The capital of the People's Republic of China, Beijing offers a fascinating mix of tradition and modernity. Though skyscrapers and the installations that were built for the 2008 Olympics (most notably the "Bird's Nest" stadium) are now a ubiquitous part of this rapidly developing city's urban landscape, Beijing nonetheless still features several areas and landmarks that bear witness to China's historic dynasties and cultural traditions, including numerous temples, pagodas and Chinese gardens, as well as the magnificent Summer Palace and Forbidden City. Early birds can get a taste of daily life in Beijing by watching its residents practice their Tai Chi at the crack of dawn in the city's parks, while night owls can attend a performance of the legendary Peking Opera. And we haven't even mentioned the Great Wall of China, located a mere two hours' drive outside the city...
Traditional areas such as hutongs can still be found in this sprawling 16,000km2 city inhabited by some 17 million people, but for how long? Visitors should make sure they explore these remnants of historic Beijing before they are lost forever to the urban development that has overtaken the city at an alarming rate.
The introduction of "market socialism" has led to the development of modern commercial thoroughfares replete with Western-style shopping malls and fast food restaurants, but, in spite of the opening of the country's economy to market forces, Tiananmen Square, built under Mao Zedong, provides a quick reminder of China's communist government. This resolutely paradoxical Chinese capital is also renowned for the quality and diversity of its cuisine, with a seemingly endless array of culinary discoveries, including the famous Peking duck and dim sum, awaiting curious visitors.