewhere, old comrades bellow out communist, red songs under dimly-lit rotundas; university students feed docile carp from a stone bridge running over a lake and children float around on peddle boats (60RMB per hour; 100RMB deposit) while their parents watch on.  


There is even a roller skating rink (5RMB entrance, 10RMB skate rental) illuminated by fairy lights. The park is a perfect exemplar of a typically close-knit local community.

Your next destination: Take a taxi to the Olympic Park. It should take around 25 minutes.

The dust may have long since settled on the historic 2008 Beijing Olympics but the Olympic Park site has remained relatively unchanged since – a shrine to China’s grand debutante ball on the world stage.

Beijing Olympic Park (北京奥林匹克公园)

The iconic Birds Nest stadium is open to tourists (50RMB) – you can even walk on the hallowed track on which Usain Bolt made history – and the National Aquatics Centre (Water Cube) is now a water park. 

Happy Magic Water Cube

Indeed, the site of Phelps’ feats is now full of splashtastic slides, rides, a wave machine and all the usual refinements (200RMB; 160RMB for children under 1.5m) – genuinely good family fun and a nice day-long break from the sightseeing. If you can, return in the early evening when both structures are lit-up and at their most spectacular. 

Water Cube: social media mood art installation

The nearby Olympic Forest Park (a 30-minute walk or one stop north on subway line eight) is a verdant expanse centered around a large, shimmering lake. Winding pathways, grassy knolls and a commanding vista of the surrounding mountains make this a perfect picnic spot. 

 Your next destination: The subway is definitely the quickest way all the way south, through the city, to the Temple of Heaven. Take Line 8 from Olympic Green Station to Gulou Dajie Station. Transfer to Line 2 and head east to Yonghegong station. Finally, transfer to Line 5 and head south eight stops to Tiantan Dongmen.

Immersed in history, the Temple of Heaven is a masterpiece.  This 600-year old landmark symbolizes the greatness of Chinese civilization during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties and was justly recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That a temple of great cultural significance is situated in such a charming park is an added bonus and ensures that a day at the Temple of Heaven is a must-do on any tourist itinerary.


In the surrounding park you’ll see a fair amount of local colour; middle-aged women dancing to Chinese folk music; their husbands squatting on the street, staring at a Chinese chess board though a cloud of cigarette smoke; people of all generations enjoying the great outdoors together. 

From the East Gate entrance a spacious and lavishly tree-lined boulevard leads straight ahead, directly to the three-tier round stone terrace which encompasses the ancient temple. On a clear day the terrace commands a magnificent 360 degree view.  Sadly you can’t enter the vast hall but you can peer up from here and marvel at its majesty.  


Snakes and dragons – traditionally mythical Chinese animals – are carved into the temple with staggering detail in an array of vivacious colours. It’s no hyperbole to say: the building’s splendour is almost breathtaking.   

Your next destination: Taxi will be quickest to either theatre. The taxi to Li Yuan is around 25 minutes; Imperial Granary is nearer – around 10 minutes.

A night at the (Peking) opera 
Peking opera is an acquired taste, but a night spent appreciating this centuries old art form is a quintessential part of any Beijing experience. Of the myriad local varieties and sub-varieties, Kunqu and Jingju are perhaps the most popular. 

A bluffer's guide to Peking opera

The refined, 400-year old Kunqu hails from Jiangsu province, setting epic stories in magnificent gardens. Beijing visitors can catch Peony Pavilion, about a woman who falls in love with a dream and dies of a broken heart; later, her fantasy man sees her portrait and his love brings her back to life. Directed by international theatre master Lin Zhaohua, this version cuts the original from nine hours to one, takes place at the 800-year old Imperial Granary (Fridays and Saturdays; 380-1,980RMB) and has solid performers. 

Peking opera

The infinitely more popular Jingju – what is now typically recognized as ‘Beijing opera’ – began over a century ago when an Anhui opera troupe performed for Qing Dynasty Dowager Empress Cixi and never went home. Jingju focuses on acrobatics and martial arts – these days many shows are combat-heavy highlight packages. 

Your best bet is Li Yuan Theatre (daily performances; tickets 200-580RMB) for sharp, clever vignettes with English subtitles; come early and see the actors making themselves up. Chances are you won’t be leaving with any Jingju CDs, but this fantastic, unique storytelling should not be missed.  
Beijing tour itinerary three: Cultural Beijing
See emperors' homes, Mao's mausoleum, awesome antiques and gruesome snacks

The great man’s remains lie in the prosaically named Mao’s Mausoleum where, each day, peasants in their thousands make the pilgrimage from all over the country.  You join the rabble, and after toiling in line for what feels like days, you might, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the revolutionary’s embalmed body, before being unceremoniously shuffled out by an irascible guard.  


