By Zolzaya Erdenebileg
So you’ve heard of the Great Wall that runs an estimated length of 6,200 km, Tiananmen Square that pays tribute to Chairman Mao and that other famous place called The Forbidden City, or something like that. But can you really say you’ve seen Beijing? Modern Beijing has more than historic landmarks to offer tourists, and these growing attractions paint a much different picture of the capital. On your next trip to Beijing, consider the following two ‘hip’ options.
The hutong area of Nanluoguxiang has been around for a while (about 800 years to be exact), but you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at it. Since the area is deemed to be of cultural and historical importance, the architecture and maze of alleyways remain the same, but the residents have been replaced with shops, bars and restaurants from all walks of life.
With 30 different retailers, Nanluoguxiang ticks all the boxes for eclectic shopping – whether you’re looking for an “Obamao” t-shirt souvenir or a store randomly stocked with unique kitchen utensils and rose-printed canvas bags. Pop into 一朵一果 (Yi Huo Yi Guo) and check out their collection of Beijing style postcards, bookmarks, notebooks and scrapbooks. Guests have the option of sending a postcard to themselves scheduled to mail a year from its purchase – a reminder of your days spent trolling the hutongs while you’re sitting in front of your computer at the office daydreaming about your next holiday.
In between the milk tea stands, well-lit knickknack stores and other vendors, Nanluoguxiang also offers a collection of restaurants and bars. On warm nights, the bars open their windows and set up outdoor seating, flooding the street with their live acts. Occasionally a promoter might invite passersby to sit and listen, filling the seats with trendy Chinese hipsters or foreign faces.
Salud, a multilevel bar with live DJs and an assortment of tapas, is a neighborhood favorite. They are known for their flavored rum, as well as 20 RMB Yanjing beer and tapas deal. Be sure to head over before 7pm to take advantage of their happy hour specials and beat the nightly crowd that takes up all available space. Not into the bar scene? Check out Austen, a café with an English-style atmosphere, but Italian-style dishes. The quaint and cozy atmosphere offers delicious paninis and desserts.
To take full advantage of a day at Nanluoguxiang, go during the afternoon and saunter around, enjoy the quirky stores and treat yourself to some sweet potatoes sold by the street side hawkers. After the sun sets over the tops of the hutongs, pick a bar and enjoy the live music and reasonably-priced drinks.
The area is located in downtown Beijing, about a kilometer away from Zhangzizhong Road subway station on line 5. Most taxi drivers will also recognize the area by name.
Yi Huo Yi Guo. Dongcheng District, 41 Nanluoguxiang, near Hei Zhima Hutong. 东城区南锣鼓巷41号(近黑芝麻胡同)
Salud. Doncheng District, 66 Nanluoguxiang. 东城区南锣鼓巷66号
Austen. Dongcheng District, 65 Xiaoju’er Hutong. 东城区南锣鼓巷小菊儿胡同65号
798 Art District
“七九八”(Qi Jiu Ba), or 798 as translated, is an art district tucked away in the northeast corner of Beijing in Chaoyang district. Resembling Greenwich Square and NYC’s Soho, 798 has an air of creativity and culture. The backdrops for many of the exhibits are leftover military factories that were decommissioned years earlier.
Dominated by contemporary art, 798 hosts a great number of international exhibits and fashion shows. Guests can wander the wide streets, stopping into different buildings to get a better view of China’s art world or just enjoying the eclectic outdoor statue scene that lines the walkways. Try getting a picture of yourself stepping into an outline posted against the brick wall!
Beijing Tokyo Art Project is one of 798 Art District’s more famous galleries, with its Tokyo avant-garde art roots reaching back into the 1950s. In 2002, it officially opened in Beijing and utilizes its huge floor space to show Chinese, as well as international, collections. Long March Space, another contemporary art gallery, is on the same road and also worth checking out. Be sure to arrive at the earliest around 10am and before 6pm as most galleries will only be open during those times.
The 798 area is not all art; cafés, restaurants and bars have cropped up along the galleries, offering a respite from a day spent perusing art by foot. Café Flatwhite is a popular café chain within Beijing and has bread, salad and Western breakfasts in addition to coffee on their menu. AT Café, owned by artist Huang Rui, is also a good option for resting your legs while getting your caffeine fix. The exposed brick of what used to be a factory gives the café its classic 798 art feeling. Cakes, coffee and Chinese tea selections fill the menu.
On warm days, outdoor patio seating is always a good choice, and allows you to drink in the vibrant scene. Blushing brides are a common sight at 798, as newlyweds pose in front of the funky art to give their wedding photos a little cultural oomph. Roadside vendors lay out their goods and bark deals on their selection of woven bracelets, hair trinkets and flashing toy cars. The fashionable crowd of Beijing can be seen making their way through the galleries, picking out pieces for their collection.
798 is difficult to find by way of public transportation, but luckily most taxi drivers will know where it is. If you are feeling adventurous, take Line 10 to Sanyuanqiao Station. Leave from Exit C, and go to Sanyuanqiao Bus Station. From there, take Bus 401 to Dashanzi Lukou Nan Lu. Walk across the bridge and take a left. After about 5 minutes of walking, a large “798” sign will crop up on your right.
Beijing Tokyo Art Project. Chaoyang District, 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, 8503 Ceramics Third Street. 朝阳区酒仙桥路4号瓷器三街
Long March Space. Chaoyang District, 2 Jiuxianqiao Road. 朝阳区酒仙桥路2号
Café Flatwhite. Chaoyang District, Jiuxianqiao Road, 4 Dashanzi Art District. 朝阳区酒仙桥路4号大山子艺术区
AT Café. Chaoyang District. 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu. 酒仙桥路4号