Exterior View - Beijing Side Car Tour,Beijing, China

Beijing Side Car Tour

For travelers who are a bit more adventurous and for whom a drive through the city or to the Great Wall via car simply will not do, Indagare can arrange for a half or full-day riding shotgun in a motorcycle side car. To fully experience the sights sounds and smells of the city this tour is highly recommended. However, those who are susceptible to motion sickness or dislike fast driving will not enjoy this tour as it is a wild and gripping experience. Indagare members can contact the Bookings Team to arrange a tour.

Aerial View - Beijing Urban Planning Museum,Beijing, China - Courtesy Jan Spacir

Beijing Urban Planning Museum

A great way to get an overview of the city’s growth and landmarks is a visit to the Urban Planning Museum.

Interior View - Dashanzi Art District,Beijing, China - Courtesy Lee Luv

Dashanzi Art District

Anyone with even the vaguest interest in contemporary art should set aside a half day for a trip out to this former factory complex, now given over to scores of studios. The main space, Factory 798, still has slogans from the Cultural Revolution era on its walls—characters that tell people to study Chairman Mao’s works diligently, learn from the Communist Party and study Marx. Instead of revering the old dictator, the young artists use him as a cartoon figure; he is featured regularly in modern-art paintings, but Chinese creative types know just how far they can go in lampooning the nation’s figurehead. The atmosphere at the compound is raw and energetic, not yet subject to the marketing makeover that will inevitably come. As well as scores of small art galleries, there are also some delightful little coffee shops, so the walkabout can be undertaken with latte-and-muffin stops or even lunch. Many galleries are closed on Monday. The best way to tour the area is with an expert guide who knows the artists and the galleries. Members can contact our Bookings Team to arrange a guided visit.

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Dongyue Temple

One of the city’s lesser-known temples, located just a stone’s throw from the main drag, it has just undergone extensive renovation. In earlier centuries, hundreds of monks called it home. One novel feature is to display plaster models of the colorful characters that would have inhabited the temple during its heyday, along with fantasy figures from Chinese tradition such as dragons and monkeys. It is not a huge temple, but it is peaceful.

Outside Launge at Dragonfly Massage,Beijing, China

Dragonfly Massage

This inexpensive spa chain specializes in reflexology massage and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupressure massage.

Drum and Bell Towers

Directly north from the Forbidden City sits the ancient Drum and Bell Towers which once told the time to citizens. Known as Gulou in Chinese the Drum Tower was first built in 1272 but has since undergone a series of reconstructions in following centuries. Today, tourists can climb Gulou for a spectacular view over the capital’s remaining hutongs and the quaint tiled roofs of the courtyard houses below. The central square between the two towers is filled with tourist buses by day; but in warm summer nights, after the tourists leave, old Beijingers come out in droves to play mahjong, chew the fat, or dance. After visiting the Towers make sure to spend time exploring the maze of hutongs that surround them which provide a slice of local life. They may not be around for much longer; in 2012 the government announced plans to knock down the old houses around the square before rebuilding them in a faux 18th century Qing Dynasty style to cater to domestic tourists. For now plans have apparently being stalled; yet the fate of the Drum and Bell Tower area remains uncertain.

Exterior View - Indagare Tours: Beijing’s Historic Hutongs,Beijing, China

Indagare Tours: Beijing’s Historic Hutongs

Visit an ancient quarter of Beijing, whose traditional alleyways known as hutong are being preserved. Your expert local guide will explain how traditional life and modern ways are merging as you witness two very different sides of the city. Explore an outdoor market and a bustling residential neighborhood on foot and then climb into pedicabs and travel along the lakeside to an affluent area, where you can see how China’s new wealthy have restored traditional courtyard homes. The tour ends with the opportunity to learn calligraphy.

Indagare Tours: Beijing’s Private Panda Visit

China is famous for its pandas and while Chengdu’s panda project is the most famous place to visit the black and white bears, we can arrange special access in Beijing at the zoo. Members can contact our Bookings Team to arrange for this special private tour.

