Everyone has their own idea of what Beijing will be like. There are the old-fashioned images of peasants on bicycles traversing cobbled courtyards; the colourful markets filled with exotic smells and frenetic energy; or the smog-filled metropolis which is home to more than 21 million people. Modern-day Beijing exceeds all these expectations. The smog problem is still there, as are many of the old traditions (although most locals would rather take the train then travel by bike these days), but the city still holds a few surprises. Iconic attractions such as the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, the Palace of Heaven and the Summer Palace are not to be missed. But visitors should take the time to get lost in this sprawling city and explore the tiny backstreets and hidden marketplaces where the real Beijing lives.
Location: Beijing – the capital of Asia
Beijing could arguably be crowned the capital city of Asia. It is the largest city in the largest country on the largest continent in the world. Once closed off to the outside world, since the early 1980s China has been a commercial hub and Beijing has thrived as a result. The city is served by the vast Beijing Capital International Airport, as well as a comprehensive network of trains and highways which connect the north-easterly city with the rest of China, as well as Mongolia and Russia.
Business: The dragon has awoken
Beijing’s reputation as a business centre is well earned. The city centre is thick with skyscrapers containing the international and regional headquarters of most of the world’s largest companies, and huge factories and warehouses surround the suburbs. There is an international business community of ex-pats and regular visitors here year-round, working in the thriving manufacturing, mining, service, construction and retail sectors.
Culture: The old traditions endure in Beijing
There is plenty of culture to discover in Beijing. The Forbidden City is a good place to start – for centuries it was the home of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and now holds the excellent Palace Museum, which features ancient Chinese artefacts and artwork. There are dozens of museums, palaces and ancient burial tombs in Beijing – all of which are worth visiting. For more modern cultural expressions, look no further than the sprawling Beijing 798 Art Zone, which promotes contemporary and experimental artistic expression.
Activities: From cycling to athletics
Cycling is still popular in Beijing, and hiring a bike is one of the best ways to see the city if you are short on time. But since the city hosted the 2008 Olympics, the city has become known for a variety of sports and activities. The impressive Beijing National Stadium (or ‘Bird’s Nest’) is still used today for sporting events and cultural events, and is set to host the IAFF World Championships in Athletics in 2015.