BEIJING

When I think of Beijing, I think big. This three-millennium-old city is a giant in every sense - culturally, historically, commercially - not to mention its actual size! Wander from the ancient stones of the Forbidden City to gleaming high-spec skyscrapers; eat one meal on the hoof in a bustling urban market and your next in a slick Michelin-starred restaurant. So much to see, so much to do... First-time visitors are in danger of being overwhelmed, so my top advice for exploring Beijing is visit more than once! Ching x

Step back in time within the walls of the Forbidden City, an ancient complex of palaces and gardens previously home to China's great aristocratic dynasties

Stroll in the sunshine through the largest of Beijing's many beautiful parks: the Summer Palace

Hike the Great Wall of China (Mutianyu is less crowded than other sections and has a handy cable-car service up to the Wall itself)

You can hardly avoid indulging in a meal of glossy-skinned Peking duck, Beijing's most famous culinary export

Get lost in the hutongs, a network of bustling alleyways, the narrowest of which is only 0.4 yards wide!

You'll never get round all of Beijing's museums but a good place to start is Tiananmen Square, a vast public space surrounded by monuments and museums (including the impressive National Museum of China)

Get your fix of razzle-dazzle at the Flying Acrobatic Show, the spectacular headline act in the Chaoyang Theatre's programme

The exceptionally beautiful Lama Temple offers spiritual succour to Tibetan pilgrims and tourists alike Stock up on traditional Chinese products with an expedition through the workshops of Dashilan Street

Get up close and personal with some of the world's rarest animals at Beijing Zoo - snow leopards, Chinese tigers and the majestic giant pandas

One of the first specimens of Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern man, was found in the vast Zhoukoudian caves in Beijing. Scientists have named him the Peking Man and estimate he is probably around 750,000 years old! The caves have now been made a World Heritage Site - other incredible finds in the area include the bones of a gigantic hyena.

Maliandao Tea Market
Tea lovers should head straight to this vast wholesale tea market in southern Beijing. continue reading...

Donghuamen Night Market
Beijing has a long tradition of street food and xiaochi (snacks); food is so much a continue reading...

Sanlitun Village
In contrast to more historic areas, Sanlitun Village is the ultra-fashionable face of continue reading...

Olympic Park
Olympic Forest Park, or the Olympic Green, is a 680-hectare urban oasis in the Chaoyang District. continue reading...

To see the full variety of Beijing all in one place, you could do worse than Shichahai, a thriving lake complex often bypassed by tourists in favour of more urban hotspots. East meets west in the area's buzzing bars and restaurants. At the same time, tradition is kept alive in 'Tobacco Pipe Lean Street', a quaint 800-year-old hutong still inhabited today. The area's entertainment centres on its three main lakes, Qianhai, Houhai and Xihai: you can ice skate in the winter months and go boating during summertime. Splash out on a rickshaw ride or even hire bicycles to explore the area in more detail. After you've worked up an appetite with all that pedalling, drop into Nine Gates Snacks in Xiao You Hutong, where you can choose from a cornucopia of nibbles and treats reflecting Beijing's centuries-old culinary culture.

Despite its name, Hóngqiáo Pearl Market is not only for those buying gemstones. This three-storey warehouse contains mountains of cheap, fun clothes and accessories for dressing on a budget. If money is no object then head to the top floor for an Aladdin's cave of precious (and sometimes not-so-precious) pearly delights...

Pānjiāyuán Market is a weekend-only occurrence, but well worth planning ahead to squeeze it in. Also known as Dirt Market and the Sunday market, this is a richly varied, turbo-charged bazaar that goes on and on. In among its crafts, antiques, calligraphy, Tibetan carpets, Buddha heads, plastic trinkets, knock-off gadgets and miscellaneous memorabilia are real treasures waiting to be found. Get into bargain-hunter mode and getting digging!

If markets aren't your thing, the sumptuous environs of The Malls at Oriental Plaza are a glam antidote to Beijing street culture. This is the apex of shopping luxe, located between Gold Street and Silver Street, right in the high-end heart of the city. The complex is divided into seven zones, each with a slightly different theme, to suit every taste and style. Get those credit cards at the ready...

