You may be aware that “Beijing” means “northern capital” in Mandarin. However, do you know how “Beijing” is pronounced?
English speakers commonly say “Beizhing,” but there is a more accurate pronunciation:
The “j” sound in Beijing is certainly closer to “jingle bells” than it is to “beige”…but pronounced properly, it sounds more like “dzj” — somewhat sharper than “j” and pronounced with the tip of the tongue in between your teeth. (The Atlantic)
Apart from its name, there is much more to discover about Beijing, China’s rapidly evolving economic and cultural nerve centre. To get a quick sense of the city’s vast history and its looming ambitions for the future, book a Beijing tour conducted by an experienced local or long-time resident, and let a vivacious storyteller take you on a vivid journey through the city’s best sights.
Here are the top recommendations brought to you by the Pan Pacific Beijing team.
Currently the top-rated Beijing tour provider on TripAdvisor, Catherine Lu Tours offers city jaunts as well as tours spanning several days that require more legwork, such as its three-day special that incorporates a five-hour Great Wall hike from the lesser-known Jiankou section to the Mutianyu section, which is popular with tourists.
The reward of a view worthy of exotic travel magazines comes at a lofty price: travellers will have to face one of the steepest Great Wall climbs as they ascend the “Sky Stairs” and “Cloud Stairs” in Jiankou. Over at the much less challenging Mutianyu, hikers can rest easy and even take a fun toboggan ride down the Great Wall.
If you are looking for interesting things to do in Beijing at night, consider the tours with evening options—a kungfu show at the Red Theatre or an acrobatic show at the Chaoyang Theatre, both featuring astounding feats and elaborate choreography.
Tour participants are raving about Catherine Lu Tours. “We learned way more from our delightful guides than we ever could have reading a guidebook,” gushed one recent traveller. Another praised his guide’s “exceptional” service in adapting speedily and cheerfully to unexpected situations, such as ensuring the tour proceeded smoothly even after one member of his travel party required the use of a wheelchair.
For an informed insight into Beijing’s culture and history, you can count on Newman Tours, which hires guides with degrees in everything from Chinese studies and English literature to history and biology. If you are a lifelong learner seeking compelling conversations, this tour agency may be perfect for you.
“We not only show you the bigger picture by putting the sites into their historical context, but we also tell you memorable anecdotes about the lives of the emperors, warlords, and colonialists that once lived and worked there,” promises Newman Tours to the travellers under their care.
Thankfully, education and entertainment can go hand in hand. For unusual things to do in Beijing—look to Newman’s unconventional offerings, which include the “Beijing Ghost Tour” (“Why do Chinese zombies bounce?” and other burning questions answered) and the salaciously titled “Emperors, Eunuchs, and Concubines,” which provides a window into the indecorous past of the Forbidden City.
3. Bespoke Travel Company
Image credit: J Aaron Farr – Flickr: Temple on SE Corner
File this under “alternative things to do in Beijing”: the official Midnight in Peking tour, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month. The tour is inspired by Paul French’s bestselling investigative novel of the same name, which resurrects a vintage unsolved murder mystery that once held the entire nation in thrall.
Have a read of this extract and see if it chills your spine:
On the morning of 8 January 1937, the body of a 19-year-old girl was found at the foot of the Fox Tower in Beijing. All the blood had been drained from her body and in a particularly gruesome detail, her heart was missing, ripped out through her broken rib cage. (Source: The Guardian)
The victim, Pamela Werner, had been a seemingly ordinary British expatriate schoolgirl. Was it a case of wrong place, wrong time, or did she have secrets to hide? These are some of the questions that Paul French attempted to answer, or at least speculate on, in his book.
Whether or not you have read the book, the “Midnight in Peking” tour will show you a grittier side of Beijing, as you visit the scene of the crime—Fox Tower—as well as Beijing’s former vice district, known as the “Badlands” (read the author’s account of his personal explorations here, and access the audio tour here).
The “Midnight in Peking” tour is organised by the Bespoke Travel Company. Its other city tours, such as the “Beijing Time Chase” scavenger hunt by sidecar, are equally creative and intriguing. Look them up if you are bent on keeping off the tourist path.
In search of a Beijing night tour to sign up for—one that gives you an authentic taste of Beijing? Lost Plate is your answer. On their evening hutong (alleyway) food tour, travel by auto-rickshaw to five hidden gem restaurants revered by locals, where you can sample over 15 different dishes, including Beijing’s best pancakes. Rest assured that these are local specialities that you may find difficult to track down on your own—not watered-down tourist-friendly creations. You will also get to meet and mingle with people who are passionate about the city’s culinary history and traditions.
To partake in the Beijing nightlife, sign up for the “One Night in Beijing” tour, which is an excursion to several of Beijing’s premier craft breweries tucked away in narrow streets. A supper break of barbecued meats (at a hip establishment that also brews their own beer) is on the agenda, as is the chance to drink baijiu, China’s only local spirit.
It is said that in China, every business decision begins with a cup of tea. There is no better place to get acquainted with Chinese tea than on Beijing’s “tea street,” Maliandao, home to hundreds of tea shops.
Culture specialists The Hutong take pride in their Maliandao Tea Tour, which they claim is Beijing’s most comprehensive overview of Chinese tea. On the tour, you will get to sip the finest Chinese green teas, fermented teas, oolong and black teas, and herbal teas while chatting with tea connoisseurs.
You will also learn about famous Chinese teas, discover where they are produced, acquaint yourself with common processing methods, and brush up on your knowledge of essential tea paraphernalia. Take this opportunity to bring home a meaningful and aromatic gift for yourself or loved ones.