5 Cool, Off-Beat Things to Experience in Beijing

As I always say, I haven't been everywhere, but everywhere is on my list. With that said, China and Beijing are on my bucket list. In order to help us with off-the-beaten-path travel advice for Beijing, I've enlisted the help and expertise of peer traveler and writer, Talek Nantes.

Enjoy her 5 Cool, Off-Beat Things to Experience in Beijing!

I worked in Beijing on and off for many years. I love that city.  I spent a lot of time there wandering its alleyways and sampling its street food. Beijing is not only China’s bustling capital city, it also hosts a disproportionate share of China’s top attractions; The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and many more. But there is another side of Beijing that tourists rarely get to. Here is my take on some of the coolest things you can do in Beijing beyond the top sights.

Explore Beijing’s hutongs or alleyways in a rickshaw.  How cool does that sound?  There are central rickshaw rental locations at the Drum and Bell Tower and Beihai Park. Make sure to negotiate the fee beforehand. Use hand signals if you don’t speak Chinese.  They’re used to it and will understand you.  Plus, it’s fun to challenge your communication skills.

Stay in a hutong hotel. Skip the western hotels and hostels. For the sake of an experience that is so authentic, you’ll suddenly start speaking Mandarin, stay in a hutong.  These are the traditional Chinese homes that have been around for centuries. Some are pretty basic, but others have been renovated. Experience what it was like to live in one of these in centuries past.  You can find a good selection online.  Courtyard of a traditional hotel of a hutong or narrow alleyway in Beijing.

Visit Wangfujing's night market.  Wangfujing is a major pedestrian shopping street. Here is where you will find the city’s oldest and most prestigious department store. My favorite hangout on this avenue is the night market.  A few yuan will get you a steaming plate of spicy dumplings.  They also have a very interesting variety of food specialties including scorpions and all sorts of insects.

Dress up like an Empress in the Forbidden City. Ok, it’s tacky, I know.  But dressing up in period costumes is one of my guilty pleasures and it might be one of yours. So, there you have it.  One of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had was dressing up with one of the attendants at the Forbidden City and pretending to be members of the ancient Royal Court.  You’re not dressing up in a mall location in New Jersey, you’re dressing up and walking around in the Forbidden City in the exact same hallways and gardens where the ancient Chinese royalty walked.  That’s what really registers with me.

Party at a jazz club in Beihai Lake Park. The park is right next to the Forbidden City, so you can make a long day of it.  During the day the park is beautiful with its gardens and graceful curved Chinese bridges. But at night it really rocks with clubs featuring all kinds of music. Just walk along the perimeter of the lake and peruse the restaurants and clubs until you find one that you like.

**Post contributed by Talek Nantes who is the founder of the travel blog, www.travelswithtalek.com, where she shares travel tips, advice and inspiration to help travelers create their own unique travel experiences.  Talek has traveled to over 100 countries and believes that when it comes to travel, it’s all about the experience.**

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