You go to witness the baffling contradictions of this country: to know that you are in an authoritarian state, to understand that though the man is dead, his influence lives on. You go to stand in line with the pilgrims: working men with their bodies gnarled from their earnest labour in the sun; young, urbane women shielding their more delicate dispositions with parasols; children tugging impatiently at their mother’s skirts, nagging them to buy white flowers (10RMB) to place on the casket. 


Here, a peasant looks as if he wants to spit on Mao’s casket, but perhaps it’s just his inconsolable anger that so great a man had to die.  Here, two wealthy businessmen, bow reverentially at the foot of Mao’s statue – the irony lost on them. Mao’s benevolent face does adorn each and every banknote, after all. 

Your next destination: Walk! You should be able to see the entrance to the Forbidden City from the mausoleum.

The Forbidden City is a permanent fixture on any Beijing bucket list. Yes it’s busy (go on a weekday if you can) and yes it’s huge, daunting and difficult to navigate (Forbidden City is no misnomer; purportedly 980 buildings over 1.5 square kilometres) but it’s also China’s largest and best-preserved site of historic buildings. It is, absolutely, worth the headache and sore feet. 


Enter under the portrait, and Mao’s watchful eye, into the first of many concourses. From here you can go up to the balcony of The Meridian Gate – the historical setting overlooking Tiananmen Square from which Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of The People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949 – now China’s National Day. The view alone is worth the extra cost and hassle (15RMB; you must first check any bags before going through a thorough security). 


Alternatively, walk straight, through another tunnel to another concourse, where you can buy you tickets to the Forbidden City proper (60RMB; automatically activated audio guides available in 35 languages for 40RMB, no deposit required). How long you spend here depends on your level of interest: you can saunter through and soak it up in a couple of hours or make several day-long return trips and still not cover all of the myriad halls, galleries and gardens (some of which – such as the Treasure Gallery – require an additional fee; most are around 10RMB).

Just make sure you go through the imposing Hall of Supreme Harmony, the 600-year old structure is the largest in the complex as well as one of the most ceremonially important. Look out for the imposing Dragon Throne – enough to make an emperor of any man. 


As you leave cross the road (using the pedestrian underpass) and enter Jingshan Park (6.30am-9pm; 2RMB). Climb the hill to the pavilion at the top – affording a spectacular bird’s eye view of the majestic maze you've just trawled through.

Your next destination: You could walk it in under forty minutes. Alternatively, walk back to Tiananmen Square and take the subway – Wangfujing is one stop east of Tiananmen East Station.

Wangfujing Snack Street 
Much like London’s Oxford Street or New York’s Fifth Avenue, Wangfujing Street holds a strong pull for Beijing visitors without having any discernable qualities aside from plenty of luxury brand shops – and the largest Apple store in Asia. The street was one of Beijing’s first major shopping streets after former-leader Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 1980s and has remained an inexplicable stalwart since.     


Still, it’s infamous Snack Street is worth a visit on its own merit – a real treat for the eyes, ears and taste buds. Walk under the colourful archway at the south end of Wangfujing Jie to find a 200 metre, lantern-lined stretch of stalls selling some jaw-droppingly odd edibles. Here you’ll find still-alive-and-crawling scorpions on skewers (25RMB), snakes (thankfully dead) on skewers, starfish, seahorses, cicadas, cocoons and myriad molluscs and crustaceans; all on skewers. But these are mostly for the benefit of the adventurous out-of-towners. 


You’ll find most locals chomping down on less exotic, infinitely tastier nosh; fried or steamed dumplings, spring rolls (8RMB) or candied fruit on sticks (10RMB).  Hawthorn berries, a crisp, tart local fruit, dipped in sugar much like a candy apple are a particular local favourite. Oh, and that rotten stench that pervades the strip is chou doufu – or ‘stinky tofu’ – a pungent dish of fermented bean curd that tastes a lot better than it smells. Think of it as the Chinese equivalent of blue cheese and tuck in! 


Your next destination: Head four stops east on Line 1 from Wangfujing Station to Guomao Station.  Transfer to Line 10 and head three stops south to Panjiayuan Station.

This outdoor flea market is a real Aladdin’s cave of antiques, art and beautiful ethnic jewelry and crafts from China’s many minority groups – mostly hailing from the country’s western provinces. 


 Eventually you'll come across rows and rows of merchants with their handmade crafts – passed down family lines for generations – laid out on blankets on the floor. Vibrantly-coloured, embroidered cloths and tapestries (large blankets from 200RMB) arrest the senses, as do the hand-hammered, ornate silver head pieces from Guizhou province’s Yao ethnic minority (from 50RMB), which jangle and dazzle brilliantly in the afternoon sunlight. 


