x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ask the Expert: what to see and do in Beijing

A reader wants to know how to get the most out of Beijing in a long weekend.

I'm planning a long weekend in Beijing. Time is short so I'd be grateful for suggestions about what to see and do during my three-night stay.

The Chinese capital is a good choice for a short break. Flights are relatively inexpensive at around Dh3,100 for an economy return and, even though Beijing is some seven hours away, night flights mean you can maximise your time on the ground. Consider travelling soon as the spring weather (April and early May) is kind. Summer is oppressively hot with heavy rains, as well as the added problem of air pollution.

Choose your hotel carefully. It may be 15km and about 45 minutes out of town but a stay at the Aman at Summer Palace (www.amanresorts.com) allows you to rest and experience ancient Chinese traditions at the same time. Just steps from the Summer Palace, one of Beijing's main cultural attractions, as a guest you will be able to take a tour minus the crowds. It's expensive at US$863 (Dh3,168) per night so you need not feel guilty about asking staff to organise your cultural itinerary while you recover in the spa.

You'll find a trendier scene at the 30-room, boutique Grace Beijing (www.gracebeijing.com) located in the famous 798 Art District (www.798space.com), a former electronics factory turned modern art showcase in the north-east of the city. Double rooms cost from 986 Chinese yuan (Dh574) per night, including taxes. Spend a couple of hours browsing White Space Beijing and Long March Space (www.longmarchspace.com) to name but two.

For a taste of old Beijing wander around the hútòngs, the narrow grey alleys lined with squat dwellings, Qing Dynasty courtyard houses, markets and snack stalls, that run from east to west. Distil the experience by exploring the area around the Drum and Bell Towers once the centre of the old Mongol capital, north of the Forbidden City in Dongcheng. Climb the towers for a view over those distinctive rooftops. For souvenir shopping, try the hútòng of Dashilar, south of Tiananmen Square, for silk shops, vintage goods and trinkets.

To speed your sightseeing, hire a bike from a stand outside a subway station for about 10 yuan (Dh6) an hour and join Beijing's residents crowding the cycle lanes on most streets. Nip around the walls of the Forbidden City - a road runs between the moat and the walls affording a spectacular view of historic Beijing. The mighty Forbidden City, home to the Ming and Qing dynastic emperors, could easily take you a full day to explore.

For a slightly more potted history of the capital, visit Capital Museum (www.capitalmuseum.org.cn; closed on Mondays) to the west of the Forbidden City just outside the second ring road. Exhibits include relics from the Peking Opera and a chronological history of Beijing as well as galleries devoted to porcelain.

Beijing is one of four schools of Chinese cooking and it's hard to know where to begin tucking in. Jiaozi dumplings, a local snack, are good tourist fodder; sample a few varieties at Niuge Jiaozi, east of the Forbidden City (85 Nanheyan Dajie). For Beijing duck, go nowhere else than Da Dong (Nanxincang International Plaza, first floor; 00 86 10 5169 0328) where the birds are leaner than average and delightfully crispy.

For more information, visit english.visitbeijing.com.cn.

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