Fortunately, there is order in the chaos. At the heart of Beijing lies the Forbidden City, around which run five concentric ring roads. The first of these is barely worth mention, but the second and third are essential for navigating around town. Finally, the fourth and fifth is useful for commuting to the airport and outlying suburbs. These ring roads are broken down logically according to points of the compass, so "East Third Ring Road North Road" means the northernmost stretch of the eastern section...
Fortunately, there is order in the chaos. At the heart of Beijing lies the Forbidden City, around which run five concentric ring roads. The first of these is barely worth mention, but the second and third are essential for navigating around town. Finally, the fourth and fifth is useful for commuting to the airport and outlying suburbs. These ring roads are broken down logically according to points of the compass, so "East Third Ring Road North Road" means the northernmost stretch of the eastern section of the Third Ring Road. Easy!
There are 10 districts and eight counties in Beijing municipality proper, with each district containing distinctive "areas". Most areas of interest are in the eastern Chao Yang and central Dong Cheng and Xi Cheng districts, which make up downtown. The following are highlights:
Chao Yang District
As the most concentrated commercial and residential area in Beijing, Chao Yang offers many areas of interest for the visitor. Within this district are Chao Yang Park, the San Li Tun nightlife area, and the Jian Guo Men and Ri Tan business and embassy districts. Chao Yang is also home to Beijing's pulsing artistic community, Da Shan Zi, which grew out of an old abandoned factory.
Jian Guo Men Wai and Ri Tan
You will always see a wide mix of international faces here: tourists, businesspeople and local Chinese. The main street, Jian Guo Men Wai Avenue, is a mad hustle of people, cars and vendors selling everything from pirated CDs to rickshaw rides. There are many major hotels and office buildings in the area, including the massive China World Hotel, where the fabulous restaurant and wine bar Aria is located. Tourists can try their hand at bargaining at the ever-crowded Silk Alley. Just a few blocks away, however, one can find peace and quiet in the graceful tree-lined streets of the embassy area and in serene Ri Tan Park where you can sit by the lake with a cup of coffee at the famous Stone Boat Cafe.
San Li Tun
This is a loosely designated area of bars and pubs with San Li Tun North and South Streets at its heart. These are Beijing's premier people-watching spots. On a sunny day, this is the place to chill-out over drinks on the sidewalk patios and watch life go by. Besides the ubiquitous cafes and bars, you will also find numerous funky shops selling everything from framed prints to Tibetan handicrafts and clothes. The nearby San Li Tun Market is a good place for bargains on designer goods. The fourth floor is outfitted with tailors ready to whip up any clothing item you desire, made to order at bargain prices and in a very agreeable amount of time. Nighttime always reveals the decadent side of San Li Tun. Bar and club goers can start out the night at Q Bar for top notch cocktails, and then head to Den and Vogue.
Chao Yang Park
The expansive Chao Yang Park is being touted as the next people-watching hang-out to rival San Li Tun. Upscale bars, pubs, restaurants and shops have recently located here, catering to Beijing's ever growing expat community which centers itself near the park. Cap off the day by heading over to the Big Easy for some spicy Cajun cooking and live blues. Afterwards party the night away at one of Beijing's hottest clubs, World of Suzie Wong Club.
Da Shan Zi
Created with the help of East German specialists in the 1950's (from which the Bauhaus-inspired architecture can be attributed) the factories and workshops of Da Shan Zi that once produced the audio equipment for the Workers' Stadium and Tiananmen Square now house tinkering sculptors, paint-smudged artists and lots of space to display the energies of Beijing's Avant-garde artistic community. By a stroke of fate, in the mid-1990s artists evicted from subsidized housing within the Old Summer Palace grounds looking for cheap space and the managers of the defunct factory were able to fit each others' needs. Word of mouth drew more artists to the factory campus and by 2002 a full fledged artist community was up and running. Central to the Da Shan Zi community is the 798 Space where events, fashion shows, and exhibitions are often held. If you are in Beijing in October, they also host the most outstanding Halloween party in town. The former factory grounds are open to the public free of charge and offer a campus-like feeling of quiet tree lined paths, creative whimsy and plenty of opportunities to purchase a bit pf artistic history in the making.
Chong Wen District
Located in the south of the city, this is a long-established commercial area, selling everything from eyeglasses to sporting goods. Check out the Qian Men Shopping Area for some of Beijing's oldest stores. The area is also worth visiting to see the beautiful Temple of Heaven and the Hong Qiao Market, a treasure-trove of objects both banal and bizarre. The open markets still capture some of the Old Beijing atmosphere and are fun for browsing even if you are not shopping.
