48 hours in Beijing

48 hours in Beijing

This whirlwind tour reveals a city that's becoming known as much for its hip bars, restaurants and art as for its historic attractions
Factory 798
Factory 798 is a must for art enthusiasts.

Beijing was in a hurry to impress for last year’s Olympics -- and it did. But since the Games the capital has become even cooler, with restaurants, bars, galleries and a whole lot more. Here’s the best of Beijing for the visitor with only 48 hours to do it all. Obama, take note.

Eat

After years in Shanghai’s world-class eats shadow, Beijing is finally coming into its own. Maison Boulud, which offers French fine dining in the Legation Quarter, is one of the best new restaurants in the city.

Other excellent options include Sureno, which serves Mediterranean cuisine from The Opposite House hotel, and Domus, an Italian bistro and bar in a hutong near Tiananmen Square.

For roast duck with a French twist there's Duck de Chine in 1949: The Hidden City.

Looking for comfort food? Quality burgers can be found at Let’s Burger, Union Bar & Grill and the old stalwart the Den, all in Sanlitun.

Drink it down

China BarChina Bar.

Much to the surprise of Beijingers who fretted about post-Olympic blues, the party hasn't died, even more than a year later.

For early drinks and an impressive view, visit the China Bar on the 65th floor of the new Park Hyatt, overlooking the CCTV headquarters and the recently scorched Mandarin Oriental hotel. Later, start a bar crawl at Salud, a French tapas bar, in the Drum and Bell area. Then roam the many bars of Naluoguxiang, a renovated hutong.

Another good bet is Bed, a bunker-like bar in an alley behind the Bell Tower and home to perhaps the city’s best mojitos. Nearby is the much-lauded Hanggai, a Mongolian folk band that appears regularly at MAO Live House and Yugong Yishan, two of the city’s best live music venues.

There’s no shortage of clubs in Beijing, which are mostly concentrated around the Workers’ Stadium and raucous Sanlitun.

Although guilty of various crimes against good taste, club Chocolate near Ritan Park is where many recent Beijing nights end. The club caters to the city’s Russian diaspora -- with Renaissance portraits hanging from the ceiling, velvet-draped walls and wild stage shows featuring such sites as fire-eaters and unicycles.

Other good late-night options are Punk in the Opposite House, as well as LAN Club. Song Music Bar and Kitchen in The Place shopping center have both undergone recent makeovers.

See it all

No visit to Beijing is complete without a stop at the Forbidden City. But let’s face it, dodging the tourist groups can be a drag. Thankfully, a part of the Forbidden City has been given a makeover. In the northeast corner, Juanqinzhai was built in the 18th century to be Emperor Qianlong’s theater room. Untouched since the last emperor left in 1924, Chinese and foreign experts have spent six years restoring the theater.

Despite gentrification in recent years, Factory 798 gallery district, or Dashanzi, in northeast Beijing, is still a must for art enthusiasts. Ullens Center of Contemporary Art is worth a visit.

For a low-key alternative to sprawling Factory 798, check out the nearby Caochangdi district, home to Pekin Fine Arts. The Shop in Jianwai SOHO sells objects related to projects by Guangzhou-based Vitamin Creative Space, an alternative art center.

Sleep it off

Hotel G, Beijing Hotel G, Beijing

The Opposite House, a Kenzo Kuma-designed boutique hotel in the sprawling Village at Sanlitun, provides an up-market vibe in Beijing’s center of hedonism. Hotel G, only a year old, is a good boutique option.

For a courtyard experience, there's the exquisite Hotel Cote Cour, semi-hidden in a hutong not far from Wangfujing, the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare.

Mitch Moxley is a journalist based in Beijing. He's written for publications including Time, The Globe and Mail, Foreign Policy and The Guardian from China, Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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