Best of Beijing: An Insider's Guide

18 November 2016
Read Time: 3.2 mins

Beijing is a city where ancient and modern worlds collide and where simple, traditional life exists intermingled with an ultra modern metropolis. Renowned for larger than life sites like the incredible Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall, Beijing’s intricate local life is too often overlooked.

Emma, a former Australian lawyer turned Mandarin speaker turned travelling yogi, shares her insider tips from two years living in the big smoke, Beijing. From how to navigate the metropolis to where to find a decent (very important) flat white, here are her favourite places to soak up life with the locals.

Emma on the Great Wall.

Best Way To Get Around Beijing

First things first, Beijing is a big city, so while you can walk around areas, navigating the whole thing on foot isn’t really feasible. Living in Beijing, Emma cycled everywhere, along with most of the city. Thanks to Beijing’s flat topography cycling is fairly easy, however you do need to compete with motorbikes in the bike lanes. The subway is a cheap and fast alternative, and Emma recommends downloading the Explore Metro Map. You can search for the location of a specific subway station or find the nearest one to where you are, making it simple to navigate the city. You will have to deal with crowds on the subway regardless of the time of day, however. Getting in and out of a jam packed subway car requires skill - sharpen your elbows people!” Emma says. 

Jingshan Park. (Image: Emma Bourke)

The Best View In The City

Jingshan Park has the only hill in all of Beijing. It’s actually a small mound made of the earth excavated from the moat around the Forbidden City, but it’s in a pretty good spot as far as views go. From the top you have a clear view over the Forbidden City and Beijing beyond. Emma says “This is a great place to come at the start of your visit to help orientate yourself with the city, and the park is lovely”.

Art in the 798 Art District. (Image: Emma Bourke)

The Best Local Art

For a dose of modern culture mixed in with local art, head to the 798 Art District. Previously an electronics factory, it is now a hub of galleries, shops and cafes. Emma says a pit stop to recharge at Cafe Flat White is a must for one of Beijing’s best coffees. 

Best Western Food

Beijing is a Pandora’s box of delicious local food, with quality dumplings and duck found around (almost) every corner in the old city. When you need a feed of something other than Chinese however – and KFC delivery doesn’t quite cut it – there are a few places to add to your fuel station list. For a hearty, healthy western breakfast in a nice cafe setting, Emma says to try Tribe Organic, Vineyard or The Rug. 

Ordering Jiambing on the street. (Image: Emma Bourke)

The Best Chinese Food

Beijing’s most famous dish is of course Kaoya, or roast duck. Emma says the best place to feast on this is at Xiao Wang Fu, a restaurant located at the north end of Ritan Park. In the summer months, the rooftop is a perfect place to enjoy your meal overlooking the park”, adds Emma. Street food however, can be just as good. Jianbing, a Chinese style pancake sold on the street is a favourite breakfast dish, filled with toppings like egg, cracker and soy sauce. 

Walking along the picturesque streets of Beijing. (Image: Emma Bourke)

Best Place For A Drink

Short answer: Sanlitun. This area is renowned with both locals and foreigners as it has the most and best bars in the city. Emma says for cocktails head to Janes & Hooch, a 1920’s urban saloon, Miles for a romantic date or small group gathering, or to watch live sports The Local. But there is one more place that is uniquely Beijing that Emma recommends, At Heaven Supermarket, down the road from Miles, you can buy drinks from the fridge at supermarket prices, then sit outside on classy plastic chairs and enjoy! It’s a winner in the warmer months, cheap and fun” says Emma. 

Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.