Cheap Travel: Free Things to do in Beijing

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Take a break in the Purple Bamboo Garden

Purple Bamboo Garden in the Haidian district is famous for its natural scenery. Boasting over 50 species of bamboo and thousands of plants, the garden is designed with the principle that “what is natural is the most beautiful.” In summer, the bamboo forests and lotus blossom, and the three lakes are picturesque as ever; while in the autumn red maple leaves cover the grounds. Join in on tai-chi practices, tuck yourself away under the moon gate bridge, and hop on a river canal cruise to the Summer Palace (starting from 10RMB per person).

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Explore alternative artwork along Jingmi Road

While Beijing is at the forefront of the art scene in China, there is one form of art that has yet to gain traction in the capital: graffiti. The best spot to explore the underground graffiti scene, with updates from current artists, is along the airport express corridor of Jingmi Road. Crowned the biggest graffiti wall in China, Jingmi Road runs for a kilometre and a half out of the city and is lined with a concrete wall hidden by woods, keeping the unsanctioned stretch of artworks safe.

3 / 5

Immerse yourself in the charming community of Caochangdi

The unassuming sibling of 798 Art Zone, artists and migrants alike thrive in Caochangdi. Most galleries are free to enter, and we highly recommend Pékin Fine Arts for its focus on contemporary Asian art and White Space for its nurturing of avant-garde up-and-coming artists. If you need a break from gallery hopping, there is loads of green space to unwind and mingle in with charming citizens of this “city-within-the-city”, and maybe even your favourite artists!

Tip: The best way to get to Caochangdi is by bus as the metro doesn’t reach this area and not all taxi drivers know the way. Most of the galleries are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays and are quite spread out from each other so plan your visit wisely with a map (available here).

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Stroll through colonial history at the Former Legation Quarter

The home to Beijing’s foreign embassies in the early 20th century, the Former Legation Quarter (Dong Jiaomin Xiang) is just a stone’s throw away from Tiananmen Square. Take a break from the tourist hub and explore this tree-lined hutong (alley) filled with old banks and embassies. Not only is it the longest hutong in the city, it is also the most significant collection of colonial architecture. Stop by Chi’en Men 23, built in the restored American Legation Compound, for a taste of the grand lifestyle residents used to live.

Tip: Some of the former legation buildings now house government offices where photos are not allowed, so be careful of where you point and shoot!

5 / 5

Help change the world at Civilian Mobile Library

Founded by Xu Dawei, an advertising executive, the Civilian Mobile Library aims to spread each book in the library to as many people as possible. Tucked away in a hutong near the awe-inspiring Yonghegong Lama Temple, you can leave with a book of your choice free of charge, as long as you pass it on when you’re done. Most of the books are purchased by Mr Xu himself to ensure that only quality works on subjects like business management and classic fiction pass through the library. Their English-language section is small, however, donations are accepted gratefully if you want to help them to grow!

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