28 things to do in Beijing this winter

Nip winter blues in the bud with these awesome cold-weather activities

It's cold out, but that's no reason to stay wrapped up in bed all day. With the help of some warm indoor activities, some bracing wintry air and a stiff drink or three, here's how to make the most of the icy winter.

Eating and drinking

Warm up from the inside with fab Spanish stews

Warm up from the inside with fab Spanish stews

The weekend constitutional at Migas is a three-pronged brunch attack with roaming food trollies delivering hearty fare to the table, a self-service tapas bar, and steaming soups and stews. Warm yourself up from the inside out with the weekly updated menu of 'spoon dishes', featuring the likes of lentil and chorizo Madrid-style stew, traditional Catalan escudella soup and more. Make sure to save some space for the lobster rice and a trio of homemade sausages – chorizo, butifarra and morcilla – from the roving trollies. Mix it all with free-flow cava (148RMB) and unfettered enthusiasm and you’ve got yourself a fiesta.

Get hot pot delivered to your door

Get hot pot delivered to your door

Hot pot chain restaurant Haidilao is renowned for its excellent service – a mantra that extends to its home delivery service, too. Haidilao’s crack team have got all angles covered, and from 258RMB (minimum order; plus service and delivery fees) arrive fully armed with everything from protective covers for your hot pot surface, eating and cooking utensils and post-hot pot air fresheners to rid that Gui Jie scent from your home, to the necessities like fresh meat, veg and noodles. Then, they’ll clean up for when you’re done at no extra cost. Pay 200RMB extra and you can have a member of wait staff stay and cook everything for you. Check hi.haidilao.com for full price information or to book delivery. Hot pot not your jam? Book yourself a private chef instead through the Hao Chushi app (好厨师; Chinese only). 

Snack on street treats

Snack on street treats

One of the very best things about living in Beijing? You’re never too far from tasty and mightily cheap street snacks wherever you are in town. As the temperature drops, street vendors will be out in full force selling bags of sugarcoated roasted chestnuts (tangchao lizi) and roasted sweet potatoes (kao hongshu). Wrap your freezing fingers around one of the steaming hot bags and wait for the warm fuzzy feeling to kick in. 

Carbo-load on Dongbei food

Carbo-load on Dongbei food

Hailing from China’s frosty northeastern provinces – and characterised by oil-rich broths, succulent meats, pickled vegetables, dense wheat noodles, potatoes and steamed breads – Dongbei cuisine is the ultimate comfort food. Chain restaurant Culiang Renjia (粗粮人家) is an ever-reliable option for worthy renditions of the classics at reasonable prices. Dongbei-style sweet and sour pork guobaorou (国宝肉) features juicy slices of twice-fried pork smothered in gelatinous sauce and peppered with ginger and garlic; the humble, no-frills ‘Farmer’s Harvest’ (nongjia da fengshou, 农家大丰收) arrives on a large platter with a generous portion of stewed, tender seasonal vegetables and roughly cut chunks of pork. It certainly ain’t fancy, but it does the trick every time. 

Curl up by a roaring fire

Curl up by a roaring fire

Sure it might be a cliché, but curling up by a fire with a stiff drink has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures when it’s cold out. The masters of luxury at Rosewood Beijing have got it just right at Mei Bar. Not only has it got the roaring fireplaces, it has the deluxe leather sofas, furry blankets, outdoor heaters and signature cold-weather cocktails to match. 

Slurp a steaming bowl of yangrou paomo

Slurp a steaming bowl of yangrou paomo

Served scolding hot, this Xi’an favourite will warm you up from the inside out in a matter of seconds. Literally ‘lambsoaked bread soup’, yangrou paomo makes use of leftover steamed bread, or mantou, which is cut into cubes before being soaked in piping hot lamb broth alongside glass noodles and wood ear mushrooms. At any reputable Shaanxi joints, the soup is served with a side of fresh coriander, cloves of pickled garlic and a mound of sweet chilli paste to taste – and garnish. For a generous serving that stays hot for the duration, try Shan Mian Wang (29RMB).

