One of the first things that newcomers and visitors notice about Beijing is how big the city is. That makes choosing a neighborhood to live in challenging at best and infuriating at worst. However, the upside to living in such a large city is the sheer diversity of housing arrangements. Whether it’s a courtyard home in Gulou, an apartment with a view in the CBD, or a spacious villa in Shunyi, there’s a place for you here. We survey the most popular expat neighborhoods in Beijing, with an overview of compounds, schools, public transportation, dining options, and more.
CBD (Central Business District) 北京商务中心
The CBD is the financial center of the city. Occupying an area of around 4sqkm, the area is sandwiched between the Third and Fourth Ring Road. The CBD encompasses the famous CCTV Tower (or “pants building”), one of Beijing’s most recognizable landmarks.
Pros: Affluent, easy access to shopping and financial services, convenient access to the subway (Lines 1, 2, 10, and 6), decent number of kindergartens and preschools in the area
Cons: Heavy traffic (quieter after office hours), lack of historical buildings and culture, few schooling options for older kids
Schools: There are several schools for younger kids, including Ivy Academy (Central Park), AnRic Little Montessori Room, Beanstalk International Bilingual School and New Bamboo Academy (Jianguomen), The Family Learning House (Guomao), Huijia Kindergarten (Chaoyangmen), and Etonkids’ various campuses. School-age kids and teens have fewer options, but Yew Chung International School of Beijing is close by (15-20 minutes by car). There’s also Fangcaodi International School, a local school with an international department.
Shopping and dining: The CBD has a number of fancy shopping malls like Shin Kong Place, China World Shopping Mall, Kerry Center, and the LEED-certified Parkview Green. The Place, which has a huge LED screen, has mid-range stores like Zara and H&M. Restaurants tend to be concentrated in malls or compounds. For example, Central Park has Obentos (Japanese), Thai Lime Cafe (Thai), and Pekotan (bakery and deli) while The Place has Ganges (Indian) and Herbal Cafe (Hong Kong).
Just for kids: Central Park has a large green space ringed with cafes and restaurants that draws families on weekends. Ritan Park, Tuanjiehu Park, and Chaoyang Park are close by. Most major shopping centers have play areas for children. Play centers include the Adventure Zone (Kerry Centre) and Yu Kids Island (The Place), as well as the upcoming family center little oasis (Parkview Green).
Popular residential compounds:
• Central Park: Central location in a large compound filled with restaurants, shops, cafes, and beauty services. Several malls – The Place, the Kerry Center, and Chaowai SOHO – are all nearby, and the compound is a ten-minute walk from Jintaixizhao subway station.
• Gemdale International Garden: Gemdale has a supermarket, restaurants, cafes, a post office, a gym, a swimming pool, and a playground. A shopping center called Gemdale Plaza is located across the street.
• Blue Castle International Apartment: Close to the post office, banks, Shin Kong Place, and hospitals. Limited choice of western restaurants in the area, though there’s an Annie’s just around the corner.
Located just south of the CBD, Shuangjing was once a no man’s land of factories and farmland. With one of the highest concentrations of residential compounds in Chaoyang District, Shuangjing has a diverse population of white-collar locals and expat families who settled in the area due to its proximity to schools and the CBD.
Pros: Easy access to the CBD, decent number of schools, burgeoning bar and restaurant scene (Lily’s American Diner, Plan B, The Brick, etc.), relatively safe residential neighborhood, close to shopping and entertainment facilities, active expat community with frequent events such as the Shuangjing Block Party.
Cons: Heavy traffic (especially around Shuangjing Qiao), not great for public transport unless you live near Shuangjing or Jinsong subway stations, not much culture or history
Schools: There are several schools in the area, the largest being Beijing City International School (K-12), which just opened a state-of-the-art Early Childhood Center. Kindergartens include The Family Learning House, American International Academy of Beijing, Little Village Montessori School, and New Garden International School.
Shopping and dining: Carrefour, Langdent International Center Mall, and Viva Mall are within walking distance of the area’s many residential compounds. There’s a large Decathlon further south along Fourth Ring Road. Shuanjing has a growing bar and restaurant scene, which includes Lily’s American Diner, Gung-Ho Pizza, Plan B, The Brick, and more. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants around Fulicheng, VIVA! Mall, and Landgent Center.
Just for kids: There are few parks in the area except for Qingfeng Park along the Tonghui River. The closest major parks are Ritan Park and Chaoyang Park, which are about 15-20 minutes away by car. The top floor of Viva Mall has a selection of play centers. Though pricey, the Adventure Zone at the Kerry Centre in the CBD guarantees a good time.
Popular residential compounds:
• Pingod: Large compound with a good selection of convenience stores and shops in the compound. Right next to BCIS.
• Fulicheng: Gym and health club, children’s play areas, clubhouse, adjacent to Viva Mall.
• Landgent International: Relatively new apartments (built in 2007) with a man-made lake and central garden. Near Carrefour, cafes, florists, laundry services, post office, and banks.
Chaoyang Park and Liangmaqiao 朝阳公园和亮马桥
Called “the lungs of Beijing,” Chaoyang Park is the largest park in the city. Lined with shops, restaurants and residential compounds, this area is especially attractive to families. Solana and Lucky Street are on the northwest end, connecting Chaoyang Park to Liangmaqiao, an area with a significant expat community and many embassies.
Pros: Proximity to Chaoyang Park (which hosts free yoga sessions, Heyrobics, HeyRunning, pick-up soccer games, and more), lots of western supermarkets and restaurants, close to embassies and schools
Cons: Some of the compounds near the South Gate are relatively far from the subway, though that’s meant to change with the construction of Chaoyang Park station on Line 14. Stations near the west of Chaoyang Park include Liangmaqiao (Line 10) and Zaoying (Line 14).
Schools: House of Knowledge International Kindergarten and School is located near the West Gate. In Liangmaqiao, there’s the Canadian International School, Germany Embassy School, and The Children’s House International Montessori Kindergarten.
Shopping and dining: Solana Lifestyle and Shopping Park is an open-air mall next to Chaoyang Park. It’s one of the most popular shopping centers, encompassing Zara, Uniqlo, Muji, H&M, Mothercare, Bershka, and more. There are many restaurants lining the west side of Chaoyang Park, including Muse (Vietnamese), Annie’s, and Alio Olio (Italian). Across from Solana, a strip called Lucky Street has several Japanese restaurants and South German Bakery, a popular brunch spot. Be sure to try Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu on Maizidian, a small Chinese restaurant with excellent dumplings.
Just for kids: Chaoyang Park is a must-do for families in Beijing. There’s plenty of space to run around, with ponds for paddle boating and a children’s area with amusement rides and fairground games. Kite flying at Chaoyang Park is a great spring tradition. Solana has an indoor skating rink, a cinema, and an entire wing dedicated to maternity and kids’ products.
Popular residential compounds:
• Palm Springs: The north-facing units have a great view of Chaoyang Park. The Roman-style garden and large clubhouse make this a popular choice for families.
• Park Avenue: Park Avenue has a shopping complex with imported groceries, cafes and sporting good stores.
• Greenlake Place: Located east of Chaoyang Park, Greenlake is a sizeable compound with stores, restaurants, and shops (including a Jenny Lou’s).
This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Sui and Uni