798 walking tour

Explore Beijing's art galleries in the 798 art district

Explore Beijing's art with a walking tour of 90 minutes through the rusted mega-tangle of the northeast, the former German-built munitions factories which now house a solid portion of Beijing's art galleries.

1 Red dinosaurs


Entering from Jiuxianqiao Lu, leave your taxi behind and enter this pedestrianised area, heading eastbound on 798 Lu for about 500m to find yourself outside the huge UCCA. Ogle Sui Jianguo’s Red Dinosaurs, large and caged, and consider the following: 798 has only existed as an art district since the new millennium. Even in 2005 'cab drivers didn’t know what "798" was', our guide, Bespoke Beijing’s Sarah Keenlyside, informs us. Sui Jianguo, then chairman of the Department of Sculpture at China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, became what you might call a 'founding father' of 798 as an art district when he moved his studio here in 2000, and his Dinosaurs – each one emblazoned with 'Made in China' on the breast – are a nod to China as modern manufacturing powerhouse. How many of Sui’s Dinosaurs can be found here?

2 Bauhaus architecture


Go back on yourself for a few metres on 798 Lu and turn right onto 798 Zhong Yi Jie. Head north until you reach 797 Lu. A right followed by a quick left under an archway should see you arrive in the space between Pace Beijing and Goethe-Institut. While exhibitions at these two 798 stalwarts are generally more than worth a butcher’s, it’s their mirroring Bauhaus designs – 798 is one of the largest examples of Bauhaus architecture outside of Germany – that have us frothing. The German-designed, German-built spaces are satisfyingly energy efficient: their saw-tooth roofs, a pleasing repeater of alternating slopes and windows, encourage sunlight to pool in the vast spaces below, meaning little artificial light is required during working hours. How many complete 'saw-teeth' can be seen between the two galleries?

3 Kim Il Sung monument

798 gasmeter 3

At the northernmost point of Pace, turn right and head east for 50m. Look left and skyward. Looking back at you from a great height is a handsome flying horse – a Chollima – bronze wings abeat in praise of North Korea’s then-Supreme, now-Eternal leader, Kim Il-sung. Commemorating his 1961 visit to the factory, the statue, a scale replica of the Pyongyang original, is situated outside the Mansudae Art Museum – North Korea’s first art gallery outside the Hermit Kingdom. Exhibiting a range of DPRK works from socialist-realist paintings to stamps, the museum’s attention to Sino-Korean relations is reason enough to pop in. The Chollima statue is a fraction the size of the original. What is that fraction?

4 Fodder Factory

798 fodder factory

Leave Mansudae Art Museum, turn left and follow the path until 706 Bei Yi Lu and turn left. At the end of the road on your right is Fodder Factory, a Mao-kitsch Sichuanese restaurant and one of precious few 798 eateries doing a lot right. Pork and preserved vegetable noodles (26RMB) are noticeably cleaner and lighter than the hot province’s reputation would have you believe, and come strictly sans-MSG in manageably portioned coils. And while 'tasteful bric-a-brac' might well be the original oxymoron, the love with which each vintage whatever has been strewn across the walls is as endearing as the very whatever itself. The back wall of the leftmost room is covered in hanging chairs. How many?

5 Blue gasometer

798 gasmeter 2

Leave Fodder Factory and head south back down 706 Bei Yi Lu. Go all the way to 797 Lu and turn left. You’ve got about 250m here to breathe it all in. Imagine the clunking and the billowing of the old factories. The workers a working. Old and new. China: the prosperity juggernaut. Steel and art – what’s the connection? All of that. And now you’re walking under really a very impressive rusted flyover. Walk up the stairs of the flyover, turn right and head down the half-flight, then down another and approach that inexplicably large gasometer, or gas holder. Marvel at its capacity to gas hold. Nowadays, the old girl is mostly a high- end party venue, but it’s worth walking the full circle around this thing just for the obscure graffiti. Several Guy Fawkes masks have been painted on the mighty gasometer. How many Fawkes are there?

6 B11

798 B11

Get back on the flyover and head south along the whole thing, noting the rare view on the right, Volkswagen HQ on the left, the precarious magpie nests thatched high around the factories. Eventually, you will come to B11: an intricately woven mess of Revolutionary steel. Unfortunately, full access to B11 is restricted, but you can still explore it to some degree from three levels – wind your way vertically down the flyover and for a different perspective on what is, for us, the most spectacular section of the hunt yet. But what are they at the top of B11? Spiral staircases?! How many?

7 The other train

798 train

Art District regulars will know about the train next to Ace Café – a fine train, to be sure, but not the train we seek today. Alight from the flyover and head across the grass towards the next enormous rusted structure in front of you. There’s a building in your way. Veer to the right, and back to the left. Now you can see a train track heading south, and a train – ignore the train, and follow the tracks south. This whole thing, the entire district, was built with East German materials, transported the entire way from East Germany on these train tracks. We’re heading to one of the load-bearing locomotives now. As the tracks disappear, you’ll see in front of you and to the right six-or-so rusted cylindrical tanks, and beyond them, our train of the day. You can climb all over this beast, and at last check the door to the engine was unlocked. Climb onto the nose of the train, peer in the window. How many chairs are there in the cabin?

8 Timezone 8

798 gasmeter

This next destination is a real doozy. From the train, head north on Qixing Lu, following its curve to the left before taking your first right onto 798 Dong Jie. Continue north until 798 Lu and turn left. Opposite UCCA and the Dinosaurs is Timezone 8. It mightn’t look like much from outside, but what you have here is a double history combo stop. Originally a factory-era Muslim canteen for the workers, the building was purchased by a Texan fellow named Robert Bernell, who would re-imagine the original brick building as Timezone 8 Art Books. Like Sui Jianguo, Bernell is also now considered a founding father of modern-day 798. The space was transformed once more, this time into a Western restaurant, boasting a sushi bar out the back with a menu designed by Hatsune’s Alan Wong. Sushi huh? What time do they close?

Bespoke Beijing We've a newfound respect for 798 Art District after being gently ushered about by Bespoke Beijing's oracle-like Sarah Keenlyside. Head to bespoketravelcompany.com to arrange your own unique experience.


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