Beijing by bicycle: five fantastic routes

Explore Beijing's beauty on just two wheels with these bike routes

Wu Qian
From artistic parks to hutong hideaways and the city's historic backbone, we reveal five fantastic ways to explore the city on just two wheels. Be sure to view the larger maps (see links below each map) for a detailed view of each bike route.

Need a set of wheels? Check out these six sweet bikes, available at bike shops around Beijing.

Universities: Tsinghua to Beida
Around 10km
Bike time One hour
Difficulty Easy
Highlights Tsinghua’s lotus-filled lake and Beida’s iconic pagoda

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Whether you’re a new student or just love wide open spaces and gorgeous greenery, you’ll get a kick out of this picturesque route, which passes through the Haidian universities’ pretty gardens.

Start at The Bridge Café 1, a Wudaokou fave. Get here from 4am-8am to enjoy 20 percent off a big breakfast combo (from 32RMB). Outside, turn left, head to the end of the road and then left again onto Chengfu Lu. Head west until Zhongguancun Dong Lu, then turn right. Continue until you hit Tsinghua University’s main entrance.

About 500m ahead you’ll see the main university building, a monolith with art-deco columns. Cycle towards it on the slab path next to the green lawn. When you get to the building, turn left onto Tsinghua Lu (note the old-school spelling; some maps say Qinghua Lu). Go past the odd, inverted cone-shaped University Theatre, before turning right on to Xuetang Lu. After crossing Zhishan Lu, you’ll spot Bike Doctor Hu 2 (useful if your trusty steed needs a bit of tuning) on your right.

Turn right when you get onto Zijing Lu and head east, past basketball courts and an outdoor gym, where the college studs flex their stuff, until you reach, on the left, the Sculpture Park with its giant stone head 3 and other statues, before retracing your steps along Zijing Lu. Follow the road west until you can go no further, then go right, taking the first left to cross the bridge over the small canal. Follow the thin path southwards along the willow-lined canal’s west bank. When you hit the first real road (Zhishan Lu), turn right. Keep heading west, past sports grounds and the ivy-clad, red-brick Science Building. Turn left onto Jinchun Lu and head south, passing the Astro-Physics Tower 4. After crossing the canal again, admire the lotus-filled Jinchun Lake 5 on the left.

Hop back on and continue, turning right onto Tsinghua Lu, continuing westwards until you get to the University's West Gate. Turn left, then branch left onto Qinghua Nanlu , where you'll find multiple options for a tasty hot pot lunch 6. At the road’s end, turn right onto Chengfu Lu and continue straight, crossing over Zhongguancun Bei Dajie until you get to the East Gate of Beida (also known as Peking University).

Enter and keep going west. Ahead, you will see the library, a five-storey building with a traditional grey-tiled roof. About 100m before you reach it, just as you approach two smaller buildings, turn right. Carry on northwards along Weiming Bei Lu until you see the Boya Pagoda 7 on your right. Built as a water tower in 1924, this 13-tier structure is the symbol of Peking University. When the road forks, take the left-hand path around the northern shore of Weiming Lake 8 until it becomes a road again. On your right you’ll pass two huge, siheyuan-style three-sided buildings with red columns and blue-green roof beams. After the first road on the right, you’ll spot a sign for the Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology 9 (entrance is free; passport required), which is well worth a look for its Bronze- and Stone-Age tools.

Continue west on the road where you spotted the sign. Bearing to the left, you enter a giant courtyard with two stone columns. Continue west, crossing over the large goldfish pond, to the West Gate of Beida on Yiheyuan Lu. If you have the energy, you can cycle north and turn right at the T-junction onto Qinghua Xi Lu, where you’ll find Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace 10.

Art & Embassies: Sanlitun to Caochangdi
Around 10.5km
Bike Time One hour
Difficulty Easy
Highlights Odd embassy buildings plus the 798 and Caochangdi art districts

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This ride is one for the culture vultures among you. Start at the crossroads of Dongzhimenwai Dajie and Sanlitun Lu, and head north along the latter. You may want to pick up a posh picnic 1 from the Friendship Store (building 7, on the left-hand side), which has imported wine and food. On the right are the pastel-blue embassies 2 of Argentina and Somalia, then the Islamic arches of the Iranian embassy. At the end, turn right onto Liangmahe Nan Lu, riding east along the canal. Cross under the Third Ring Road and continue east along Maizidian Xi Jie, then turn left onto Maizidian Jie.

