24 hours in Beijing

How to make the most of the capital in just a day

Weary traveller of the south, welcome to historic Beijing! City of culture, government, duck and Wall, Beijing is whatever you ask of it.

7-7.30am: Wake up early for the flag-raising ceremony

Morning! We had you going to Tiananmen Square anyway, and you’ll be thankful that you’re up and at ’em early once you’ve clocked the rest of this list. So here we are then, it’s sunrise, and we’re watching the flag climb its pole, the sun climbing its… deep space? The anthem is playing, soldiers are brooding – it’s all very moving. Long live the People. Moving on then.

7.30-8am: Grab a Jianbing breakfast

Beijing’s most famous breakfast food is a thin wheat flour pancake fried on a flat iron dish, bulked up with a freshly cracked egg, fermented soybean sauce, chilli paste, sesame seeds and sliced scallions, all folded up around a thin fried cracker for some structure and texture. One does not eat a jianbing, one pounds a jianbing, and you will find plenty of carts from which to purchase and pound one around the Square.

8-9.30am: Whizz through the Forbidden City and up Jingshan Park

Here’s the twist: you have just over one hour. The Forbidden City is impossibly enormous and requires several visits to even get close to seeing everything, so on this occasion we’re just sending you up the central axis for maximum enchantment per second. Honestly, the whole thing is mind-blowing and you’ll still have a great time. Save a bit of time to climb the hill at Jingshan Park at the north end of the city for stunning views of the whole palace and Beijing beyond.


9.30am-6.30pm Hitch a ride in a vintage motorcycle sidecar to the Great Wall

So cool! You’re hitching a lift with Beijing Sideways, a fabulously alternative Great Wall tour company, riding in the sidecar of one of their vintage Chang Jiang 750s (a copy of the BMW R71). You’ll be cruising through tree-studded villages and mountain-backed countryside, wind in your hair, the cool expression on your face like ‘what even is a Shanghai?’ There’s a manageable hike up to the Wall, before a lunch of French picnic is unfurled before a stunning lakeside vista. ‘The Great Wall rules!’, the whole world hears you shout, before hopping back in your steezcart and making your way gently down the mountain to the city.

6.30-8pm: Get a hutong haircut

This might not happen, and you might not want a haircut anyway. But if you’re lucky, the hutongs around Houhai and Qianhai lakes are often home to a pop-up barber or two. For a handful of kuai, you shall be shorn to buggery – publically – before hitting Houhai in promenade mode for some ice-skating or boating, depending on the time of year. Careful in the bars, for they are bars of sin and swindle, and your money can be better spent elsewhere.

8-10pm: Feast on Beijing roast duck

Naturally! There are an astonishing number of Beijing duck restaurants in the capital but for the quacktacular experience at a price point you can get around, it’s Sijiminfu. There will be a waiting time of up to an hour, but fetch yourself a Yanjing and a jin of sunflower seeds and ponder which part of Beijing you’ll be apartment hunting in tomorrow while your duck sweats in the oven. Not in it for the wait? You also can’t go wrong at The Opposite House hotel’s high-end regional cuisine restaurant Jing Yaa Tang. The price point is a little higher, but you won’t be sorry, for the duck is excellent.


10pm -midnight: See a gig at School Live Bar

You’ve heard about Beijing’s music scene, now it’s time to be spit-soaked by it. School Live Bar, incidentally Time Out Beijing’s Live Music Venue of 2016, doubled in size last year, and despite its new bar and toilet, it’s still an authentically clammy experience – perfect for catching one of Beijing’s premier guitar-led outfits live. There’s live music here most nights, and a School show supplies you with the adrenaline required to carry on through the club portion of our high-culture tour.

Midnight-4am: Head for the clubs

We know Shanghai rates its clubbing scene, and rightly so, but we hold our own up north, and a slightly less militant, shall we say, attitude towards clubbing tends to guarantee a fun and inclusive night out for all that step to the rug. We’re going to let you decide which way to go flavour-wise, but between alternative caves like DADA and Lantern and DJ Mag-ranked mega-clubs like Modo and Elements, there are crunk times ahead for all concerned.

4-5.30am: Get some food in ya

Re-up on that energy you just spent by hitting the 24-hour dim sum hard. Jin Ding Xuan has several outlets around town, but the multi-storied flagship near Ditan Park is a perennial favourite of half-drunk Beijingers just before daybreak. The quality won’t wow you, but the price is right and the 4am vibe is banging.

5.30-7am: Chill out. It’s free time

Beijing is a very safe city. Go make friends with an early-rising tai chi wizard in a park or something.