The size of Beijing makes it less like a city, and more like a county or province, which means selecting the right neighborhood is as important as choosing your place of employment or school, because where you live will shape what is convenient for you to do, purchase, and value. So whether you’re looking for an authentic Beijing experience in the hutong courtyards, a fancy high-rise apartment in the heart of the city, or a mansion-like villa with your own yard and picket fence, you will find it somewhere! We have included the more popular expat neighborhoods in Beijing, using the proximity of schools, and the convenience of dining, shopping, and children’s play areas as our yardstick.
CBD (Central Business District) 北京商务中心
The CBD is the financial and media center of the city. Occupying an area of around 4sqkm, the area is sandwiched between the Third and Fourth Ring Roads. 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.
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 children, including Ivy Academy (Central Park), AnRic Little Montessori Room, Beanstalk International Bilingual School (Wanda Campus), The Family Learning House (Guomao), Huijia Kindergarten (Chaoyangmen), and Etonkids’ various campuses. School-age kids have fewer options; one is Fangcaodi International School, a local school with an international department.
Shopping and dining: The CBD has a number of fancy shopping malls, such as Shin Kong Place, China World Shopping Mall, Kerry Center, and the LEED-certified Parkview Green. The Place, which has a huge LED screen, hosts mid-range stores including Zara Home, H&M, Uniqlo, and Marks and Spencer. 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 family center little oasis (Parkview Green, and no, that’s not a mistake – “little oasis” is all lower case!).
Popular residential compounds:
• Central Park: Central location in a large compound filled with restaurants, shops, cafes (and bakery), and beauty services. It has its own indoor swimming pool, sauna, squash court, and gym.
• Gemdale International Garden: Gemdale has a supermarket, restaurants, cafes, a post office, a gym, a swimming pool, and a children’s 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. Blue Castle allows pets, has a clubhouse, gym, and children’s playground.
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 now has a diverse population of white-collar locals and expat families who have 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, relatively safe residential neighborhood, close to shopping and entertainment facilities (BHG, CapitaMall, Viva Plaza), and an 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 of which is Beijing City International School (K-12). Kindergartens include The Family Learning House, Etonkids, American International Academy of Beijing, Little Village Montessori School, and New Garden International School.
Shopping and dining: Carrefour, Landgent 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. Shuangjing has a growing bar and restaurant scene, which includes Lily’s American Diner, Gung-Ho Pizza, Plan B, The Brick, and more. There are also plenty of Chinese restaurants nearby.
Just for kids: There are a few parks in the area in addition to 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, and 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 several embassies.
Pros: Proximity to Chaoyang Park (which hosts free yoga sessions, Heyrobics, HeyRunning, pick-up soccer games, and more), many western supermarkets and restaurants as well as embassies and schools.
Cons: Some of the compounds near the South Gate are relatively far from the subway, though that will change when Chaoyang Park station on Line 14 opens. 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, including Zara, Uniqlo, Muji, H&M, American Eagle, Gap, 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 the South German Bakery, a popular brunch spot.
Just for kids: Chaoyang Park is a must-do for families in Beijing. There’s plenty of space to run around, 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 and can easily be combined with picnicking. Solana has an indoor skating rink, a cinema, and an entire wing dedicated to maternity and kids’ shops along with play groups and activity classes (e.g. kung fu).
Popular residential compounds:
• Palm Springs: With its north-facing units overlooking Chaoyang Park, its Roman-style garden, and large clubhouse with an indoor swimming pool, children’s playground, sauna, and gym—it’s no wonder it’s popular with families.
• Park Avenue: Park Avenue has a shopping complex with imported groceries, cafes, and sporting goods stores in addition to its children’s playground, swimming pool, and gym.
• Greenlake Place: Located east of Chaoyang Park, Greenlake’s apartments overlook the man-made lake in Chaoyang Park and its compound has many stores, restaurants, and even a Jenny Lou’s.
