Getting Oriented

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Getting Oriented

Laid out like a target with ring roads revolving around a bull's-eye, with Chang'an Jie (Eternal Peace Avenue) cutting across the middle, Beijing is a bustling metropolis sprawling outward from the central point of the Forbidden City. The ring roads are its main arteries and, along with Chang'an Jie, you will find yourself traveling them just about anytime you go from one place to another aboveground. As you explore Beijing, you'll find that taxis are often the best way to get around. However, if the recently expanded subway system goes where you're headed, it's often a faster option than dealing with traffic, which has become increasingly congested in recent years with the rise of private automobiles.

The city is divided into 18 municipal and suburban districts (qu). Only six of these districts are the central stomping grounds for most visitors; this chapter focuses on those districts. Dongcheng ("east district") encompasses the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Wangfujing (a major shopping street), the Lama Temple, and many other historical sites dating back to imperial times. Xicheng ("west district"), directly west of Dongcheng, is a lovely lake district that includes Beihai Park, former playground of the imperial family, and a series of connected lakes bordered by willow trees, courtyard-lined hutongs, and lively bars. The southern districts include Chongwen in the southeast and Xuanwu in the southwest. These areas have some of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and a long history of traditional folk arts, with opera theaters and acrobatic shows still staged here. The Chongwen District is also home to some of the city's most famous restaurants, some more than 100 years old. Chaoyang is the biggest and busiest district, occupying the areas north, east, and south of the eastern Second Ring Road. As it lies outside the second ring road, which marked the eastern demarcation of the old city wall, there is little of historical interest here. The district is home to foreign embassies, multinational companies, the Central Business District, and the Olympic Park. Haidian, the technology and university district, is northwest of the Third Ring Road; it's packed with shops selling electronics and students cramming for the next exam.

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