Friday: Pints and the Forbidden City
Morning: You can’t go to Beijing and not visit Tiananmen Square, the site of the 1989 pro-democracy protests. While impressive for its size, there’s not much to see there (although thousands of domestic tourists visit the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall in the center of the square each day). Do a lap to take in the Gate of Heavenly Peace, a part of the Imperial City Wall that dates back to the 15th century (it’s most famous for the giant portrait of Chairman Mao in the middle of it), then cross over into the Forbidden City. Make sure to grab breakfast and snacks somewhere beforehand; this area doesn’t offer much in the way of eating.
Afternoon: The Forbidden City is worth dedicating a major chunk of time to: 24 emperors lived here over 500 years, and it’s the world’s largest palace complex with 980 buildings. It can be a little overwhelming, but you’ll definitely want to stop and appreciate the Gate of Supreme Harmony, in front of which there’s a courtyard that can hold 100,000 people (it’ll feel like there are that many, too). As you work your way through the following Three Great Halls, pay attention to period details—like the copper water vats, guardian lions, and dragon-head spouts. You’ll wrap up in the Imperial Garden, full of cypress trees and small, intricate pavilions, and can even take a stroll along the top of the north wall before popping out of the North Gate.
Evening: When you leave the Forbidden City, you’ll be a short walk from Beihai Park, home to the former palace of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. It’s a great spot for people watching or temple spotting, but if you’re all walked out, you can cut through to the Xicheng North district. This neighbood, at the top of the park, is full of bars and restaurants. You can eat pho and poutine at 4Corners, donkey meat at Wang Pangzi, or roast duck at Kao Rou Ji. Then grab a pint at NBeer Pub, one of the few all-Chinese microbreweries in Beijing, and wander the Houhai bar strip, which you’ll find by the sheer amount of neon lights and karaoke bars.
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