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Beijing Beckons with Modern Offerings and Rich Cultural Heritage


[SPONSORED CONTENT] Rich with history, the Chinese capital also brims with modern offerings from cuisine through to arts and design.

Published on Apr 11, 2019

 

BEIJING IS A CITY that is rich in gravitas. And the blend of charismatic history and contemporary trappings on offer in the metropolis supplies plentiful grist for willing investigators.

There are few better bases to strike out from than the soon-to-open Sheraton Beijing Lize Hotel. Located within walking distance of the city's Lize financial district, the sleek bolthole is also handily situated for some of the main tourist attractions in the city, making it ideal for business and leisure travelers alike.

 

 IMPERIAL ATTRACTIONS 

Although the skyscraper-lined streets close to the hotel are indicative of China's status as a global financial powerhouse, it's the older, imperial, sights that hold most fascination for the majority of visitors. Near the very top of this list is the massive Forbidden City. Former premier Zhou Enlai stepped in to ensure that the site remained unscathed during the iconoclastic Cultural Revolution and his intervention means the city's most important palace is also its best preserved piece of the past.

The Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City.

The complex—once home to two dynasties of imperial rule—rewards diligent investigation. The three great halls at the heart of the city—the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony—are the headline attractions but of equal interest are somewhat more dilapidated, some say more authentic, structures.

Another imperial highlight that is an absolute essential must stop on any Beijing itinerary is the Temple of Heaven. The Imperial Chinese emperors were known as the "sons of heaven" and it was here they came to perform solemn rites such as praying for good harvests. The building retains an aura of spirituality providing an oasis in the urban sprawl that is south Beijing. The temple halls are unusual in that their tops are round but their bases square. This reflects a notion—prevalent in Chinese mythology—that heaven is round and Earth is square.

Temple of Heaven.
Temple of Heaven.

 

 LIVE LIKE A LOCAL 

While the big-hitting heritage sites are rarely anything less than jaw-dropping, a less extravagant form of local history is found along the narrow hutongs that snake their way through some of the capital's older quarters.

These laneways emerged during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century and have been a focal point for local life in the city ever since. Some of China's greatest thinkers and literary figures have emerged from these warren-like lanes, which have fostered a wealth of folklore and colorful traditions of their own.

There are many ways to explore these fascinating alleys. Take a pedicab ride through the narrow streets, sign up for lessons in Chinese calligraphy and visits to selected local houses where guests can learn more about the rich history of this offbeat aspect of Beijing life.

Modern Beijing though is a place that is defined as much by its present and future as it is by its epic past. No one would deny the grand scale of the Forbidden City or Tiananmen Square. But the modern city is impressive in a different way with world-class shopping, sleek restaurants and hotels, and shimmering skyscrapers.

A must for visitors is Wangfujing Shopping Street, one the city's more famous retail hubs and is home to long-stayers like Beijing Department Store as well as global luxury brands such as Apple, Prada, Cartier and many more. Hungry shoppers should check out Wangfujing Snack Street, a side alley off the main drag, where it is possible to fill up on everything from dumplings to roast duck.

Wangfujing Shopping Street.
Wangfujing Shopping Street.

 

 CHINESE ARTS 

Beijing's art scene is forever in flux, so it's a small comfort to realize that Plastered 8 T-shirts (plasteredtshirts.com) is still around. Founded in 2005 by Dominic Johnson-Hill, the offbeat design shop takes full advantage of Beijing icons, reproducing them in wonderful graphic form on T-shirts, toques, hoodies and tote bags. The colorful riffs take on neon signs, selfie culture and the city's rich past.

More traditional entertainment can be sampled via Peking Opera. While not everyone can appreciate the niceties (not to mention the shrill tones) of a performance, nobody can deny the dramatic qualities of the medium. A breathless rush of colorful costumes and intricate choreography, it's a visual spectacular that ranks as one of Beijing's cultural peaks.

Colorful Peking Opera.
Colorful Peking Opera.

Authentic performances tend to drag on a bit, three hours-plus is the norm, but the uninitiated can enjoy truncated shows at tourist-friendly venues such as the 800-year-old Imperial Granary (on Fridays and Saturdays), which cuts the original from nine hours to one.

At night, thoughts generally turn towards matters gastronomic, no surprise in one of the world's major food capitals. Beijing's most iconic dish is, of course, roast duck and there are myriad places to get a fix in the city. One of the most innovative is Sheng Yong Xing. The exemplary duck is a stand out. Caviar topped slivers of crispy duck served on canapé-sized bites of toast makes for an outstanding start to any meal). But recommended too are other Chinese dishes that deploy fresh local produce and creative cooking.

 

Sheraton Beijing Lize Hotel

 

 

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Temple of Heaven.
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