Beijing's Offbeat Attractions — Sometimes Lesser Known is Better
When visiting Beijing, there are lots of interesting sites to see with rich history, but sometimes all of the temples and monuments, though lovely, can run together a little bit. Why not spice things up by seeing something a little more memorable? If cities were people, Beijing would be your crazy grandma who always has some new crazy story to share, as the unexpected is always expected, and “off-the-beaten-path” describes the majority of this lovable capital.
Here are just a few of the offbeat attractions worth seeing if you find yourself getting a bit, shall we say, “templed out”.
A typical Art Areas
If you’re into the arts, make sure to hit up the famous 798 art district. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous though, not far away is Caochangdi, a Chinese village on the outskirts of the city dotted with art galleries, including that of the famous Ai Weiwei. In fact, it was Ai who first decided to emigrate from the 798 area out to the countryside.
While the dirt paths and small village shops vastly contrast the built-up-ness of 798, make no mistake – Caochangdi is home to a number of the high-profile galleries of Beijing. Though the area is tough to maneuver, it pays off. The best strategy is to bring a phone and a list of gallery phone numbers, as maps and addresses are next to useless here.
After gallery-hopping, try Caoba, a Caochangdi bar that hosts movies on their rooftop terrace.
- Locations: 798 Art District (798艺术区), Caochangdi (草场地)
- 798: Take bus 408, 420, 571, 701, 847, or 983 to Jiangtai lukou xi (将台路口西), walk southeast to Jiuxianqiao Rd, then turn left.
- Caochangdi: Take the 402, 418, 688, 909, 955, and 973 all go there. Get off at either the Caochangdi (草场地) stop or the Nangao (南皋) stop.
China Honey Bee Museum
Take a trip up to Fragrant Hills, which is especially beautiful in the Fall as leaves change colors, and while you’re there, wander into the Honey Bee Museum. Here you’ll learn all about the history and evolution of bees, beekeeping practices, and even sample different kinds of honey. One subject of particular interest is the different dances bees use to communicate with one another.
- Location: Fragrant Hills Botanical Garden (West of the Sleeping Buddha Temple)
- Hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm
- Price: 2 yuan
- Getting there: Take bus 318,331,360,360 fast 563,630,696,698,714 to Beijing Botanical Garden Station (北京植物园) or Temple of the Reclining Buddha Station (佛寺站)
Beijing Wax Museum
Learn about all of the great figures of Chinese history from ancient emperors to recent pop icons and everything in between at the Beijing Wax Museum, located in the Hall of Abstinence in Ditan Park. There are three exhibition halls, housing well over 100 figures.
- Location: Ditan Park Hall of Abstinence
- Hours: 8:30am – 4:30pm
- Price: 5 yuan
- From the Subway: Take subway line 2 or 5 to Yonghegong and walk north
Offbeat That Can't Be Beat
With the wealth of locales to tour during a visit to Beijing many tourists overlook the lesser known sites and bites of the capital. Though these locations don’t hold the same prestige as others in the limelight, they are able to sustain an air of mystery and chastity others have lost. Thus, on occasion, the lesser known the site, the better.
The HIAS Gourmet asks the question why just indulge in the most exquisite Chinese and Asian cuisine in the Orient — why not learn how to cook it too? Hidden within the central hutong area, 7 Xinsi Hutong to be exact, the HIAS offers not just some of the most mouth watering dishes in town but it also gives customers the chance to learn from top chefs, make a few new friends and “play with their food”.
Kill two birds with one stone is an idiom of Chinese origin and so is Chinese Tea. Ming Xiang Ge Tea House provides both the traditional serving styles in an establishment that has serves customers for centuries as well as serving up modern, mouth watering dishes. Located in the Nanluoguxiang, 5 Heizhima Hutong it offers the chance to both see the preserved culture and then consume it.
The Purple Bamboo Park resembles the cinematic backdrop of Chinese legends and films without the lines and paparazzi-esque visitors. This well-kept Beijing secret is conveniently located nearby the Wanshou Temple and the Beijing Art Museum, offering tourists a full day of sightseeing. Filled with streams and lakes yet somehow fitted right in the center of the city, visitors may enjoy one of the few truly serene locales in the Beijing.
For those who enjoy antiques the Baoguo Temple Culture Market presents the opportunity to explore the richest selection of Buddha statues, vintage fashion as well as prayer beads, jade bracelets and other orient oriented jewelry. And what better souvenir in China than “China” itself. The market offers most every style of China from the shiny new to antiques as well. Find all this and more at 1 Guanganmen Nei Dajie.
Watch the Tea Houses, Cafés and Art Houses of Wu Dao Kou transform into one of the liveliest bar and club streets in the city. Attracting tourists and locals alike, the mix of neon lights and skin tones provides an oriental backdrop with an international crowd and infinite possibilities. From a dance to drink, enjoy the highlights of the Wu Dao Kou bar street into the wee hours of the morning.
Inside The Artist Studios, nestled in the 798 Art District not only offers you the option of taking in some of China’s ancient art and culture; it also offers the chance to take some home with you! The choices range from the contemporary to the controversial. Inside the Artist Studios is hidden within the largest art district in the city: Dashanzi 798 Art District, 4 Jiuxianqiao Road.
China Highlights Caters for Mainstream AND Offbeat!
We specialize in tailor-making tours to suit your interests. Though our Beijing tours don’t cover all the over 70 Beijing Attractions we have information on, just let us know if you want to visit one of the more offbeat ones (or something else entirely), and we will do our very best to work it into your itinerary for an excellent value price.
Questions and Answers About Beijing's Offbeat Attractions — Sometimes Lesser Known is Better
I updated this article on March 1, 2014
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