Strolling Around the Back Lakes
You'll find everything around these man-made lakes, from historic courtyard homes, to tranquil spots, to amusing entertainment. Speedo-clad elders dive into the lake year-round -- including the chilly winter months -- and ducks congregate on a small man-made island on the western end of the lake. Visit around sunset for a particularly romantic experience, and stroll to the nearby restaurants and bars for dinner and drinks.
Sinking Your Teeth into Crisp, Juicy Peking Duck at Made in China
A hotel restaurant it is, but this is the best place to enjoy the capital's most famous dish, and the dining room -- set in the middle of an open kitchen -- is the best place to see chefs perform their magic.
Investigating the Northeast Corner of the Forbidden City
Away from the main north-south axis on which the former palace's grander halls stand, there's a more human scale similar to that of the rapidly disappearing hutong beyond the palace's walls, although with much greater luxury. Venturing far from the main arteries is well worth the effort -- you'll find treasures like the ornate theater building where the Empress Dowager Cixi watched her favorite operas on demand and the well in which she ended the life of her nephew's favorite concubine.
Praying for a Smog-Free Day with the Monks at Beijing Temples
Many of the capital's temples have once again become genuine places of worship, as well as tourist attractions. The Yonghe Gong has an active and approachable community of Tibetan monks (although under careful scrutiny by the authorities), while the leafy Fayuan Si houses amicable Chinese Buddhist monks in Beijing's most venerable temple. Baiyun Guan is the Daoist alternative, where blue-frocked monks wear their hair in the rarely seen traditional manner -- long and tied in a bun at the top of the head.
Bargaining for Fakes
At Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang, the first asking prices for foreigners are at least 10 to 15 times those asked of Chinese, but don't let that deter you from visiting. This weekend market has the city's best selection of bric-a-brac, including row upon crowded row of calligraphy, jewelry, ceramics, teapots, ethnic clothing, Buddha statues, paper lanterns, Cultural Revolution memorabilia, army belts, little wooden boxes, Ming- and Qing-style furniture, old pipes, opium scales, painted human skulls, and more conventional souvenirs. A whole other genre of fakes can be found at the Ri Tan Shangwu Lou where samples of Marc Jacobs jackets and Diane von Furstenberg dresses cram the racks.
Haggling for Tea at Malian Dao
If you're a real tea lover, it's worth the jaunt to this far-flung tea street, which features several shopping complexes' worth of tea shops, each individually owned and selling leaves from all over the country. You can try pricey pu'er, the lovely smoked lapsang souchong, and delicate green dragon well tea. Most vendors offer free samples, so pull up a chair and feel free to bargain.
Getting Behind a Wok and Leaping Fire in Cooking School
Several establishments offer Chinese cuisine lessons, including Black Sesame Kitchen, Hutong Cuisine, and the Hutong.
Unwinding at a Traditional Teahouse
Several quiet teahouses offer you the chance to remove yourself temporarily from the tourist rush. The teahouse in the Sanwei Bookstore offers live traditional music with its bottomless cups of jasmine. For a little extra, the Teahouse of Family Fu in the Back Lakes area brews your oolong (wulong) in the Chinese version of the tea ceremony. Both teahouses are furnished with replica Ming dynasty tables and chairs and make ideal spots for reading, writing, or doing absolutely nothing.
Seeing a Band at Yugong Yishan
The owners of the now-defunct Loup Chante have created what Beijing lacked for years: an atmospheric venue showcasing an eclectic range of musical styles, from Mongolian mouth music to acid jazz. It's stuffy, smoky, housed in a historic building, and run by serious and talented musicians.
Hiking Along the Great Wall at Jiankou
Our favorite part of the wall is so untouristed that there isn't a tacky postcard tout in sight. The 5-hour hike meanders along a vertigo-inducing stretch of wall that isn't for the faint of heart -- but it's an unforgettable experience.
Bicycling Through the Hutong Neighborhoods
We can't get enough of the hutong. After taking a stroll, hop on a bike for a completely different experience in the capital's old neighborhoods.
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