Beijing Travel Guide

BEIJING – THE CAPITAL OF CHINA

Wondering what and where to eat in Beijing? Where to go for the best craft beer? There are tens of thousands of eating and watering holes in this sprawling city, and our top picks are but a snapshot of what’s available for your face hole.

TIPS & TRICKS

The Great Firewall (the Chinese government’s internet censorship) makes travelling there even harder than it needs to be. Unless you are prepared, you will not be able to access any Google services (including Maps), Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. It can be extremely frustrating. So, before you leave home, make sure to install the following apps on your devices:

  • ExpressVPN – this is the best VPN for China.
  • Google Translate – this app will translate text from photos! Extremely handy. You can also use it to communicate to Chinese speakers by typing in whole sentences and using the audio feature.
  • WeChat – the main messenger app in China. If you make friends over there, this would be the way to communicate. WeChat also does a myriad of other things, including cashless payments (we didn’t try it, but we wish we had!). For example, you can use the millions of city bikes by scanning the QR code and receiving the code to your phone. So clever!
  • Dianping – Chinese Yelp, which can be useful for finding the best nearby restaurants.

Finally, we highly recommend that you get a Chinese sim card with data as soon as you get there. Look out for China Unicom or China Mobile shops. We paid $25 for 4gb data.

STAY

We stayed at the Nostalgia Hotel Beijing Yonghe Lama Temple which is located on the lovely Fang Jia Hutong (Hutong means alley in Chinese). We had a comfortable double room with bathroom for $60/night. It was secure, quiet and the bed was soft. The staff were very friendly and spoke some English. Best of all, it’s located literally next door to the very cool Peiping Machine Brewing Taproom, which has excellent craft beer but very grumpy service.

We do recommend staying in the hutongs of Dongcheng – this is the old school part of Beijing, worlds apart from the glitz and glamour of Chayoyang or other newer parts of the city. The hutongs are littered with unique bars, restaurants and shops, and the lack of cars make it a real joy to wander up and down.

EAT

Finding out where to eat is both easy and hard. Restaurants and take away options are plentiful (and that’s even an understatement), but the language barrier can be a deterrent for even the most seasoned traveller. Of course, if you understand Mandarin, you will be sweet. We didn’t though. The only words we knew were ni hao (hello) and xiexie (thank you). However, you might be lucky that some of the younger Chinese waitstaff will know a few English words, or that there will be another diner who can help you order. Apart from that, use a translator app or point to the food of nearby table to get what you want. Some restaurants also have picture menus which are a huge help.

We have linked to each of the venue’s Dianping pages so that you can check out what the locals are saying about the places.

Here are the best places we visited:

Zhang Mama
No 5 Fensiting Hutong (Chinese address: 安定门内大街分司厅胡同5号(方家胡同西口对面)), Dongcheng district
Open 11am-10pm daily

Hugely popular and famous. You will have to wait for a table, unless you (like us), arrive just before closing time after a long night on the Tsingtaos. This is the original branch, and is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. It’s a very casual place, and extremely good value for money. They serve Sichuan food – renowned for its over-the-top use of chilli, but we opted for some less spicy dishes on this occasion. No picture menus and no English is spoken. We were helped by a Mandarin-speaking Canadian who helped us order (thanks, Huss!)

What we had: Chinese bacon and spring onion stirfry, chicken soup with vegetables and pork mince noodles (dan dan mian) plus two large beers. Price: $15

连手特色烤串 (“Even Hand Characteristics Skewers”)
No 4 Fensiting Hutong, Dongcheng district (Chinese address:安定门内大街分司厅胡同4号)
Open 12pm – 2pm, 5pm – 1am daily

Located opposite the famous Zhang Mama, this joint serves Xinjiang barbecue (northwestern Chinese cuisine), which is famous for its liberal use of chilli and cumin. Lamb and chicken skewers, insanely spicy noodle soups – you get the picture. Since it’s open until 1am, it’s a good pick for a late night feed. They have an ‘open kitchen’ where you can see the barbecue master flippin’ skewers like there’s no tomorrow. They don’t have a picture menu and no English is spoken, but both times we visited a staff member pulled out a notebook with the English names for their dishes, so we were able to browse!

What we had: chicken skewers, lamb skewers, lamb kidney skewers, chicken wing skewers, rice noodle sheets in spicy oil and two large beers. Price: $28

Sijiminfu Roast Duck
No 23 Dongsi Shitiao, Dongcheng district (Chinese address: 东四十条23号(公交车站西侧))
Open 10:30am – 10:30pm daily

As touristy as it sounds, you simply must have Peking duck when in Beijing. Sijiminfu has many branches throughout Beijing, and judging by the reviews, they are all amazing. However, you will have to wait for a table, possibly for a very long time (we waited for 1 hour and 15 min). You go up and get a docket, and your table will be called when it’s ready. If you don’t understand Chinese, it’s perfectly OK to walk up and check your status (show them your docket, and they will shake their heads if it’s not your turn).

