|Photo by Freeimages.com/Joan Ho|
by Gavin Haines, The Daily Telegraph, June 13, 2016
China’s pulsating capital – a city of imperial history, abundant restaurants, leafy parks and time-honoured tea rituals – is now that little bit closer for millions of Britons thanks to the launch of new direct flights between Manchester and Beijing.
The four-times-a-week service with Hainan Airlines makes Manchester the only UK airport outside of London to offer year-round direct access to mainland China.
- Read more: the best hotels for Manchester Airport
Economists predict it could give a £250m boost to the UK tourism industry, but it will also make it easier than ever for British travellers to discover the many wonders and eccentricities of the Chinese capital. Here are ten reasons why Beijing should be on your radar:
1. You can hangout in hutongs
Most of Beijing’s hutong districts have, alas, been swept away by the tide of progress, demolished to make way for new roads and shiny skyscrapers. But some of these low-rise, narrow-street neighbourhoods have clung on and today they offer a rare glimpse of a bygone Beijing. Some of the city’s best bars, restaurants and markets can be found in the last remaining hutongs where residents live cheek by jowl as they have done for centuries.
Beijing's hutongs offer a traditional slice of Chinese city.
2. There’s a giant wall
Myths abound about the Great Wall of China, which, contrary to popular belief, cannot be seen from space (at least not with the naked eye). Built to keep marauding armies out of China, the defensive wall – which dates back to the 7th century – meanders roughly 5,500 miles across the country. Some of the best preserved sections, however, are located just outside Beijing, such as the scenic Juyong Pass.
Beijing is the gateway to some of the best preserved stretches of the Great Wall.
3. You are (now) permitted to enter the Forbidden City
A visit to the world’s largest palace complex is forbidden no more; in fact, for many tourists, a trip to this rambling fortress is one of Beijing’s numerous highlights. Off limits for nearly 500 years, the Forbidden City was home to two reclusive dynasties between 1420 and 1912, but today everyone can enjoy the imperial architecture and art of this Unesco World Heritage Site.
The splendour of the Forbidden City was off limits for nearly 500 years.
4. You can feel the weight of history in Tiananmen Square
China’s ceaseless censorship tsars work overtime to stop its citizens learning about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when government troops brutally supressed a pro-democracy rally, leaving scores dead. Feel the weight of history with a visit to the square, where the “Tank Man” famously stood in front of a column of tanks the day after the massacre.
Zhengyangmen Gate in the notorious Tiananmen Square.
5. It has (nearly) all the tea in China
Taking tea is a time-honoured tradition in China and for travellers wedded to a builder’s brew, Beijing’s bountiful infusions could provide grounds for divorce. There’s a tea for every occasion in the city – green tea, gunpowder tea, golden monkey tea and jasmine tea, to name a few – and the best place to sample them is Maliandao Tea Market, where some 900 vendors ply their leafy trade.
6. It does the best Peking duck
Most of us know a Chinese restaurant that does a decent Peking duck, but for the genuine article you really need to visit Beijing, formerly Peking, which invented the dish.
Invented in Beijing, nowhere does Peking duck better.
7. But there are many other culinary delights
Beijing is food mad and, as the capital of China, it champions cuisine from the country’s many provinces, which all have distinctly different tastes. Dine on dumplings, tickle your tongue with a hotpot, slurp soup, graze on grasshoppers, fill up on flatbreads and nosh noodles, then realise you’ve merely scratched the surface.
Deep fried grasshopper anyone? Beijing will certainly awaken your tastebuds.
8. Leftfield architecture abounds
What could be a better metaphor for China’s lofty ambitions than Beijing’s bold, beautiful and, at times, bizarre architecture? It might not float everyone’s boat, but it’s hard not to be impressed by gregarious structures such as Galaxy Soho, the National Centre for Performing Arts and CCTV Headquarters, home to China Central Television. The National Stadium, which starred in the 2008 Olympic Games, is another architectural wonder not to be missed.
The Galaxy Soho is one of Beijing's more outlandish buildings.
9. You can lose yourself in imperial parks
Despite being blanketed by smog for much of the year, aesthetically speaking Beijing is quite a green city thanks to its many parks. Ritan, Ditan and Beihai are a few of Beijing’s most pleasant open spaces, where you can escape the bustle of the city, watch old people practice tai chi, and marvel at the imperial splendour of these ancient pleasure gardens.
Beihai Park is a former imperial garden.
- Read more: 36 hours in Beijing
10. There are bargains to be had
The economic reforms of the Seventies ushered in an era of mass consumerism in China, which could raise eyebrows amongst even the most ardent shoppers. Modern Beijing does a roaring trade in everything from knock-off designer goods to state-of-the-art electronics. Sleek shopping malls, kitsch night markets and designer boutiques are plentiful, but for more authentic wares hit the Panjiayuan Antique Market where bartering is considered a sport.
A hawker plies his trade in Panjiayuan Antique
11. You can flirt with vertigo
Unveiled to much fanfare earlier this year, the Shilinxia scenic spot near Beijing is reckoned to be the largest structure of its kind in the world. Face your fear of heights by stepping off a cliff and onto this 32m glass platform, which offers spectacular (albeit nauseating) views of the rocky valley below.
Beijing district's latest attraction will not have universal appeal.
12. There’s a North Korean art gallery
The Mansudae Art Studio Gallery is one of the few regime-approved tourist attractions outside North Korea and was reportedly curated by Kim Jong-il. According to the gallery’s website this studio employs a labour force of 4,000 workers back in North Korea, who churn out what is essentially regime propaganda.
If you have a penchant for North Korean art, you've come to the right place.
13. It's bike friendly
Like the wheel of a bike, Beijing’s love affair with cycling has gone full circle. Once the only way to get around, pushbikes were swiftly abandoned when people could afford cars, but now they’re back as the city tries to tackle its killer smog. Pass imperial palaces, weave through street hawkers and marvel at the fact that Beijing, with its segregated cycle highways, is more bike friendly than London.
Beijing has rekindled its love affair with the bike.
14. You can visit a watermelon museum
Yes, really. The countryside surrounding Beijing is renowned for its watermelon farms, which prompted aficionados to open a museum dedicated to this humble fruit. Strangely, some visitors have complained about not seeing any real melons inside the facility.
Five top tips to survive a long-haul flight. The best hotels in Beijing View all
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Expect Avant garde, minimalist interiors. The prices aren't so minimalist, but perhaps that's not... Read expert reviewFrom £193inc. tax Check Availability Rates provided byBooking.com
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This article was written by Gavin Haines and travel writer from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.