The area around Sanlitun is a major expat hub. With so many bars, clubs, and restaurants concentrated in one place, it’s a fast-changing – and some would say noisy – area. Just west of Sanlitun lies the quieter Xingfucun with its own developing bar and restaurant scene, while to the north is Dongzhimen, which contains one of the city’s embassy districts. Inner Dongzhimen is a gateway to historical neighborhoods, such as Gulou, Andingmen, and Yonghegong.
Pros: A high concentration of international restaurants and bars, access to schools, close to western-style amenities, and many other expat families
Cons: Living inside the expat bubble, inconvenient subway access (nearest Lines are 2, 10, and 13), frequent traffic, seedier areas such as Sanlitun Bar Street
Schools: The area includes the British School of Beijing, Ivy Academy, the French International School of Beijing, Beijing No. 55 Middle School (a local school with an international section), MOMA Kids International Kindergarten, and La Petite Creche de Beijing (Season’s Park).
Shopping and dining: The main shopping and dining hub is Tai Koo Li, a sprawling village-style mall with popular brand stores such as H&M, Hollister, and Sunning. Most of the western restaurants are concentrated in Tai Koo Li and the adjacent Nali Patio, including Element Fresh, Moka Bros, Blue Frog, Union Bar and Grille, Wagas, and Crêpanini. Xingfucun is home to a growing number of bars and restaurants, including Great Leap Brewery, O’Steak, and Big Smoke. The Dongzhimen area is not only a gateway to the historic hutong neighborhoods (e.g. Gulou, Andingmen), but also has its own fair share of malls, such as Raffles and Ginza with a variety of restaurants and shops.
Just for kids: Tuanjiehu Park has a water park, a roller skating rink (where Beijing’s only roller derby team practices on Saturdays), and boat rides. Though a bit rough around the edges, Fundazzle is a reliable and long-standing play center located near Worker’s Stadium. At the south gate, there’s Blue Zoo Beijing, an aquarium with rays, sharks, dolphins, and even mermaids. The Cervantes Institute and French Cultural Center are also near the south gate; both have libraries with children’s books and film screenings with English and Chinese subtitles.
Popular residential compounds:
• Seasons Park: Popular with expat families, Seasons Park is close to banks, restaurants, and western supermarkets. The compound has a kids’ playground.
• Lianbao Garden: Located just behind the April Gourmet in Xingfucun, this compound’s convenient location, spacious apartments, and children’s playground and gym facilities make it popular with expat families.
• Tayuan DRC: Tayuan is one of the five “diplomatic residence compounds” (DRC) originally built to serve Beijing’s diplomatic and foreign community. Located just north of the Canadian Embassy, the compound contains relatively spacious western-style apartments, a big stretch of grass within the gated community, and even has its own import market.
Wangjing and Lido 望京和丽都
Wangjing and Lido lie halfway between Shunyi and downtown Beijing. These areas are popular with families due to their relatively cheaper rent, access to international hospitals and schools, and proximity to foreign companies such as Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, and Microsoft. Both have significant Korean communities, with Wangjing being known as the Koreatown of Beijing.
Pros: Short commute to international schools in Shunyi, proximity to the headquarters of foreign companies, close to family-friendly destinations such as Si’de Park, 798 Art District, and Indigo Mall.
Cons: Connected to satellite subway lines (13, 14, and 15), limited foreign shopping and entertainment options, lacking history or culture.
Schools: In Lido, there’s 3e International School, Young Starters Academy, Beijing International Bilingual Academy, Etonkids, and Beijing Collegiate Academy. Schools in Wangjing include Beijing World Youth Academy (K-12), Korean International School of Beijing, and Muffy’s International Kindergarten.