Pig out on comfort food

Pig out on comfort food

Beijing has a wealth of restaurants serving truly delicious guilty-pleasure food that will you have you packing on a few extra insulating pounds in no time. Sutaak’s Chicken and Beer World reigns supreme when it comes to deliciously crispy Korean fried chicken; Great Leap #12 serves up some of the best burgers in the city, including the gut-busting double-decker cheese burger; and Neapolitan pizza restaurant Bottega's Calzone al Salame is pure doughy perfection stuffed with stringy mozzarella, homemade ricotta and spicy salami. We know it's not right, but boy does it feel good. And they're all available for delivery.

Test out all of Beijing's takeaway services

Test out all of Beijing's takeaway services

When the thought of leaving the sofa seems like a step too far, let someone else bring the food to you. Whatever the weather, there's a wide variety of trusty delivery services won't let you down. Check out our favourite delivery sites where you can get everything from curry to noodles, booze, groceries and more.

Drink baijiu

Drink baijiu

There aren't many drinks more polarising than baijiu. Sometimes compared to paint thinner or rocket fuel, this Chinese spirit is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world. Whether you like it or not, it's guaranteed to warm you up. Check your preconceptions at the door and make yours a tasting flight at Capital Spirits and The Distillery (from 30RMB), this specialist baijiu bar might just change the way you think about the contentious spirit. Alternatively, try sake or sochu instead.

Chilling

Have some spa time (in your own home)

Have some spa time (in your own home)

Why go all that way to the spa when you could just bring the spa to you? Helijia – a one-stop beauty shop app – will set up salon in your living room, office or wherever takes your fancy. The list of services is extensive, encompassing everything from massages, manipedis, hairstyling and waxing to, er, Tarot readings. Staff are on-call seven days week, and while it’s recommended you book a couple of days in advance, same-day appointments are usually available. Helijia (河狸家; Chinese only) is free to download from Apple and Android app stores.

Soak your troubles away at the hot springs

Soak your troubles away at the hot springs

A hotbed of geothermal activity, Beijing is blessed with the gift of hot springs. Full of all manner of minerals, the steaming pools are a great way to escape (if only temporarily) the onslaught of winter. A lot of the more famous hot spring resorts are clustered outside the Fifth Ring in the north of the city – Jiuhua Resort, Chun Hui Yuan Hot Spring Resort and Feng Shan Hot Spring Resort – so best make it a full day or weekend trip. But for a quick dip somewhere a little closer to the city centre, Number 8 Hot Springs Club and Shunjing Hot Spring will do the trick (daylong sessions from 198RMB). Keep an eye on dianping.com for weekday deals.

Wrap up warm baoan style

Wrap up warm baoan style

Essentially a thick duvet with sleeves sewn in, a vintage Chinese military jacket won’t only keep you uncommonly warm – covering you from the neck to just below the knee – the look can be yours from as little as 70RMB on Taobao or at Tsinghua’s Tiaozi second-hand night market (depending on how hard you bargain). Matching military-style mittens (from 20RMB on Taobao) are designed with a separate ‘trigger finger’, ideal for extra dexterity.

Soothe your muscles with a hot stone massage

Soothe your muscles with a hot stone massage

It’s slated that heated stones have been placed on various body parts as a way to encourage healing for more than 2,000 years in China. Although we can’t back-up any medicinal claims, we’re still totally into it. Hot stones help to relax tense muscles during a massage and provide a bit of extra warmth. For the ultimate luxury, The Peninsula Beijing’s two-hour Jade Hot Stone Massage (1,480RMB plus 10 percent service and 6 percent VAT) combines silky smooth hot jade stones with acupressure, essential oils, a ‘scalp mud’ head massage, a quick facial and a foot buff. Don’t have 1,500 kuai to drop on a spa treatment? Dragonfly's offers a full-body hot stone massage (90 minutes) for 580RMB. 

Get in the festive spirit at the Christmas markets

Get in the festive spirit at the Christmas markets

’Tis (nearly) the season to be jolly, and places don’t come much jollier than a Christmas market. The bazaars bring together local artisans, food vendors and vats of steaming mulled wine to get you in (and under the influence of) the holiday spirit. Beijing’s usual suspects – including the German Embassy, Embassy House, The Hutong, BSB and WAB markets – pop-up anytime from mid-November till the end of December.

