Updated: 2012-04-06 07:54
Enjoy a short stay in the Chinese capital away from its major attractions
Recent reports of some office rents in Beijing overtaking those of New York are just the latest reflection of the rising economic might of the capital of the world's second-largest economy. But most people know that Beijing is more than just business. Many consider it a perfect combination of history and modernity.
Here, visitors can still stroll through traditional hutong, or alleys, and dine in restaurants that continue to offer the favorite dishes of Chinese emperors even as they take in the avant-garde architecture rising from the city's newest areas.
Beijing is the political heart of the country and its cultural capital. Officials and artists help make up a resident mix that make the capital one of a kind.
From the Great Wall to Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City, Beijing's attractions are legendary. But here are some ways to spend a few relaxing days in the capital's less well-known but equally rewarding sites.
1. 798 Art Zone
For those who want to find out what happens when East and West, history and reality, and industry and art meet, 798 is the place to go. A factory site, 798 is considered one of the cradles of Chinese contemporary art that evolved from a village for artists trying to make sense of their country's road to modernity.
One afternoon might not be enough for visitors to take in the more than 400 galleries and studios, but that also means there will probably be a spot to suit every artistic taste.
Delightful cafes and restaurants have also sprouted alongside the industrial buildings for al fresco or indoor dining - a great way to watch the crowds of statement-making artists and art enthusiasts going by.
How to get there: Get off at Sanyuanqiao station, Line 10, Exit C. At Sanyuanqiao bus stop, board bus 401 and get off at Dashanzi Lukou Nan (Dashanzi Road Crossing South) station.
2. Wudaoying hutong
When Nanluoguxiang, one of Beijing's most famous hutong, became the latest street to offer the usual tourist gamut of bars, restaurants and shops, many also lamented the loss of its genuine old-Beijing charm that lured visitors there in the first place.
Enter Wudaoying hutong, which is right next to the historic Yonghegong Lama Temple. The delights of the laid-back, soothing hutong lifestyle are still detectable in Wudaoying, where visitors can smile at children eating the bingtanghulu (Beijing snack of sugar-coated haws on a stick), catch a glimpse of women washing clothes in the siheyuan (Beijing-style courtyards), and bump into residents heading for their groceries in slippers and pajamas.
But Wudaoying is also loved by many from abroad - more than half of the shop owners here are foreigners or Chinese returning from overseas, running quiet cafes, bars or handicraft workshops that seem far removed from hectic urban life.
Some shop owners are rumored directors and artists who want to experience life through their creations and activities, without the trappings of money or profit - making a chance meeting in their establishments an inimitable introduction to their home city.
How to get there: Get off at Yonghegong Lama Temple station, Lines 2 and 5, Exit A.
3. Huguang Guild Hall
Catching an opera at Huguang is one of the best ways to experience the history and culture of the capital without too much walking.
The high-pitched voices, colorful costumes, bizarre masks and acrobatic skills of the performers will most certainly amaze many Westerners watching the opera for the first time.
There are many places to experience Peking Opera in the capital, but Huguang Guild Hall is among the top choices because it is an original theater dating back to 1807. Before that, it was the mansion of Zhang Juzheng, a prime minister during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Shows start every night at 7:30 pm. Visitors who go on Saturday may also be able to meet a regular gathering of Peking Opera enthusiasts, known as piaoyou.
How to get there: Get off at Hepingmen station on Line 2. Take Exit C and you will find Huguang at 500 meters to the south.
4. Eating and drinking
As the capital of the last four dynasties, Beijing has long been attracting famous chefs all around China, leading many gourmets to call Beijing cuisine "the refined essence of Chinese food".
Among these, Peking roast duck stands out with its culinary and serving style. The chef who knows his stuff shows the guests the whole duck before it is taken away and thinly sliced into 120 delectable pieces of skin and flesh. Tourists often go to the Quanjude restaurants, while many locals prefer the Da Dong ones.
Guijie, also known as Ghost Street, is a must for foodies and night owls. The street is lit up with red lanterns, the facades of restaurants offering a smorgasbord of local delights. Diners can choose to enjoy slices of mutton boiled in copper hot pots or spice-sprinkled kebabs in tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries, or feast on seafood and imperial dishes in a courtyard of a former prince's mansion.
Like every other metropolis in the world, Beijing's nightlife is well fleshed out in its bars and clubs. There are new and fancy offerings around the Workers' Stadium, Houhai and Qianhai. Cheaper ones with a younger crowd are found in Sanlitun.
But fans of tea and Chinese culture should not miss Laoshe Teahouse. It is named after Lao She (Shu Qingchun), a famous author in China, and his famous play script Teahouse. Here, fragrant top-quality teas can be sipped as tea ceremony, drama and other folk art performances are played.
How to get there: To go to Guijie, get off subway Line 2 at Dongzhimen station, or Line 5 at Beixinqiao station. Get off Line 2 at Dongsishitiao station for Workers' Stadium. To Houhai and Qianhai, take subway Line 2 and get off at Gulou Street station. To enjoy a cup of Chinese tea at the Laoshe Teahouse, get off subway Line 2 at Qianmen station.