Traveling in China can be unpredictable, and plans are never guaranteed to succeed. Those train tickets you were planning to buy may be sold out weeks before departure – especially around national holidays. There can be a change in your work schedule. Or you might just choose to avoid the holiday madness and travel during the off-season.
Whatever your reason for staying in Beijing during a holiday or a long weekend, you can still make it relaxing and festive by arranging a staycation. Choose a spot in the city that’s close to your favorite hangouts and enjoy life in that neighborhood for a couple of days.
Beijing itself has much to offer, and depending on the neighborhood you choose, you can be in for a completely different experience. Make it a weekend of pub crawls and brunches, of hikes, international cuisine or Old Beijing bookstores. Just bring your traveler attitude and prepare to learn more about the city you call home.
Lama Temple for Breweries and Brunch
An obvious destination for a Beijing staycation is the hutongs. Tucked alongside the gray alleys are well-preserved traditional courtyard hotels.
161 Lama Temple Courtyard Hotel is a great and affordable option. The rooms have impeccable wood furniture, and each is themed after a tourist hotspot in Beijing, such as Beihai Lake and the Olympic Park.
Beijing Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel is rated as “wonderful” by Booking.com users. Visitors appreciated the hotel’s traditional Chinese furniture and decorations, as well as its location in the heart of the hutongs.
You can start your staycation with a pub crawl to some of Beijing’s most beloved microbreweries. Make your way from Arrow Factory Brewing to Great Leap Brewing #6 and then to Slow Boat Brewery Taproom. The breweries are within walking distance of one another. They are owned by foreigners who are passionate about craft beer and who like to experiment with new ingredients. Think Sichuan-peppercorn and Chinese-tea-flavored beer.
It used to be that Beijing’s microbreweries were expat hangouts, but the patrons are now predominantly Chinese. The microbreweries are a great place to bring your friends or make new ones.
On the second day, have brunch at one of the many restaurants in the area. Mao Mao Chong attracts visitors with its signature bacon breakfast pizza; Mercante serves Italian brunch based on meats and cheeses; and Grandma’s Kitchen serves classic American fare.
Fragrant Hills Park for a Weekend in Nature
For a weekend in nature, try the area near Fragrant Hills Park and the Botanical Garden, on Beijing’s west side. January might have been cold, but it also had many brilliant, smog-free days. That’s perfect weather for a hike if you bundle up and keep warm by staying active.
Fragrant Hills Park is an imperial garden on the side of a mountain, with Xianglu Peak reaching an altitude of 557 meters above sea level. The park is known for its red leaves during autumn. In winter, it is quiet and wild, with bare trees, frozen lakes and the occasional Chinese pavilions and temples.
The reward for the arduous hike to the top is a teahouse, located halfway up, and increasingly beautiful views. From Xianglu Peak on a clear day you can see the city all the way to Chaoyang district.
After you leave the park, stop for a meal and a hot drink at Sculpting in Time Café, a cozy coffee shop tucked in-between street vendor stands and small stores.
Fragrant Hill Empark Hotel is within walking distance from Fragrant Hills Park. It provides a sauna, pool and a gym to its guests.
Sanlitun for Exquisite International Cuisine
It’s true that Sanlitun, a shopping and dining area that caters to foreigners and foreign-oriented Chinese, doesn’t have much of a Beijing flavor. But what it lacks in authenticity it gains in its variety of international cuisine.
Many of the city’s most appreciated restaurants are located in Sanlitun, so if you want to splurge, book a room at one of the many hotels in the area and go to town.
The Beijinger and Time Out Beijing release annual lists of the best restaurants in the city, by category. The lists are based on staff’s and readers’ votes. Sanlitun boasts some of the best American-style restaurants, including Home Plate BBQ, Blue Frog Bar and Grill and Great Leap Brewing #12; Middleastern restaurants, such as Biteapitta, 1001 Nights and RUMI; Mexican joints such as The Taco Bar, Luga’s Villa and Q Mex Bar and Grill; and Spanish restaurants including the acclaimed Migas, Agua and Carmen.
For fine Chinese dining in the area, the publications recommend Jing Yaa Tang, Duck de Chine and Transit.
Liulichang for Old Beijing Bookstores
For a taste of Old Beijing, visit Liulichang Cultural Street. The traditional street used to be part of a small village during the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) that made glazed tiles. The street’s namesake kiln was relocated in the 16th century.
During the Qing dynasty (1636-1911), government officials started moving to the area, which soon became a gathering place for China’s politicians, scholars and painters. Many bookstores and other shops opened there.
Today, the street’s stone buildings still host Old Beijing bookshops as well as stores that sell art, antiques and traditional handicrafts including statues, swords, Chinese kites, ancient shoes and scrolls.
Take your time exploring the shops and – your language skills permitting – striking up conversations with the owners. They can be living encyclopedias of Old Beijing.
Have dinner at one of the restaurants in Qianmen or Dashilan areas. If you want to spend the night, Beijing Hyde Courtyard Hotel and King’s Joy Hotel are popular among visitors.