Indagare Tours: Caochangdi Art District

Beijing’s contemporary art scene can seem overwhelming with galleries and foundations spread out in district 798, suburban Songzhuang and Caochangdi, so it is advisable to hire a good guide who can steer you to the top places and make personal introductions to dealers. (Contact our Bookings Team for an art curator/guide.) Caochangdi has become the new cutting-edge art district. Among the top galleries in Caochangdi, which is definitely the more avant-garde art scene, are Chambers, F2 Gallery, Three Shadows Photography Center and the Taikang Art foundation.

The advantages of visiting 798 or Dashanzi is that there are more galleries and a better infrastructure (for instance, lots of restaurants, cafes and shops are interspersed with the galleries). The disadvantage: it feels a bit like Disneyland for artists (Dashanzi is now officially the third most popular tourist attraction after the Forbidden City). Members can contact our Bookings Team to arrange a guided visit.

Indagare Tours: Discovering Beijing through its Religion and Philosophy

This three-hour walking tour of central Beijing with an historian explores 4,000 years of Chinese thought, from Confucianism to modern Buddhist practice. Visit several important temples still active in central Beijing and learn how the three major religions of China—Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism—overlap and diverge through history. You will also walk through a traditional hutong neighborhood and discuss how religious practice fits into contemporary Chinese life since 1949. Although we'll discuss a history of ideas on this tour, it's a very tangible experience of Beijing and her neighborhoods.

Aerial View - Indagare Tours: Forbidden City ,Beijing, China

Indagare Tours: Forbidden City

A mind-blowing experience. Even the entranceway seems to go on forever, as visitors pass through the magnificent gold-studded vermilion gates. It was meant to be an intimidating experience, of course, emphasizing to Chinese and foreign visitors alike that the emperors were all powerful. Merely walking through the courtyards from south to north, stopping to admire and inspect the temples, takes the better part of half a day. In fact, the Forbidden City is so vast, so overwhelming, that it is hard to take it all in. The 1987 movie The Last Emperor gave some idea of what the place was like on ceremonial occasions, when the emperors appeared in full regalia, with a retinue of soldiers, courtiers, eunuchs and advisors. The compound has buildings for every occasion and purpose—worship, concubine accommodation, formal meetings, kindergarten. Whatever the size of your own house, it will seem tiny after a visit to the Forbidden City. To put the history in context, it is advisable to hire an expert guide for a visit. Members can contact our Bookings Team to arrange a guided visit.

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Indagare Tours: Great Wall

It truly is, as Richard Nixon famously (and rather fatuously) said, a great wall built by a great people. But not all parts of the walls are equal. Badaling, the most popular spot, is a shocking example of how to let a tourist gem be destroyed by over-commercialization, unnecessary building and sheer greed. Making a trek to the Wall at this spot can be hard work; at times it seems the entire population, together with a small army of hawkers, has gathered there. Opt instead for the slightly less crowded Mutianyu, which has a cable-car ride to the top, or even farther away, at Huanghuacheng. Many hotels offer a car and driver so you can find your own spot along the wall for a picnic—it’s expensive but worthwhile. If time prevents anything more than a quick trip to Badaling, be sure to walk as far along the Wall as possible, away from the crowds, to get a real flavor of its grandeur. The Wall itself was pretty useless as a deterrent—Genghis Khan and his marauding troops conquered it with ease. Tour operators often include the on-the-way Ming Tombs as part of the day out; they are a rather dull collection of imperial tombs and statues and can easily be dispensed with.

Tip: One of the most fascinating ways to visit the Wall is with one of Indagare’s preferred guide. We can arrange for day visits with special picnics, hikes with historians, even an overnight with the foremost authority on the Great Wall at his remote farmhouse with access to isolated sections of the Wall. Members can contact the Bookings Team to arrange for a guided visit.

