You've got a day to spare in China's capital. What to do? I wrote this bite-size travel piece for Sky, the inflight magazine for Delta Air Lines.
The new pays little heed to the old in Beijing. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid’s remarkable Galaxy Soho office complex writhes and flows like an alien starship mere blocks from tumble-down grey-brick hutongs, Beijing’s original residential architecture. The older generations waltz in the Imperial parks, but the young get their kicks at mirror-walled nightclubs around Mao’s triumphalist Worker’s Stadium. Here is a city in the thrall of reinvention, determined to play a defining role in the 21st century. There are few more fascinating places to be right this very moment.
EXPLORE: Discover the gentrifying Dashilan district before everyone else does. Southwest of Tiananmen Square, the warren of hutong alleyways here are a compelling mix of throwback mahjong dens and pioneering hipster cafes. Try the homemade hawthorn cookies at Spoonful of Sugar, or classic Peking duck at Deyuan.
STROLL: Strewn with Imperial ruins, the rambling gardens and lakes of the Old Summer Palace are one of the most peaceful corners of the capital. Abandoned for more than a century after British and French soldiers razed it to the ground in the Second Opium War, it was opened to the public in the 1980s, the government electing to leave it unrestored as a park of remembrance.
CRAFT BEER: Great Leap Brewing is the granddaddy of Beijing’s craft beer scene, sating thirsty Beijingers (since 2010!) with brews that harness Chinese ingredients like Fujian tea and Sichuan peppercorns. Their original location, in the former library wing of an old courtyard house, has a lovely yard. Newcomers Jing A, resident at Big Smoke Bistro, are also worth your time.
REV YOUR ENGINES: Whizz between the old and the new in a vehicle that straddles both. Tour company Beijing Sideways offers 2-hour city jaunts aboard a People’s Liberation Army motorcycle sidecar. Based on a 1920s design, and produced up until the 1980s, it’s one of the longest-running production vehicles ever.