A capital with an imperial pedigree, Beijing is where ancient China, Communist China and modern China come together in a flash of firecrackers and sparks. Fly to Beijing from Glasgow Airport and discover a wok-stirred blend of sights, flavours and experiences.
The heart of old Beijing, the Forbidden City was the private playground of the emperor of China for more than 500 years. To enter without permission was to invite instant death. How things change! Today, visitors are free to wander the elegant precincts and ponder the opulent lifestyle of the imperial family. Beyond the Forbidden City, Beijing’s winding hutongs(narrow lanes) offer a window onto the lives of ordinary citizens, particularly around the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, built as the official alarm clock for the city in the time of Kublai Khan.
What a wall!
Beijing has temples and pagodas to spare, but nothing comes close to the wow factor of the Great Wall. Spanning more than 21,000km, the Great Wall coils around Beijing like a Chinese dragon, crumbling in places, immaculately restored in others. The spruced-up section of wall at Badaling gives the best impression of how the Great Wall looked in Imperial times, while the most atmospheric sections are at Jinshanling and Simatai, where tree roots burst through the walls of ruined watchtowers.
The world in a wok
All the Chinese food you have sampled elsewhere was just an entrée preparing you for the main courses served up by Beijing’s food markets, restaurants and banquet houses. Here, flavours are intense, ingredients are complex and surprising, and portions are enormous. This is the best place in the world to sample Peking duck; after all, it was invented here. A useful tip: in China, rice is served at the end of a meal, rather than alongside soups, stir-fries and sauces.