Calm down and master the art of mindfulness

Calm down and master the art of mindfulness

Thanks to harsh weather conditions, high levels of pollution and – for us, anyways – a burning desire to carboload, winter is tough on the mind and body. Working on mindfulness, or the act of living in the moment, is thought to help reduce the effect of daily stresses and calm the mind. A small sanctuary tucked down Qian Yongkang Hutong, Beijing Mindfulness Centre holds regular mindfulness sessions (100RMB). Encompassing everything from mindful listening to mindful eating, the sessions deal with the art of self-observation and paying attention to thoughts and feelings for an even better you. Follow ‘Mindfulnessbeijing’ on WeChat to find out more.

Get steamy at the Beijing Botanical Gardens

Get steamy at the Beijing Botanical Gardens

Naturalists will argue that spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit Beijing’s Botanical Gardens, and they’re probably right. But the indoor Tropical Conservatory (50RMB) is a winner year round. Pleasantly humid and home to over 3,000 varieties of colourful and exotic tropical plants that otherwise have little hope flourishing anywhere within the city limits, it’s the ideal space to breathe some life back into your oxygen-starved lungs in the depths of winter. Make it a day trip and pair it up with a visit to the neighbouring Fragrant Hills.

Take up hot yoga

Take up hot yoga

With most hot yoga studios set to a toasty 36-42°C, it’s more like the tropics in there than China’s frosty capital. Besides providing a sanctuary of warmth, hot yoga is great for you: the heat helps to loosen muscles improving flexibility, the copious sweating flushes toxins, and it relaxes your mind. A number of gyms offer different styles of hot yoga class – Nirvana, Pacific Century Club, Powerhouse Gym to name a few – and there are a load of studios dedicated to the practice that have classes for all levels of yogi. Check out some of Beijing's hot yoga studios.

Keep the endorphins flowing at Heyrobics

Keep the endorphins flowing at Heyrobics

When the AQI starts soaring, you’ve been eating all the wrong things and motivation is at an all-time low, you need a pick-me-up. Things don’t get much more feel-good than a workout with the exercise fiends at Heyrobics. Through winter the high-energy aerobics sessions are held inside at spaces kitted out with air filters; classes are 50RMB and there are sessions to suit all levels of fitness. We’re fast running out of excuses not to go. Find the full schedule and sign-up info at heyrobics.com.

Get quizzical

Get quizzical

Quiz nights are a dime a dozen in this city. They’re all free and they’ve all got drink prizes for winners – most often a bottle of booze – and sometimes the losers. The Local's pub quiz (Tuesdays, 8pm) not only offers the normal prizes for winners and losers, every participating team gets a pitcher of Tiger draft – even if you’re just middling – and happy hour privileges until the quiz ends. There's nothing like an alcohol blanket to take the edge off the chill.

Practise your golf swing

Practise your golf swing

Thanks to Alpha Wing, you can perfect your golf swing whatever the weather, all the while catching renditions of karaoke classics coming from a nearby room. The basement bar on Lucky Street houses four virtual golf courses and two KTV rooms. Unfortunately, karaoke and golf can’t be combined – but at 160RMB an hour for either (up to five people), there’s no reason why one shouldn’t immediately be followed by the other, and another round of cold Asahi.

Unwind with a great value massage

Unwind with a great value massage

If winter's got you beat, you're feeling frazzled and you've got a heap of knots in your back that need some kneading make your way to Song Lin Massage (松霖保健). Tucked away on the third floor of a somewhat-questionable complex full of massage parlours, this no-frills spa offers above-board (based on our experience) fully-body tuina massages from 80RMB per hour. If you're just looking for a little bit of luxury, try Bodhi Therapeutic Retreats's Foot Reflexology Treatment (80mins; 188RMB). While you stuff your face with free snacks, massage therapists start with a relaxing back-and-head massage before tending to your weary feet. 