The Beijing Peninsula - might be the city's most sumptuous and high-spec luxury hotel. There's not a single facility it fails to offer its pampered guests - full gym and spa, restaurants and bars, in-room Wi-Fi and plasma screen TVs... With everything executed to the highest standard, it is hard to imagine the guest who would go away dissatisfied from a stay at the Peninsula.

Red Capital Residence - For novelty factor and historical interest, check into the Red Capital Residence. This five-room guesthouse is themed from top to bottom with Communist Party memorabilia and antiques - a fascinating and unusual treat.

Si He Hotel - is tucked away in the old town, offering a rare courtyard experience to visitors seeking a taste of life in the hutongs. This historic inn strikes the perfect balance between authenticity and comfort: décor is traditional but amenities are modern, with en suite shower and Western toilet facilities as standard. Traditional 'kang' beds and atmospheric red lanterns reinforce the sheer escapism, and faultlessly friendly staff maintain the Chinese tradition of hospitality. A tranquil zone for road-weary travellers.

The Opposite House - this boutique hotel achieves the ideal balance of mature elegance and hipster cool, with its light, airy rooms reflecting the minimalist ethos of their Japanese designer. Attention to detail is key, from the doorman's oh-so-hip uniform of trainers and white tee to the zinging cocktails served at Mesh, the hotel's cosmopolitan bar/terrace. Plus location couldn't be better: looking out on the shops and cafes of the wide, leafy Embassy district, you are spoilt for choice.

Peking International Youth Hostel - If you're visiting the city on a shoestring, Peking International Youth Hostel is your place. Bang in the centre of Beijing's most fun and famous hutong, it is ideal for nipping over to nearby sights like the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park and the nightlife at Houhai. The hostel boasts relaxing flower-laden courtyard areas and an extremely well-priced restaurant. Rooms range from en suite doubles to an 8-bed dorm.

Maliandao Tea Market

Tea lovers should head straight to this vast wholesale tea market in southern Beijing. Hours can be spent sampling the different blends and leaves - and when you've chosen your favourite, the nearby tea shops are the perfect place to pick up a traditional tea set to drink it from! Tea is a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine: myriad different blends are used to treat specific physical as well as psychological ills, and most of these teas can be found somewhere in the vast labyrinth of Maliandao. From 'Dragon Well' green tea (for clearer skin) to 'Iron Goddess of Mercy' oolong (to cure fatigue), you can be sure that these brews are good for what ails you...

Donghuamen Night Market

Beijing has a long tradition of street food and xiaochi (snacks); food is so much a part of the culture that residents have historically greeted each other with 'Ni chi le ma?', meaning 'Have you eaten?' Donghuamen market [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donghuamen_Night_Market] is the best place to eat like a local - go any day of the week to enjoy the sights, smells and (of course) flavours of authentic Beijing. For adventurous Western visitors, delicacies on offer include deep fried scorpion, silkworm and edible snake skin. Personally, I can never resist the sticky-sweet Bing Tang Hu Lu, Beijing's famous candied fruit sticks. Yum!

Sanlitun Village

In contrast to more historic areas, Sanlitun Village is the ultra-fashionable face of modern Beijing. Global brands fill the chic shopping malls and the area's restaurants reflect an international vibe, with innovative Chinese cuisine sitting alongside American and Spanish establishments. There's plenty to tempt the cultured socialite, from lux spas to tasteful photo galleries, but my highlight in this slick district is Bar Street . This is definitely the city's hippest nightlife hotspot, where the young and beautiful of Beijing go to mingle and tipple under the stars.

Olympic Park

Olympic Forest Park, or the Olympic Green, is a 680-hectare urban oasis in the Chaoyang District. It was constructed for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and nowadays it hosts key sporting events like the GT1 World Supercars spectacular. The whole area is open to visitors and its clean lines and well-designed Feng Shui flow make it an ideal space for relaxation. The park is dominated by the iconic Bird's Nest stadium; wander further afield along its elegant walkways and canals to find tennis courts, Aquatics Centre and the Ling Long Pagoda. This area is best viewed at night, when the unique architectures of the Water Cube plays host to a brilliant light & water show accompanied by live orchestral music.