Braving Big Beijing

Despite pollution concerns, China’s capital city is worth a visit and has a plethora of activities to keep any tourist busy for a long weekend. The biggest challenge is deciding how to spend three to four days because the city offers much more than just easy access to the Great Wall. Beijing really is a magnificent city with broad avenues and palatial buildings.

The Temple of Heaven
You can easily spend a few hoursmeandering around the 660 acres of  medieval religious buildings and gardens. All in all, it’s a very symbolic use of space from the concept as a place to pray for a good harvest to the actual physical layout. Within the park, you’ll also see joggers, a beautiful rose garden and trees older than your grandparents. In 1998, it was justly inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Open 6am – 8pm at 1 Tiantan E Rd, Dongcheng
The Great Wall
Any excursion to Beijing would be remiss without a visit to the Great Wall. Though you can’t see it from space, it’s still asight to behold. Getting there is easy;  it’s more about choosing the experience. There are a few places on the wall to visit from Beijing, on a sliding scale of overly touristy to slightly beaten downand unkempt. We hired a private car for  RMB 500 to pick us up from the hotel at 8am in the morning to drive the hour and half to Mutianyu, which falls somewhere in the middle of that touristy/unkempt spectrum.
By now, it’s a very organised affair. You can buy tickets to ride a cable car up to the wall and, weather permitting, you can take a toboggan back down. Expect to spend around two to three hours climbing up steep parts of the wall to the various watchtowers, hoping to get that perfect Great Wall shot. We recommend bringing a backpack, to keep your hands free. Pack a raincoat, sunglasses, sunscreen and water.
The Summer Palace
The UNESCO site, hailed as “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design”, can’t be missed. You’ll need a few hours to work your way throughthe vast area of pavilions, halls, palaces,  temples and bridges, all surrounding the lakes, islands gardens and hills. Despite the crowds, it makes for a very peaceful and pleasing experience. There are so many attractions within the gardens that it’s hard to pinpoint a few to mention here. Bring along water and snacks, wear sneakers and a hat and make sure to pick up a map on your way in.
Open 7am-7pm, sights: 8am-5pm in summer: 8.30am-4.30pm in winter at 19 Xinjiangongmen Rd, Haidian,
Tian’anmen Square
Obviously the square is big, but it’s really hard to imagine how big until you are standing right there. To go from Tian’anmen Square across the street to the Tian’anmen gate outside of the Forbidden Palace could easily take 25 minutes, once you take the underground walkway and get through security.
One of the largest city squares in the world, Tian’anmen Square is located in the heart of the city. The square contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China"National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Dongcheng District
And once you’re ready to break for lunch or dinner, head over to Capital M for delicious classics such as Gazpacho, Chicken Pate, Smoked Duck Breast, fresh pastas and M’s famous Pavlova. Request a seat on the terrace so you’ll have a breath taking view overlooking the Forbidden City to Qianmen Gate, including Tian'anmen Square. Once you’re done feasting, head over to Qianmen shopping street for a some good, old-fashioned people watching and a bit of browsing.
Capital M: 3/F, 2 Qianmen Pedestrian Street
Forbidden Palace
With 980 buildings and over 14 million annual tourists, this UNESCO World Heritage Site isn’t just the most visited museum in the world, it’s also quite daunting. You can hire a tour guide to take you through, or you can just follow the maps and hordes of people. It’s close to Tian’anmen Square, so you’ll easily be able to see both on the same day. There are loads of philosophical and religious symbols in every detail of the space, and you’ll find an abundance of artworks and artefacts from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Wear sneakers, pack water and bring a hand held fan and patience. This is busy China at its best.
Open 8:30am-4:30pm at 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng.
These narrow alleys are a throwback to old Beijing. There isn’t a specific place to go check out these little streets, but rather they are scattered around the city, and in other Northern Chinese cities as well.
Stroll through the winding alleyways to see mahjong games in session, cafés, little stores, communal cooking and all manner of community activities. You can hire a pull cart to take you around, but it’s just as much fun to walk through parts of it on your own if you have time.
Where To Stay: A Stylish Stay At Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing

Just like Beijing, The Shangri-La, Beijing is massive. Just a short ride away from the Summer Palace, the hotel property is split into two wings, with 670 guestrooms and 7 restaurants and bars. This is definitely the place to stay if you’re seeking a peaceful respite from the day’s sightseeing and activities.
As soon as you step inside, it’s obvious that the Shangri-La, Beijing is a five-star property. Service is impeccable, the lobby is clean and bright – it’s a real pleasure to walk in here.
All of the guest rooms have modern facilities, luxurious amenities and offer broadband and wireless Internet access. Depending on what side of the hotel you’re in, you’ll have different view of the city. The surprisingly spacious rooms also have movie channels and a well-stocked mini bar for when you just can’t be on your feet anymore.
If it’s comfort you seek, the Shangri-La’s exclusive spa, CHI, brings some of the largest and most luxurious private treatment suites to the city. With individual and couple rooms, it’s as if each guest has their very own “spa within a spa.” The eleven CHI suites have a changing area and rain-like shower, in addition to heat treatments, bathing and relaxation spaces. After a long day of climbing the wall, a long massage and spa session is a sublime way to unwind before dinner.
You can access the two towers via the lobby floor, and the health & wellness floor where CHI is located. If you have it in you, go to the gym or indoor pool; both have plenty of space and seemed pretty quiet on our visit. If you didn’t already get in your steps traipsing around the Summer Palace or the Great Wall, the gym and pool are perfect surroundings for a sweat session.
If you get the chance, take advantage of the Valley Wing Lounge. Encompassing the whole of the second floor, it’s one of the largest executive lounges in the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts group worldwide. Sip on a complimentary glass of wine and pretend to read the newspaper while staring out at the Central TV Tower, the ninth tallest tower in the world. Having spent too much time in executive lounges, this is without doubt one of the nicest ones out there.
When in Beijing, thou shall eat Peking Duck. Luckily, you can do this without leaving the hotel. Shang Palace is a beautiful restaurant with floor to ceiling windows that showcase the large outdoor green space on which the hotel occupies. The menu is packed with authentic Chinese signature fare, local dishes, authentic Peking Duck, regional specialties and a daily dim sum lunch. We recommend that you pre-order your duck, as it will take around 40 minutes to roast in the crown jewel of the restaurant, the specially designed oven that cooks the duck over imported date wood. If Peking duck isn’t your thing, new restaurant, Azur by Mauro Colagreco, the Michelin star-toting restaurateur, just opened at the end of last month.
Another serious highlight of the property is the secluded garden, located at the back of the property. It offers a stunning view of the landscaped garden, complete with a Koi pond, Chinese pavilions, recreated Terracotta Warriors and a waterfall. Have a walk around and then saddle up to the Garden Bar and Terrace for a cocktail or a beer and enjoy the mini oasis in the bustling traffic just a few meters away.