A city more than 3,000 years old, Beijingis known for its epic palaces and ancient temples, co-existing happily alongside neon billboards and ultra-modern skyscrapers. By night, the city’s attractions are a mixture of ancient traditions and modern hedonism.
Lose yourself in the hutong alleys
In the evenings,Beijing’s 800-year old maze of narrow streets comes to life. As you stroll along amid delicious smells emanating from food carts, you will see residents playing mah jong in the street, getting a haircut in late-night barbershops, having an impromptu jam session or even wandering down to the communal bathrooms in their pyjamas. The best hutong areas are around the DrumTower and Houhai Lake.
A night at the Beijing Opera
Imagine a soap opera, but one that may involve ghosts, cross-dressing nuns, clowns, kung fu fighting and acrobatics. An intensely visual experience, it allows you to guess a character’s role and importance from the intricacy of their costume or the colour of their makeup. Bring some earplugs in case you cannot take the vocal rollercoaster for the entire three-plus-hours, and enjoy the spectacle at the venerable Chang An Grand Theatre.
Catch an acrobatics show
Acrobatics have been part of Chinese culture for more than 2,000 years, and the top venues to witness incredible feats of human dexterity include Tiandi Theatre (10 Dongzhimen Nandajie) and Chaoyang Theatre. Expect plate spinning, tumbling, daredevil trapeze acts and balancing acts of up to nine acrobats riding a single bicycle. If you watch child acrobats, you will find yourself catching your breath because you see the potential for acts going wrong, making the show all the more moving.
Watch a kung fu show
The harsh discipline of kung fu has evolved in China over many centuries. And while the performances at the likes of the Red Theatre are undoubtedly a departure from tradition, that does not detract from their visual impact. The frenetic routine is a blur of bodies as the fighters mock spar, show off their weapons skills, dance and perform feats of endurance, such as breaking blocks of concrete on one another’s stomachs.
Chocolate attracts well-heeled professionals with its outrageous rococo floor show, whereas Kai Club (Sanlitun Beijie) acts as a magnet for local students, with a mix of break beats, indie and house. The chic Area, with international DJs doing weekend sets, caters to the young and stylish, who also lie around on Ming dynasty beds at The World of Suzie Wong, part 1930s Shanghai opium den, part postmodern lounge. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Mix (Inside Worker’s Stadium north gate) heaves with hip-hop clubbers.
Sanlitun is still the hedonistic centre of Beijing’s nightlife, though good watering holes are also found around the Drum Tower. Mingle with expats at the Den (A4 Gongti Donglu), one of Beijing’s oldest bars – good for sports and cheap beer – or head to Latino-themed Salud for superb sangria and homemade infused rums. Sip a sunset drink at the atmospheric courtyard of the Drum and Bell, or lounge around with a blue cheese martini at the smart Centro.
Beijing Travel Guide