Dong Cheng District
With Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Mao's Mausoleum, this district is Tourist Central. Not surprisingly, major hotels abound here—such as the Beijing Hotel. If you are tired of sightseeing, you can always indulge in a serious shopping spree in the Wang Fu Jing Shopping District.
Wang Fu Jing
This is Beijing's premier shopping street. It is partially closed to cars and is crowded at all times of the day with shopaholics and tourists alike. Recently unveiled to the public after months of renovation, this wide, sprawling street is a showcase of Beijing's economic progress. Stop off at the Beijing Foreign Language Bookstore to pick up a Chinese dictionary or the latest John Grisham potboiler. Go shopping at the Sun Dong An Plaza, Beijing's mammoth shopping mall. Feeling peckish? Then dine on deep-fried scorpion among other culinary delights at the Wang Fu Jing Night Market. If the idea of chomping on insects does not appeal, try upscale dining at one of several four- and five-star hotels in the area.
Feng Tai District
This southwest district Beijing will house the Yangtai Sports Center where the Olympic softball tournament will be held . Mainly an industrial area, there are several cultural and historical sites worth visiting, such as the China Space Museum, Feng Tai Park and Marco Polo Bridge.
Hai Dian District
This northwestern part of the city is also known as the university district. Along with Beijing University and Qinghua University, who compete to be China's top school, are ten other major universities. Owing to the young student population, this area has a reputation for being rather hip and arty. Hai Dian district is also designated a high-technology zone, so this is where you will find the aspiring start-up. Along with cheap restaurants and casual bars that cater specifically to the student crowd—Solutions, for example, are more upscale tastes and bookstores for the academically minded. Check out the old map section in 02 Sun Bookstore, or get a healthy desert at Cafe Yogur Berry. The Summer Palace , a World Heritage site, and Ruins of the Old Summer Palace , or Yuan Ming Yuan are also in Hai Dian.
Xi Dan and Xuan Wu
Like Wang Fu Jing, these areas are known largely for their shopping. While the former is a place to be seen, local Chinese people shop in Xi Dan and Xuan Wu. In imperial times Xuan Wu was reserved for the lower classes. After the republic was established several minorities moved in to the district and up to Beijing's preparations for the Olympics the district was known as “Little Lanzhou” with a large Hui ethnic minority population. Browse the small shops and stalls for bargains on clothing, shoes and CDs. Shopping centers here include Parksons and the Xi Dan Department Store.
Known as the west city district, Xicheng covers a great deal of the old city. It is just west of the Forbidden City and epitomizes the blending of an old and new China. Once the home of wealthy merchants prior to communism it is now an important part of the city and is often considered the cultural, historical, business, financial, and political district of Beijing. The street of finance, Jinrongjie, is located here as is the commercial district. If you are looking for nature look no farther than Jing Shan Park and the Beijing Zoo. For the ultimate experience of old Beijing visit Beihai Park, Beijing's oldest park dating back to the 10th century. The Hou Hai area offers entertainment and dining (Beijing punk made its early debut here) and is also the gateway to Beijing's famous hutongs, an architect's delight. For good drinks and music visit the East Shore Live Jazz Cafe or the Buddha Bar.
Interesting Facts About Beijing:
2. Interesting fact: After Shanghai, Beijing is China's second largest city.
3. Trivia fact: the China Rose is Beijing's city flower.
4. Fun fact: the guard towers around the Forbidden City are said to be modeled after cricket cages.
5. Fact: Beijing dialect is the basis for the entire Mandarin standard language.
6. Interesting fact: basketball and football are the two top sports in China, and especially so in Beijing where you can see them played at major parks around the city.
7. Fun fact: McDonald's is the city's most popular fast food restaurant.
8. Food fact: Beijing is famous for its Peking Duck, which is a roast duck sliced a specific way and served with specific side dishes.
9. Weird fact: Beijing's most popular surname is Wang, with an estimated 11% of the city sharing the name.
10. Fact: 800 buildings make up the Forbidden City, one of Beijing's hottest tourists spots. There is also a Starbucks inside the city now.
11. Odd fact: The Beijing zoo was once called the 'Ten Thousand Animal Zoo.'
12. Interesting fact: Beijing Opera is an important part of local culture, locals practice their opera singing at parks around the city as well as frequent the opera houses.
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Step past the huge Chairman Mao portrait guarding Tiananmen Square and back to an age of Ming dynasty emperors and tittering concubines roaming the mysterious Forbidden City -- off limits to the public for 500 years. Local history comes alive in the atmospheric warren of hutongs...
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