Saturday: Street Art and Structural Splendors
Morning: Every city has a hipster arts area, and Beijing is no exception. Start your day by roaming the galleries, cafés, and boutiques in the 798 Arts District. The Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art is a great spot to discover up-and-coming Chinese artists, while Danish gallery Faurschou Foundation Beijing has hosted big names like Ai Wei Wei and Yoko Ono. If you’re not into gallery hopping, there are a ton of public installations and street art, too (FYI: The best graffiti area is right behind 798 Live House). Plus, you can take in the whole scene from above while walking the raised footpath through the factory roofs.
Afternoon: Once you’ve gotten your fill of art, grab lunch at the nearby Baoyan Dumpling Restaurant—they serve them in three colors!—before heading back to Dongcheng North for more sightseeing. If you start at Drum & Bell Square, you can hike up the Bell Tower (it has better views than the Drum Tower across the square) to check out the 600-year-old bell. Then, weave your way through the hutongs to Great Leap Brewing, Beijing’s original microbrewery, or Arrow Factory Taproom, another tiny backyard brewery. You could get lost in the hutongs for hours, but pull yourself out to head over to the Lama Temple, one of the most incredible Buddhist structures outside of Tibet.
Evening: You’ve got two options here: Across from the Lama Temple, you’ll find some of the coolest hutongs in Beijing. Wudaoying Hutong feels like you just teleported to Williamsburg, thanks to its twinkly lights, hipster coffee shops, and plant stores. But just south, you’ll find Gui Jie, or Ghost Street, which is home to countless Chinese seafood and hot pot restaurants—it gets crazy crowded, but you’ll fare just fine in any one of the restaurants lining the street (some even have picture menus for non-Chinese speakers).
You have to end the night at Capital Spirits, Beijing’s first baijiu bar. Baijiu is a seriously hard liquor (mostly used during ceremonial events) that tastes like nail polish remover or fermented licorice, depending on the strain. Be warned: A tasting of four mini shots will get you drunk. The bar is hard to find, tucked down a hutong right next to people’s residences, so the term “speak easy” very literally applies here—but the hunt is worth the work.
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