Beijing has a lot to offer, I think everyone can agree with that. However, being faced with flashy Sanlitun, upscale SOHO and perhaps even wacky Houhai, we sometimes fail to see some of the real gems that are worth checking out.
A Dazhalan hutong
The hutongs of the Dazhalan 大栅栏 da4zha4lan area
There may be no area that embodies the hutong lifestyle more than Dazhalan. If you ever go there, it is probably because of the redeveloped Qianmen area. My advice: leave it quickly (taking a road left or right will do) to find yourself walking down a random alley, 100% sure you are heading west just to find yourself being spit out close to the Beijing Railway station (which, by the way, is east). What is even more amazing than losing your sense of direction is the many hutongs that are too narrow for cars to pass through. For some pedestrians or cyclist just a nuisance less, this is actually a great way to imagine what life must have been like decades ago without everyone being in a constant hurry or trying to take their cars everywhere.
Stunning views of the Forbidden City from Jingshan
Beijing offers many fantastically awesome spots but my personal favorite must be Jingshan Park or 景山公园 jing3shan1gong1yuan2. Located just north of the Forbidden City, it offers you breathtaking views of Beijing on the not-anymore-so-off-chance of a clear day. Jingshan Park used to be much less frequented in the past but by now has become a very popular destination for local and foreign tourists alike. Depending on the type of person you are, you may want to go during weekends/holidays if you don’t mind the crowds or during early hours if you do. The park opens at 6.30am and stays open till at least 8pm. The real treat is the price of the entrance ticket with which 2 RMB is dirt cheap even by Beijing standards.
Best duck, worst dishes
That Beijing Duck place I don’t know the name of
There is a Beijing Duck place right behind the 美术馆 mei3shu4guan3 called 老宅院 lao3zhai2yuan4 (I looked up the name just now). The honest opinion on their food is: the duck is amazing and affordable but the other food is average at best. Therefore, you should order strategically. For every three people get a duck set: you will have a choice of ordinary and special at about 130 and 150 RMB respectively. Please be advised that prices are being increased constantly. The main difference is that the special set comes with mashed garlic and sugar but it really makes the difference given you like mashed garlic and sugar. Lastly, get them to make you the duck soup from the bones. You can also have the bones stir fried but I prefer the soup. One duck set is usually enough for two. If you are three people get the duck plus one dish. If you are four or five get two duck sets etc. In other words, try to avoid the dishes. If you have to order something, go with the 干煸豆角 gan1bian1dou4jiao3.
Lastly, you have to pre-order the duck usually a day in advance. This is the number: 64061843. They only speak Chinese, so either get your Chinese BFF to call or say something along the following lines:
你好，想订个烤鸭。ni3hao3 xiang3 ding4 ge4 kao3ya1
Then you will be asked 普通的还是精品的 pu3tong1de hai2shi jing1pin3de “normal or special” and you should choose wisely. You will then be asked on what date and at what time you want to arrive and then reply that the duck will be served 15 minutes after your arrival time.
Leave a contact number and you are good to go. Enjoy!