Emperors lived in the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing, but beyond those walls—which now allow visiting tourists—the city is far from ancient.
The combination of a booming national economy and of playing host to the 2008 Olympics Games has led to massive development, making Beijing a dizzying combination of new and old, of ritzy skyscrapers and ancient temples, of hyper-designed dance clubs and maze-like alleyway homes.
All of this change has also made the city very tourist-friendly. Major hotel chains in Beijing employ English-speaking staff members. Taxis are astonishingly cheap, the underground metro system bears English translations and, if you do get lost, Beijingers in general are warm, welcoming, and eager to help couples explore their home.
The winters are brutally cold, but beautiful, and although the summers are blazing, everywhere is air-conditioned.
There’s no poor time for visiting Beijing, but agoraphobics may wish to avoid the crowds of domestic tourists who travel to their capitol on major Chinese national holidays.
One thing that can’t be avoided is pollution, although it’s likely that a strong breeze will come through at least every few days to give your nose and eyes a break.
Sightseeing in Beijing for RomanticsCouples will definitely want to spend a few hours ogling the royal digs in the aforementioned Forbidden City, which is located just north of Tiananmen Square, another popular destination. Although the architecture is the main attraction, there are some beautiful antique furnishings also on display.
Nuzzle in the back of a rickshaw while the driver tours you through the remaining hutongs (alleyway homes, most of which around the city have been razed by developers) by Houhai Lake. Then grab a drink with a view at one of the lake’s many waterfront bars.
Rise early one morning for a meditative hand-in-hand stroll through the parks surrounding the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and watch the locals wake up with tai chi—either in groups or sequestered away privately among the bushes and numerous improvised paths. The active Temple, which many consider to be the most famous, interesting, and beautiful in Beijing, opens at 8 am for both worship and tours.
Art lovers won’t want to miss the 798 Art District northeast of the city, which is home to a burgeoning contemporary scene rife with top-notch galleries as well as the kind of chic cafés that inevitably follow.
No trip to Beijing is complete without a day trip to the Great Wall, several portions of which are within a couple of hours’ drive from Beijing.
Any hotel can book you on a group hike through the most trafficked portion of the Wall, but a private car or guide can take you off the beaten path. Standing inside a mountaintop tower gazing out at some of the 4,000 meandering miles of wall gives a couple a powerful way to contemplate how to build something strong that lasts forever.
Shopping in BeijingAs in any major city, there’s plenty of it. Find high-end fashion inside the city’s many malls and arcades, two of which are located underground the Peninsula Hotel and the Grand Hyatt.
For bargains and souvenirs, hit one of the city’s three most popular markets—Pearl, Silk, Street, or Yashow, where endless stalls offer trinkets, clothing, pearls, electronics, and more.
Be prepared to haggle aggressively as everything is quoted at at least three times its real price. Find similar wares—with more antiques and reproductions thrown in—while avoiding tourists by visiting the Panjiayuan Antique market.
Get botanical at the Laitai Flower Market, and sample more varieties of tea than you thought existed at the Tea Street Market.
Dining and Nightlife in BeijingAlthough there is a plethora of Chinese restaurants—cooking up cuisines from every region in the country—Beijing also boasts loads of Japanese, international, and fusion spots. These are a few notable for their décor or romantic settings:
Get a feel for the olden days at Red Capital Club, a restored courtyard that serves dishes purported to be the favorites of former Communist party officials.
Dine on traditional Peking duck in the Grand Hyatt’s Made in China, which brings a posh touch to tradition by incorporating rustic elements into modern décor and by bringing gourmet preparation to traditional Chinese cuisine. Then head across the lobby for a quiet drink in the hotel’s romantic, Japanese-themed lounge, Red Moon.
Face offers delicious Indian and Thai food. Later, the hot spot turns into a swank lounge; grab a seat by the koi pond in the garden.
Clubbers won’t want for options in Beijing. Philippe Starck’s LAN offers eye candy of both the design and human varieties. The Beach and Block 8 are both popular international hangouts for dancing and people watching, and night owls shouldn’t miss a trip to the World of Suzie Wong; the opium-den-themed spot is arguably the city’s most famous and storied nightclub.
Beijing offers all of the luxe accommodations, eateries and clubs that couples on a romantic holiday would seek in any global major metropolis, while maintaining a decidedly Chinese aesthetic.
If you visit only one city in China, Beijing should be the one. Nowhere is changing and developing more rapidly—so catch a glimpse of the city’s past before it is replaced with the skyscrapers of its future.