Much of Beijing is bursting with shopping opportunities, although there are a few areas commonly identified as the key shopping zones. These are destinations where shopping and commercial activity is not only incidental but the primary focus. Locals and tourists alike frequent Wangfujing Dajie, in Dongcheng, a prestigious pedestrian street lined with stores and smaller malls selling midrange brands just west of Oriental Plaza. For more eclectic clothes and gifts, the nearby hutong of Nanluoguxiang is full of small boutiques. Xidan Beijdajie in Xincheng is where the masses come to shop. This street is lined with big malls that feature Western brands at prices lower than the expat enclave of Sanlitun. Chaoyang is home to the swankiest malls in town, especially in Guamo and Sanlitun, although shops of all kinds are pervasive across the district. For a more traditional Chinese shopping experience, try the southern districts of Chongwen and Xuanwu.
Dongcheng is the heart of tourist Beijing and consequently has been the primary shopping area for visitors. However, the area has evolved into a popular shopping destination for locals and expat residents as well. Many of the old hutongs have been demolished for larger developments, including malls, and many of the remaining ones have been turned into boutiques and cafes. Dongcheng’s defining mall is Oriental Plaza, an enormous shopping complex and a true city within a city, complete with its own ‘streets’, which, along with the Peninsula Beijing Shopping Arcade, compete for high-end shoppers. Wangfujing Dajie is the main outdoor shopping drag, and the stores that line the pedestrian-friendly street are bustling on weekends. The old hutong Nanlouguxiang has evolved into the center of Beijing’s bohemian life, a credit to the area’s ability to maintain traditional architecture while attracting top local clothing designers and other eclectic entrepreneurs. Dongcheng is also littered with shops selling curios of varying degrees of interest, and it’s one of the best parts of town to pick up foreign language books and magazines. Generally, Dongcheng is a pleasant and rich shopping experience, a well-proportioned mix of the old and the new, and of the local and the foreign.
The vast Chaoyang District is undoubtedly the best for Beijing shopping. It houses the fanciest malls, some of the best markets, bookstores, shoe stores, electronics, and housewares. There are several shopping zones, although the most of the highlights are around Sanlitun and Guamo. Sanlitun boasts what are arguably the two most popular malls for expats in Beijing: Sanlitun Village, which offers prominent Western brands and China’s first Apple store, and Sanlitun Yashow Clothing Market, popular for its range of brands and Western sizes. The legendary Bookworm bookstore is nearby, and housewares, DVDs and beauty products are plentiful. Guamo, anchored by the China World Shopping Mall and The Place, is constantly abuzz with shoppers. This area is also the home of the six-storey Silk Market, the most popular spot in Beijing to cashmere and silk. Besides the Apple Store in Sanlitun, Chaoyang’s computer and electronics options include the Bainaohui Computer Shopping Mall, Tom Shop, and Wonderful Electronic Shopping Mall. Further out, the 798 Art District in Lido is the one of the best places to shop for local art, and there are a few interesting boutiques in between the galleries. Overall, despite Chaoyang’s size, you’re never too far away from good shopping
Chongwen and Xuanwu
If you are tired of Western malls and want to shop for things you can’t find at home, explore Beijing’s southern districts of Chongwen & Xuanwu. Chongwen’s Qianmen Dajie was given a facelift and promoted for the Beijing Olympics with the hope of manufacturing a replica of Nunluogu Xiang. This hasn’t happened, although there are two markets that warrant a trip down to Chongwen. The Hongqiao Pearl Market is home to a huge range of pearls, not to mention a mass clutter of accessories. The Panjiayuan Antiques Market is the best in Beijing, and meandering here can easily consume half a day. Xuanwu’s Liulichang is Beijing’s main antique street, even if the antiques themselves are mostly fakes. The street is worth a visit for its quaint, village-like vibe, friendly atmosphere (apart from pushy sales staff) and interesting art shops. Xuanwu is also home of the Mailiandao Tea Market, which in reality is the world’s largest tea party – an experience not to be missed. The Cathay Bookshop is worth visiting for its color art books about Chinese painting, and if you’re in the area, definitely visit Tongrentang, a Chinese Traditional Medicine Shop that has been peddling pills and potions since 1669. Traditional doctors are available for immediate consultations.