Beijing is China's cultural mecca, full of ancient sights, great shopping and delicious food. Here are my favorites.
All right, not officially in Beijing proper, still you will see the best parts of it on a day-trip from Beijing. And to go to Beijing without seeing the Great Wall would be a terrible shame. There are many different sections of the wall to visit from Beijing. Some, like Badaling, are big tourist draws. But there are areas, like the hike from Jinshanling to Simatai, where you'll find seclusion. Don't miss the Great Wall when you're in Beijing.
Also called the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City is probably Beijing's most famous sight. If you properly walk through it, visiting each pavilion, it will easily take you most of a day. Built for Ming emperors, the Forbidden City was inhabited by imperial Chinese until 1911 when the last Qing emperor, PuYi abdicated (he was allowed to inhabit the palace until 1924).
Hohai is a small lake in central Beijing that is surrounded by restaurants. Great for families with kids, boats can be rented on the shores of Hohai for a few dollars and you can take a trip around the small lake. Look out for crazy swimmers who practice in the lake. On a warm evening, book an outside terrace table and enjoy the outdoors and lights lakeside.
Famous as a gathering place in ancient times for scholars, poets and artists, Liulichang now boasts a plethora of book shops, calligraphy suppliers, galleries and curio sellers. It's a fun way to spend a morning wandering and window-shopping. There are plenty of bargains to be had so this is a good place to pick up some souvenirs or mementos of your trip to Beijing.
7. Ming Tombs
After the Great Wall, most private and group-tours will head to the Ming tombs. There are thirteen of them and different tours go to different tombs. Most go to Dingling, the tomb of Emperor Wanli (reigned 1537-1619). You'll visit the Sacred Way, a long path leading to the tombs flanked on both sides by mythical and real stone animals as well as the tomb compound itself.
Beijing has some great markets and bargaining for souvenirs is a rite of passage for any visitor to China. You can search through piles of junk for that "antique" calligraphy paintbrush or check out what's cool and cutting edge in some renovated street markets.
If you're in Beijing, even for a night, you must try Beijing Duck (Peking Duck). It is truly a delicacy and no one does it better than the Grand Hyatt hotel's Made in China. You'll want to book ahead - the table and the duck.
The Red Capital Residence is a small (five rooms) exclusive hotel in the midst of Beijing's Dongai preserved heritage sanctum. If you've read anything about the hutong or the vanishing of it, then you'll know a little bit about these courtyards and how they've mostly been demolished to make way for high-rises and modern buildings. Be sure to check out the bomb-shelter bar.