At the crossroads with Liangmaqiao Lu, continue north, up Tianze Lu. You’ll pass the modernist French Embassy 3, the golfball-like Israeli Embassy 4 , the domed Indian Embassy and the bunker-like American Embassy. Follow the road round to the left, then, at the crossroads, turn right onto Xiaoyun Lu. Continue for 1km then cross under the Fourth Ring Road onto Fangyuan Xi Lu. Continue for 2km until you can go no further, then turn left onto Jiuxianqiao Lu.

On your right you will spot a long graffiti wall 5 and, further along, the entrance to 798 marked out in big red numbers 6. Turn right into 798 Lu. Park your bike and take in a gallery or two, or continue straight, passing outdoor sculptures and installations and the UCCA’s entrance, until you get to a patch of grass on the right – a great picnic spot 7. Just before you get there, on the left, is 798 Dong Jie. To continue the ride head up here. At the end is a T-junction with 797 Lu. On the south-west side of that is a not-to-be missed installation 8: ‘Human’ by Zhang Zhaohui. He has placed what looks like a pair of human-sized cookie cutters on the wall. Jump in and take a pic (then send it to the email written next to it).

Turn back and continue heading east along 797 Lu, passing through the industrial landscape of D-Park. Take the last left before the car park at the end of the road. On your right you will pass the Grace Hotel, which serves a brilliant five-course Sunday brunch 9 between 11.30am and 3pm (298RMB per person, not including drinks).

Turn right onto Jiuxianqiao Bei Lu and ride 1km east. After crossing over the railway bridge and Fifth Ring Road, turn left onto an unnamed road. Take the next left and keep north, curving around, until you come to the green-and-red entrance post to Caochangdi 10. Head left here until you cross under another railway bridge. On your right you’ll see the sea-green door to Ai Weiwei’s gated studio 11, marked FAKE 258. Caochangdi’s galleries are divided into two areas: north (where the Three Shadows photo gallery 12 is a highlight; see Art listings) and south of Nangao Lu. Finish up with wine on the lawn 13 outside Wine Talk (6433 3033; open until 9.30pm). To get there, head west up the road with FAKE 258 on it until you see the blue-and-white Wine Talk sign.

Beijing Axis: Tiananmen to Bird's Nest
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
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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 giant portrait of Chairman Mao 1 on the Meridian Gate 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 National Centre for the Performing Arts, otherwise known as The Egg 2 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 the Forbidden City 3 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 Drum Tower 4 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, on your left, the strange towers of the Chinese Ethnic Cultural Park 5.

At the end of Beichen Lu, the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube 6 (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 Olympic Forest Park’s 7 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.

If cycling back afterwards sounds too much, consider the special Beijing Axis Tour, hosted by Time Out and Cycle China, on Saturday 15 and Thursday 20. We’ll provide the bikes (and signal lights to keep you safe), so you can enjoy the sights, then make your own way home without pedalling.

Hutongs: Dongsi to Confucius Temple
Around 10.5km
Bike time One hour
Difficulty Moderate – keep your eye out for hard-to-spot signs and the traffic around Houhai.
Highlights Old Beijing buildings and hutongs.

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By day, this route gives a gorgeous snapshot of Old Beijing. But don’t try it at night, when signs are hard to spot, alleys badly lit and Houhai is teeming with revellers.

Begin at the east entrance of Dongsiwu Tiao, one of Beijing’s most charming alleys. Head west, noting the beam ends above the doorways of the traditional siheyuan buildings 1. In the past, the greater the number of beams, the more important the resident.

Follow it right, then left, and continue west until you hit the main road (Dongsi Bei Dajie). Go down Yuqun Hutong opposite, passing an out-of-place Grecian-style building 2 (actually the back of a Best Western Hotel) on your left. At the end of the road, turn right onto Dafosi Dong Jie. Where the road forks, you’ll find cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurants 3. Take the left fork, then turn right onto Meishuguan Hou Jie. At the crossroads, turn left into Di’anmen Dong Dajie, cross to the north side and head west.

