One of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Beijing’s roots can be traced back over 3,000 years. Beijing is located in the north of the country, and its name means "northern capital." The city has played a vital role in China since Emperor Qin united the nation in 221BCE, and it was the capital city of the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, which ruled China for 1,000 years.
The Qing dynasty came to an end in 1911 due to the Xinhai Revolution, a movement for a Chinese Republic. In 1916, the new emperor, Yuan Shikai, died and Beijing fell under the control of regional warlords. Royal residences were ransacked and burned down, and the country degenerated into a semifeudal society. It took more than three decades for China to recover. October 1, 1949, the Communist Party Leader, Chairman Mao Zedong, announced the creation of the People's Republic of China.
Modern-day Beijing is home to 17 million residents and is an integral part of China’s prosperity. Beijing is a great starting point to explore this vast, populous country, and the coastal metropolis of Shanghai is just 1,000 kilometers to the south.
Beijing has been described as "a portal between centuries." Every successive dynasty has made its mark on the city, from the ornate buildings of Imperial China and the boxy architecture of the 1950s–1970s Sino-Soviet era to the recent proliferation of 21st-century skyscrapers.
Imperial China is the most eye-catching place to start, at the 15th-century imperial palaces of the Forbidden City. The courtyard-after-courtyard-after-courtyard of the Forbidden City makes up the enormous center of the ancient walled city of Beijing. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is the world’s largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures.
Just outside of Beijing’s center is Summer Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the summer retreat for the Qing Dynasty emperors. Equally as impressive in winter, its collection of palaces, landscaped gardens, gentle hills, pavilions, temples, and bridges combine to create a harmonious and breathtaking setting.
The architecture of the 1950s has been put to good use in the Dashanzi art district, also known as Factory 798. This thriving community is housed in decommissioned Bauhaus-style military factories, where art galleries, fashion designers, photographers, and writers exhibit their wares to numerous visitors.
Modern Chinese architecture is best exemplified by the Beijing National Stadium, which attracts up to 30,000 visitors a day. Constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics, it is better known as the Birds' Nest due to the myriad of steel beams that criss-cross its exterior.
The world’s largest Chinatown, Beijing is the ultimate destination to try Chinese cuisine. Street food is abundant and delicious; try little steamed "baozi" buns; Peking duck; or cold noodles with cucumber, tofu, and sesame seeds. However, only the strongest of stomachs may want to sample the roasted scorpions.
Head to the famous lantern-lit road of Guijie Street to try a hot pot; this Asian fondue is a simmering stock in which guests cook their own food. Or try Peking duck in Chao Yang Park, clichéd but delicious and an experience in itself.
Nightlife in Beijing is both lively and fun, and the bar and club scenes at San Li Tun and Hou Hai run so far into the next day that’ll you be glad of Beijing’s 24-hour food culture.
The Great Wall of China, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, embraces such broad dimensions that nothing else compares. It runs 10,000 miles across China from east to west and can be seen from space. The closest place to visit it is in Badaling, just 75 kilometers north of Beijing. However, it pays to travel an extra 45 kilometers to the 14th-century Simatai section in Gubeikou; it is less touristy and the wall is in far better condition. This section, which is 5.4 kilometers long with 35 watchtowers, snakes along the mountain ridges. It is a truly remarkable place for sightseeing, hiking, and exploration.