Luxury Travel: Anyone traveling to the Beijing Olympic Games will be on a tight schedule while traversing the sprawling city and surrounding areas. And yet, Beijing is a gorgeous and frenetic city that deserves to be explored beyond the chaos of the Olympics. Though tourists typically enjoy heritage sites such as the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, visitors should be plugged into some additional insights in order to unlock the city's full flavor. Here, we break down Beijing's top 8 of '08.
1. Use Guanxi
Beijing's Guanxi SMS service can tackle even the most difficult communication hurdles by providing the address and phone number of any club, hotel, restaurant or Olympic stadium. Text the English name of the venue to 1066-9588-2929 and Guanxi will text back details in English and Chinese. Just show your cab driver the address' he'll take you to your destination without missing a beat.
2. Beyond Green Tea and Chivas
From the spring-loaded dance floors of GT Banana (22 Jianguomen Waidajie) to the 65 plasma screens of the All Star sports bar (6 Chaoyang Park Road), Beijing's bar and club scene features astounding decadence, passion for imbibing Green Tea and Chivas and out-of-this-world décor. For over-the-top garish amusement, few clubs compare to China Doll (2/F Tongli Studio, Sanlitun Back Street), a sprawling 1400-square meter neverland where every detail-from the puffy vinyl chairs to the cherub chandeliers been custom designed by established contemporary Chinese artists like Peng Wei and Shen Lin. On the opposite end of the clubbing spectrum, Beijing's underground DJ club, White Rabbit (C2 Haoyunjie, 29 Zaoyinglu), hosts all-night parties that are often accented with impromptu sets by out-of-town DJs for the city's hippest audiophiles. Destination, one of Beijing's only gay bars, has just announced its dance floor will be closed during the Olympics, making White Rabbit's Thursday night Queeressence parties that much more fun. For the city's best mixed and most innovative cocktails, check out Block 8, Centro, Klubb Rouge and Q Bar.
3. The Contemporary Art Circuit
The 798 DaShanzi Art District is a sprawling, suburban factory district where professors from Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts began renting cheap studios in the early 2000s. Less than a decade later, it's the beating heart of China's contemporary art boom. Any introduction to Beijing's art scene begins here, where the city's most cutting-edge galleries include Galleria Continua, the Long March Space and Tang Contemporary. Also in 798, the recently opened Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) hosts exhibitions by local and international artists, as well as seminars on contemporary culture in China. The Timezone8 book store, which has published over 100 books on China's contemporary art scene, offers a wealth of information on the district's galleries and artists. As real estate skyrocketed in 798, two newer art districts have also emerged. The Liquor Factory is home to two of Korea's leading galleries, Arario and PYO, while the Caochangdi village houses several galleries and studio spaces designed by China's leading contemporary artist (and the designer behind the Bird's Nest), Ai Wei Wei. Among these must-see spaces are Boers-Li Gallery, Chambers Fine Art, doART, PKM Gallery and the Three Shadows Photography Centre.
4. Hutong Hideaways
To get a feel for traditional Beijing life, walk through the city's cobblestone alleyways, or hutongs. The booming Houhai lake district elegantly mixes the old with the new, but to really enjoy it, one must wander beyond the neon-lit lakeside. We recommend the No Name (1 Dajinsi Hutong) Yunnan restaurant or French wine bar, La Baie des Anges (5 Nanguanfang Hutong), for a taste of Hou Hai's quieter delights. The nearby Nanluoguxiang hutong is home to a number of hip boutiques and delectable eateries, including Saveurs de Corée (29 Nanluogu Xiang) as well as Drum and Gong (102 Nanluoguxiang).