As for antiques, there’s a smattering of the usual Cultural Revolution memorabilia as well as antique porcelain, furniture and various artifacts. Chipped ancient fragments of pottery are sold next to bronze statues of Chairman Mao, next to stalls selling antique grandfather clocks and gramophones from the days of the Republic of China (1912-1949):  a real hodgepodge collection, handpicked from thousands of years of a tumultuous history.

This is one of the more ‘authentic’ market experiences you’ll get in Beijing. Unfortunately this also means you may encounter a few shady characters – keep your valuables close.   Getting between the two:  A taxi (around 20 minutes) is probably quickest to Gui Jie.

Your next destination: A taxi (around 20 minutes) is probably quickest to Gui Jie.

Gui Jie only awakes about an hour before sunset, when it becomes one of Beijing’s most photogenic streets. Around then, the thousands of red lanterns lining the street light up, the sidewalks swell with crowds and wafts of spice fill the air. The road is actually called Dongzhimen Nei but is known locally as Gui Jie or ‘Ghost Street’. 


Over a hundred restaurants offer a colourful range of Chinese cuisine from Peking Duck to Sichuanese hot pot (a boiling pot of spicy broth in which you cook your own meat and vegetables), and stay open all night for good-time, drunken eats. 

Some establishments are a little kitsch: popular Hua’s Restaurant (花家怡园四合院店) feels like eating in a circus tent due to its acrobatic shows and fish ponds, and the tucked-away Yingxiong Shanzhuang (英雄山庄) takes its kung fu gimmick pretty seriously. Best for a little of everything might be the buzzing Xiaoyushan (小渔山), which offers a wide geographic range of Chinese gastronomy and even pour their own micro-brews. 


But wherever you go, you’re in for an authentic taste of China along Gui Jie. 
Please, sir, can we have some more?

Are you mad for museums? At sixes and sevens over the 798 art district? If you know what you likes and likes what you knows. let us help you find more great things to see and do in this sprawling city we call home

if you like...
Originally established as a makeshift artistic community by Beijing’s avant garde set in the late ’90s, the 798 Art District is now a thriving creative area made up of decommissioned military factories repurposed as spacious, well-lit modern art galleries, design spaces and trendy cafes. Built by an East German consortium in the 1950s, the factories are big, Bauhaus-influenced structures that make for a variegated backdrop for a stroll away from Beijing’s bustling traffic – the area is mostly free of traffic aside from the odd taxi. 


Now state-sanctioned and, some would say, overly commercialised, the area boasts China’s highest concentration of commercial contemporary art galleries and the city’s fledgling, unfunded artists have long since been pushed further out of the city in search of cheaper rent (see Caochangdi, below).  

Be sure to check out the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) – arguably China’s most established and internationally credible modern art gallery – founded by the prominent art collectors of the same name. Hurry to catch the last two weeks of their Duchamp exhibition, including his ‘Box in a Valise’ piece, until Sunday June 16. 


 But the real joy comes from strolling around and popping into unknown, smaller galleries (most are free and open 10am-6pm Tue-Sun); interacting with public art dotted around the area and sitting outside one of the many hip cafes or restaurants, watching the city’s artists parade past.

Caochandi was once a hunting ground for the Imperial Court before being transformed into a farming plot during the Cultural Revolution. Lying languorously on the outskirts of the city, this drowsy little village now boasts almost as many galleries as the nearby 798, but retains a distinctly agrarian charm.  


 In the spirit of the artsy region, let us paint you a picture: in the labyrinthine dirt streets, unkempt labourers mingle with equally disheveled looking artists and peddlers sell seasonal fruits and vegetables. Some of the buildings look as if they’ve been made from mud-brick, and there is a barbershop storefront that has been painted bright pink. Occasionally, you can even spot a mule begrudgingly dragging along its load.  


Artist/dissident Ai Wei Wei’s studio is here, as is the new National Film Museum. And with foreign capital pouring into galleries like Pekin Fine Arts and the Galerie-Urs-Meile, who knows how much longer this pastoral way of life will last. Check it out while you still can. 

Red Gate Gallery was Beijing’s first private modern art gallery when it was founded in 1991, but that’s nothing compared to the heritage of its structure. Situated in a watch tower – part of the original Ming dynasty city wall – the gallery is a true work of art in itself. 


Climb up creaking, rickety wooden stairs; duck under the odd low-lying beam and take it all in. As well as the contemporary art installations – one on the ground floor and one on the third; the second floor is a permanent exhibition on the history of the wall – the view from the narrow windows (made just wide enough for an archer’s bow) is almost as engaging as the art. 


Exhibitions change every month or so but previous exhibitions have brought some of China’s brightest new stars to the fore; representing people such as oil painters Su Xinping, Huang Yan, performance artist Sheng Qi and photographer Zhou Jun.   

