Important things happen in Beijing. You can feel this everywhere in the city of nearly 20 million people.
There are the majestic imperial buildings, perfectly preserved in their gold and blood-red, sharing the same sidewalk with Soviet masterpieces designed to intimidate.
In the last few years, before and after the Beijing 2008 Olympics, modern wonders of glass and chrome plucked from some architect's whimsical imagination have appeared.
It all makes Beijing's cityscape a study in superlatives; the grand scale of the city planning a campaign for headlines.
And yet, there is a Beijing that is growing organically on a human scale, particularly within the narrow hutongs (tiny alleys that separate traditional courtyard homes).
Unique eateries, music venues and boutiques are birthing in these fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. You are never short of options when planning what to do in Beijing.
This adds up to a city of drama and juxtaposition. Visitors will return home with pictures of epic, historic monuments, and cute alleyway cats resting with elderly people in faded Mao suits.
To experience it all, here's where to start and what to do in Beijing.HotelsLuxury
The Aman at Summer Palace
If it was good enough for the Empress Dowager, it's good enough for you.
Aman’s 1.2-square-kilometers of polished clay floor tiles is the first word in imperial luxury.
The resort is a period Qing Dynasty structure of crisscrossing courtyards, halls and suites, unfolding symmetrically like a miniature Forbidden City.
Attached to the Summer Palace, where the Empress Dowager intended to retire, Aman is Beijing’s most expensive hotel.
Expect all the service and comforts “Aman junkies” take for granted: huge bathrooms, period furnishings, a packed program of tours and cultural events and seriously fine dining at Naoki Restaurant, which serves Japanese kaiseki cuisine.
Some distance from the city center, this one is designed for escape, not exploration.
1 Gongmenqian Lu, Summer Palace, near Tongqing Jie 颐和园宫门前街1号, 近同庆街; +86 10 5987 9999; rooms from RMB 4,000 (US$635); www.amanresorts.com
The Opposite House
High-end design meets functionality at The Opposite House.
The Opposite House is the city’s hippest address.
The work of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, this 99-room boutique hotel shows off modern Beijing's commitment to design and style.
White rooms accented with natural materials have a breezy, yoga-studio aesthetic. Even the bath tub is wooden.
Below ground is a stainless steel pool like something from Doctor Evil’s lair, though with no piranhas.
Punk, the hotel's nightclub, and Mesh, a lounge, pull in beautiful people nightly.
Not just a place to stay, The Opposite House is also what to do in Beijing.
The Village Building 1, 11 Sanlitun Lu, near Dongzhimenwai Dajie 三里屯路11号,三里屯Village1号楼, 近东直门外大街; +86 10 6417 6688; rooms from RMB 2,500 ($400); www.theoppositehouse.com
Langham Place Beijing Airport
Langham Place: First pit stop after landing.
The Langham Place Beijing Capital Airport turns the airport hotel on its head.
Although just a minute away from the international airport, this 372-roomer succeeds in being more than a place to pass out during a layover.
With playful contemporary Chinese art filling the hotel space, Langham Place has a cheeky, creative atmosphere. Appropriate, considering the hotel is just 20 minutes' drive from Beijing's 798 Art District.
If you have only a couple hours to spare between flights, it's worth hopping aboard one of the Langham's pink shuttle buses to get to the hotel and try the excellent dim sum at Ming Court.
1 Er Jing Lu, Terminal 3 Capital International Airport Beijing 首都国际机场三号航站楼二经路1号; +86 10 6457 5555; rooms from RMB 1,800 ($285); beijingairport.langhamplacehotels.comMid-range
Can still sense the tile factory remains here.
On the outskirts of Mutianyu village, this eco-conscious boutique retreat rests in the shadow of Beijing’s second most visited stretch of the Great Wall.
A former glazed-tile factory, it’s gone through a full makeover.
Floor-to-ceiling windows with Great Wall views have been installed in all guest rooms at ground level, but curtains are absent, so expect to rise with the sun (or use the eye shades provided).
Breakfast (included) features local bacon, freshly baked pastries and jams made with fruit from surrounding orchards.
A newly opened spa with pool, an outdoor Jacuzzi, sauna and treatment room has all wellness needs taken care of.
Beigou Village, near Mutianyu Great Wall 北沟村, 近慕田峪长城; +86 10 6162 6506; rooms from RMB 1,200 ($190);www.brickyardatmutianyu.com
Hutong chic at The Orchid.
A laid-back hotel in one of the city's most vibrant hutong neighborhoods, The Orchid offers a pampered way to experience local life in old Beijing.
From a trio of roof terraces you can catch sight of the famed Drum and Bell Towers looming over tiled rooftops.
Outside the front door is Baochao Hutong. Here, visitors can find typical sights and sounds of Beijingers going about their day in the cramped, crumbling courtyard houses.
The neighborhood is filled with good cheap eats, from streetside kebab stands to Yunan delicacies.
Or stay in -- the lobby bar has a well-curated wine list and potent locally brewed beer. Pretty soon everyone in the hotel's 10 guest rooms is well acquainted.
All rooms have an Apple TV set, goose-down beds and jars of high-grade tea.
65 Baochao Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, near Nanluoguxiang 鼓楼东大街宝钞胡同65号, 近南锣鼓巷; +86 10 8404 4818; rooms from RMB 680 ($110); www.theorchidbeijing.comBudget
Peking Yard (北平小院国际青年旅舍)
A cozy and friendly courtyard experience.
This upmarket hostel caters to the needs of today’s “flashpacker” tribe.
Housed in a handsome building in the middle of an old Beijing neighborhood, Peking Yard is all potted flowers and cozy modern furnishings with plenty of Western comforts.
If you're wondering what to do in Beijing, fellow guests here will likely be excited to share their ideas.
With pool table, Belgian beer, pizza and burgers, the lobby bar is the place to meet other travelers and compare Great Wall adventures.
There's a quiet garden in the back and a sun terrace with lounge chairs, a welcome sight after a day of sightseeing.
28 Wangzhima Hutong, near Dongsi Beidajie 汪芝麻胡同甲28号, 近东四北大街; +86 10 8404 8787; rooms from RMB 420 ($65);www.pekingyard.hostel.com