21 Beijing

PopulationMetro: 21,250,000
Come for the prosperity, stay for the profound sense of place.

Hack! Wheeze! Cough! Welcome to Beijing, a city that year after year lurked near the bottom of the list for air quality. This year, however, the Chinese capital city managed to sneak into the top 10 list for Place, air quality be damned.

Mind you, bad air does have a few upsides. At the Jing-A Brewery and Bar, one of the city’s few craft beer makers, the brew gets cheaper as the air gets worse. But while the intense pollution has mightily affected tourism numbers, those who brave it find a city of authentic, endlessly fascinating character—Beijing is #6 (up 11 spots from last year) in the world in our Place category despite the air, #7 for Neighborhoods & Landmarks, and #14 for Parks & Outdoor Activities (on a good day, we assume

Place 74
Product 48
Programming 15
People 9
Prosperity 94
Promotion 8

You can smell old Beijing by the sweet potatoes roasting on coal fires in hutong neighborhoods— traditional alleyways lined with courtyard homes. Stroll like a local in hutongs around the Lama Temple, the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in the city, in the Baochao Hutong, or the very old and sustainably rejuvenated Dashilar neighborhood.

Parks? The maze of parks and courtyards of the Forbidden City are full of visitors, but quieter green space can be found at the Summer Palace.

Temple of Heaven Ayrton Tang

Beijing is also #15 in the world in our Product category, which considers institutions, attractions and infrastructure along with airports and museums. Into this very mixed bag we’ll put Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, and the Mutianyu Great Wall, a bucket list attraction reasonably close to Beijing.

But the new Beijing Airport, its terminal designed by the late, great Zaha Hadid, will be an attraction unto itself. The 700,000 square foot terminal is set to open in 2019 and will enhance the city’s already enviable rankings for Airport Connectivity—currently #5 in the world. For a small taste of contemporary
resistance, stop by the Three Shadows Photography Art Center, the first Chinese gallery devoted to photography. Designed by the internationally revered Ai Weiwei, it’s autocratic China’s gift to the world.