If you like… 
If you need a soothing respite from the sun-scorched commotion of Tiananmen Square, look no further than Beijing’s newly renovated National Museum, which spreads out impressively along the square’s east side. While its scale might seem daunting – at 198,000 square metres, it’s the world’s largest museum – it is surprisingly manageable, with around 20 open galleries that are perfectly doable in a single afternoon. 


Here you’ll find plenty of the country’s most exquisite cultural artifacts, ranging from ancient currency and pottery, to the works of contemporary painters, all set in a tasteful modern interior. Highlights include the Ancient China section; with a luminous collection of Chinese jade, and the second central hall; where you’ll find ancient bronze art and stunning Buddhist sculptures (most are accompanied by informative English text). 

Bring some extra cash if you want to visit some of the international galleries, one of which currently features works from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Best of all, the museum is free; but you’ll need your passport as identification.  

The modern and spacious Beijing Capital Museum compresses three millennia of local history in five mesmerising floors. The focus here is on Beijing as a vivacious city rather than a stuffy bureaucratic capital, starting with a chronological history. Poke through the first floor, a well-curated timeline weaving Beijing’s tale from ancient ceremonial vessels to revolutionary newspapers. Everything is from around here, too: many of the older artefacts even list where they were dug up (Chinese only).  


Walk upstairs for lavish collections of calligraphy, porcelain, jade and Buddhist statues as well as an exhibition of Peking opera relics arranged around a mock stage. Probably the most fascinating section is the reproduction of Beijing’s traditional folk culture, which smartly recreates pre-communist everyday life from baby’s birthdays to New Year celebrations using original everyday artefacts. 


With old-style arched doorways demarcating the exhibits, walking around the narrow corridors feels like navigating the old hutongs – many of which still exist only a few subway stops away. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance (; 6337 0491).   

If you like… 
The Summer Palace is a royal way to escape the Beijing heat – it is, after all, the largest garden in China. Originally commissioned on a centuries-old reservoir by the Qianlong Emperor in 1749 and destroyed during the Second Opium War, the current arrangement was restored to accommodate (and, some historians say, isolate) the testy Empress Dowager Cixi by the Guangxu Emperor in 1886.  


She lived in some fancy digs: the park is one of the finest examples of imperial Chinese garden design, an aesthetic masterpiece seamlessly blending the natural and the artificial. Bring an extra memory card for your camera: the park is a complex of temples, waterside pavilions, colourful corridors and arched bridges that harmoniously meld with rolling hills and the reflective Kunming Lake, each of which has its own story and picturesque background. 


Centrally located is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, a stunning tower overlooking the lake, which connects to the Long Corridor and the 10,000 paintings on its walls and ceilings. Further on is the notorious Stone Boat, a marble boat built by Cixi using funds intended for the Chinese navy. A full stroll around the park might take half a day, but this verdant escape is worth it.    

Meeting members of the Taoist pantheon is not something you'd expect to be able to do in such close proximity to a Walmart. But directly opposite shoppers enjoying 'everyday low prices' you'll find Dongyue Temple; a Taoist holy place which houses room upon room of ghoulish statues representing different departments of the afterlife. 


Live a less than virtuous existence and you might have a run-in with the Department for Implementing 15 Kinds of Violent Death. Need a god, but just for your door? Call the Door God Department. Never get lost in the afterlife again thanks to the Escorting Department, helmed by amulet-wearing children. 


Aside from the fascinating departments, the temple itself has a great deal of history. Construction begun in the 13th century by Grand Taoist master Zhang Daoling and was completed in the 14th by Zhang’s disciple, Wu Quanjie. Dongyue Temple is dedicated to the God of Mount Tai, one of the sacred mountains of Taoism, and is the largest Taoist temple of its kind in Northern China.   

Located in the Muslim district in the west of the city is Niujie Mosque; an ancient house of worship built by the first Arabic scholars to find the city via the ancient Silk Road in 996AD, during the Liao dynasty. 


The mosque – a series of worship halls, classrooms and living quarters frequented by the city’s Hui Muslims – is the city’s oldest and largest. Superficially, the place looks like any of the myriad temples or imperial palaces in Beijing: laid out in a courtyard style with clay-red eaves, black slate awnings, multicoloured arches; its minaret looks more like a Buddhist pavilion. But peek inside the Hall of Worship (non-believers are forbidden from entering this particular room) to find an interior that could be a mosque anywhere in the world: a carpeted room with Arabic designs painted on its beams and prayer mats facing Mecca. 


Completely incongruous and a true Beijing original, the mosque is a reminder of the city’s rich and varied history. Dress appropriately when you visit; no shorts, skirts or bare shoulders. Try to avoid visiting on a Friday – Islam’s holy day – when it will be at its busiest. 
  • 4 out of 5 stars