Shopping and dining: The world’s second largest Ikea is located in Wangjing, right by the new Carrefour shopping mall with built-in air purification and water recycling systems. Indigo Mall near 798 Art District offers good shopping and dining, with a cinema, restaurants, BHG Marketplace, frequent children’s events, and a large outdoor playground. Next to Si’de Park, the Korean-owned CJ Foodworld houses a Tous les Jours bakery, Bibigo, and Twosome Coffee. There’s also Element Fresh, Gung-Ho Pizza, Annie’s, Taj Pavilion, and more. Wangjing has some great Korean restaurants and markets, and Wangjing Soho has a selection of hard-to-find restaurants and cafes straight from Korea.
Just for kids: Si’de Park has a children’s amusement park, tennis courts, ponds with resident black swans, well-landscaped lawns and gardens, and running paths. Lido Place has a bowling alley called SMJ Bowling. In nearby The New City Center in Wangjing is an expat-owned cafe, community center, and events venue with an indoor playground as well as after school and enrichment classes. Wangjing play areas include Miffy Jump and Family Box. Both areas are not far from 798, which is a great place to take children as new exhibits are always popping up, there’s a lot of space to roam, and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art has children’s art classes.
Popular residential compounds:
• Wangjing Huayuan: Close to local kindergartens, Wal-Mart, Jingkelong, banks, hospitals, post office, beauty salons, and more.
• Upper East Side: Has its own gym, sauna, and swimming pool, as well as a coffee shop within the compound, with proximity to supermarkets, banks, cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and more.
• Chateau Regency: Clubhouse with a swimming pool, a fitness center, a convenience store, and a playground. Mookey Swim, a parent-owned center offering baby swimming classes, is located on the ground floor.
Shunyi is the expat neighborhood par excellence. There are villa compounds resembling American suburbs, complete with quaint street names and two-car garages. Beijing’s oldest international schools are here, including the International School of Beijing (ISB), the British School of Beijing (BSB), Dulwich College Beijing (DCB), Harrow Beijing, and the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB).
Pros: Lots of schools and villa compounds, safe, very close to the airport, many expat families, good base for day trips
Cons: Expat bubble, inconvenient for public transit and taxis, not much to do in terms of shopping and entertainment, larger distances, isolated from the city
Schools: Shunyi has the largest number of international schools. Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are also newcomers like Keystone Academy, an American-style boarding school with a bilingual and bi-cultural focus. The International Montessori School of Beijing, Daystar Academy, Etonkids, House of Knowledge International School and Kindergarten (HoK), Beijing International Bilingual Academy, and Eduwings Kindergarten are also in Shunyi.
Shopping and dining: There isn’t as much shopping and dining in Shunyi, but families will be able to find what they need. Malls include Europlaza, Cathay View, the recently-opened Shine Hills, Sci-Tech Outlet, and Pinnacle Plaza. Beidong Flower Market has household decorations, some furniture, plants, and gardening supplies. Western restaurants tend to be scattered through different malls. Hegezhuang Village has The Orchard and Green T. House Living. Mrs. Shanen’s sells homemade bagels and dishes made with organic produce from the restaurant’s farm, Green Cow.
Just for kids: Atelier, an expat-founded art school, just opened a branch in Shunyi. Schools like DCB offer sports and recreation programs for the wider community. Quanfa Garden has a new indoor ice rink with hockey programs for kids. Nearby Miyun County is ideal for weekend excursions and is home to Nanshan Ski Resort.
Popular residential compounds:
• Capital Paradise: Outdoor and indoor swimming pools, gym, squash, bowling, mini-golf, tennis courts, sauna, outdoor and indoor children’s playgrounds, bars, cafes, and restaurants.
• Yosemite: Clubhouse, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, hot springs, sauna, gym, restaurant, cafe, children’s activity center.
• Beijing Riviera: Bicycle track, large green spaces, artificial lake, clubhouse, cafe , swimming pool, gym, tennis and squash courts, massage room, bar, and supermarket. On-site kindergarten.
This article originally appeared on pages 12-17 of beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide 2016/17. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Sui, Uni You, and Ken