How to Experience Local Life in Beijing?

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jul. 2, 2021

One of the best ways to learn about a city’s culture is to witness the lives of locals and participate in their daily entertainment. Beijing is no exception. This article will suggest how you can “pretend” to be a Beijinger and experience local life.

1. Start Your Morning with Beijing-Style Breakfast

Beijing-Style Breakfast

Beijing-Style Breakfast

Morning in Beijing begins with sour and stinky bean juice.

Wake up early in the morning and go for a stroll to Ci Qi Kou (磁器口), greeting every passerby with “Good morning, eaten yet?”. Stop at Lao Ciqikou Douzhier Shop (老磁器口豆汁店), the most popular breakfast shop in Beijing, just in front of the north gate of the Temple of Heaven.

Grab a seat in the store and order a bowl of bean juice (豆汁儿 douzhier, a fermented drink made from ground beans) with 3 doughnuts (焦圈儿 jiaoquaner, a fried and crisp Beijing breakfast food). Sprinkle the doughnuts with several drops of chili oil, and you can feast on breakfast just like a local person.

Please note that Beijing bean juice is sour and stinky, so don’t be upset if you don’t get any pleasure from it…

2. Enjoy a Peaceful Morning at the Temple of Heaven

Morning Exercise at Temple of Heaven

Morning Exercise at Temple of Heaven

Early in the morning, Beijing’s elderly can be seen heading en masse to the parks or squares for their morning exercises, especially to the Temple of Heaven or Beihai Park.

So, after breakfast, proceed to the north gate of the Temple of Heaven, and you can join with Beijingers for your morning exercises.

The Temple of Heaven is often described as the lungs of Beijing, because of its luxuriant greenery.

The park is a very popular place where local people, the elderly and retired in particular, gather for morning exercises such as tai chi, playing Chinese chess or cards, mahjong, Chinese musical instruments such as the erhu, and singing. It is a good place for witnessing local life in Beijing.

Relaxing in the park, you can admire this ingeniously constructed ancient Chinese altar complex, quietly whiling away the time.

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3. Enjoy a View of the Forbidden City from the Top of Jingshan

Hilltop View of the Forbidden City

Hilltop View of the Forbidden City

Jingshan Park is the royal garden of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties. In 1644, when Li Zicheng, a Chinese rebel leader, forced entrance into Beijing, Chongzhen the last emperor of the Ming hanged himself on an old locust tree at the east of Jingshan.

Jingshan is a man-made hill opposite the northern gate of the Palace Museum. It turns out that a panoramic view of the Forbidden City from the highest point of Jingshan is even more eye-catching than views from inside. The entrance ticket for the park is only CNY 2.

4. Offer Incense at Yonghe Lama Temple

Offering Incense at Yonghe Lama Temple

Offering Incense at Lama Temple

Whether Chinese people believe in Buddhism or not, it is routine for them to go to a temple and devoutly offer incense, saying their prayers.

In Beijing, the most important and well-known temple is Yong He Gong (雍和宫), or the Palace of Harmony and Peace. Alternatively known as the Lama Temple, it is the best-preserved Tibetan Buddhist temple in China.

There are two grand Buddhist ceremonies at the temple, Dayuan Invocation Dharma Assembly and New Year Dharma Assembly. These are a must for many Beijingers. Both are held during the Chinese Lunar New Year.

5. While Away Your Time in Quiet Hidden Hutongs

Cycling Back and Forth through Hutongs

Cycling through Hutongs

Beijing has numerous hutongs, among which the most famous is South Luogu Lane (Nanluoguxiang). It’s so touristy and overcrowded, however, that most local people do not actually go there. We’ll focus here on other hutongs hidden away in this bustling city, with a quiet and laid-back atmosphere.

Walking westwards from Yonghe Lama Temple metro station, you reach Wudaoying hutong. This 600-meter hutong is lined with various cafes, book bars, and boutique shops. Households and courtyards are behind the stores. Step into a delicate café and immerse yourself in its leisurely ambiance.

Only a block from Wudaoying, you’ll find Beiluoguxiang (North Luogu Lane), a tranquil world totally different from Nanluoguxiang. Overlooked by the general public, it is endowed with sporadic cafés, shops, and residential houses. When you wander along this hutong, you may even be surprised by the attention of some kittens or puppies

6. Sample Ear-Splitting Peking Opera While Sipping Afternoon Tea

Peking Opera

Peking Opera

The shrill trills of Peking opera, or Beijing opera, are not for everyone, but you can’t deny their important place in Chinese culture.

For some Beijing locals, going to Liyuan (梨园) Theatre or Lao She (老舍) Teahouse and watching a Peking opera while savoring afternoon tea has been an essential routine for decades.

7. Eat What a Beijinger Eats – Authentic Local Food

Peking Duck

Peking Roast Duck

As the capital of China, Beijing, in addition to its profound culture and history, also has a variety of food from all over the country, as well as from almost every part of the world. Don’t miss the following authentic Beijing dishes:

  • Peking duck – iconic Beijing food, featuring crisp skin;
  • Instant-boiled mutton – also called mutton hotpot, is a smart choice in winter;
  • Moo shu pork – slices of pork with mushrooms, eggs, and other ingredients; and
  • Noodles with soybean paste – traditional Beijing style.

Recommended restaurants and food streets: Quanjude (全聚德) and Dadong (大董) for roast duck, Ghost Street (Gui Jie, 簋街), Nanluoguxiang, Wangfujing Snack Street.

Experience Local Life in Beijing with China Travel

Beijing Hutong Experience

Beijing Hutong Experience

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