Turn right through the gateway that heralds Nanluoguxiang (you’ll have to go around a subway stop construction site at the southern entrance) and head north. Next, take the fourth left into Maoer Hutong. Ride to the end, passing Tibetan prayer flags and cute cafés, until you meet the main road (Di’anmenwai Dajie). Cross over to Qianhai Lake. Head left (south) along the bank of the lake until you hit the entrance on Di’anmen Xi Dajie. Head right and turn right onto Qianhai Xijie. At the T-junction, turn left and, on your right, you’ll see the entrance to Prince Gong’s Mansion 4. Follow the road around to the right, where it becomes Liuyin Jie. You’ll see why it’s called Willow Shade Street in Chinese: giant willow trees provide a much-needed canopy. On your left, you should be able to spot the white bust memorialising Yuan Mantun 5, a soldier who died saving two people from drowning under the ice in Houhai in 1984.

At the end of the road, turn left onto Yangfang Hutong. You’ll reach the main road (Deshengmen Nei Dajie) 400m later. Turn right and cross over the canal that feeds Houhai Lake 6, then take the footpath on the right. Turn left at the end and follow the path for 1.5km clockwise around Houhai until you get to Yinding Bridge 7. Turn left here, then take the first right into Yandaixie Hutong, a small street with knick-knack shops. At the end, turn left and ride up Di’anmenwai Dajie to the Drum and Bell Towers 8.

Behind them, to the north, you’ll find a square where impromptu open-air barber sessions often take place. At the end, turn right onto Doufuchi Hutong. Head east 1.5km until you hit Andingmennei Dajie. Cross over, head north and turn right into Guozijian Jie, the historic street that’s home to the Imperial College, Confucius Temple 9, fortune-telling shops and the Confucian Teahouse (opposite the temple) where tea ceremonies 10 are given in English and you can enjoy a well-earned cuppa. Don’t fancy getting lost in the hutongs? Tour company Chihaner runs a longer, guided variation of this ride (with even more interesting back lanes) three times a week.

Tongzhou Canal: East bank to west bank
Around 16.5km
Bike time One-and-a-half to two hours
Difficulty Moderate – the distance is long but it’s a simple, flat route and you’ll hardly have to look at your map.
Highlights Car-free riding and great views of the Grand Canal

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Using completely vehicle-free bike paths for most of the route, this ride is perfect for a family day out with the children – or for anyone who’s had enough of Beijing’s traffic. But be sure to pack a picnic and lots of water, as there’s little chance to pick up supplies en route.

Ambitious riders can cycle from Beijing’s centre to the start of this route. But be warned: it’s at least a 25km trek from the East Third Ring Road – and that’s just one way. If your legs are up to the challenge, but your bike isn’t, consider hiring a top-end road bike from Serk. If you don’t fancy yourself the next Bradley Wiggins, drive out to the start or hire a mini-van to take you and your bike there. We recommend Mr Jack (136 5137 4172), who charges from 400RMB for the return journey and waiting time.

The starting point is on the east bank of the Grand Canal, on the east side of the bridge where Yunhe Xi Dajie becomes Tonghu Nan Lu. On the south side of the road, right where the bridge meets the land, you will find a dirt track that leads into the Grand Canal Ecological Park 1. Head southwards, following the curves of the canal. You’ll pass bushes plump with fuchsia flowers and continue along a raised wooden-plank walkway, which cuts through wetland with reeds.

When you get to the end of the park, you’ll have to briefly continue on the side of the main road (Beiyunhexindi Lu), crossing underneath two large road bridges (the second one is the Sixth Ring Road). At the first opportunity, turn right and re-join the tree-lined cycle-and-pedestrian-only path, heading south along the canal. Along this stretch, grass patches make convenient picnic spots 2. Around 2km further along, you will cross under another road bridge (Songliang Lu), and come to an abandoned cultural centre on your left and, on your right, a jetty sticking out into the canal. Take a moment to admire the view through the traditional-style gateway 3 by the jetty. On the other side of the canal, you’ll see a moon-shaped island 4 and pretty, old-style bridge.

You can also park up and explore the sculptures 5 in the garden just south of the former cultural centre.

Continue about 5km south along the canal, until you get to the next bridge (Wuxing Lu). Cross over here onto the west side of the canal. Turn right and head north, following the bike path all the way along the canal until you reach Yunhe Xi Dajie again.
  • 4 out of 5 stars