Getting Oriented

At the heart of Beijing lies the Forbidden City, home of the emperors of old, which is adjacent to the secretive and off-limits Zhongnanhai, home of China’s current leadership. The rest of the city revolves around this core area, with a series of concentric rings roads reaching out into the suburbs, and most major arteries running north–south and east–west. As you explore Beijing, you'll find that taxis are often the best way to get around. However, if the subway goes where you're headed, it's often a faster option than dealing with traffic.

The city is divided into 18 municipal and suburban districts (qu). Only four of these districts are the central stomping grounds for most visitors; our coverage focuses on them. The most important, 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, a former playground of the imperial family, and a series of connected lakes bordered by willow trees, courtyard-lined hutong, and lively bars. Chaoyang is the biggest and busiest district, occupying the areas north, east, and south of the eastern Second Ring Road. Because it lies outside the Second Ring Road, which marked the eastern demarcation of the old city wall, there’s little of historical interest here, though it does have many of the city’s top hotels, restaurants, and shops. Chaoyang is also home to the foreign embassies, multinational companies, the Central Business District, and the Olympic Park. Haidian, the district that’s home to China’s top universities and technology companies, is northwest of the Third Ring Road; it's packed with shops selling electronics and students cramming for their next exam.

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