Everyone is looking forward to the Olympics. It is expected that well over half-a-million visitors will descend on Beijing during the Games. While all those people will probably contribute to the excitement and energy of the event, it going to be crowded. Imagine trying to visit The Great Wall of China or the Forbidden City in mid-August. The crowds will make a packed weekend at Disney World look like a trip to one of the monasteries where the monks aren’t allowed to speak.
True, many touristy sites will be engorged with sightseers, but Beijing is a huge and wide-ranging city with plenty of corners that will go unnoticed by the visiting masses.
1. Dashanzi Art District (a.k.a. 798 Art Zone) is the epicenter of Beijing’s independent arts scene. The area is made up of converted factory buildings that now act as art galleries for some of China’s most noteworthy talents. Not an art fan? Dashanzi is still worth a visit for its cafes, tailors, and restaurants. Though the neighborhood has recently gone through a period of gentrification, the arts scene is alive and well and worth a look.
2. The Golden Resources Shopping Mall is located in Haidian District. Yes, it’s in the guidebooks, so it’s not much of a secret, but it’s easy to get lost in. Or rather, it’s easy to lose the crowds by wandering through the twisting passages and multiple levels. There are surprises and bargains all over the place. Even if you are not a hardcore shopper, this is a great place to browse, snap some pictures, and maybe get a souvenir.
3. If you must visit the Great Wall, know that there are other options besides the popular spots at Badaling and Juyongguan. Though it is a little further afield, Simatai is one of the better Wall sites for more than one reason. Unlike the sections nearer the city, Simatai has not been completely rebuilt, meaning you are actually seeing some of the original structures. It is a bonus that it is much less crowded than other sites and boasts some magnificent scenery.
4. Lianhuachi Park has many of the attractions found in the more popular Beihai Park. The pavilions, ponds, rock gardens, and flowers (including thousands of lotuses) are straight out of a classical Chinese painting. Though it is a popular spot for Beijingers, most tourists will probably opt for the more famous Beihai, leaving you in Lianhuachi to snap photos of the ponds and practice tai chi with the locals.
5. Longfusi Snack Street (Dongcheng District) is the place to go for authentic Beijing eats. Restaurants line both sides of the street and there are plenty of vendors as well. Those who want to wander the city guided by their stomachs might also want to try some of the mom-and-pop joints located in the city’s many (but fast disappearing) alleyways (hutong).