By Eva Sogbanmu –
A trip to Beijing wouldn’t be complete without a wander around Sanlitun, one of the city’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. In the 1950s the area, situated in the north east of the city, became the diplomatic centre of Beijing with many embassies and foreign legations moving in. As a result, the district has been a magnet for foreigners and tourists and became famous for its bar scene in the 1990s.
These days, some of its less salubrious drinking establishments have disappeared and the area is dominated by the massive Taikoo Li shopping, dining and entertainment complex. But despite the inevitable march of modernisation, there remains a genuine buzz.
Here’s a guide to getting the most out a stroll around the streets of Sanlitun:
1. Opposite House
Start at the swanky Opposite House hotel on Sanlitun Road, the place to see and be seen in Beijing. It’s the inn of choice for visiting celebrities and its bars and restaurants are the unofficial headquarters of the city’s creative set. The dramatic foyer – a six-storey atrium – doubles up as showcase for contemporary Chinese art. The rooms are luxe minimalist, each with a well-stocked mini bar.
There’s also a choice of Japanese, Chinese, Italian and modern European restaurants, as well as a nightclub. You may never leave.
2. Taikoo Li
Connected to the Opposite House via the basement is Taikoo Li north mall, which houses a swathe of fabulous boutiques. For high rollers, there are pricey designer stores such as Balenciaga, Isabel Marant and Lanvin. There are also some more affordable, quirky boutiques such as Brand New China, which stocks cool local designers. For a post shopping pick-me-up, pop to Colibri, a bright and airy café serving delicious coffee and cupcakes.
Photo: CC2.0 by Banalities
3. Greyhound Cafe
When it’s time for lunch, head to the Greyhound Café where they serve tasty Thai street food in a hip, contemporary space. For a healthier choice, there’s Moka Bros, a popular new spot that has wholefood salads and vitamin-packed smoothies on the menu.
4. Sanlitun Road
In the mood for some pampering? Then take yourself to the 3.3 mall on Sanlitun Road. Walk straight past the snooty shop assistants who staff the numerous high-fashion boutiques and go straight to the fifth floor. There, at Lily’s Nails, you can indulge in a fabulously relaxing and affordable mani-pedi.
5. Belita Jewelry
The tiny store is owned by a Californian designer who describes her range as “a mix of sleek, contemporary and bohemian style.” With so many beautiful, hand-made silver pieces set with semi-precious stones, it’s almost impossible to leave empty-handed.
6. Yashow Market
Yashow Market on Workers’ Stadium North Road is a Beijing institution that has long been a magnet for bargain-seeking tourists. However, its four floors of clothes, shoes, accessories, electronics and much more are currently closed for refurbishment. Locals are hopeful that its gritty, authentic atmosphere won’t entirely disappear with the current facelift.
7. The Bookworm Café
For a more edifying experience, head to another Beijing institution just across the road. The Bookworm Café – a bookshop, restaurant and venue all rolled into one – is a favourite among local and foreign intellectuals and hosts an annual literary festival attracting top authors from all over the world. It’s worth popping in simply to soak up the highbrow atmosphere over coffee and a croissant.
Photo: CC2.0 by Stephen Walli
8. Beijing Nightlife
Any trip to Sanlitun has to be rounded off by experiencing its nightlife. Start the evening by working up a thirst at Transit restaurant, a stylish spot serving delicious – if tongue-numbingly spicy – Sichuan fare. Weather permitting, head to Migas rooftop bar for cocktails amid a stunning view of the neighbourhood. To round off the evening, saunter over to Swing Bar for more drinking and dancing. Thanks to its popular Filipino band blasting out retro tunes, the place is usually packed to the rafters.
9. Snack Trucks
And the best way to end a night out in Sanlitun? Act like a local and stop off at one of the many snack trucks that dot the side streets. Try a chuanr (meat kebab) or tang er duo (fried sugar cake) if you dare.