Beijing offers many unexpected gems that may go underappreciated: its less obvious cultural sites can transport you back in time to an age before skyscrapers and fast food.

Consider visiting Beijing’s first specialty Baijiu bar, where you will find an assortment of this strong traditional Chinese liquor. With Cathay Pacific, you can enjoy unrestricted access to the city, including on rare routes like New York to Beijing.

1. The Forbidden City

Visitors who know where to look can discover all sorts of fascinating stories within its vast edifice, serving as vivid lessons in Chinese history!

No matter its iconic status, the Forbidden City can become very crowded on busy days. To beat the crowds it’s best to arrive early and explore palace grounds before tour buses begin arriving. Insiders recommend exploring more buildings by foot than sticking strictly to main paths – and check out Hall of Supreme Harmony which boasts stunning dragon thrones as well as hosting exhibitions throughout its year-long schedule of exhibitions.

Insiders to the Forbidden City also rave about Jingshan Park, hidden just beyond its walls. Once an imperial garden, this 57-acre patch of greenery offers visitors an idyllic place to escape the crowds while taking in some of its most stunning sights without being forced into seeing everything all at once.

The Park is also the setting of Ma Ke, one of China’s premier avant-garde fashion designers, as her showroom pays a vibrant tribute to her exquisite clothing designs. If you prefer more traditional sights in Beijing, Working People’s Cultural Palace provides a delightful escape. This museum holds an array of antique pipes and water pumps that offer an enjoyable way to escape crowds on even the busiest of days.

2. The Temple of Heaven

Visitors to Beijing often rely on guide books and online travel information, making pilgrimages to well-known attractions like Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Houhai Hutong, Lama Temple and Mutianyu Great Wall. But those brave enough to explore beyond these popular landmarks will discover an endless source of amazing experiences and genuine excitement!

The Temple of Heaven in Old Beijing is one of China’s oldest holy temples and an outstanding example of Chinese culture and architecture. Comprising of a large temple, gardens and cypress tree grove, its complex is popular with locals looking to spend a relaxing day strolling or sampling traditional cuisine; history enthusiasts should hire a tour guide as it has immense historical value.

As one example, the design of the main altar was determined by an ancient Chinese book known as Zhou Yi that detail ancient Chinese philosophy, science and astronomy. As evidenced by its diameters and heights as well as construction using 9 and 5 (as indicated by flagstones lying at its base), its layout conformed with this theory.

Many tourists who visit the Temple of Heaven want to stroll along Danbi Bridge, an elevated marble avenue spanning from Circular Mound Altar to Imperial Vault of Heaven from south to north. But for a less hectic and better views experience there’s also an alternative route that passes directly between these features – this secret path being known as Echo Wall Hui Yin Bi which features walls so smooth that even whispers can be heard clearly around.

3. Jiankou

Jiankou Great Wall offers photographers an exceptional photographic opportunity. Even though climbing this part is forbidden and some sections have collapsed, its raw beauty draws hikers and photographers from far and wide. While the journey might be dangerous at first, with proper preparation you can enjoy an unforgettable journey along this section of the Great Wall.

Jiankou, also known as “Arrow Nock”, lies approximately 73 kilometers north of Beijing in Huairou District and takes its name from its mountain’s shape, which resembles that of an arrow’s bow. Jiankou is known for being both difficult and winding along its stretch, featuring both dangerous ridges and cliffs as well as breathtaking scenery such as Ox Horn Edge Wall, East-West Suobolou (retracted-neck shaped tower), Sky Stair, Yin Fei Dao Yang Tower as well as Nine Eye Tower.

The Nine-Eye Tower, featuring nine holes that resemble eyes on each side, served as a command post during ancient wars. Another popular watchtower known as Beijing Knot connects three different walls from three directions into an impressive knot-like structure which showcases ancient builders’ skills.

Travel to Jiankou Great Wall can be achieved easily by walking to Mutianyu Roundabout Stop (Pinyin: Mutianyuhuandao Mu Tian Yu Huan Dao), near its entrance, and taking Bus H35, H24 or H23 until West Xishanzi Stop (Xishanzi Xi Zha Zi Xi), where Bus H25 awaits to bring you directly into Jiankou.

4. The Hutongs

While many hutongs have been turned into cafes or restaurants – or even hotels or holiday apartments – their charm remains undiminished, giving visitors an exclusive peek into traditional Chinese life.

Nanluoguxiang Hutong in Beijing is perhaps the best-known and easiest accessible hutong, and can become quite congested with souvenir shops, street food stalls and “traditional” stores. Additionally, former residences of princes, generals and celebrities can often be found here as well as being great places for exploring hutong culture – but be sure to explore further as many hutongs offer more authentic experiences without becoming overrun with tourists! Nanluoguxiang is great as an introduction but we recommend venturing further; other more authentic hutongs offer much less touristy experiences!

Wudaoying, which runs from Andingmen Metro Station to Yonghegong Street, offers another wonderful strolling option. Not as bustling or overrun as Nanluoguxiang, Wudaoying boasts several charming shops, boutiques and cafes as well as its unique mix of leisurely old lifestyle residents alongside fashionable young ones that makes for an engaging stroll through history.

For fans of Friends, Central Perk offers an accurate recreation of Joey and Chandler’s cafe from the TV show with Joey’s sofa replica and delicious milk tea, coffee or an oily beef wrap called Jianbing available to enjoy. Plus there are many more cafes and restaurants nearby!

5. Chinese Cuisine

Beijing offers more than its three top attractions – Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Hutongs. Discovering these lesser-known spots will add something extra special and unique to your trip through China.

If you love cats, two places you must visit are Altar of Earth/Ditan Park and Sirena Cat Cafe near Andingmen: Ditan Park is great for relaxing walks through its peaceful green spaces while Sirena Cat Cafe features many adorable felines that you can pet! Both locations make for excellent experiences!

China Cuisine is widely recognized worldwide for its exquisite taste, aroma and colors. As one of the oldest culinary traditions, Chinese Cuisine features many variations in dishes from various regions across China (Lu, Chuan, Yue and Huaiyang). Each major Chinese Cuisine (Lu, Chuan, Yue and Huaiyang) represents different regions with distinct regional flavor profiles.

The Lu Cuisine offers an eclectic, salty and crispy dining experience featuring noodles and seafood as its primary ingredients. Their signature dish is moo shu pork; other must-try dishes include quick fry squid and braised sea cucumber with Beijing scallions.

Chuan Cuisine, one of the four Chinese Cuisines, is distinguished by spicy hot flavors. It is best known for braised duck in red chili sauce and sweet and sour chicken; other signature dishes include sour and spicy steamed fish as well as its hot noodle soup.