Start your Beijing Off the Beaten Path day with an early-morning trip to the rarely visited Temple of Agriculture, a 600-year-old complex of sacrificial altars that used to play a significant role in imperial Beijing and which now houses the impressive Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum and its fascinating model of pre-tower block Beijing. And if you come here on a Wednesday, it’s free!
If you’re cycling, you can now make your way to Beijing’s narrowest hutong, the hard-to-find Xiaolaba Hutong. It’s north off Yong’an Lu and is just about wide enough to squeeze your bicycle through. After this, continue northeast (or take the subway to Chongwenmen station) to get to the Southeast Corner Watchtower, a hugely underrated sight which forms part of the only remaining stretch of Beijing’s Ming Dynasty City Wall at one end of the pleasant Ming City Wall Ruins Park. The watchtower houses the fascinating Red Gate Gallery, which includes a permanent photo exhibition, displaying 1930s photographs of Beijing’s city wall and city gates before they were demolished.
There’s a small cafe on top of the wall here, serving decent coffee and snacks (when it’s open), but for a proper lunch, head to nearby Big King Noodles or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, head further west and try to find Men Kuang Fried Dumplings, tucked away down a gritty hutong, just south of Tiananmen Square.
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There’s a cluster of quirky museums surrounding Tiananmen Square, none of which sees many tourists. Consider popping your head into the Money Museum, or the Railway Museum, or the Police Museum, before strolling north, around Tiananmen Square, to either one of two parks, which flank either side of the Forbidden City. Zhongshan Park, on the west side of the Forbidden City, houses the lovely Laijinyuxuan Teahouse. It’s 100 years old and has a large terrace and a tea menu in English.
Alternatively, on the east side of the Forbidden City is the much less-visited Workers Cultural Palace, which houses the magnificent Supreme Temple and, at its northern end, skirts part of the Forbidden City moat. With dinner time fast approaching, make your way north from here to Zuo Lin You She, for a taste of genuine Beijing cuisine. Unusually for this type of no-frills, locals-favourite restaurant, they have a menu translated into English. After dinner, go for a beer and a game of pool at the relatively quiet Pool Bar, or catch some live music in the wonderful courtyard bar called Jiang Hu, at 7 Dongmianhua Hutong, a quiet hutong running east off Nanluoguxiang.