Beijing consists of 16 districts containing over 21 million people. In this series, we will be focusing on seven neighborhoods in four separate districts, which have become the most popular among Beijing’s expat community. While these aren’t the only areas that are home to waiguoren, these are the most accessible and offer, in our opinion, the best Beijing experience depending on your tastes and preferences.
Sanlitun and its surrounding areas have long been major expat hubs. With many bars, clubs, and restaurants concentrated in one place, it’s a fast-changing, very commercialized area, but very convenient when it comes to not being far from homely comforts like western cuisine, shopping your favorite brands, or international schools. Just west of Sanlitun lies the slightly quieter Xingfucun with its own developing bar and restaurant scene. All in all, it’s the perfect place for newcomers who wish to be close to the action.
+ A high concentration of international restaurants and bars
+ Lots of events for couples and families
+ Convenient access to schools
+ Western-style amenities
+ Many other expat families
– Living inside the expat bubble
– Inconvenient subway access (nearest Lines are 2, 6, and 10), but this will change in the near future
– Frequent traffic
– Seedier areas at night such as Sanlitun
– Not as green as some of the other neighborhoods covered
Seasons Park in particular is popular with expat families as it is close to banks, restaurants, and western supermarkets and has a kids’ playground. Located just behind the foreign grocery chain April Gourmet in Xingfucun, Lianbao Garden has a convenient location, spacious apartments, and a children’s playground. Tayuan DRC has historically been a more upscale choice for well compensated professionals or diplomats. It 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.
In Sanlitun, you can choose between a number of top notch schools including Daystar Academy’s Sanlitun campus, British School of Beijing (BSB), Sanlitun, and Beijing No. 55 High School which offers both middle and high school in Xingfucun.
Shopping abounds in Sanlitun, from foreign goods markets to mom and pop shops and huge malls. One major shopping and dining hub is Taikoo Li, a sprawling village-style mall with many name brand products. While many of these stores are on the pricy side, it can also be nice for window shopping and getting a walk in. Just south of Taikoo Li is Sanlitun Soho and Topwin Center. This is a great spot for getting your bubble tea fix or finding an affordable tailor to make some of your bespoke fashion fantasies come to life!
Beijing’s dining scene is highly developed. Besides the many western-style restaurants in Taikoo Li and the adjacent Nali Patio, there’s plenty of options at Topwin Center, like Beyond Yakatori and a popular food court in the basement. There’s also the Slow Boat Taproom, where you’ll find a wide variety of craft beer and burgers, and the neighboring Courtyard 4 which is home to Home Plate BBQ, Taco Bar, and a smattering of other foreign-friendly establishments. Xingfucun is also home to a growing number of bars and restaurants, including O’Steak, the 쑴-A Taproom, and many others at the YU food court or Yoolee Plaza.
Where to Play
Beijing is a huge city with a lot of places to go and things to do, yet many venues can be intolerably crowded during the weekend. During the hot days of summer, Tuanjiehu Park is home to the downtown’s best water park, and also features roller-skating and rides. There are also serval cinemas in Sanlitun (Taikooli, Yoolee Plaza) that show a handful of Hollywood films. Just a short walk west from Taikoo Li you will spot Shimao Department Store, which is great for finding many kid-friendly activities including play learning venues, toy stores, and much more. For bibliophiles, The Bookworm is Beijing’s long running bilingual bookstore and book lending library with regular story times, baby sing groups, and other family-friendly fun that can be a great escape from the hustle and bustle of this commercial neighborhood.
This article appeared in the beijingkids June 2019 Home & Relocation Guide issue.
Photos: Kipp Whittaker