For more ideas, take a look our roundup of truly great value massages all for 200RMB or less.

Bone up on your TCM

Bone up on your TCM

According to TCM, there are a few golden rules that you can follow to help fend off sickness during the winter months. Two of the most important are: don’t eat and drink cold things; do eat and drink hot things. Why? TCM practitioner Alex Tan explains, ‘eating warm foods like soups and stews in winter creates warmth, supports the kidneys’ yin and yang and encourages the qi to flow down and in.’ Tan also recommends herbal tonics such as ganoderma mushroom (ling zhi) and astragalus (huang qi) to build immunity. Doctor Zhang from the TCM Department of Capital Medical University explains that winter is an important time for accumulating energy, so it’s better to eat foods that are rich in high-quality calories (not that we need any excuse there) and protein, like chicken, lamb, salmon and chestnuts.

Exploring the great outdoors

Head for the (Fragrant) Hills

Head for the (Fragrant) Hills

Fragrant Hills Park will be heaving through November with thousands of leaf-peepers catching a final look at its famous fiery red autumnal hillsides before winter fully sets in. But after the turn, you won’t find a more secluded or striking spot to snap some Christmas card-worthy snowscapes. The pavilions, pagodas and lakes dotted through the forest park gleam in all their wintry glory. Don some extra thick socks and brave the 20-minute chairlift to the top of Incense Burner Peak for stunning views of Beijing. 

Practise freeze style

Practise freeze style

Winter swimming is a tradition in a number of cold countries, which is why even as the temperature drops you’ll see keen swimmers donning swimsuits for a numbing dip in Beijing’s lakes. Crazy as it may seem, and risks aside, there’s a long list of purported health benefits to cold-water swimming – including boosting the immune system, reducing stress and even enhancing sex drive. If you think you’ve got what it takes, Beijing Winter Swimming Club are out most days around Shichahai area and are always happy to accept new members. Contact 136 5104 8360 for more information about the group.

Go ice-skating at Qianhai

Go ice-skating at Qianhai

For centuries Beijingers have flocked to Qianhai when the ice gets thick enough to skate – usually any time from the end of December to early January. Entry to the rink is a steal at 15RMB on weekdays (20RMB weekends) and you can glide around any which way you want with skates, ice bicycles, karts and bumper cars all available for hire at reasonable prices. 

Check out the Summer Palace

Check out the Summer Palace

Don’t let the name fool you, there are loads of reasons to visit the Summer Palace in winter. Not only do you miss the majority of tourists, the cold makes the usually uncomfortably sweaty climb to the top of Longevity Hill largely bearable, and when Kunming Lake freezes over properly there’s all kinds of on-ice action. Iceskating isn’t actually allowed, but you can rent fancy electric iceboats and motorised rubber bumper cars – as well as classic ice bikes and carts – to explore the lake’s stunning surrounds. Treat yourself to a post-exploration deluxe afternoon tea at the Aman Summer Palace (from 268RMB). 

Hit the slopes

Hit the slopes

Despite taking a whole lot of stick for hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics without having a whole lot of real snowfall, there are more decent ski resorts located in and around Beijing than you can shake a ski pole at. An hour out of town and with a regular fleet of shuttle buses, Nanshan Ski in Miyun County is a low-cost favourite. A haven for fair-weather skiers and newcomers to the sport, its 20-odd slopes and snowboard park are usually rammed with skiers and snowboarders of all levels. You won’t find a much more convenient spot for an easy day on the snow. Go to nanshanski.com for resort info, snow reports and more. 

Take a hike

Take a hike

Winter might well be the best time of the year to make tracks through Beijing’s countryside: there are fewer traffic jams, tour groups dwindle in numbers and you don’t get all hot and bothered clambering up the hills. There’s just nature, and a lot of it. After 15 years of leading groups through the capital’s wilderness, guides at Beijing Hikers know all the best routes: wander through deserted canyons; pass through the frozen streams, pools and waterfalls; hike through the extra quiet country hills; or spend Christmas navigating the Great Wall. See beijinghikers.com for hike descriptions, dates and prices.

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