30 things to do in Beijing this winter

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


Quench that thirst with a hot cocktail

Botany

Long gone are the days where ‘hot cocktail’ means vinegary mulled wine and questionably viscous eggnog – there’s a whole hot-cocktail world out there to explore! And we can’t think of many better places to start than Botany. Tucked away in Yoolee Plaza’s residential blocks, not only is the snug-yet-stylish apartment bar the perfect place to while away the long evenings, the place is fully stocked with all manner of spirits and the signature hot cocktails are – simply put – exceptional. Owner and host Frankie Zou has curated an innovative menu using homemade infusions and original ingredients. The Forager Tea (85RMB) is a lusciously creamy tipple, combining Havana Club and Sailor Jerry rums, chamomile and jade butterfly teas with a homemade, spiced tree bitters-spiked vanilla ice cream; the LumDimSum (85RMB) is a delightfully herbaceous concoction of freshly brewed mixed-berry tea, gin, brown rice wine, homemade lemon liquor and lavender bitters. 

Warm up from the inside with fab Spanish stews

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Having recently gone through a menu shake-up for winter, the new 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, now, 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.


268RMB for all-you-can-eat brunch; 148RMB for two-hours free-flow Codorniu cava, house wine, soft drinks, coffee and tea.11.30am-3pm Sat-Sun. Reservations recommended.


Get hot pot delivered to your door


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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 Guijie 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


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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


Culiang Renjia


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 everytime. 


Wrap your hands around a mug of hot chocolate


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Push all thoughts of saccharine powder concoctions to the back of your mind (and to the back of the cupboard); Vai Milano’s Authentic Italian Hot Chocolate (32-48RMB) is a real indulgence, albeit one best enjoyed infrequently for the sake of fitting into festive outfits. Made with 70 percent cacao dark chocolate, full-cream milk and cut through with a hint of salt, it’s not overly sweet but still feels rich and decadent. Refined and understated, this simple cioccolata calda is a velvety counterpoint to the excesses of winter weather, but you might need a lie-down after finishing it. 


Curl up by a roaring fire 


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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. For a different sort of classy fireside treat, go for afternoon tea (138RMB) or dinner with a view of Tiananmen Square at Capital M.


Slurp on a steaming bowl of yangrou paomo 


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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 all the comfort food


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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 takeaway services


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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


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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 (from 40RMB), this specialist baijiu bar might just change the way you think about the contentious spirit. Alternatively, try sake or sochu instead.

Treat yourself to a staycay

Yanqi Hotel, managed by kempinski - Presidential Suite

There’s arguably no better time to take a break from your own cold, crumbling bed and spend the night in a swanky hotel than winter: hotels are havens of warmth and comfort and, even better, low season means you can get some cheap deals.

Make it all about the food at East Beijing’s one-night weekend ‘Steakcation’ (1,688RMB) with a semibuffet surf and turf dinner and breakfast for two at Feast. For families, China World Summit Wing’s winter staycay (from 1,988RMB) offers tickets to Beijing’s big attractions and breakfast at Grill 79 for two adults and a child. Alternatively, explore a bit of Beijing’s countryside at the Sunrise Kempinski Hotel, a mountain-view retreat by
Yanqi Lake. The deal (2,400RMB) includes a night in a suite with breakfast, BMW bicycle hire and a 25-minute back and shoulder massage for two. Prices plus 10 percent service and 6 percent VAT and subject to validity.

Have some spa time (in your own home)

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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

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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. Check out Beijing's top hot springs.

Wrap up warm baoan style

Baoan

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

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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 (1,280RMB 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 1,000 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

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’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. Check our guide to Beijing's Christmas markets for more info.

Calm down and master the art of mindfulness

Mindulness

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

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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

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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

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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

The Local

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

Alpha Wing


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


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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.


Collect 200 for passing Go

Board games

On the first Saturday of every month from 2-6pm, shut yourself inside Moroccan restaurant Caravan for the Beijing Bookswap and Board Games Meet-up. As simple as it sounds, it’s an afternoon of book bartering and dice rolling. There are plenty of board games at your disposal – Risk, Settlers of Catan, Uno, Scrabble, the list goes on – but you can BYO board games if the selection doesn’t do it for you.


Bone up on your TCM

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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.

Head for the (Fragrant) Hills


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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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