Exploring at street level is the best way to lean in and take a look at what really makes a city worth living in. Beijing is one of those cities where walking tours are obvious around places like the Forbidden City or one of the many Hutongs, but the massive sprawl may appear daunting for a visitor looking for something beyond what we’ve seen in magazines.
We’ve pulled together our favorite walking tour applications for Beijing, which give you insight into tried and true tourist destinations and include a few gems for even the seasoned Beijinger.
Since I have been to Beijing a few times I wanted somewhere off the beaten path. A place that would give me a chance to take a look at a subculture living in broad daylight. 798 Art Zone is outside the 4th ring, so the chances of you wandering around this district are pretty remote.
Before I get into my experiences checking out contemporary art, architecture and culture in this historically interesting location, let me go over the best apps for walking tours in Beijing.
is our definite favorite. It’s our go-to tool when we land in any city and it’s the app we feature in the video above. There is a city guide, and the ability to have offline maps with a compass that will help you navigate offline is killer. You can also download walking tours, as well as restaurant reviews. Though you’ll learn in the video that 798 is so far out there weren’t any reviews!!
Beijing Travel Guide mTrip
Automatically create a personalized trip itinerary with the mTrip Genius tool. You can build a personalized trip based on dates, location, interests and it’s all coordinated with the opening hours of tourist attractions. It’s a powerful app and well worth the price. Available on Android $3.99 & iTunes $4.99
Beijing on a Budget
This app is jam packed with a ton of great information, both for adding places of interest to your itinerary and increasing your general knowledge of China. The downside is you have to have wifi to access the free version on iOS, and it isn’t even free on Android. But it’s worth checking out if you have an apple device and want to do some advanced planning. Here are the links to pick it up if you’re keen. iPhone / Android
What is there to see in 798 Art Zone?
The first thing you should know about this walking tour is that it is, first and foremost, a photographer’s dream. It’s the perfect combination of whimsy and industrialization. If you have a tripod, bring it. I came armed with my Nokia Lumia 1020 and a DSLR. I dare you to figure which 2 photos were taken with the pro lens (besides the one directly below! 😉 ).
798 is more than just a number, it stands for a modern art movement. If you’re looking for politically subversive art, think twice – just because they’re artists it doesn’t mean they aren’t producing art within China. This doesn’t stop a commentary on its communist cultural heritage, but walking to spic and span alley, you can’t help but shake the feeling of gentrification that happened from within. The modernism found on canvas escaped onto the streets, and considering how Beijing is a city that consists of piles of garbage, or things appearing randomly, the district definitely stands apart from its city.
Things really got going in this district back in 1995 when the China Central Academy of Fine Arts kick-started the reinvention. They moved in taking advantage of the cheap rent.
One of the most surprising things was the presence of a few German China murals. Doing a bit of digging, the compound was built in the 1950s as part of a Chinese-East German collaboration. The entire complex was designed by Bauhaus architects, where 20,000 workers punched a time clock.
798 Art Festival runs from the end of April to the end of May, annually. The 798 Creative Art Festival also runs annually, from the end of September to the end of October.
If you are looking to do some reading or find some other good places to keep an eye out for while you get lost, I suggest the National Geographic walking tour. There are even a few restaurant suggestions, which are much needed in a few of the apps above.
Those looking for some websites that give you information on what’s going on around town can take refuge with The Beijinger. It keeps up with all the latest events, as well as job boards and classifieds for those expats living behind the Great Fire Wall.
CityWeekend keeps up with live events, club gigs and all things for those looking to get debaucherous on the weekend. It has a few other city locations, as well.
TimeOut Beijing also keeps up with the latest going ons, but what we love it for is the Food Awards. They keep up on what’s worth visiting and what’s not.
If you have ideas for other tech-focused travel videos please let me know in the comments!