If these past winter days have kept your family cooped up at home, fear not; we’re almost through shaking out the winter chill. Brush up on the history of Beijing and admire carriages and coaches, take a ride on a tram, pick up new threads for the whole family, indulge in some Peking duck, sip some tea, watch a film or peruse a new book – whatever experience you’re looking for, you’ll find it near Qianmen Dajie.
From Zhengyangmen (which translates to “front gate”), start your day with a bit of history at the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall and the newly renovated China Railway Museum (1). There is plenty to see here, from the city plan of Beijing to real carriages and coaches, and their replicas. A general ticket allows access to a cockpit simulator and a 3D movie session. Children under 1.2m are admitted for free, students pay half price. The museum shop is filled with train replicas from almost every model that was ever made or used in China. They even have limited edition models (prices start at around RMB 60).
The next stop is the Qianmen tram (2) (or dangdang che as the locals call it) that takes you up and down this shopping street for RMB 20 per person. To get there, head west and turn left at Qianmen Dajie. These trams are modeled from the original ones from 50 years ago. Back then, they were the only means of transportation allowed in the streets. Feel free to hop on board here, or resist the temptation and save the ride for the end of the day.
Before lunch, pick up some great basic pieces at Uniqlo, a popular Japanese clothing brand. Next, bring the clan to lunch for a classic Peking duck (prices start at RMB 108) at Quanjude (3). Established in 1864, it is one of the oldest kaoya restaurants in Beijing. Exiting the restaurant, you will find Tianjin Sheng Xifu (4) on your right. This Tianjin hat store opened its Beijing branch in 1937 and carries a wide variety of styles. You can even request a customized hat.
The corner of Dazhalan Jie (yet another shopping street) is the perfect transition point from modern stores to more traditional ones. For a silk handmade item, visit Ruifuxiang Silk Shop (5). Before entering, see how silk was produced, with the aid of their life-sized and miniature displays of how things were done in the old days. After getting the perfect gift, get lost in the middle of Dong Laishun (6), a small hutong-like area with Chinese kitschy products, along with paintings, toys, and sculptures for sale. Be careful not to get lost, what with all the turning around. If you do stick around here, there is a nearby Muslim restaurant whose menu includes hot pot.
When you’ve made your way out of the maze, pick up some tea from Ten Fu’s Tea (7). The friendly staff is always offering tea samples, if you’re unsure of which flavor to purchase. They will also show how to perform a tea ceremony for free. Before you backtrack to the main street, visit the Daguanlou Movie Theater (8). This is where the first Chinese-made film was exhibited in 1905 and it is considered the birthplace of Chinese cinema. They always have at least one Western and one Chinese movie playing. Before leaving, make sure you check out the old reels of film on display.
Since you have done quite a walk by now, why not take a northbound tram along Qianmen Dajie? Or if everyone still has energy left, stop by H&M (which has a kid’s section on the third floor) and the Cathay Bookshop. At the bookstore, pick up some new copies of your favorites in Chinese or purchase some novelty Beijing postcards. After reveling in your inner bookworm, hop on the next tram that will take you to the nearest subway station, Qianmen.