Beijing By Night
The best things to do at night in Beijing…
No matter your preference, modern or traditional, be it bars, performance art, acrobatics and Kung Fu shows, music - live or traditional or the opera - and the inevitable karaoke bars, Beijing by night isn't the quiet nocturnal wasteland it was under the former regime.
In the recent past, government and businesses have geared themselves towards making money around the clock, making the city a much more exciting place to be both day and night.
Traditional music venues, bars and even sports venues are great places to visit as a spectator or participant and will show you the other light-hearted side of the bustling city.
The nightlife in this city is growing rapidly to keep up with the demand from locals and tourists for more entertainment options in the evenings, as found in other international 24 hour cities.
Bars & Nightclubs
Beijing nightclubs and bars are usually open from 8pm to around 2-3 am.
The bars and nightclubs are often, but not always, clustered around specific night-time districts. While some areas are bustling 24 hours a day, there are specific bar streets that see their main activity in the evenings and are geared towards live and traditional music, karaoke, or just simply socialising with friends, drinking and enjoying the atmosphere.
Spas & Massages
Chinese massage has a 2,000 year history and focuses on unblocking energy meridians and relaxing and energising muscles and the body, so the massages you get here are legal and shouldn't be confused with the types of massage you find in some kinds of classifieds.
Services that come to your hotel room to offer massage come with a "no sex" warning. Going to the spa and massage venues though, are a great way to see the city by night and will inevitable offer you a better experience as these venues have specialised equipment in the form of massage beds, saunas and may extend their services to traditional medicinal forms like 'cupping' and gua sha - a form of skin scraping.
Many locals use the spas and massage parlours regularly to promote relaxation and good health. The massage services can be found at any of several spas and massage centres open well into the night and range from foot to full-body massages.
There is a range of facilities - from the specialised Liangzi Massage Centre which has facilities for all manner of fitness, healthcare and relaxation, to Hanfangzhou Massage Centre - specialising in "Hanfang", a Chinese herbal medicine that apparently has amazing healing capability.
Possibly a local art form not really indulged by westerners, except when they make a point of going to specific shows, Chinese acrobatics are certainly something that you should witness. This highly specialised and meticulous practice ranks amongst the world's finest demonstration of its skill, and it's available to watch every evening in Beijing at a number of venues.
The art form goes back more than three thousand years and combines operatic performance, traditional music, dance, in striking costumes, all set to exotic stage designs. During the Qin and Han Dynasties two and a half thousand years ago, acrobats developed a repertoire of gymnastic feats called "the show of a hundred tricks" and this continued to evolve into the performances you see in modern Beijing.
One of the best places to see these shows is at the Wansheng Theatre, 95, Tianqiao Market, Xuanwu District at 19:15 nightly and includes such spectacular feats like spitting and eating fire, swallowing swords, pole walking, shows of horsemanship, rope walking and other rope acts, along with some specifically Chinese theatrical feats.
Beijing Opera is a specific evolution of traditional Chinese or "Oriental Opera", incorporating a range of dramatic forms and goes back at least 160 years, holding a profuse repertoire of performers and performances.
The nature of the operatic performances - and dispel any ideas you may have of opera based on western classical opera - is a special artform integrating traditional stories and literature, performed to music, incorporating aria, dramatic acting performance and special masks and painted faces.
Must-Try Evening Venues
The Tianqiao (Overbridge) Area
Locals and tourists alike agree that the Tianqiao Area (Overbridge Area) is a must visit location for a great evening out in Beijing. This has been a favourite stop since 1271 in the time of the Yuan Dynasty so it has an age-old reputation to uphold, as the cradle of Chinese folk entertainment, art and culture. It's said to be one of the places acrobatics, music and folk theatre were developed over hundreds of years.
Situated at No.113 in Beiwei Lu, Xuanwu District are two of the more popular venues - the Tianqiao Theatre and Tianqiaole Tea House (the name means Happy Overbridge). While the theatre offers contemporary art forms and performances of song, music and dance, the Tianqiaole Tea House offers the age old traditional arts of opera, martial arts performances and acrobatics, all of which are quite spectacular in terms of elaborate costumes and fine-tuned performances.
Luoguoxiang Bar Street
This district also goes back to the Qing Dynasty and was once the hangout of the rich and famous of the era. During the government's refurbishment and revival of the Hutong area, this district established a number of new bars and restaurants and renovated some of the older establishments.
This bar street is a great place to get a sense of the 'old' Beijing for both the thousands of local patrons and tourists that frequent the area nightly.
Some of the popular bars and eateries worth visiting include Laowu Bar, the curiously named Pass By Bar for travellers, Hongtongr Bar, and 16 MM Bar.
Houhai Bar Street
Probably because of its spectacular setting, bordered by Shichahai Lake and Beijing Hutong (water wells), this beautiful setting is home to the bars and dining spots alongside Houhai lake and is very popular with tourists.
Offering a range of evening activities such as live music, jazz performances and social or romantic dinner venues, the bars in this district are always busy and bustling with locals and tourists.
Some of the bars of note in the district are No Name Bar, Jiading Fang Bar, Houhai NO-5 Bar, Blue Lotus Bar, Amber Bar and the romantic Qiyue Qiriqing Bar.