June 1, 2019 – Beijing is home to some incredibly well-preserved and beautiful historical monuments. But one thing that we think the city doesn’t get enough credit for is how amazing much of the modern architecture is. From the “Bird’s Nest” of Olympic Park to the National Theater, Beijing is home to some architectural treasures that are often overlooked. Here’s our guide to the buildings that we think warrant a visit – and a photo or two!
SOHO Galaxy Mall
The SOHO buildings – yes, there are lots! – are all over China, with Beijing alone having nearly 20 of the office building meets shopping centers around the city. SOHO Galaxy is a fascinating architectural wonder, with the striped white, glass and metal rising and dipping along the skyline like futuristic beehives, right in the heart of the city. There are two SOHO malls of this style in Beijing, the SOHO Galaxy near Dongsishitiao and the SOHO Galaxy in Wangjing.
The Beijing InterCONTINENTAL Hotel
SOHO makes our list again, as it is attached to a gorgeous high-end hotel that lights up the night sky. Right across from the mega-popular TaiKoo Li mall in ex-pat favorite Sanlitun, the hotel lights up in a brilliant honeycomb pattern. The lights change colors, turning into beautiful gradients, and lighting up with messages like I Heart Beijing! There are a few great rooftop patios nearby that provide a great view at night during the warmer months.
The CCTV Building
The famous – or should we say infamous? – Beijing building known more colloquially as “The Pants”. When the design was unveiled, it was extremely controversial, with many Chinese people hating the building. They felt that it was a joke, too ugly, too silly. But the CCTV building, located in the fashionable Guomao/CBD neighborhood, truly contributes to a more unique Beijing skyline. The building is a pretty cool architectural feat of glass, concrete and steel. There are many rooftop bars in the CBD area that will allow you to get a good look at this admittedly weird building – but we like it! (Well most of us do, anyway.)
Beijing National Stadium, aka Bird’s Nest
Though it has perhaps been underused for its real purpose since the end of the 2008 summer Olympics, the Beijing National Stadium is a real architectural feat. Mesh and metal weave around the stadium to give it the appearance of a bird’s nest, and combined with the slick interior, it still manages to attract crowds year round. The great news is that visitors can enter the venue for 50 RMB (under $10 USD)! And with Beijing hosting the Olympics again in 2022, the venue will have another chance to be the center of attention. We recommend exploring the entire Olympic Park during your trip, it’s huge and full of locals using the public space to outside!
National Library of China (NLC)
The National Library of China has a south area, a north area, a children’s library, and an ancient books library, each of which are equally great to take in! The NLC is a mix of traditional and modern architecture. Bonus: The library is located near Beihai park which means there is no shortage of places nearby to stop and take some other photos.
We think the real showstopper is the inside of the north area – the outside reminds us of books stacked together on their sides, while the inside is open and airy, with a glass exterior providing excellent natural lighting. The three-tiered square on the inside ensures that you’ll never feel claustrophobic in this library. Other bonus: This is one of the largest library collections in the world (probably more of a bonus if you can read Chinese, but also great if you just enjoy the smell of old books.)
Beijing National Aquatics Center
Known more casually as the “water cube”, the Beijing National Aquatics Center was also originally built for the 2008 Olympics. It looks like a big blue square of soap bubbles, which is exactly the principle it was designed on, the water cube is a steel building covered in hundreds of bubble-esque membranes. It looks amazing on a sunny day, and at night is lit up. The inside is bright and attractive, as the membranes on the ceiling allow for sunlight to filter through and provide a lot of natural light.
National Grand Theatre Beijing
Another building with an apt colloquial name is the National Grand Theater – known to locals as the Giant Egg. Located centrally, the theater is near several other tourist spots like Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum and the Forbidden City, making it easy to get to by subway. A huge titanium and glass dome surrounded by a man-made water feature, it appears to float on the water as you approach. It is massive, at 212 meters by 144 meters and 41 meters tall! Entry into the theater requires you go through a hallway that actually goes under the manmade lake on the north side.
Though this may not be the most famous building in Beijing, it is absolutely stunning and you can’t help but notice it as you make your way past it on the way to the Forbidden City or Tiananmen Square. And as much as we loved the outside, we liked seeing the inside even more. The grand theatre is an architectural marvel of clean lines and curves, and for a paltry 60 RMB entrance fee, you can wander around to your heart’s content, even on days where there are no shows playing, and enjoy the peace and quiet against a beautiful backdrop.
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