Beijing is best summed up by the words of novelist and playwright Lao She (1899-1966), one of the city's most famous sons: "filthy, beautiful, decadent, bustling, chaotic, idle, lovable." From sprawling imperial gardens to cramped hutong alleyways, Beijing pulses with vitality and contradiction.
For Ming dynasty emperors-who presided over the creation of masterworks like the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the later stages of the Great Wall of China-Beijing was nothing less than the center of the universe. There are still a million reasons to visit Beijing today, and T+L's Beijing travel guide can tell you why.
It is the nation's cultural and political center, and the second largest city in China. It has both modern marvels and famous temples and gardens woven through the buzzing metropolis (the capital's modernization drive prior to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics led to the creation of iconic new buildings like the CCTV Tower, Bird's Nest, and Water Cube). It can be somewhat more relaxed than Shanghai or Hong Kong, but equally as packed with people. The best ways to get around are cabs or the subway, but renting a bike will help you see as much of Beijing as possible. It's a massive city, with enviable sites spread far and wide.
A trip to Beijing is best during the autumn months, from September to November. The weather is nice, and there are fewer tourists. Winters are icy, but the sites are less crowded then; springs are arid but crowds are heavy then, coming in by the droves for the Spring Festival. Summer is blazing hot with heavy rainstorms, but also peak tourist season. A warning: Air pollution is worst in winter and summer.
Know Before You Go
Though Beijing is the capital of China, few locals speak English, compared with Shanghai and Hong Kong. Haggling is expected at markets like the Silk Market, Maliandao, Panjiayuan, and Hongqiao, so brush up on your survival Chinese for best results.