If you’re after arts and nightlife, in between sightseeing, there’s plenty on offer in Beijing…
798 Art District – An interesting attempt at showcasing contemporary art, set in an old industrial part of Beijing, about an hour away from the centre. Relaxed, cosmopolitan café’s, large open gallery spaces and some interesting sculptures, but nothing groundbreaking and perhaps a little contrived. Worth a visit though, even just to avoid the smoggy, city streets for an afternoon.
Bars – Sanlitun ‘bar street’ and its workers stadium setting of super bars and clubs is where the Embassy rich kids hang out – strutting their stuff to techno, sipping exorbitantly priced cocktails and nibbling on sculptured fruit platters. ‘Vics’ eleventh birthday party was no exception and as an unsuitably dressed backpacker on a budget, the red carpet, Vogue-esque entrance should have been enough to tell me it wasn’t my kind of place! The Village, a strip of bars and DVD shops nearby is cheaper, more vibrant and has a decidedly more relaxed feel.
There’s also Houhai Lake ‘bar street’, good for live music, karaoke and a party atmosphere. From the outside the neon lit venues look inviting and intriguing. Appearances can be deceptive and be selective (toilets were the worst I’ve some across yet!). Check out the Reggae bar at the end before the bridge for the cheapest Mojitos and best beats in town.
The famous Peking Duck is plentiful and can be found everywhere and to suit any budget – even the most touristy restaurants didn’t cost more than 100Yuan per head (about £10) for beers, Beijing duck and mains with rice. The range of food is incredible and often the dirtier looking the restaurant the tastier the food – head for the Hutongs and don’t be put off by the plastic chairs and shrink wrapped plates.
Entertainment in the form of acrobatics, Kung Fu and Peking Opera is on daily, with shows starting at around 7pm and costing upwards of 150Yuan for a ticket. It’s easy to buy tickets from any hostel, hotel or theatre, but touts also operate so check you get the real deal.
For more sightseeing there’s The Summer Palace – Reportedly beautiful and a “must see” , but after half an hour on the subway, an hour on a bus, asking several people for directions and being yelled at by passing drivers we aborted our trip and returned to Beijing, irritable and annoyed . Better luck next time.
And, last but by no means least, you’re only an hour from the Great Wall.
So much to do… if you can, allow yourself a minimum of a week!