From its labyrinth of hutongs (traditional Chinese-style homes) to its art scene, Beijing is more than merely the country's seat of government power. Even if you're pressed for time in the city, make sure to get a taste of it all -- literally and figuratively -- from shopping and eating Peking duck to experiencing the luxe offerings on the Great Wall.
What to eat
If you're going to be in Beijing, you can't pass up Peking duck. Although you'll see hanging birds in just about every restaurant window, don't be distracted and head to one of the city's Dadong (大董烤鸭店)Although delicious, duck doesn't make a meal in itself. For the rest of your order, choose from the venue's comprehensive (yet still well-executed) 160-page menu.
Since you're in the capital, it makes sense to try some classic Imperial Cuisine. Li Family Restaurant, is one of the best-known imperial cuisine restaurants in the city, reportedly serving recipes that handed down through generations, from when the founder's great-grandfather worked in the Qing Dynasty.
As with Dadong, best to book in advance at Li to avoid the long queues, and make sure to order the bamboo shoots, scallops, sweet and sour pork ribs, fried sea prawns. The only downside? You need to order a set menu, which starts at RMB200 a person.
Dadong, multiple locations, 5/F, Jinbao Dasha, Jinbao Jie, Dongcheng District, 东城区金宝街金宝大厦5层, +86 10 8522 1234
Family Li Imperial Cuisine, 11 Yangfang Hutong, Deshengmennei Dajie, 德胜门内大街羊房胡同11号,+86 10 6618 0107, no credit cards accepted
Where to visit
The Forbidden City is a 180-acre imperial compound built in the early 15th century and was the residence of the Chinese Emperors for more than 400 years, across two dynasties - Ming and Qing. Expect a long walk across the compound, which will be more efficient if you have a guide explaining the stories behind the site and important historical parts within the area.
The Forbidden City is just North of Tiananmen Square, the famous gate that lies in front of the imperial palace, where in 1949, Chairman Mao announced the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Above the main door is the famous portrait of Mao, a space that was once reserved for the emperor.
Forbidden City, No.4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng District
While you're in Beijing, a trip to the Great Wall is also in order. Although there are a number of sections of the Great Wall to visit (Badaling being the most frequented by visitors), the 6,000km structure has plenty of space, meaning you don't need to cram in with everyone else in town for the weekend.
If you have a day to spare, head up to Commune By The Wall (you can also stay there if you want to, but at least spend the day). The area consists of a private collection of contemporary architecture designed by 12 Asian architects. It was exhibited at the 2002 la Biennale di Venezia, and in 2005, Commune by the Great Wall was hailed by Business Week as a "New Architectural Wonder of China."
Although Commune by the Great Wall now offers forty-two villa hotel and a luxury spa, the architecture collection is open to the public (by reservation only, RMB 120 per person) and when you're there you can also access the hotel's the private path to an untouched portion of the Great Wall of China, so you can see the wall's raw beauty against the originial landscape.
Commune By The Wall, +86 10 81181888, RMB 120 per person, site tours from Monday through Thursday, 9am to 5pm, reservations must be made at the Concierge in advance, www.communebythegreatwall.com
Where to stay
If you want to stay somewhere more central than Commune, look at Han's Royal Garden Hotel, a small luxury hotel in the centre of Beijing that's a restored noble Chinese home.
Surrounded by Beijing's famous hutongs, this 33-room property is filled with courtyards and classic wooden balconies, and it also offers an imperial Chinese-style restaurant with private dining rooms.
The rooms are decorated in dark wood furniture with Chinese antiques. On the outside, there are five courtyards with goldfish ponds, statues and shady trees, perfect for an escape for the chaos of the streets outside.
The Opposite House (a sister of Hong Kong’s Upper House), a Kenzo Kuma-designed boutique hotel in the sprawling Village at Sanlitun, provides an up-market vibe in Beijing’s centre of hedonism (read: the main bar street).
The rooms are decorated in dark wood furniture with Chinese antiques. On the outside, there are five courtyards with goldfish ponds, statues and shady trees, perfect for a quiet time with your loved ones. Traditional Chinese decoration in the public areas of Han’s Royal Garden Hotel reminds guests of China’s rich culture.
Opposite House, The Village at Sanlitun, Building 1, 11 Sanlitun Beliu, 三里屯北路11号, +86 10 6417 6688, www.theoppositehouse.com
Where to shop
One of Asia’s largest malls is located on the famous Wangfujing street. The Oriental Plaza (1 Chang'an Dong Dadao) is practically a city within a city. Although it only has two levels, it actually stretches a few city blocks. The commercial complex includes office towers, hotel, as well as serviced apartments.
For antiques, check out the Ancient Beijing Street, which is right off the corner from Wangfujing subway station. In fact, the whole of Wangfujing is filled with local crafts from painted snuff bottles to calligraphy and paintings.