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Note: Map view for China is not correct aligned, use satellite view which is correct (it's a Google thing).
798 Art Zone
Dashanzi Art District, Beijing
An old factory area turned post-industrial arty with all kinds of crazy studios, contemporary art galleries, Ã¼ber-chic coffee shops and now even fancy restaurants and clubs. You could spend days here, just wander from one art exhibition to the next. The art community has gone from underground to well-established these days with international exhibitions. The art installations even expand into the streets, where you will be met by grotesque sculptures and everyday items in unusual ways - we like the life size sports car made in bricks.
Northwest of the Forbidden City lies this big serene park great for relaxing strolls. Most of Beihai park is a large lake with a temple island in the middle. There are several temples and even a great white Buddhist stupa that was erected in honour of a visit from the Dalai Lama... but that was in 1651. But the best thing about Beihai are the hidden corners. Here you will find elders practicing tai chi, a brass band learning some new tunes and old men brushing up on their calligraphy skills on the pavement with a giant water pencil.
Bird's Nest stadium
Olympic Green, Beijing
From a distance, the Bird's Nest national stadium looks like, well, a bird's nest. It was built for the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the inspiration for the stadium was actually not a bird's nest, but Chinese-style crazed pottery. It was designed not by Chinese, but by a Swiss architect firm and cost US$423 million to build. When first finished, there was room for 91,000 spectators, but the seat number has since been cut down to 80,000. It is an impressive steel construction, even up close where you really can see the details in the complex grid formation, which was originally added to camouflage the supporting steel frame. Bird's nest soup in China is considered a delicacy, so the nickname Bird's Nest is quite honourable. Though a beautiful stadium, it is rarely used today - besides acting as backdrop for tourist snapshots.
Wangfujing snack street, Beijing
Small food stalls fill the narrow so-called "snack alley" that springs from the shopping street of Wangfujing. Here you find the usual snacks that Chinese just love, like BBQ sticks, pig stomach and candied fruit, but the main attraction are the exotic sticks. We are talking insects, worms and, even weirder, seahorses and starfish. The big black scorpions go down well, but we did not try the dry-looking starfish!!!
The Forbidden City was the imperial palace for the Chinese emperor from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) throughout the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The construction of the complex was finished in 1420 and consists of 980 buildings which also functioned as home for the imperial household and centre for the Chinese government. The Forbidden City is located in the middle of the Imperial City, separating it from the inner city of ancient Beijing. The main entrance to the Forbidden City goes through the Tiananmen gate in the south which first leads to the Imperial City which then again leads to the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate. The iconic portrait of Chairman Mao is decorating Tiananmen gate. If anything happens to that picture, a new will be up within minutes.
Qianmen area south of Tian'anmen Square
In the old days when the Forbidden City was forbidden, the area around it was a huge maze of traditional shopping quarters, so-called hutongs. Today, most have been demolished for communist concrete or modern highrises, but there are still a few hutongs left. Here you can get lost in the narrow lanes, watching how real Beijing people live, join the squatting row in one of the public toilets (most houses here do not have their own toilet) and check the merchandises of the many small specialised shops. The hutongs that have become tourist attractions are a bit tarted up, but there are still lots of hidden scruffy corners waiting to be explored.
12 Yonghegong Dajie, Yonghe Temple, Beijing
If you are curious about Tibetan Buddhism or want relive the sounds, smells and sights from your Tibetan trip, visit the Lama Temple. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Beijing and an important one too. It was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty and survived the culture revolution by being protected by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai - or so it's said. Lama Temple is a full and functional Buddhist lamasery with monks and revolving prayer wheels. There are five main halls, who all have different purposes and Buddha statues. The final hall houses a 26 m (18 m above ground) tall wooden Buddha statue that has been carved from a single trunk of sandalwood. Though many non-Buddhist tourists visit the temple, it still has an authentic feel.
Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall, Beijing
Chairman Mao had wished to be cremated when he died, just like Lenin and Ho Chi Minh had, but just like Lenin and Ho Chi Minh he got embalmed and put on display for the public so they could honour their dear leader for many years to come. As a symbol, the mausoleum got built out of materials from all over China - apparently even sand from the Taiwan Straits. It proved more difficult to embalm the body and construct a transparent coffin, for the Soviets were the specialists and they didn't want to share their secrets with the enemy (remember this was during the Soviet-China tension). The Chinese got the embalming fixed by sharing notes with the Vietnamese, who had embalmed Ho Chi Minh 7 years before, but they had to work hard regarding the crystal casket. Mao Zedong's pickled corpse is still on display today and in the best Chinese tradition, you are forced through a cascade of Mao souvenir stands before exiting the mausoleum.
Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) park, Beijing
If you want to start the day in real Chinese manners, go for some morning exercise. Though this is done all over Beijing, no place is better than the park of Temple of Heaven, Tiantan. In every corner, morning fresh Chinese do Tai Chi, sword dance, fan dance, Chinese yo-yo, jogging and weird stretches. A corner of the park is even equipped with colourful public machines and you are welcome to join in, but it might be downright dangerous to copy what some of these elderly Chinese are capable of.
Nightlife at Sanlitun
Sanlitun Lu, Beijing
Sanlitun is an area with shops, restaurants and entertainment close to the embassy area. It is popular with the expats, travellers and young locals and is considered to be Beijing's nightlife spot number one, but you need to know where to go. The main bar street (Sanlitun Lu) is lined with fancy bars and restaurants who mostly cater for rich locals flashing their money. The side alleys offer a more diverse selection of small drinking holes, funky bars, and trendy clubs and is great for late-night snacks. Buildings get demolished and new get built - the party scene is changing all the time, so check with the expat community before heading out for a big night.