BEIJING, China — With Chinese New Year just around the corner and tourism to China increasing by almost 10 percent every year, Beijing will welcome a record number of foreign tourists this winter.
With lower airfares, fewer crowds and a chance to see the New Year celebrations in person, a trip to Beijing in the wintertime is extremely attractive. Unfortunately, most Beijing travel guides are aimed toward those who visit during the summer months. Obviously some destinations, like the Great Wall, are must-dos no matter when you visit, but there are also many amazing opportunities only winter tourists have.
Here are five things every winter visitor to Beijing should experience.
During Chinese New Year week, these carnival-like fairs can be found in temples scattered all over Beijing, but the most famous are at DongYue Temple and Ditan Temple. Here jugglers, acrobats, dancers, musicians, vendors, amusement-park-style rides and games are all brought inside the temple compounds.
You can stroll the usually-silent grounds while eating blown-candy animals and watching the lion dancers. This is the Chinese New Year tradition that everyone wants to experience and it doesn’t disappoint.
Chair skating at Houhai Lake
Sometimes also called ice-carting, chair skating and ice biking are two completely unique experiences that only winter visitors can enjoy. Bikes, carts and skates can all be rented by the hour at this famous lake which winds through ancient neighborhoods surrounding the Forbidden City.
Tourists can join the throngs of locals sliding their way across this picturesque lake, combining sight-seeing with the most fun you can have on ice. Be sure to wear your warmest winter gear so you can brave the frigid winter temperatures for as long as possible. Whizzing around the lakes will become one of your favorite memories of Beijing and give you a taste of the “real China” experience.
Street food at Wangfujing
This famous street market in downtown Beijing holds all the alarming foods you’ve ever wanted to eat on a stick. Scorpions, spiders, silkworms and centipedes can all be had here year-round, as can more tourist-friendly items like candied fruit, chicken, noodles and dumplings.
However, during the winter, the delicious candied haw fruit reigns supreme in Beijing. These look like crabapples dipped in a hardened candy shell, but they are completely addictive and completely delicious. Make sure to sample some.
Wangfujing Snack Street is the perfect place for great photo ops to impress the kids at home, and to test your courage as you stare down the insect-on-a-stick that might become your lunch.
The fireworks during Chinese New Year will blow your mind. It’s not just the quality, it’s the quantity. Standing on the balcony of our home on the outskirts of Beijing, we could watch more than 15 fireworks displays at any given moment during New Year week.
Depending on the pollution levels, fireworks may not be allowed downtown this year so make sure you spend one evening outside the banned area so you can see the amazing display. It’s easy to stop at the edge of town on the way back from the Great Wall to experience a real Chinese New Year firework show.
Even better, buy some fireworks and join in yourself. A huge box of aerial fireworks can be bought for very reasonable prices at little roadside stands all over Beijing.
Longqing Gorge ice festival
Located about 50 miles north of Bejiing, Longqing gorge is a popular tourist destination during the summer for boat rides and hiking. However, during January and February, the gorge is transformed into an icy wonderland as forts, castles, sculptures and caves are constructed of huge blocks of ice and then lit with colored lights. A perfect day trip from Beijing, the experience is one you’ll never forget.If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure, a trip to Beijing this winter might be just what you’re looking for.