With more than 3,000 years of history and several separate stints as China’s capital, Beijing is the embodiment of the phrase “more than meets the eye.” That makes it the perfect place for business travelers to weave surprise and delight into their trip, for a getaway that’s just as much leisure as it is productivity. Here’s how to explore the soul of Beijing, with expert input from local staff at Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido.
1. Start somewhere unexpected
Beijing boasts some of the most iconic attractions in Asia, from the Great Wall to Forbidden City, but it’s the spots you might otherwise overlook that will capture your imagination. Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido’s Rooms Division Manager Rock Huang recommends that guests take a short, 10-minute taxi ride to Lama Temple, whose physical majesty is matched only by its unique backstory.
“The temple houses a 70-foot-tall Maitreya Buddha image carved from a single Sandalwood tree,” he explains. “But although monks from Mongolia and Tibet have lived here for almost 300 years, it was originally built as a royal residence during the Qing Dynasty.” For more less famous but fascinating Beijing attractions, check in with your well-informed concierge, who will be full of insider ideas.
2. But don’t count out the classics—dining included
There are a few classic tourist activities that are essential for connecting with local Beijing life—like a glimpse into its past. Although currently home to a dizzying array of sleek skyscrapers and upmarket shopping malls, Beijing was historically a city of simple water houses. And while more tourists than ever have discovered the charm of the Hutongs, a tour of the Shichahai district around Houhai Lake is worthy outing. The tour provides a window into the way Beijingers have been living since before most of today’s visitors were born.
Likewise, while Beijing has gained fame in recent years as one of the most innovative food cities in China, classic dishes like jiǎo zi dumplings and Běi jīng kǎo yā (Peking duck) are world-renowned classics for a reason. Huang speaks highly of Quanjude Peking Roast Duck, which is just a few minutes from Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido by car.
3. Explore the art of modern Beijing
Temples and palaces are great, but they define Beijing’s artistic past. Modern Beijing has an array of contemporary art to discover as well. Guests at Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido can see an excellent example of this concept just steps from the hotel at 798 Art Zone, a multimedia arts space that was once a radio equipment factory.
“There are art galleries, craft studios, and even shops in this space today, which represents not only the cycle of re-birth that has come to define modern Beijing, but the fascinating picture (literally, in some cases) the current generation has painted of the city,” Huang explains.
4. Walk up for some perspective
Beijing may have a reputation for being fast-paced, but it also offers visitors an opportunity to rise above it all—literally. When you make the 15-minute walk from the north exit of the Forbidden City up to Jingshan Park, you won’t simply enjoy a priceless panorama of Beijing’s ever-growing skyline rising above historical Hutongs, you’ll also be in good, local company. Many older Chinese people walk up to Jingshan’s summit every day for exercise, and, luckily for English-speaking visitors, are often looking to practice their English skills, and to tell their truly fascinating stories.
5. Get away for a breath of fresh air
With a little more time at your disposal, you can discover an even more pastoral side of Beijing. If you have six to eight hours to spare, ride the Beijing Metro or get a taxi to the sprawling Summer Palace, a lush wonderland of pagodas, weeping willows, and expansive ponds and lakes where Empress Dowager Cixi escaped the heat of Beijing summers during the Qing dynasty. Closer to the city center, Beihai Park has been in existence for a thousand years—and has at least as many trees.
6. Let the season guide you
Beijing has four well-defined seasons, unlike many places in Asia—and each offers travelers a window into the authentic soul of the city. While every season holds special appeal, Huang details the glory of Beijing’s beautiful autumn season, which spans between mid-October to mid-November. If you have flexibility in your travel, this is the season he most recommends.
“The blue sky is clear and crisp, and contrasts beautifully with the scarlet leaves that blanket spots like the Fragrant Hills and Xiangshan, or Elephant Mountain,” he says. “This is the best time to see Chinese families out enjoying nature together, and to feel part of their happiness.”
7. Take a linguist adventure with Zhōngwén
Like most luxury hotels in Beijing, Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido provides guests with convenient cards that display the hotel’s name and address in Chinese, so you never have to worry about not being able to find your way back. However, Huang suggests being slightly more outgoing.
“We print pamphlets with simple Chinese phrases for our guests, and we encourage them to practice with locals,” he says. “You might not be perfect, but you’re sure to impress Beijing residents with your effort.”
Indeed, at the end of the day, the only way to appreciate Beijing from a local’s perspective is put to yourself out there like one—and speaking Chinese is the perfect way to do it.
Go local with Crowne Plaza
All that local Beijing adventure will likely lead to the need for some good rest. With work-life blend amenities, like the Sleep Advantage program, Crowne Plaza is the ideal home-base for work and leisure in this impressive city. Whether it’s a quick video call with your family, inside tips on where locals go out for the evening, or a night of sweet, rejuvenating sleep, staying at Crowne Plaza can help you stay connected, get immersed and make the most of going local during your stay.