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Some of our favorite ways to get moving and burn some of those calories in Beijing:
WHERE TO TAKE A WALK IN BEIJING
The most interesting Beijing walks are those aimless strolls getting lost in the hutongs, the ancient maze of alleyways cutting through the city’s oldest historic neighborhoods. The area around Houhai (后海) is the most popular choice, dotted with the imposing and elaborate stone gateways to mansions once housing relatives of the imperial family and the court’s highest-ranking mandarins.
But for a glimpse of how the common folk lived (and, in many cases, still do live), head down to Qianmen (前门) for a quieter and more low-key hutong experience. You may stumble across the crumbling façade of a former Peking opera house, or a bustling vegetable market. Just see where your feet take you!
Most of the city’s parks include a well-paved, vaguely circular track that winds its way around the entire grounds, and these make for popular strolling spots, especially on warm summer evenings. We recommend Qingnianhu Park (青年湖公园, map) just north of the historic Gulou area, or Qingfeng Park (庆丰公园, map), a riverside oasis of tranquility just south of the bustling Guomao financial district.
WHERE TO GO RUNNING
Runners looking for longer, less crowded trails will find what they’re looking for at the Olympic Forest Park, a surprisingly vast swath of trees and rolling hills just north of Beijing’s Olympic sports complex. Another good choice is the Yuan Dadu City Wall Ruins Park (Yuan Dadu Chengqiang Yizhi Gongyuan, 元大都城墙遗址公园, map), which runs along the northern length of an ancient 12th-century city wall, dating to the age when China was ruled by the Mongols. While no traces of the wall remain today, the park is dotted with towering modern reinterpretations of Mongol totems and statues of Kublai Khan and his warriors.
WHERE TO BIKE
A generation ago, Beijing was famous for the sea of bicycles that flooded its streets every day at rush hour. Today, you’ll find the streets clogged with (considerably less photogenic) cars and buses. But biking remains an easy way to get around the city, especially considering Beijing’s completely flat topography, and it has seen a surprising boom in popularity in just the past few months.
Convenient bike-sharing apps have taken Beijing by storm, and a rainbow of bikes from competing rental companies have sprouted up around bus stops and subway stations across the city. The most popular are Mobike and ofo, which rent bikes for just 1 RMB per hour. Currently, however, the apps are available only in Chinese, so you’ll have to brush up on your characters, or else have a Chinese-speaking friend nearby.
One of the most popular places for biking is Houhai. Small bike rental shops can be found at regular intervals around the neighborhood’s lakes, with a flat fee of 10 RMB as the going rate. Of course, the spot’s popularity can lead to crowded paths on weekends, and you’ll need to watch out to avoid running into the occasional rickshaw tour!
A bit further afield, the campuses of Beijing’s university district make for a relaxing bike trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. Peking University (Beijing Daxue, 北京大学, map) and Tsinghua University (Qinghua Daxue, 清华大学, map) are not only China’s two most prestigious centers of learning, but their century-old campuses are also a fascinating mix of traditional Chinese architecture and American classical and art deco influences, with wide, shady boulevards and lakeside trails. A cluster of bike rental stores can be found on Qinghua Nanlu (清华南路, map) a few blocks north of the Peking University West Gate subway station. The sellers there can also provide useful tips on avoiding the security guards who occasionally bar non-students from entering the campus grounds.
WHERE TO DANCE
If you’re visiting during the warmer months, drop by the local park or any sizable public space as the sun sets to witness—and, if you’re brave enough, join in—the modern phenomenon of “plaza dancing” (guangchang wu, 广场舞). In a scene repeated nightly all across China, dozens of middle-aged and elderly women (and a few men) gather in formation to dance with repeatable steps and simple gestures to music played on a nearby boombox, with tunes ranging from 1950s patriotic hymns to Tibetan folk songs, and even Bollywood soundtracks.
The Temple of Heaven Park (Tiantan Gongyuan, 天坛公园, map) is one of the most popular plaza dancing locations, and if you visit during the daytime, you’ll likely run into several impromptu ballroom classes as well. But one of the most unusual dancing spectacles occurs nightly near the Dongzhimen subway station (东直门, map), where the elderly dancers don Red Army costumes and brandish swords and plastic rifles as they sing along to soldiers’ songs from World War II.
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