Beijing holds a special place in my heart because I first spent 3 months in the city as an exchange student in 2003. It was my first time staying away from home and I would always fondly remember the numerous walks to nearby eateries for delicious local food, to the Cashbox KTV, or to the bookstores where books and CDs were cheap compared to back home.
After my exchange programme ended, the next time I stepped foot into the city was post the Olympics. Beijing had undergone a massive transformation by then – the traffic became congested, the air felt muskier, there were more English signage in the town area.
There was also the 798 Art Zone , which garnered more public attention over the past decade and was not prominent when I was a student in Beijing. Other than the usual Forbidden Palace and the Great Wall, I would recommend visitors to Beijing to set aside some time for 798 too.
Also known as Dashanzi Art District, this was previously an industrial area supported by the Russians and designed by East Germany. The factories closed down in the 1980s after political reforms. This area was eventually rented out to independent artists and designers and gradually became gentrified to an artistic area and creative cluster of Beijing.
The areas is littered with artistic surprises. Amidst the dark solemn industrial backdrop, you would spot a tongue-in-cheek sculpture or art installation nearby. Talk about the perfect blend of history and modern art!
The district is also home to many independent art galleries. You could spend an afternoon gallery hopping and indulge in the world of contemporary art.
The entire zone is huge and there are many areas to explore. You may also wish to factor in time to relax in one of the hipster cafes, and time to browse and shop at the creative shops. I would recommend visitors to spare about half a day (and a fully-charged camera) in the 798 Art Zone.
Beijing 798 Art Zone (798艺术区)
Juixianqiaolu, Chaoyang District, Beijing. 北京酒仙桥路