10 Places to Visit in Beijing

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By Jessica Rapp / Published by Dwell
A design guide to China's bustling capital.

A recurring theme in Beijing's history is the grand architectural gesture. From the Forbidden City and imperial palaces to the imposing Soviet monstrosities of the 1950s, Beijing has always been about architecture that screams, "Here we are." The prestigous projects commissioned in the buildup to the 2008 Olympics—the CCTV Tower, the Bird's Nest, and others—seemed to suggest that this trend would continue unabated. Impressive as they are, those landmarks have left a mixed legacy, and if his recent pronouncements are anything to go by, President Xi Jinping appears determined to put an end to the era of "weird" architecture.

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A climb to the top of the hill at the center of Jingshan Park, situated just north of the Forbidden City, offers the best views of Beijing. Here, one can take in a skyline that displays the city's stark contrast between the traditional and contemporary.

Against this backdrop, and amid the ongoing and hotly disputed destruction and sometimes garish redevelopment of traditional hutong areas, there are also some exciting examples of tasteful urban development. The historic Dashilar neighborhood in Beijing's Xicheng District is undergoing a lengthy renovation project that aims to create an area driven by sustainable business models that upholds the spirit of Dashilar's traditional architecture. A neighborhood is emerging that is less commercially focused and more centered on creating a culture of eco-consciousness, innovative design and community. On the other side of the city, Parkview Green's sloping roof is part of a energy-conserving design, making it one of Beijing's most well-used green shopping and office spaces.

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Triple Major, a creative studio and multi-brand concept store, nicely reinvents the past. Their newest location in Beijing incorporates echoes of an old-time Chinese herbal pharmacy; shoppers will find accessories like Henrik Vibskov socks housed in a vintage medicine cabinet.

All over, restaurateurs, fashion designers, and other entrepreneurs are choosing to sell their products in modern spaces that subtly exude the charm of Beijing's layered history and culture. Whether that is through a few rescued glazed tiles from an old roof, a restored courtyard, or a re-imagining of an old factory, Beijing is learning that the small architectural gestures can, too, make a city great.

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Temple Restaurant does European fine dining on the grounds of a 600-year-old temple that was used as a television factory during the Cultural Revolution. The beautiful lot is also home to a boutique hotel and gallery.

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The CCTV tower designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas was meant to be the headquarters for China Central Television when builders broke ground in 2004, but it was only over the past year that CCTV staff started moving into the building in significant numbers.

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Dutch curator Machtelt Schelling opened Ubi Gallery in Dashilar to give China's talented contemporary jewelers and ceramic artists a much-needed platform for showcasing their unusual work. Pieces for sale include wearable and meaningful mementos for the home.

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They don't serve Beijing duck, but Najia Xiaoguan nevertheless offers a uniquely Beijing dining experience in a courtyard-style setting. Its menu features Manchurian dishes whose recipes are said to be passed down from the imperial kitchens of the Qing Dynasty.

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The best furniture stores are the ones you want to live in. This is true of Paul Gelinas and Li Ruofan's Lost and Found, which features cozy pieces inspired by Beijing's past.

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The sprawling industrial zone-turned-art district Caochangdi is home to contemporary galleries, studios, and artists, including the iconic Ai Weiwei. After an afternoon at the exceedingly commercial 798 Art Zone, the Caochangdi experience is comparatively laid-back.

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Built in the late 1950s, the National Art Museum of China is a typical example of Soviet-style architecture with a Chinese-style roof. French architect Jean Nouvel has designed a second location scheduled to be built near the Olympic Park.

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This titanium and glass dome-shaped National Centre for the Performing Arts Opera House was a point of contention when it debuted in late 2007 because many people felt its egg-like structure, designed by French architect Paul Andreu, disrupted the feng shui of the capital. Check their schedule to catch touring orchestras, ballet troupes, and of course, Peking opera.