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Beijing redefines and reinvents itself constantly. Stunning historical sights rub shoulders with cutting-edge architecture as the pace of change leaves residents breathless. There is a sense that this once conservative capital is enjoying the time of its life.

See
China's best-preserved ancient site, the Forbidden City was home to the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is a striking series of wooden structures and courtyards full of imperial treasures (+86 10 6513 2255; dpm.org.cn; subway Tiananmen Xi or Tiananmen Dong; 8.30am- 3.30pm Oct-Apr, 8.30am-4pm May to Sept; £4-£6).

The former factory workshops of 798 Art District are now part of Beijing's art community. Peruse modern Chinese art at highlight galleries White Space Beijing and Beijing Tokyo Art Projects (10am-6pm; take the subway to Dongzhimen station, then bus 909 to Dashanzi Lukounan).

The verdant gardens and pavilions of the Summer Palace were a playground for the imperial court. Glittering Kunming Lake swallows up three-quarters of the grounds (+86 10 6288 1144; 19 Xinjian Gongmen; 8.30am-5pm; £9).

The Great Wall wriggles to the Gobi Desert across hill country north of Beijing. The stretch at Mutianyu is the second closest section to town (reachable in 1½ hours) but less commercialised than Badaling. Many hotels run tours, but you can take the 916 bus from Dongzhimen (wall open daily; £5, cable car access £5).

Panjiayuan, aka the Dirt Market or Sunday market, takes place at weekends and has everything from Cultural Revolution memorabilia to Buddha heads. Bargain hard (off Dongsanhuan Nanlu; dawn-6pm Sat-Sun).

Eat
Donghuamen Night Market , near Wangfujing Dajie, is a food zoo: expect lamb kebabs, smelly tofu, cicadas, quails' eggs, squid, strawberry kebabs and more. Look out for the dragon-spouted copper kettles of xin gren cha vendors for an almond-flavoured sugar rush (Dong'anmen Dajie; 6pm-10pm; snacks 50p).

Swat aside the English tourist menu at Niuge Jiaozi and stick to what this place does best - servings of steaming, plump dumplings. Aim for the lamb and onion or roast duck. The restaurant has no English sign, but is opposite a building signed "Hualong Street" (+ 86 10 6525 7472; 85 Nanheyan Dajie; lunch and dinner; dumplings £1-£3).

Treat yourself to home-style cuisine at Xiao Wang's Home Restaurant. Go for one of the specials: deep-fried spare ribs with pepper salt or hot and spicy chicken wings (+86 10 6594 3602; 2 Guanghua Dongli; lunch and dinner; mains £3.50).

Beijing Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant is a favourite of Peking duck aficionados. Its hallmark bird is a crispy, lean duck without the usual high fat content, plus plum sauce, spring onions and pancakes (+86 10 6582 2892; 3 Tuanjiehu Beikou; lunch and dinner; duck £9.50).

The Source is a swish Sichuan restaurant with a romantic courtyard setting. The set menus offer typically spicy Sichuan dishes such as hot mapo beancurd (+86 10 6400 3736; 14 Banchang Hutong; lunch and dinner; set menus £12 or £18).

Sleep
Set around a sweet courtyard, hung unsurprisingly with red lanterns, Red Lantern House is located down a hutong (old alleyway). Rooms are simply furnished with pine or dark-wood beds and dressers; only a few are en suite (+86 10 6611 5771; 5 Zhengjue Hutong; from £20).

Yan Yue Hutong, in which Hotel Cote Cour is located, used to be home to the dancers and musicians at the Ming court. Probably Beijing's best mid-range option, the rooms are furnished in imperial gold, red and green. They range around a pretty lantern-strung courtyard (+86 10 6523 7981; 70 Yan Yue Hutong, Dong Cheng Qu; from £100).

Hotel Kapok is Beijing's only boutique-style hotel. The space-age glass grille exterior frames the view out of every  "executive fashion room", each of which is styled with sharp, angular furniture and wood or limestone floors (+86 10 6525 9900; 16 Donghuamen Dajie; from £125).

Defining China's retro-chic, Red Capital Residence has five kitsch rooms with original period antiques, some picked up from Politburo offices. Rooms include the Chairman's Suite and the Concubine's Private Courtyards (+86 10 8403 5308; 9 Dongsi Liutiao, Dongcheng; from £140).

Grand Hyatt Beijing is an elegant, modern hotel located right in the heart of town. Exemplary services are matched by gorgeous decor: leather-clad chairs and glass-topped tables. There is an oasis pool and four restaurants (+86 10 8518 1234; 1 Dongchang'an Jie; from £280).

How to go
Direct flights go to Beijing from London (£425) and Manchester (£425) with carriers such as Singapore Airlines and British Airways. Beijing's Capital Airport is 17 miles from the centre. The Airport Line light-rail connects with the underground at Dongzhimen (£2.50). A taxi into the city costs £8.50.

Find your way
The subway is fast, reliable and reaches most points of interest. Line 1 runs east-west, Line 5 north-south and Line 2 circles the city. The flat fare is 20p. Most hotels can arrange taxis and bikes (bike rental £2.50 per day; taxis charge 20p per km).

 

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The article ‘Mini guide to Beijing’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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