Beijing is a fascinating and beautiful city. My first impression was that it was all muted colours and wide, dusty streets. However, a couple of days later, after wandering and exploring, I had fallen under its spell.
Sadly, many of the traditional narrow residential streets, hutongs, have been destroyed in favour of wide new streets and modern buidlings. But if you visit soon, and head slightly off the beaten track, you can still find quiet hutongs where you can enjoy the architecture and atmosphere of times gone by. Some of the houses have beautiful artwork above the doors:
One of these hutongs, Nanluogu Xiang, has been cleaned up and preserved as a pleasant shopping street. It is now a very popular tourist spot, but it still makes for a very enjoyable afternoon of shopping for quirky and/or traditional souvenirs and presents. Look out for Chinese tea to cure any ailment, beautiful silk scarves and hand-made notebooks. Be sure to take time to explore the many smaller hutongs that branch off Nanluonguxiang: they are more authentic and are home to some good shops and cafes.
Two of my favourite shops in the area:
“Plastered“, at 61 Nanluogu Xiang: run by two British ex-pats and selling humourous t-shirts , many with a China theme.
“Beijing Postcards” at 95-1 Nanluogu Xiang: specialises in old postcards of Beijing, as the name suggests. Well worth a browse to see Beijing as it used to be. They also sell birthday cards, maps, prints and calendars. If you can’t get there in person visit their fun website: http://www.bjpostcards.com/
At the opposite end of the scale, if you want large shops and designer goods, head to Wangfujing, one of the busiest shopping streets in Beijing. You’ll find all the top designers here, but don’t expect to find a bargain.
If you want a tacky souvenir or some street food, step into the hutongs to the west of Wangfujing. You’ll find plenty of kebabs, lamb for those who prefer something with a Western look, but there are more exotic options for the adventurous:
I will undoubtedly return to Beijing to discover more. Any tips for future visits will be much appreciated.