Top 10 Things to Do in Beijing

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On my current visa, I haven't been able to travel since I got back to Bangkok in September. Naturally, my mind has been wandering to faraway places more often than usual. We have a few trips booked for the upcoming months (I'm looking at you Singapore!), but for now I'm left reminiscing on adventures of the past. A good friend of mine is headed to Thailand for New Year's (can't wait!) via China so I thought I'd put together a helpful guide to Beijing based on my first trip to Asia in 2011. For visitors to China's capital city, here's the top 10 things you should include in your itinerary:

1. Shop Sanlitun...

sanlitun
sanlitun

Literally translated as "Three Neighborhood Village," Sanlitun is a popular shopping and entertainment area in Beijing. Locals, expats and foreigners alike flock to the area's premier shopping center, Sanlitun Village (pictured above), for its large assortment of international brands and restaurants. Next door, don't miss Yashow Market for Chinese souvenirs at unbeatable prices - haggling required.

2. ...and hit up Bar Street while you're in the area

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beijing3

On the east side of North Sanlitun Street, you'll find the infamous Bar Street. With more than 80 bars and clubs, it's the center of the city's nightlife scene. Beware: extremely horrible hangovers will ensue.

2. Try Peking duck at The Peninsula Hotel

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beijing1

I didn't take any photos of the food itself as I was too busy stuffing my face full of it, but you can see me looking pretty excited in this shot we took outside The Peninsula before we went in to devour the duck deliciousness at Huang Ting. While there are a ton of great spots to sample this famous delicacy, I loved the hutong-inspired ambience of this underground restaurant and couldn't get enough of the crispy duck wrapped in traditional paper-thin pancakes with sliced cucumbers and a dash of hoisin sauce.

3. Get lost in the Forbidden City

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beijing10
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beijing9

Spread out over 250 acres and consisting of more than 9,000 rooms, it's easy to feel lost in this imperial palace complex from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. Hire a guide for a more comprehensive overview of the grand structures that exemplify Chinese palatial architecture ~ plus, they have all the juicy secrets about life inside the palace walls more than 500 years ago!

4. Gaze up at the Temple of Heaven

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beijing11

Among centuries-old Chinese cypress, juniper and scholar trees, the Temple of Heaven stands tall as a royal altar where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties held annual ceremonies to pray to Heaven for good harvest. Arrive early in the morning to see locals doing kung fu and tai chi on the surrounding grounds and keep an eye out for calligraphers practicing the revered Chinese art form.

5. Stroll through the Summer Palace

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beijing8

Of all the imperial sites in Beijing, the Summer Palace is by far my favorite. The UNESCO Heritage royal garden has been declared "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design." If you're starting to feel a little templed-out, you can catch a boat on surrounding Kunming Lake and take in the gardens and palaces from afar.

6. Hang out in Tiananmen Square

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beijing2
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beijing12

Steeped in history and surrounded by the nation's most important monuments, Tiananmen Square has been a focal point of Chinese politics since Mao Zedong's heyday. Today, it is a much more peaceful place than it has been in the past and you can expect large crowds of domestic tourists taking photos of everything - including you.

7. Party around Houhai Lake

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beijing5

Head to the hutong neighborhood around Houhai Lake, the largest of three lakes in central Beijing, at nightfall when the bars and restaurants get busy with expats and young locals. From shisha lounges to strip clubs and karaoke on every corner, you're sure to find something up your alley in the area.

8. Get artsy in the 798 Art District

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beijing4

The Dashanzi Art District, or 798 Art Zone, is an area comprised of 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings that house a flourishing artistic community. Quirky sculptures and an array of art galleries line the streets, featuring contemporary works greatly inspired by the country's checkered past.

9. Wander down Qianmen Street and its many alleyways

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beijing6

Located near Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing, Qianmen Street has been a thriving area for more than 600 years. Characterized by its decorated archways, streetcars and traditional Chinese shops, it as an essential stopover if you're looking to get a glimpse into everyday life in Beijing. Let your senses guide you through the side streets and alleyways if you can pull yourself away from the main stretch's many attractions.

10. Take a day trip to the Great Wall

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greatwall2

What's a trip to the People's Republic without seeing one of the most impressive wonders of the world ~ The Great Wall of China. While you may not have time to trek the entire 370 mile-long wall, you can at least take a day trip to some of its more well-preserved sections just a few hours outside of Beijing.

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greatwall

Bursting with imperial history, unparalleled architecture and fun nightlife, Beijing is a city that shouldn't be missed by any discerning traveler. It's been a few years since I've been to China, so I'd love to hear suggestions of places to add to this list! Do you agree with the spots I included?

| PHOTOGRAPHY | by Bianca Regan and Amanda Boleman

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