the urbanist: beijing

Where the Locals Would Stay in Beijing If They Weren’t Local

Intercontinental Beijing Sanlitun. Photo: Lyiso Studio/Courtesy of Intercontinental/LyisoStudio

From quirky options hidden down winding lanes to minimalist art-adorned hotels, the Chinese capital has superb — and superbly varied — overnight options. We spoke to three particularly well-placed locals to get hotel ideas for a variety of budgets.


The Orchid. Photo: Courtesy of the Orchid

The Orchid (from $110)
“This is hands down the best boutique hotel in the hutongs. The authenticity of the locale coupled with creature comforts make it great value. The Canadian and Tibetan owners are seriously laid back, which translates to a chilled atmosphere around the hotel that also reflects the vibe of the hutongs. Owner Joel Shuchat is a bit of a tech-head, which means high-speed internet — rare in the area — and an in-room media server full of movies and TV shows. The food is wonderful, too: a mix of Chinese and Israeli dishes often appears, and breakfast might be anything from American pancakes to Chinese porridge or shakshuka. But my favorite feature is the hotel’s beautiful terrace, which overlooks the surrounding rooftops and offers a clear shot of the majestic Drum and Bell Towers. Guests and locals gravitate here for summer sundowners.” —Jenny Jing, manager at specialist tour operator Bespoke Beijing

Shichahai Shadow Art Performance Hotel (from $71)
“This little-known hotel deep in the hutongs — charming residential lanes — that surround Houhai Lake is a treat, particularly if you have kids. The lobby is gorgeous, mixing contemporary design with traditional wooden lattice work, and has a typical Chinese shadow puppet theater as its centerpiece. A puppet master comes in daily for shows and afterward guests can take a closer look at the beautiful puppets, which are more like works of art than toys. The rooms are basic but clean and the staff are sweet, if lacking in English-speaking ability. The best part, though, is the fact that you can walk to the nearby lake in the early morning, when it’s at its best: alive with swimmers, chirping songbirds, and elderly folk practicing tai chi.”
—Jenny Jing


Chao. Photo: Eric Zhang/Courtesy of Chao

Chao (from $247)
“You know how you walk into some hotels and it’s bling in a tacky ‘Chinese karaoke’ style? This one is high-end in a well-designed way: understated, low-key with grays and blacks, earthy and cozy. Very mellow. The bar is the kind of place I’d take a date if I was cheating on my wife; the booths are partitioned, although they have a cool Japanese-style super-long bar top next to them. The jazz band that plays there every weekend is good, and the hotel gallery does lots of events. They even do film-festival screenings there.” —Marlon Ma, club night promoter

Vue (from $181)
“It’s like walking into a Japanese temple: the gardening, the Japanese-style plants, and some rabbit art pieces in the middle of it all. It’s quite unique; the décor and architecture is different from many other hotels you’ll see in Beijing. The visuals are fun and cool. It’s right by Houhai Lake — walk out of the hotel and you’re in the hutongs. The bar is good too, with a little Jacuzzi you can dip your feet into.” —Marlon Ma

The Opposite House (from $253)
“It’s designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and is super-futuristic, modern, and absolutely fashionable. When you walk in there’s a ‘wow’ factor when you look up in the atrium — all this good design and they display new art pieces in the lobby every three months. It’s in the perfect location in Sanlitun, next to the bar streets. The area is full of young professionals. I regularly go to the hotel’s Mesh bar. They have ‘throwback Thursday’ there with a disco theme: When you order a drink, you can write down the name of a song and it gets passed to the DJ. Their Beijing duck restaurant, Jing Yaa Tang, is good, too — fancy duck and fancy presentation. The rooms are beautiful and better designed than many other hotels, with hidden drawers, minimalistic style, and good use of space.” —Marlon Ma


The Rosewood. Photo: Durston Saylor/Courtesy of Rosewood/©Durston Saylor ‘14

The Rosewood (from $267)
“No other hotel in Beijing comes close in terms of balancing sophistication and cool factor. It’s chic, the service is very good, and there are so many goodies such as little chocolates and snacks in the rooms. You feel ensconced in luxury, and just want to roll around in the whole room. The food in the restaurants is amazing, too, so I often go to the hotel just for meals. The Chinese food at Country Kitchen is incredible and Bistro B is great — try the wagyu beef and foie gras burger. In MEI, their upstairs bar that has a great live band, try the praline chocolate dessert, but go for wine over their cocktails.” —Sara Jane Ho, owner of the finishing school Institute Sarita

Waldorf Astoria Beijing (from $266)
“Both the Waldorf and The Rosewood have the right mix of luxury, sexiness, and sophistication, although the food at The Rosewood is better. The Waldorf is far closer to the cultural sightseeing stuff such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. If you walk west from the hotel for about 20 minutes to Donghuamen Dajie, you can walk right into the Forbidden City and the moat surrounding it. Even at night, it’s very pretty. The Waldorf’s rooms feel silky and luxurious and plush. Also, I prefer small hotels where it doesn’t feel like everyone there is having a meeting; the Waldorf feels more boutique and the restaurants are cozy.” –Sara Jane Ho

Intercontinental Beijing Sanlitun. Photo: Lyiso Studio/Courtesy of Intercontinental/LyisoStudio

Intercontinental Beijing Sanlitun (from $293)
“It’s in one of the tallest buildings in Sanlitun and located right in center — the owners wanted to combine the hotel with nearby cool elements. In the attached Topwin building is Space One: a nightclub that gets the ‘Top 100’ list DJs. Then there’s The Roof, which as its name suggests is a cool rooftop bar. Also there’s Unico, which is a bar with more of a lounge vibe; the chefs there are hot and it’s all very ‘hashtag Instagram.’ The hotel’s gym is really clean and beautiful and has become quite the topic, and it’s close to other fun venues such as The Bookworm, Slow Boat Brewery, and The Taco Bar. Also, the hotel often seems to have deals on, making it more affordable than some similar hotels.” —Marlon Ma

Aman (from $409)
“In the east of Beijing you get a lot of expats and people who moved to the city from other parts of China. In the west you get the old Beijing families; it’s more local and for many of them, their getaway is the branch of Aman way out west near the Summer Palace. It’s a real oasis with lots of grass, but it’s not too big and the feel is very traditional. The whole experience there is about not being rushed, stepping back in time with traditional, almost temple-ish architecture, plus lots of tea. It feels true to local roots, with heritage.” —Sara Jane Ho

The Best Hotels in Beijing for Every Budget