Editors' Picks

Jingshan Park

Opera singers, ballroom dancers, and elderly people belting out revolutionary songs all congregate at Jingshan Park on weekends making it a lively place to take a stroll. Located directly north of the Forbidden City (a few minutes walk away from the monument’s exit) the Park contains an artificial hill first constructed in the Ming Dynasty and topped by a Pagoda. Make sure to climb to the top; it offers incredible views over the Forbidden City complex and puts the sheer size of the former imperial palace into perspective.

Ming Tombs

Located at the foot of Tianshou Mountain, around 50 kilometers northwest from Beijing, sit the mausoleums of thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming Tombs is the most large-scale burial complex of any Chinese dynasty but today only four tombs are open to the public. While the restored Tombs can be overcrowded with domestic tourists it is worth a visit simply to see the entrance leading to the sight. Known as the “Spirit Way” it is lined with statues of officials and animals who once served as guardians to the deceased emperors. Members can contact our Bookings Team to arrange a guided visit.

Food At - Night Market Foodie Tour,Beijing, China

Night Market Foodie Tour

The two main food markets in Beijing are located near the Wangfujing shopping street and are a wonderful way to experience local cuisine and culture. Items often look more adventurous than they really are so, it is best to go with a guide who knows the most authentic delicacies. Tours can include one or both of the markets depending on your cravings. Be sure not to miss the soup dumplings. Indagare members can contact the Bookings Team to arrange a tour.

Editors' Picks

Oriental Taipan

The best chain of day spa/massage spots in the city. Oriental Taipan has locations throughout the capital. All offer spa treatments such as pedicures and facials but they are known for their excellent massages. A one-hour deep-tissue traditional Chinese massage (these acupressure experiences are not for everyone) costs $25 and an 80-minute hot stone aromatherapy foot massage costs $40.

Interior View - Red Gate Gallery,Beijing, China

Red Gate Gallery

The Red Gate Gallery sits in one of the capital’s few remaining Ming Dynasty Watchtowers that used to be part of the old city walls (most were destroyed by Mao Zedong to make way for a series of ring roads). Founded in 1991 by Australian Brian Wallace – who studied Chinese Art History at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts – it frequently displays some of the most interesting Chinese contemporary art on offer. (A residency program also helps support international and local artists). The Gallery sadly has little else of interest nearby -- but for those interested in art it is worth an out of the way visit for both the cutting-edge works on display and the extraordinary location.

Ritan Park

This isn’t the biggest of Beijing’s many parks, but it is arguably the quaintest. Right in the center is an altar, used to make sacrifices to the gods. The park is a favorite spot for Beijing’s kite enthusiasts: depending on the wind, they can be found in the temple complex or by the hillside pagoda. Ritan Park also has a small lake, a restaurant on its grounds and several other cafés and coffee shops on the outer roads. It’s a delightful place to capture Beijingers at play, and it’s fascinating to see the dynamics of the one-child-family in action: every move of the little one is watched by doting parents and two sets of grandparents!

Aerial View - Summer Palace,Beijing, China

Summer Palace

An hour’s drive from downtown, this palace is where the rulers of old stayed on their vacations. Naturally, they commandeered the best spot. The buildings are arranged around a lake, which in turn is surrounded by grassy hills. If time is tight, this can be left off the itinerary, as you’d need a half-day just for the journey and ample time to walk around, enjoying the ambiance as well as the architecture. Avoid weekends—it can sometimes seem as if all of Beijing has come out for a stroll.

Temple of Heaven

This park-cum-temple is where the emperors came to worship on auspicious occasions, making their grand way down a series of walkways and minor temples before reaching the place where prayers would be said, and animal sacrifices made, to ensure good harvests ahead. None of the individual temples is particularly large; it’s the scale and symmetry of the whole that makes the site such an exquisite piece of architecture. Enter as the emperors did, ambling along the pathways, pausing at the outer temples. At the eastern entrance, there is often a jovial gathering of old-timers, who sing patriotic songs heartily, accompanied by saxophones, erhus and tambourines. It is marvelous fun. It would be a shame to give the Temple of Heaven a speedy trip in and out: leave plenty of time to stroll, ponder and marvel at the simple ingenuity of ancient Chinese design.

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