After hours of combing through our archives, we feature some places worth a visit over the holiday period to get the most out of Beijing before the cold has us shuddering at the thought of having to go outside. These places are action packed and hopefully the weather and air quality index permit a day out. Avoid the crowds at places like Tiananmen as even walking 200 meters will take an eternity.
In times of old, Qianmen Dajie was famous for its restaurants, shops, street vendors, and performance artists. Though more streamlined and commercialized, the newly reconstructed Qianmen Dajie offers entertainment of a similar flair. Qianmen literally translates to "front gate," and when you see the looming archway that frames the entrance to this bustling street, you’ll know why. Whether the idea of Starbucks and H&M masked in traditional Chinese architecture excites or unnerves you, this bustling area assuages your consumer desires while providing plenty of distractions for kids, including a tram ride and a museum.
Start your day off with a crash course on local history at the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall (1), located next to the Old Qianmen Railroad Station. (As a side note: The Railroad museum is currently being remodeled, but it’s worth checking out the European architecture juxtaposed with the Qing dynasty replica of Qianmen Dajie.) The third floor of the exhibition hall is entirely dedicated to a miniature model of Beijing, perfect for kids to "ooh and ah" at. If there’s time, head to the fourth floor and catch a flick at the 3-D cinema with its 120° concave screen.The exhibition hall provides an easy way for children to inadvertently get a history lesson, while being entertained by various models and sculptures showcasing Beijing’s rich past and fast-paced future.
Five minutes west from the Exhibition Hall is Qianmen’s front gate, known as Zhengyangmen (2). Walk between the newly revamped gate and the Qianmen archery building (3), called Jian Lou. You can’t go inside the archery building, but its history is impressive. This structure was almost destroyed three times during the Qing dynasty, and yet this massive concrete block has remained standing since its first construction in 1916. Across the road from the archery building is the red, gold and blue-specked arch that frames Qianmen Dajie. Originally built in 1419, the gatehouse is the tallest among all the the gates of Beijing.
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For the latest addition, check our view of Madame Tussauds.
Photos: Ivan Walsh (Flickr)