We often think of Beijing as a massive, cosmopolitan metropolis awkwardly positioned on top of an ancient city, but surprisingly the majority of Beijing is rural. Taking up over 16,000 sqkm of land, Beijing is so massive it actually should be viewed as a county rather than a city. This can make it a daunting task for finding the most appropriate neighborhood for you and your family to settle down.
Beijing itself is broken up into districts, with the center districts considered to be the main part of the “city” of Beijing. Districts themselves can be massive, with populations equaling the size of whole European cities, and they house diverse, ever-changing, neighborhoods within.
Like in all major cities when settling on an area to live in, your neighborhood very much reflects your personality and the unique social, professional, or cultural needs of you and your family.
Areas like Sanlitun, the Central Business District (CBD), and Liangmaqiao are expensive and filled with shopping malls and a more developed western food scene that attracts a wealthier Chinese and expat clientele.
The trendy areas of the city, where many young expats tend to reside would be the hutongs. These neighborhoods are located primarily in Dongzhimen or Gulou and often attract those looking for a more authentic Beijing experience, due to their picturesque though sometimes gritty setting. But this can be an inconvenient option for some families as markets with international goods aren’t very close, the plumbing is old, and these old houses can get cold during the winter.
For expat families who’d prefer to settle down in neighborhoods near reputable schools, Shunyi is likely your best option, but it is a far drive out of the dynamic city center. Far-flung neighborhoods have much cheaper rent, but can often lack nightlife, a diverse dining scene, or many other creature comforts that we crave to maintain our social lives.
In our Beijing Neighborhood Guide you’ll discover all of the pros and cons of each area, which we hope will help guide you in your search for the perfect place to live, learn, eat, and play for as long as you decide to call this incredible city home.
Photos: Kipp Whittaker
This article appeared on p18-29 of beijingkids July 2018 Home & Relocation Guide issue