Flights to Beijing: China's brightest light
Beijing is China at its very best. Tour the Forbidden City, where majestic pavilions provide a glimpse into the lavish lives of Emperors past. Or get a taste for China's modern economic miracle at the gleaming Bird's Nest stadium. Watch locals praying for good fortune in the incense-hazed courtyards of colourful Buddhist temples, or dive down old hutong alleyways to join (but probably not beat) pensioners playing mah-jong in the street.
Eat and drink
Aromatic stalls serve earthy red bean jelly and lamb kebabs with flat bread on bustling Wangfujing Snack Street – worth the price of a flight to Beijing alone. You might need a Tsingtao beer (or ten) to brave the deep-fried dung beetle and scorpion skewers though. Beijing restaurants also specialise in dishes once cooked to delight the Emperor. Try succulent steamed fish and crispy roast duck wrapped in floury pancakes.
Spend your holiday discovering Beijing's avant-garde art scene, and find out why it’s causing such a stir. Past exhibitions at Caochangdi Village and 798 Art Zone have included photographs of nudists braving Mount Fuji and paintings poking fun at Chairman Mao. For daring displays of a different kind, book a seat at the famous Flying Acrobats Show. Expect awesome human pyramids and a man dressed in leather fetish-gear performing somersaults 30 feet above the ground.
Meet the locals
Chattering neighbours in character-filled hutong alleys play hotly disputed card games and hack away at joints of meat. Though not necessarily at the same time. At parks like Houhai, men in terrifyingly tight trunks meet for morning swims and locals partake in the deadly serious sport of kite-flying. In the evenings, join stylish Beijing housewives as they shake their booties at huge communal dance sessions.
Where? Beijing translates as 'northern capital' and is located in China's north-eastern corner, from where it can keep a wary eye on its northern neighbours.
Population: The promise of rags to riches transformation has seen Beijing's population surge in the last decade, reaching 19 million people – around four times that of New Zealand.
Key dates: On October 1st 1949, Chairman Mao announced to 50,000 people in Tiananmen Square that China had become a People's Republic.
Did you know? Almost one-fifth of Beijing’s residents ride a bicycle every day. Brave souls can join the pedal-powered masses in their daily fight for space on the vehicle-crammed roads.
Our pick of Beijing hotels is fit for an emperor. Find inner Zen with morning tai chi lessons at Aman Beijing, or make like a Ming-dynasty nobleman in the antique-furnished rooms of historic courtyard buildings at Han's Royal Garden.
You'll find food from all four corners in cosmopolitan Beijing. Tuck into classic French coq au vin in a magnificent mansion, or try the crab and avocado salad at Blu Lobster. Don't forget local favourites like crispy Peking duck and sumptuous pork dumplings too.
Shopping in Beijing
Forget the big brand names. Pick up handcrafted porcelain dishes, delicate paper lanterns and finely painted figurines. Or browse for horse-hair embellished sandals and jade jewellery. You might also need to buy a bigger bag to take it all home.
You’ll find colour and character in our nightspot picks. Quirky Bed Bar offers the seductive joy of sipping sangria on an antique four-poster bed. For more traditional Chinese entertainment, experience the lavish costumes and clashing cymbals of Peking Opera.
Beijing's boastful art and architecture defines our pick of local attractions. Try telling Lama Temple Buddhist devotees that size doesn’t matter – they're immensely proud of their 55-foot high sandalwood Buddha. And Tiananmen's grand double-roofed pavilion presents some impressive political posturing.