© Koka Sexton
After seven years of eagerly counting down, Beijing has waved goodbye to the 2008 Olympic Games. The Chinese capital is getting accustomed to its new status as a post-Olympic city, but the USD20 billion invested to make the Games a success will have a lasting legacy for visiting tourists.
New facilities, hotels, restaurants, shopping and transport options should enhance the travel experience as Beijing seeks to cash-in on its enhanced global profile.
Since March 2008, airline passengers have had to reorient themselves on arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport. Augmenting its two existing terminals is the cavernous new Terminal 3. Designed by London-based architect Norman Foster – who also designed Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok, on which T3 is clearly modeled – the world’s largest terminal functions largely as a self-contained airport. It serves both international and domestic flights, though it shares the same PEK airport code with its terminal brothers.
Both Terminal 3 and the two older airport terminals are linked to downtown Beijing by the high-speed ABC (Airport Beijing City) train, which opened just before the Games. The journey to/from Dongzhimen station takes just 18 minutes, and costs RMB25 (USD3.65).
Beijing’s major tourism attractions – such as the Forbidden City, Wangfujjing Shopping Street and the Drum and Bell Towers were all spruced up and repainted before the Olympics. Two more popular sites to receive a makeover were the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, both of which will soon also feature a boutique hotel. The luxurious Aman at the Summer Palace hotel is slated to open this Fall, while the 46-room first phase of the Temple of Heaven property, operated by Taj Hotels, is set for completion in 2009, with 60 more rooms to be added in 2010.
Several new Beijing hotels have opened their doors in recent months. Top picks include the contemporary-style, 255-room Hilton Wangfujing Beijing, situated adjacent to the main Wangfujing Shopping Street; and the 99-room Opposite House, an artsy boutique hotel at Sanlitun, between the Worker’s Stadium and Chaoyang Park. U.S. President George Bush and his family chose another new hotel, the 550-room Westin Chaoyang, for their Olympic stay.
Now boasting 258 rooms and 102 suites, the St Regis Beijing, a long-standing favorite of corporate travelers, reopened prior to the Games after an extensive seven-month, USD27 million revamp.
Two exciting new hotels are ready to open this Fall. The 237-room Park Hyatt Beijing, marks the mainland China debut of Hyatt’s upper-tier brand, and is located on the top floors of the 66-storey Park Tower on Jianguomenwai Dajie – with stunning views over the Chinese capital. Across town, the 110-room Hotel G is a sleek and sultry boutique property, and the sibling to Hollywood’s Hotel Roosevelt. Look out in Spring 2009 for Mandarin Oriental, a 201-room luxe hotel located in the new cultural and performing arts center adjunct to the stoaring CCTV Tower.
The visual legacy of the 2008 Olympics is undoubtedly the capital’s suite of new architecture dotted across its vast urban landscape. Clients will undoubtedly wish to visit the 91,000-seat Bird’s Nest National Stadium and adjacent Water Cube Aquatics Center, located at the Olympic Green north of the city. Both venues are accessible via a new subway line.
Back in the downtown area, the Office of Metropolitan Architecture’s stunning CCTV Tower, dubbed “the glass pants” building for its unusual twin-legged appearance, is already one of the city’s most photographed attractions. Further west, just behind Tiananmen Square, sits Paul Andreu's controversial National Theater for the Performing Arts. Widely dubbed as “the Glass Egg,” this domed building will host a year-round program of music, dance and theatrical performances.
During the Games, art tourists flocked to the 798/Dashanzi art district (www.798space.com). This vast compound of former industrial factories has been converted into the hub of China’s white-hot contemporary arts scene, with scores of galleries and studios artists. New arts centers are opening up across the city, notably the Today Art Museum (www.todayartmuseum.com), which exhibits boundary-pushing Chinese art in a former brewery building. The under-construction second phase will bring both local and international contemporary art galleries to downtown Beijing.
The Olympics also saw the soft opening of Legation Quarter (www.legationquarter.com), an upscale dining and entertainment district near Tiananmen Square. Housed in a series of revamped heritage buildings that once comprised the American Legation, it features world-class fine dining, including Maison Boulud a Pekin, the first venture by New York-based French chef, Daniel Boulud; and Ristorante Sadler, by Milan-based, two Michelin-starred Italian chef Claudio Sadler.
Travelers with time and money to spare might wish to venture beyond the city limits. On the grassy plains of Shunyi – a 30-minute drive from downtown Bejing – is Green T House Living (www.green-t-house.com/living.html). Created by celebrated Beijing-based musician JinR, the first phase, a Zen-themed upscale restaurant with all menu items incorporating green tea as an ingredient, opened in 2006.
In Fall this year, this peacefully bucolic 15,000 square meter white courtyard will add a contemporary-style Chinese tearoom, plus the piece de resistance: a Bath-house and Villa retreat. Definitively celeb-friendly, the new retreat will feature two loft-style guest rooms, a giant video wall, fully equipped kitchen, an outsized oval-shaped tea bath cut into the slate floor, and a top-deck 20-person Jacuzzi with views over the plains to the outline of the Chinese capital in the distance.