With its horizons of tower cranes and smog-shrouded skyscrapers, Beijing is a city which has totally reinvented itself in less than a generation, and not without growing pains. At the same time, the hi-octane Chinese capital has managed to maintain strong links with its more traditional past. From the awe-inspiring palaces of the Ming emperors, to the gleaming glass-and-steel creations of the Olympic Park and iconic Bird’s Nest Stadium, Beijing encompasses more than five centuries of ceaseless creativity and innovation, making it the perfect introduction to China’s complex history.
Confronted by such a profusion of sights it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Which is why we recommend you limit yourself to a just couple of major landmarks per day, and take plenty of time to savour the more mundane, but utterly compelling, sides of city life: senior citizens practising T’ai Chi dancing in the parks; the bustle of the narrow, medieval hutongs (back streets); and the endless games of chess played around the Temple of Heaven. In the evenings, sample fine cuisines in Beijing’s famous restaurants, enjoy scintillating acrobatic performances by the State Circus, and marvel at the exotic splendour of Chinese classical opera.