Five things to do in Beijing before you die

A mix of touristy and non-touristy destinations that aren't the Great Wall

Being a native from northeast China, I go back every summer to visit relatives and mess around in the city. Since most of my family lives in the countryside, I make the most out of my stay in Beijing with my godmother.

There are so many things to do there and as long as you don't stray too far from the city, most signs have english translations. However, I do recommend you go with a friend or at least an english speaking tour guide who won't skimp you for your money. If you know someone who knows the area, even better! Be sure to have them take you to these five places:

Forbidden City

I'll just tell you straight — this will be a LONG walk. It is not for adults who get tired easily or fussy kids. The Forbidden City was built in the Ming Dynasty and is the world's largest palace, covering almost 180 acres.

We had went through about 11 gates when my cousin and I decided we had had enough. We were then dragged through a couple more halls and gardens until we finally left. Although it is a long walk, the architectural aspects of the palace are magnificent. If you're a huge world history or architecture buff, this landmark is the place for you.

The Forbidden City is also a good souvenir and ice cream destination. Be on the lookout for simple white sugar popsicles that are heaven on a hot day.

Bird's Nest and Water Cube

The Beijing National Stadium — or aptly nicknamed Bird's Nest — housed the 2008 Summer Olympics and will do so again during the 2022 Winter Olympics. It's another big architectural sight, especially when it's lit up at night.

However, the inside isn't very lively as it hasn't been used in a bit. So after that leg of your trip, be sure to visit the Beijing National Aquatics Center — or Water Cube — after lunch. There's more to do there and it's really more of a museum.

Silk Street

This is where you'll really get a taste of Chinese consumerism. The Silk Street, or Silk Market is a huge shopping center with close to 2,000 individual vendors. This is the model for most of the shopping centers in China as most stores are individually owned.

Don't get ripped off though! Bargaining is basically an art in China and you have to go down at least 75% of the original price. My godmother once talked down a vendor from 200 Renminbi per necklace to 50 Renminbi for two necklaces. Don't be scared, though, because I'm sure they can smell fear.

Small Eats

When walking the city at night, it almost looks like Times Square. Big lit-up billboards line the buildings as people go shopping from store to store. However, small stands also line the sidewalks stocked with the most delicious street food you'll ever eat. Or maybe I'm biased.

Stinky tofu, fried ice cream, extremely spicy meats, candied fruit — really any northern Chinese dish imaginable. There's even a creepy crawlers stand where I sampled some scorpion while my friends slurped down tarantulas and snakes.

Happy Valley

This attraction is more for the kids as it's basically an American theme park on steroids. There's more than 40 rides, a theater and a shopping center. The park is split up into different themes and also includes water rides.

I have to warn you though — these rides are way more extreme than American ones. The drops are bigger, the speeds are faster and the spins are wilder. Be sure that your child can handle extreme conditions before bringing them here.

Even if these destinations aren't at the top of your list, you'll want to experience them sooner or later. And if they aren't your cup of green tea, you can go see Shanghai, Hong Kong or even more rural areas.

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