For many people, the perfect day in Beijing is a day spent on The Great Wall. Follow our step-by-step guide for how to get to Great Wall: Zhuang Dao Kou, where you can hike along a charmingly dilapidated section of unrestored ‘wild’ wall, before bedding down for the night in a village guesthouse. Alternatively, get in touch with Great Wall Box, a superb hostel located right beside the Great Wall at Gubeikou.
In the city itself, start your perfect day as many locals do, in a park. Jingshan Park is one of the best, and if you can get here before the rest of the tourists do, you’ll be able to enjoy it at its most magical. Watch tai chi experts go through their early-morning routines before joining in with a group of elderly folk as they sing and dance their way through a variety of patriotic anthems. Then climb to the top of Coal Hill and look out over the golden rooftops of the Forbidden City below.
Exiting the park at the east gate, pop into Alley Coffee for a bite to eat and a caffeine pick-me-up before making your way, by bike or on foot, to the 300-year-old Drum Tower. Don’t forget to check the times of the drumming performances on the sign by the ticket office, and time your climb accordingly –the performance only lasts five minutes, but you won’t want to miss it. After the show, cross the Drum & Bell Square and climb the equally old and equally impressive Bell Tower – check out its immense 63-tonne bell! Oh, and don’t miss the secret teahouse that’s hidden underneath the tower – try some green tea; perfect to drink before lunch.
You’ll be eating just around the corner at Yaoji Chaogan. It’s a proper no-frills Beijing-cuisine restaurant – there’ll be no English spoken here!. The dumplings are great, as are the traditional Beijing noodles, zhajiang mian. If you’re feeling brave, ask for the chao garh (gloopy pig-liver soup).
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After lunch, walk off those noodles with a stroll through the hutong to the Lama Temple, the city centre’s largest and most important Buddhist Temple. You can easily spend an hour or so here, especially if you tag on a visit to the nearby Confucious Temple. Just beyond the Confucious Temple, pause for a while at Jingcheng Baixing Clay Shop, where you can buy, or even stop to make, your very own traditional Chinese clay model; perfect for an unusual souvenir.
With evening drawing near, it’s time for a hotpot dinner in a hard-to-find hutong restaurant (although bit’s actually easy to get to from where you are; just keep walking straight on). This isn’t any old hotpot restaurant, though, this is Rongtian sheep spine restaurant; a north China speciality, and about as untouristy as you can get. If the thought of eating sheep spine puts you off, think again; it’s the juiciest, most tender part of the animal, and no one leaves this place without having loved it.
Finish the evening off with cocktails at Mai, a small courtyard bar, just around the corner from the hotpot restaurant, or beers at Ball House, a hidden gem of a bar with pool tables and a laid-back vibe.