Staycation in Beijing, China

Even though I live in Beijing, I spend a lot of time travelling to other cities around Asia for work and for fun. A rare opportunity recently came up to be a tourist in my own city and so I booked a hotel room and tried to hit some of the spots I don’t usually get to visit.

Temple of Heaven
Finally managed to get this shot without people in it! GFX 50R 32mm ISO-100 1/75sec f/8

For hotel, I chose the newer Hotel Jen by Shangri-La Hotels, located in Guomao, the central business district area. The reason I chose this hotel is because it has one of the best gyms in all of Beijing called Trainyard; it’s an incredible place to workout.

The goals for the weekend were pretty simple:

  1. Visit as many restaurants recently awarded a Michelin Star (before the hoards of crowds make their reservations)
  2. Visit the Temple of Heaven early in the morning in the hopes to capture some images without the usual thousands of people (a pretty typical situation in a city of 23 million people)
  3. Relax and take some time to hit the hotel gym

View from the hotel

The Hotel Jen is perfectly situated to take in the amazing Rem Koolhaas and OMA designed building. The local people call this the “pants building”, and the rather unfortunate oval building behind it doesn’t help the nicknames. However, it is one of my favourite building designs in the world, and became iconic after billions of people saw it during the stunning visuals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics broadcasts.

CCTV Tower Beijing, China
CCTV Tower; GFX 50R 32.6mm ISO-100 1.9sec f/4

Michelin Star dining on a budget

The highly anticipated inaugural Michelin Guide Beijing was recently published and I was happy to see several of my favourite restaurants making the cut including King’s Joy (2-star), Da Dong (1-star), Xin Rong Ji (3-star), Mio (1-star) and Lei Garden (1-star).

With the guide having just come out, we were able to make reservations at King’s Joy and Xin Rong Ji. We also managed to get reservations at Red Bowl, the excellent new hua guo (hot pot) restaurant at the Rosewood Beijing. Finally, instead of going to the usual Da Dong for Beijing Duck, we went to the more local Si Ji Men.

King's Joy Beijing
Michelin 2-star King’s Joy vegetarian restaurant; LEICA M10 35mm ISO-250 1/250sec f/1.4

Red Bowl and King’s Joy were excellent, Xin Rong Ji was great but not sure it deserves three stars, and Si Ji Men, as always, delivered some of the best Beijing Duck in the city, at a very affordable price. You should be forewarned however that the lineup at Si Ji Men was 50+ tables, but you can digitally line-up before you arrive so minimal waiting was required.

If you want to act like a local, use the app Dianping to search for restaurants and to make reservations and use Didi to get to and from your destination in style and comfort. You should also setup WeChat Wallet, which now works for tourists, because nobody uses cash or credit cards in China anymore.

King's Joy, Beijing
Michelin 2-star King’s Joy vegetarian restaurant; LEICA M10 35mm ISO-200 1/1000sec f/1.4

Temple of Heaven

I’ve been to Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven several times in the past, but it’s always been jammed with massive crowds, so my goal this time was to go at sunrise and try to get in there before the groups arrive.

Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven just after sunrise; GFX 50R 36.9mm ISO-100 1/90sec f/16
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven; GFX 50R 64mm ISO-100 1/200sec f/8

Unfortunately, it turns out that while the park opens before sunrise, the actual entrance to the temple area opens later (and requires another ticket) at 8AM. Therefore, it was impossible to get blue hour or pure sunrise pictures of this iconic building.

Therefore, the images you see here are about one hour after sunrise and right when the park opened the gates to the temple area.

A rare snowfall

Beijing is a very cold and dry place during the winter months, with snow very rare these days. Fortunately, we got a small snowfall and it stuck around for a day or two to make it feel a bit like New York at Christmas time.

Snow in Beijing
LEICA M10 35mm ISO-200 1/500sec f/2.4
Snow in Beijing
LEICA M10 35mm ISO-200 1/250sec f/4.8

A successful staycation

It’s rare to spend the weekend as a tourist in your city, but I find it’s always a great way to spend the weekend. Lock the work laptop away, turn the mobile phone off, and just enjoy the things that I take for granted every day.

CCTV Tower Beijing
CCTV Tower with a sprinkling of snow; GFX 50R 34.4mm ISO-800 1/160sec f/8

Comments (6)

I need to align one of my vacations with one of your staycations. What a city to explore!

Yarko, I’d love to show you around Beijing. Perhaps you can time a trip with the Shanghai F1 race and we can go explore parts of China after watching Hamilton or Leclerc take the checkered flag 🙂

I’ll echo what Peter said and encourage more staycations (and subsequent posts) in the city.

Thanks so much! I will definitely take your advice and do more staycations. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to explore a city that we’re so familiar with (and there’s the added benefit of not having to fly anywhere to do it!).

I’ve been following for a while. Love your content! I don’t always like/comment but please keep it up! All your work is so inspiring, much better photography and writing than anything I put up 🙂

Hi Peter, thanks so much for writing in, I really appreciate it. I’m so glad that you find the images inspiring; I hope that it gets you excited to visit some of these amazing cities. If you have a blog, please post the URL here, I’d love to check it out.

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