Beijing, which means “Northern Capital”, is easily my favorite city in China. But it wasn’t always this way. The first time I visited Beijing, I was on a [roughly] 24-hour layover. I didn’t plan out my time efficiently and ended up in inconceivable traffic jams and in too many situations with a dire language barrier. I knew I had to give the second biggest city in China another chance and more than 24 hours of my time. After all, Beijing has been the Capital of the Chinese Empire for much of its history and it is the heart of China’s wealthy culture.
After my second trip to Beijing I gave it the crown as my favorite city in China. Beijing is dynamic, it is eclectic, and it is vibrant. It is a heterogeneous collection of the old and the new: many buildings in Beijing are somewhat of a structural fantasy … so many unusual designs, three dimensional illusions, loops and lights and right next door to them are well preserved ancient structures. Below is a list of my favorite and most photogenic locations in Beijing!
Where to Stay in Beijing:
Shangri-La’s China World Hotel, Beijing has recently unveiled its new rooms, suites and Horizon Club after a three year renovation! The results are jaw-dropping. Champagne hues, gold accents, and classic luxury accessories make the new rooms feel like an interior of a castle. Every room and suite has modern technology like bidet toilets and smart tint shower windows. The ceilings are high and the windows stretch across the the larger portion of the wall, offering sweeping views. The hotel is centrally located in Beijing’s Central Business District and is attached to one of the largest malls in Beijing, the China World Mall. The property is about a 35 minute drive from the airport and is also near the China World Mall and Guomao subway lines 1 and 10.
Credit: CPP luxury
Instagrammable Places in Beijing:
1. Shangri-La’s China World Hotel
Shangri-La’s China World Hotel, Beijing has epic views of the CCTV Tower in some room categories. If you book your stay at CWH, I recommend booking the room that faces the tower! Otherwise, CWH also has one of the most gorgeous lobbies I’ve seen in a hotel thus far. Every afternoon, there is a live piano and violin performance that you can come and enjoy over afternoon tea.
2. The Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing
The Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing has a gorgeous garden featuring traditional Chinese architecture and Koi ponds. It is worth visiting simply to walk around or to have a cocktail at the Garden Bar.
3. CCTV Tower
The CCTV headquarters in Beijing has a gravity-defying structure. Beijing also has extreme weather so the expansion and contraction of the building material is inevitable. The joining of the towers was done early in the morning on a cold winters day during a uniform temperature! The unique building is worth seeing from the outside but tours are also available inside and you can enjoy views of Beijing at the observation deck.
4. Grill 79
Grill 79 is located on the high floor of the China World Summit Wing. It offers epic views of Beijing and unparalleled cuisine prepared by Chef Nathan Griffin, who has over 18 years of top-notch experience under his belt.
5. Galaxy Soho
Galaxy Soho is easily one of the most incredible architectural accomplishments of Zaha Hadid. It is an office/retail/ and entertainment complex that is open to the public. It looks even better at night when the bright white lights reflect into the dark skies. The lights turn off at 10PM so come earlier to get a good photo!
6. Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is the largest ancient palatial structure in the world and over 1,000,000 workers built it over a period of 14 years! This is one of the most visited places in the world and certainly in Beijing. The area of the Forbidden City is massive and will take you a couple of hours to cover. It is extremely crowded but due to the abundance of space, you will be able to find areas with few people around.
7. Summer Palace
Like most historic parts of China, the Summer Palace is considered to be the most well preserved imperial garden in the world. There are a plethora of gardens, paths and traditional architecture that will take you hours to cover. It is well worth the visit and truly a masterpiece of its kind.
8. Page One Bookshop
One of the most popular Instagram locations in Beijing is Page One Bookshop: which is just as beautiful on the outside as it is inside. There is a huge range of Chinese contemporary books as well as translated classics sprinkled around the multiple uniquely designed layers of the shop itself. Every floor is different and will leave you scrambling to take photos from all the different angles. At night when the bookshelves are backlit, the store looks the best! Keep in mind since it is a shop, setting up professional camera gear for photos is not allowed out of respect to customers.
9. Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven was constructed under the same emperor who was responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City. It is an incredible site to see and a beautiful location for photos. The temple and its surrounding buildings symbolize the relationship between earth and heaven – the human world and God’s world – which stands at the heart of Chinese cosmogony, and also the special role played by the emperors within that relationship.* The Temple of Heaven is a very popular tourist attraction and consequently gets busy during the day. I recommend coming at opening time if you are planning to take photos!
10. The Great Wall
The area where I am standing, called Mutianyu, is considered to be one of the steeper hikes of The Wall … therefore it is less busy. If you get there at opening time – you will pretty much have the Wall to yourself.
Here are some fun facts:
– It is equal to half of the length of the equator! (~21,000KM / 13,000 Miles)
– It is not just a Wall; there are trenches, watchtowers, fortresses and barracks
– More than 1 million laborers were used for construction of the project, making it the largest (or longest) human engineering project
– The wall is not a single line. There are many walls as part of a defense network (some run parallel)
– Rice and rice flour was used in its construction!
– During peak season, the Wall sees almost 70K daily visitors ?
11. National Stadium Beijing
12. Landscape Art Museum (山水美术馆)
13. Beijing Minsheng Art Museum
The Beijing Minsheng Art Museum used to be an electronic factory in the 1980’s … since then, it’s been renovated and designed by the same folks that designed Beijing’s Guggenheim Museum and Pace Museum.
Credit: Architectural Record
14. Shichahai Area
Shichahai is another hotspot in the northwest of Beijing. There are three lakes there and the surrounding areas have many traditional Chinese residences and courtyards as well as beautiful nature.
The Place is a large shopping mall that has a long walkway boulevard with the largest sky-screen in Asia overhead. It is a great place for shopping, hanging out and taking photos.
Where to Eat:
For the best Peking Duck, visit The Red Chamber at the China World Summit Wing.
Enjoy afternoon tea at the China World Hotel (A Shangri-La Hotel).
Try the tasting menu at Grill 79.