The multitude of local dishes in Beijing has made for some of the longest menus in the world. Whether diners choose traditionally cooked meals or new takes on old favourites, eating out in Beijing will be like nowhere else in the world. From ingredients meant for royalty in Imperial Cuisine to the more 'mysterious' ingredients of a street-side Jianbing (savoury pancake), food preparation in Beijing adheres to old traditions that reflect culinary styles from all over China.
Chinese food in Beijing differs dramatically from the fare in Chinese restaurants worldwide. Beijing's famous Peking roast duck is the star attraction, with several restaurants devoted entirely to the one dish. For a chance to sample many different kinds of local food, visit one of the 'snack streets', like Guanganmen Snack Street, or Gui Street, all with dozens of vendors plying their specialties. The more adventurous visitors can peruse the Donghuamen Snack Night Market in Wangfujing, which is famous for Chinese delicacies such as centipedes, grasshoppers, sheep privates and offal soup.
Migrants have infused the city's cuisine with new cultures and tastes, reflected in the blossoming choices in Beijing restaurants. International-style restaurants are popping up all over the city, with top international chefs enjoying great success.
More expensive restaurants in Beijing will generally accept credit cards, but street vendors and takeaway joints will expect cash. While hotel restaurants will sometimes include a 10 to 15 percent service charge, tipping is not generally expected in Beijing.
Shopping is a delight in Beijing, and the haggling and bargain-hunting is a cultural experience.
Walking and bargaining in the countless markets in Xiu Shui Jie Shopping Mall or the Xiu Shui Market will no doubt build up an appetite but luckily there are plenty of food stalls where shoppers can refuel. Popular buys include fake designer labels, clothing and bags. Bargaining is an essential skill and an expected part of the transaction but remember to keep smiling.
The main shopping area is around Wangfujing Dajie, where a number of department stores can be found, including the Beijing Department Store. The Xidan area offers wonderful big department stores selling fixed-price goods including electronic equipment. The Hong Qiao Market is a popular indoor market in the south central area of Beijing, where bargaining is expected. Here buyers can haggle for goods such as cheap no-name or fake brand electronics, sunglasses, batteries, watches and jewellery.
Panjiayuan Collectors Market is an outdoor market with a good array of arts and crafts from all over China, including popular Beijing souvenirs like jade bracelets, cloisonné and lacquerware, silk, calligraphy, porcelain and vintage Cultural Revolution books and posters. The Maliandao Tea Street is the best place to find anything associated with tea, including tables, tea sets and a wide variety of teas; it can be found in the southwestern Xuanwu District, near the Beijing West Railway Station.
Liulichang, in south Beijing, is a great place for Chinese antiques. Buyers should be aware that authentic antiques over 100 years old display a red wax seal. An export licence must be issued before these can be taken out of the country.
Travellers are advised to avoid shopping sprees on evenings and weekends when possible, as the crowds can be overwhelming. Shops in Beijing are generally open daily from 9am to 8pm.
Neon lights are a staple of Beijing nightlife, with a predictable swarm of DJ dance clubs and karaoke bars lighting up most corners of the downtown districts. This is encouraging, as not too long ago there wasn't much nightlife in Beijing at all. The city is just beginning to create the modern discos and chic bars favoured by foreigners. Beijing's nightlife still doesn't quite compare to that found in cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai for pure hedonism, but its cultural offerings and diversity of entertainment are unrivalled.
Those wanting an authentic Beijing experience should probably avoid the hotel venues and their cookie cutter disco offerings. Some unique areas popular with locals include Hou Hai Bar Area, a picturesque lakeside nightlife hub, and Sanlitun Pub Street in the Embassy Area of Chaoyang District, a favourite for westerners keen on cheap drinks and a vibrant atmosphere.
There still isn't too much crossover between western and Chinese clientèle, but it can be interesting to soak in some Chinese karaoke and liquor at local haunts. Many venues stay open until the early morning, although most people in Beijing go to sleep before some of them even open!
For the more artistically inclined, there are a host of Chinese art shows to enjoy. These include top-quality Chinese opera, dancing, and theatre most nights of the week. Many visitors enjoy seeing kung-fu demonstrations and acrobatic shows. The Laoshe Tea House and the Tianqiao (Overbridge) Area are great places to explore traditional Chinese performances.
A note of caution: it is advisable to research and plan your night out rather than leave matters to spontaneous choice as one might do in other cities. Be very cautious of allowing taxi drivers or helpful locals guiding you to an off-the-beaten track bar or club - these arrangements are often designed to fleece visitors of money.
Grab a copy of Timeout Beijing or That's Beijing for updated event listings and gig guides.