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
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...