Foreign-run five-star hotels offer the cleanest and best-equipped fitness centers and swimming pools for those desperate to work out. Most locals can't afford this, and head for the parks -- which were off-limits to the common folk in Imperial times -- early in the morning to practice taijiquan or ballroom dancing, or walk the bird (walking the dog is prohibited during daylight hours). At night, Beijing's undersize canines emerge, along with seniors dancing (waddling, really) and beating drums to the rhythm of rice-planting songs (yang ge).
Activities A To Z
Bowling (Baolingqiu) -- With bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label and French perfume readily traced, and visits to "karaoke" clubs easily photographed, the favorite way to curry favor with a Chinese official is . . . bowling. During the 1990s, more than 15,000 alleys were built, many in Beijing. The biggest and most fun place to bowl is 24-hour Gongti Yibai at Gongti Xi Lu 6 (just south of the west gate of the Worker's Stadium), with 100 lanes, thumping music, and flashing video games to bring in the kids (tel. 010/6552-2688; ¥30 per game).
Golf (Gao'erfuqiu) -- If playing golf in a region desperately short of land and water doesn't bother you, then try negotiating the water hazards of Beijing International Golf Club (Beijing Guoji Gao'erfu Julebu; tel. 010/6076-2288), northwest of town near the Ming Tombs. Eighteen holes including caddie fees cost ¥800 during the week, rising to ¥1,400 on weekends.
Ice-Skating (Liubing) -- Beijing has superb outdoor ice-skating in the winter at Bei Hai Gongyuan, Qian Hai, and the Summer Palace. Skate-rental outfits charge about ¥20, but you might not find boots that fit. Even more popular in winter are "ice cars" (bing che), box sleds propelled by ski poles. Warnings about the thickness of ice sheets apply -- global warming makes for a shorter skating season each year. Beijing's largest skate rink is Le Cool, Guomao Liubing Chang (tel. 010/6505-5776), in the underground shopping center that connects Traders Hotel to China World Hotel. Open Monday through Friday from 10am to 9pm, Saturday from 10am to 10pm, and Sunday from 10am to 7:30pm. The rink charges ¥30 for 90 minutes from 10am to 9pm, ¥40 from 6 to 10pm, and ¥50 on Saturday and Sunday.
Kite-Flying (Fang Fengzheng) -- Flying kites in China began at least 2,000 years before they were seen in Europe. The humble kite has been used in the sport of kite fighting, and even as a device to frighten enemy troops. But most locals fly kites peacefully, particularly at Tian'an Men Square (where you can rent kites) or in parks such as Ri Tan Gongyuan. You can purchase kites at several markets; good selections are available at Guanyuan Shichang and on the fourth floor of Yaxiu Fuzhuang Shichang.
Table Tennis (Ping Pong Qiu) -- Every community center in Beijing has a ping-pong table with willing opponents. It's an excellent way to meet locals, but humiliating when your conqueror is a generation or two older than you. There's a Ping Pong Club (mostly Chinese-speaking, but who needs to talk during ping-pong?) at Peking University (tel. 010/6261-1188).
Taijiquan -- Tai chi practitioners can visit any park at daybreak, and enjoy the thrill of practicing with hundreds of others. The Chinese Culture Center has a regular course in English.
Yoga (Yujia) -- The Yoga Yard, Gongti Lu 17 (6/F, above Bodhi; tel. 010/6413-0774; www.yogayard.com), offers hatha yoga classes for all levels.
While Beijing is fascinating, it is not relaxing. A slew of hotel spas have opened recently, including the Ritz-Carlton, Financial Street spa (tel. 010/6601-6666). The signature Treasure Island treatment (¥1,127) is 90 minutes of bliss. The Chi Spa at the Shangri-La Beijing (tel. 010/6841-2211) offers Tibetan-style treatments in a dimmed, meditative environment. Another choice for unwinding is the St. Regis Spa (tel. 010/6460-6688, ext. 2745). One of the best values in town and a favorite with expats is Bodhi (tel. 010/6417-9595; www.bodhi.com.cn) at Gongti Bei Lu 17 (opposite the north gate of the Workers' Stadium). A full-body massage before 5pm costs as little as ¥78 per hour from Monday to Thursday and includes complimentary food and beverages. Open 11am to midnight. Traditionally, massage was a profession reserved for the blind. Experience mangren anmo (blind massage) at the friendly Lesheng Mangren Baojian Anmo Zhongxin, Dengshikou Xi Jie 32 (tel. 010/6525-7532, ext. 3201; daily 11am-midnight), on the second floor of Donghua Fandian, a long block west of the Crowne Plaza in Wangfujing. A 1-hour massage costs ¥88.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.