Welcome to My Place . . . Beijing

Paula Kelleher recommends the sights to see, food to eat and things to buy

Paula Kelleher, from Fedamore in Co Limerick, is doing a masters in Public Administration for International Development at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

Where is the first place you bring people when they visit Beijing?

First stop would be the Great Wall of China. There are a number of sections of the Wall which can be reached within an hour or two from Beijing. I take people to Mutinanyu – it has fantastic scenery – and after climbing that long way you can take a toboggan slide to the bottom, which is fun.

The top three things to do there, that don't cost money, are . . .

Exploring the hutongs (traditional one-storey buildings) on foot or by bicycle.

Visiting the Olympic Park. Hosting the 2008 Olympics was a definitive point in modern Beijing history. The huge park has lots of greenery and a number of impressive architectural features such as the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest. In the summer evenings, you can watch the dancing fountains.

Tiananmen Square: the largest square in the world has such a familiar history and is a great spot for people-watching.

Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a sense of Beijing?

Beijing’s most famous dish is Peking duck and one of the oldest restaurants – Quanjude – is located on Qianmen shopping street. Although this street also has a number of brand-name shops, the street itself has been rebuilt to resemble how it looked in the past, combining contemporary and traditional Beijing in one.

Where is the best place to get a sense of Beijing’s place in history?

Beijing is steeped in historical and cultural sites which makes it a fascinating city to visit. The most famous sites are the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. The Forbidden City is located in the heart of Beijing and it was once the residence of the former Chinese emperors. As you walk through each of the courtyards that seem to keep on going and going, you can’t help but be immersed in the history of one of the oldest civilisations in the world.

The Summer Palace is absolutely beautiful and is my favourite of the two. The sheer size of it is almost incomprehensible – a city within a city – but the view of the gorgeous buildings and the huge lake are breathtaking.

For what should visitors save room in their suitcase after a visit to Beijing?

A visit to the Silk Market could see you go home with a new tailored suit, dress or shirt. The quality is good and the price is fair (if you bargain hard). Visit a local market to pick up some strange and interesting food, various spices, sauces and teas. For those who like a tipple, find yourself a good bottle of baijiu – Chinese rice wine. Do not be fooled by the term ‘wine’ though – at over 50 per cent alcohol content, it is not for the fainthearted and should only be consumed as a small measure and with food, just like how the Chinese do it. Don’t forget to make a toast before you say ‘Cheers’.