This is a slightly fancy place, with white tablecloths and glossy menus (pictures, yay!). The prices are still very fair, by Australian standards. And the duck is as good as you would get it anywhere.

What we had: half roast duck with condiments, kung pao chicken, stir-fried vegetables and two large beers. Price: $40

Huda Restaurant
No 233 Dongzhimen St, Dongcheng district (Chinese address: 东直门内大街233号)
Open 10:30am – 05:00am daily (or so Dianping tells us)

Another place that you have to queue for! Haha. If you, like us, seek out the very best that Beijing has to offer, get ready for the queues. Huda apparently has no less than 3 branches on Dongzhimen St (Ghost St), so perhaps you can see where the queue is shorter. They also utilise the very efficient docket system. We waited for 1 hour and 15 minutes, but it was sooo worth it. If you are a seafood lover, you will be blown away by the mountains of spicy crayfish ordered by every table.

They have picture menus, although it’s all in Chinese. For the crayfish, you basically get 20 pieces per order. The different prices are for the different sizes of crayfish; we opted for the second smallest which were 4 yuan per piece.

What we had: crayfish in garlic sauce, boiled frog in spicy chilli oil, fried snow peas with pork mince (gone before we could snap a photo), steamed rice and two large beers. Price: $55

南锣北口包子铺 (“Nanluo North Crossing Stuffed Bun House”)
Open from early morning – ?
No 108 Gulou East St (Chinese address: 鼓楼东大街与北锣鼓巷交叉口东侧(南锣鼓巷北口东侧))

Although this joint’s food won’t blow your mind, it’s very cheap and has a large selection of different dishes. But most importantly, it’s one of the only places in the area that is open and bustling from early morning (at least 7am). When we arrived in Beijing on a very cold Saturday morning in January (-12 Celcius), and couldn’t check into our hotel, we were desperate for a place to warm our hands and feet (and stomachs). Most sit-down places seem to open at 10 or 11, but this place serves very decent dumplings, wonton soups and other Chinese staples. Best of all is the super low prices!

What we had: steamed beef dumplings, pork baozi, wonton soup and a coke. Price: $6

Jin Ding Xuan Dim Sum Palace
No 77 Hepingli Xijie, Dongcheng district (Chinese address: 东城区和平里西街77号)
Open 24/7 (yes, that’s right!)

As much as we loved all the different cuisines on offer in Beijing, we still wanted to have some classic yum cha. This place did not disappoint. It’s a huuuge restaurant, open 24/7, and the menus covers all the staples: xiaolongbao (Shanghai soup dumplings), har gow (translucent prawn dumplings), fried dumplings, steamed dumplings, boiled dumplings, fried rice – if it’s Cantonese, they’ve got it. It’s a casual place and full of families, couples and friends chatting over tea and mountains of food.

They’ve got picture menus and ordering pads that you fill out yourself, so ordering is no problem. Though we have read that there can be long queues, we didn’t have a problem getting a table when we went on a late morning Wednesday. The prices are higher than your average dumpling joint, but we felt that the quality was quite decent, and if you have a problem with handling spicy food, this could be your haven.

What we had: pork xiaolong bao, har gow, wontons in chilli oil, steamed custard buns and two bottles of water. Price: $19.

DRINK

Great Leap Brewing #6

Look, it doesn’t get much cooler than this. Walk down the maze of the historical hutongs of Dongcheng and you’ll stumble across this uber-hipster beer bar. Blink and you’ll miss it! It was super cold went we went (mid-January), so the courtyard was out of action, but we could easily imagine how fantastic and heaving this place would be in spring and summer.  It’s a small place (Great Leap has many locations littered all over the city), and quite packed on a Sunday evening. The staff speak some English, and the beer list is also in English. Lots of taps (20?), with plenty of international guest beers (Mikkeller, Moon Dog, etc). No kitchen, but they have food menus from nearby places that deliver!

Arrow Factory Brewing Taproom
No 9 Chian Chang Hutong, Dongcheng district (Chinese address: 新东路1号DRC塔园外交公寓北侧外二层小楼)
Open Mon-Sun 5pm – 1am, Sat-Sun 11:30am – 1am

Another very cool place for yummy beer is Arrow Factory Brewing’s tiny taproom, nestled in a residential hutong. There’s only room for about 20-30 people, but the beers are really good! Worth seeking out. No food, but with an English menu and some English spoken by the staff.

ACTIVITIES

We also wholeheartedly recommend Untour Food Tours (we did their breakfast tour which was a fantastic way to see the city) and China Highlights (we did their 1-day Beijing Highlights tour which took us to Tianamen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall).

Untour photos

Beijing Highlights photos