We had finally arrived in the biggest city of our trip so far and had three days to visit the biggest sites including the Forbidden City and Tiananmen square, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall of China.
Luckily, some Chinese friends had also given me advice on where to go in between those tourist landmarks. As we ventured through the streets and hutongs on foot, we also came across some unexpected treasures.
Here’s a list of my top 5 places to eat, drink or shop in Beijing:
1. Nanluoguxiang Hutong and nearby hutong micro-brewery: visit Nanluoguxiang Hutong in the Dongcheng district for some colourful boutique shopping. You’ll find everything in the traditional Qing dynasty streets, from small shops to galleries, family-run restaurants and souvenir stands.
We visited the popular shopping area in the evening to find S Luogu Alley full of locals eating ice creams and popping in and out of the quirky shops. My dad was stopped several times as we walked down the tree-lined alleyway by a local wanting to take a photo with him.
Nearby in Doujiao Hutong, you’ll find Great Leap Brewing – Beijing’s original hutong micro-brewery. We went there for an evening refreshment after shopping. The candle on our table flickered lightly as we sat under the tree canopy covering the courtyard of the 110-year-old hutong residence. It was quite the scenic place to chat over a pint of Honey Ma Gold or another of their many unique local brews.
Transport: head to Beixinqiao subway station and walk from along Jiaodaokou E Street until you get to S Luogu Alley. There are some hidden gems off the side streets so don’t just stick to the main thoroughfare.
2. Wudaoying and Jianchang Hutongs: Wudaoying Hutong offers trendy stores, bars and cafés away from the tourists. It’s also close to the Lama Temple and Ditan Park (Temple of Earth). Bear in mind, this hutong can be pricey, especially as it showcases works from local designers and artists. It’s basically where east meets west.
The perpendicular Jianchang Hutong is where you’ll find Stuff’d micro-brewery. Go there if you’re in need of hearty Western food and Western-style beer. Then get lost among the neighbouring streets for a glimpse into everyday hutong life.
Transport: head to Andingmen subway station.
3. Crescent Moon Muslim Restaurant: we wanted to try something different, so we walked to Crescent Moon Muslim Restaurant in the Dongcheng district. The restaurant is owned and staffed by Uyghurs from west China, while the building is an interesting mix of Central and East Asian architecture.
We thought the food was delicious! They specialise in lamb and mutton skewers, but as a vegetarian, I was happy to gorge on their braised eggplant, bok choy, vegetarian hand-cut noodles and naan bread. All of this was washed down with some flavoursome lemon tea.
Transport: the closest subway is either Dongsi or Zhangzizhong Road.
4. Qianmen Street Mall: this pedestrian-only shopping street is a replica of the famous market street of the same name dating back to the Qing Dynasty.
The shopping mall was apparently renovated just before the Beijing Olympic Games and offers international brands and loads of yummy restaurants to choose from. You can also spot locals and tourists taking selfies with the many sculptures along the street.
We stopped at Dou Yi Chu for lunch and somehow managed to order vegetarian shao mai dumplings and a cold local Yanjing beer, despite our lack of Chinese. The restaurant originally opened more than 270 years ago and houses a few sculptures inside and outside to mark its rich history.
Afterwards, we went into a nearby traditional tea shop and sat down for a tea ceremony. I particularly liked their wolfberry and mulberry tea, which is apparently “good for tonifying Qi and nourishing the liver and kidney.”
Transport: head to Qianmen subway station.
5. Wangfujing Snack Street: this street food market is open all day and is super popular with tourists. Even though it’s crowded, it’s loads of fun. You can taste scorpions, spiders and starfish on screwers as well as Beijing classics like noodles fried in bean sauce and savoury pancakes. The street is fronted by an elaborate archway, heralding you into a colourful and cheerful space. We didn’t eat anything there, but found it to be a great place to snap photos (if there wasn’t a ‘no photo’ sign at the food stall!).
The end of Wangfujing Snack Street is a wide pedestrian-only mall with department stores and up-market international brands. When we walked through, several groups of mostly women were dancing and exercising to loud, competing music. Some were in pairs dancing to what seemed like traditional songs, while others were line dancing. It was interesting to watch – the Chinese certainly seem to like their outdoor exercising!
Photo: vegetarian shao mai dumplings and local Yanjing beer at Dou Yi Chu on Qianmen Street Mall, Beijing, China