WHERE ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Located in the north, Beijing - or "Peking" as 17th century French missionaries spelt it - is China's capital and known as much for its modern architecture as it is for its ancient sites.
One of the world's oldest cities, with 5000 years of history, it's home to over 21 million residents.
WHY GO THERE?
Beijing is a mega-city that spectacularly merges modern living and old-fashioned ways. Described as the beating heart of China, there are so many things to see, do and eat that the challenge is whittling down the list of must-dos.
WHAT'S THERE TO SEE AND DO?
Beijing is blessed with an astounding array of antiquities, from the Summer Palace to the grand Forbidden City, the vast collection of cultural relics in the National Museum to the Ming Dynasty Tombs. No trip would be complete without visiting these famous attractions, but why not combine its man-made structures with experiencing local life?
Start with the Great Wall. Most of the famous sections of China's iconic landmark are located within a 1-2 hour drive from downtown. Take your time and hike a section of this 573km-long human treasure to get a real sense of its power, and the people who created it. Next stop, park life. Ming and Qing dynasty emperors would come to the Temple of Heaven to pray for harvest. Nowadays it's more a huge park than a temple, with several important historic buildings like the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Early risers should head to the East Gate entrance to hang with the locals who gather to sing, dance, practice calligraphy, and play chess. Perhaps join them for tai chi?
Mornings are also ideal for a trip to Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, and an insight into the Chinese psyche. Join thousands of eager pilgrims snaking their way across the immense Tiananmen Square. Head further north for Houhai Park, home to a 34ha artificial lake once exclusively used by the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) royal family. Spend a morning boating, visiting tea houses and pondering menus in the restaurant precinct. In the afternoon, get lost in Old Beijing's hutongs, or bustling alleyway neighbourhoods. This is where you'll glimpse traditional Beijing life.
For a more intimate flavour, hire a rickshaw to snake your way through the endless mazes of cobbled lanes, shabby brick houses, market stalls and bicycles.
From reality to mystical: have an other-worldly experience by visiting the Yonghe Temple, or Lama Temple, in the Dongcheng district. Over 300 years old, it's draped in vivid Tibetan prayer flags and wafts of incense, with an impressive 26m-high carved statue of the Maitreya Buddha. It's one of the world's most important Buddhist monasteries, and will give you an instant sense of peace.
WHAT'S THE FOOD LIKE?
While rice is big in the temperate south, in the chilly north you'll find wheat is used to make tummy warmers like dumplings, hand-pulled noodles, golden toasted flatbreads and pastries. You can't go home without trying the famous Peking duck – roasted and tucked inside small 'rollyour-own' pancakes – while other favourites include do-it-yourself Beijing lamb hot pot, street hawker barbecue skewers, and a breakfast cup of mung bean milk - locals swear by it. Splash out on Beijing Imperial Cuisine – lavish restaurant banquets featuring dishes once cooked for emperors.
WHAT'S THE WEATHER LIKE?
Extreme – it can be sweltering hot in summer and occasionally snow in winter. Beijing is great to visit any time of year but be mindful that June to August is northern summer and can be hot.
WHAT SHOULD I BUY?
So much more than clothing, electronics and panda souvenirs, Beijing is a shoppers' haven for the exquisite. Scour stalls and stores for quality silks and qipao (traditional dress), and delight in dainty glass snuff bottles painted inside or out with caricatures, calligraphy and landscapes.
MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE PLACES?
As well as those magnificent ancient sites, Beijing's modern architecture is extraordinary. Created for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Bird's Nest or Beijing National Stadium and the 'soap bubble' covered National Aquatics Centre or Water Cube are definitely worth a post when they're aglow at night. So is the titanium and glass Giant Egg, or National Centre for the Performing Arts, that's home to world-class opera, ballet and theatre.
Wangfujing Pedestrian Street is a narrow alley lined with department stores, malls, stalls and small restaurants selling every conceivable Chinese snack – with an emphasis on the creepy crawly.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
Whether it's your final destination or a stopover on the way to Europe, Air China, Air New Zealand's alliance partner, offers non-stop flights from Auckland to Beijing.