Themed Tours in Beijing
Beijing by Bicycle
Although cars are quickly clogging up the roads, Beijingers still cycle to work, to shopping malls, and even to bars for a night out on the town. Bicycles in China carry the same loads as trucks — cyclists have been spotted pulling wagons carrying everything from refrigerators and computers to a dozen rusty bicycles! But for your own cycling tour of Beijing, you won't need to haul anything except a bottle of water and maybe a printout of this guide! The entire tour should take approximately three hours at a leisurely pace.
Start: East gate of Jingshan Park.
Bike south from Jingshan Dong Lu, turn right at the T-intersection onto Jingshan Qian Jie, and follow the road as it curves south (left) around the Forbidden City. You are now on Beichang Jie. Go straight until you come to the western corner of Tian'anmen Gate. Cross Dong Chang'an Jie.
National Centre For The Performing Arts
Dreamed up by French architect Paul Andreu, this space-age building was finished in December 2007. The giant, dome-shaped structure has been nicknamed Jidanke'r (the egg shell) by Beijingers. The project has had its share of controversy; many think it's a big waste of money and that the futuristic design clashes with the surrounding buildings. The entire structure floats like an island in the middle of a lake. At night, the theatre's semi-transparent facade allows passers-by to peek in at performances in one of the three auditoriums, a feature meant to highlight the building's public nature.
Where: West of the Great Hall of the People, Tian'anmen Square.
Telephone: +86 (0) 10 6655 0000
Continue south along Rendahuitang Xilu and fork left before turning right onto Tian'anmen W. Road, past the Great Hall of the People and Mao's Mausoleum.
Qian Men is actually two separate towers. They once formed the main entrance to Beijing, which was walled off before Mao's reign. The one north of the main street (Qian Men Dong Dajie) is Jian Lou, or Arrow Tower. To the south is Zhengyang Men, a towering remnant of the city wall through which emperors passed on their annual procession from the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven. At the top of Zhengyang Men, an enjoyable photo exhibition depicts Beijing's 1949 markets, temples and hutongs. Make sure to park your bike somewhere safe, preferably a place that has an attendant.
Where: South side of Tian'anmen Square.
Cost: RMB20 summer; RMB10 winter
Continue on Tian'anmen Square Road over Qianmen Xidajie. Go round a loop until you're on Tian'anmen Square E. Road, biking back along the eastern side of the square. Turn right onto Xin Da Li (at the pedestrian walkway just north of Mao's Mausoleum), and head up the small hill. Turn right at the T-intersection and cycle until you come to a second T-intersection at Dongjiao Minxiang.
Former Legation Quarter (Shiguan Jie)
The embassies of the major powers of the day, international banks, a post office and other outposts of Western civilization were located here between 1861 and 1959. When Allied Forces occupied Beijing, they set up headquarters here, and it was off limits to the Chinese. At the time, an imperial temple was within the cordoned-off area, which meant that the emperor had to go through formal diplomatic entry-exit procedures in order to worship — a huge humiliation for the Chinese. At 44 Dongjiao Minxiang is the building that once housed the former American Embassy. Keep riding east (left) on Dongjiao Minxiang. On your left you'll see number 27, where the Russian Embassy once stood — it is now the back entrance to China's Supreme Court. The red-brick building across the road is the former Hong Kong Shanghai Bank of China (HSBC). Further up is 15 Dongjiao Minxiang, currently home to China's State Council. Note the slate blue and flowery white decorations above the door, a nod to the building's past occupant, the old French Embassy. Keep cycling east, across Zhengyi Lu. After you cross Taijichang Dajie, you'll see the Dongjiao Minxiang Catholic Church, the only building from legation times that is still in service. From the church, head north on Taijichang Dajie until you hit Dongchang'an Jie. Turn left and ride until you get to Nan Chizi Dajie (east side of the Forbidden City, marked by a big red entrance). Turn right and head north until you get to the Dong Hua Men intersection. Turn left, past the parked cars, and turn left again to ride along:
Moat of the Forbidden City
The moat that surrounds the Forbidden City is 3,800m (4,155 yards) long — the length of 35 football fields. Soil that was dug out to make the moat was used to build the central hill in Jingshan Park. As you follow the road (Dong Hua Men Dajie), you'll cut straight through the entrance to the Forbidden City, past Taihe Men (the Gate of Great Harmony), and come out on the other side. Follow the road as it curves around the moat. You should be at the intersection of Xi Hua Men and Nanchang Jie. Head north until you get to Jinshan Qianjie and turn right. Go past Jingshan Park on your left until you get to Bei He Yan Dajie, then turn left so you're riding north. Take a left at Di'an Men Dong Dajie and then your first right (at the pedestrian walkway).
In 2006, this crooked road was smoothed out with bricks, and the smaller shops and restaurants were ordered to clean up their entrances and hang up bilingual signs. Nanluoguxiang is home to a mix of locals who have lived in the area for generations and foreigners who want to feel as though they're living in Old Beijing. They love the neighbourly atmosphere and feel lucky to be experiencing a way of life that is quickly dying out. There are plenty of bars, cafés and restaurants on Nanluoguxiang.
Pass By Bar & Fish Nation
Pass By Bar was the one that started it all, and the tastefully redone courtyard complex here has a great, relaxing ambience. But if you want drinkable coffee (or even great French fries!), head to the cosy rooftop of Fish Nation.
Where: Pass By Bar, 108 Nanluoguxiang
Telephone: +86 (0) 10 8403 8004
Where: 7 Fish Nation, 31 Nanluoguxiang
Telephone: +86 (0) 10 6401 3249
If you're at Pass By Bar, head north, or go south if you're at Fish Nation. Turn west onto Shajing Hutong.
This alley has two courtyard houses with exteriors in perfect condition. Number 8 is used by the armed forces and boasts a three-car garage.
Turn right at the end of the road, then take a sharp left, a right after 50 yards or so and a sharp left into Fangzhuanchang hutong (there's a grocery on the corner). Follow the alley to the main road, Di'anmenwai Dajie, where you'll turn left, then take your first right at the bank (ICBC). You're now at the northern corner of Qianhai.
Bike north (turn right) and, once you pass the congestion around the bridge, this turns into a fabulous bike ride along the lakes. Stop in at any of the sites, as you wish, otherwise pedal along at a leisurely pace.
Stay on the eastern side of the lake (Qianhai Beiyan/Houhai Beiyan). Cycle past the former residence of Song Qingling and after about 300m (984 ft) you'll see a decorative wooden gate beside the lake and a corresponding smaller sign with photos of various dishes on the right. They point to:
Jiu Men Xiao Chi (Nine Gate Snacks)
These stalls moved here from the city's historical Qian Men area in early 2006. When you enter, head left to buy a food card. (Money you don't use will be refunded when you return the card.) The main aisle is full of Muslim stalls, while the ones in the doorway serve pork. You cannot take non-Muslim food into the main aisle, so if you want to pick up a plate of deep-fried pork and onion rolls at one of the entrance stalls, do it after you order some tasty Halal dishes. Tables are dotted throughout the restaurant, and inside is a stage with traditional Chinese music performances. The name of this place is a reference to the nine gates in the inner quarters of the Forbidden City.
Where: 1 Xiaoyou Hutong.
Head back to Houhai Beiyan and follow the road around the lake, crossing Yinding Qiao (Silver Ingot Bridge). Continue south around the lake, along Qianhai Nanyan, until you can exit onto the main street, Di'anmen Xidajie. At Di'anmen Xidajie, turn left and head west. Turn right when you get to Dianmen Neidajie, which will take you back to Jingshan Park.