Still relatively unfamiliar territory to many Beijingers despite being founded by prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Caochangdi is a hipster's paradise. The contemporary galleries are scattered around an unassuming Chinese area outside the fifth ring road that is off the beaten path, to say the least. When you get to the Caochangdi bus stop, it's not immediately apparent that you've managed to find Beijing's least commercial art district. Only in the past decade have galleries been opening up here, so it is far from the touristy, built up, forget-you're-in-China feel of 798.
Instead, what you experience is everyday Chinese life of a quiet area on the city's outskirts, with some minimalist yet exquisite galleries here and there. It's a bit difficult to navigate, but certainly manageable if you know a little bit about the layout. If you're planning a trip, it's probably better to have a general idea of the area before you go: zones A, B and D is where you'll most of the interesting venues. Also, keep in mind that most galleries are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
It's a lot faster to go by taxi than by public transportation (cab drivers generally know where Caochangdi is). If you're broke like me, however, there are multiple buses from the city – the 402, 418, 688, 909, 955, and 973 all go there. Get off at either the Caochangdi (草场地) stop or the Nangao (南皋) stop.
1) Zone A: Platform China, F2 Gallery, Three Shadows Photography Art Centre etc.
On the north side of Nangao Street you'll find Platform China, which shares a courtyard with a few other galleries and a coffee shop. Across from that is F2 Gallery, and up the way is Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, my favourite gallery of this zone. The Three Shadows courtyard has outdoor tables outside its cafe and gift shop, offering a nice break from the shuffling among galleries.
From Nangao bus stop, keep walking along the road and turn right at the large blue signs for galleries. Then follow the road around and you'll run into all the galleries.
From Caochangdi bus stop, go back the way you came to the Old Airport Side Rd and go right, until you see the big blue signs.
2) Zone B: White Space, Art Mia, Galerie Urs-Meile, Chambers Fine Art, Pekin Fine Art etc.
Finding Zone B is a bit more hectic, but well worth the effort. Here you'll find a lot more galleries in close proximity, including White Space, which I absolutely adored. The giant bright iridescent purple egg outside is impossible to miss against the white walls surrounding it, and the contrast continues when you walk inside. The name is, well, appropriate – the large amount of space around each piece along with the lighting makes it look like the endless whiteness they use in movies to portray the afterlife. It's a cool way to draw the focus into each individual work.
After White Space, make sure to hit up Art Mia, and then go across the courtyard to Shanghart. There you'll be happy to find comfortable couches to relax on and look through a book from their art library for a bit before taking off. Also in the area are Chambers Fine Art, Pekin Fine Art, and somewhat nearby is Galerie Urs Meile – all worth seeing, depending on how much time and energy you're planning to spend.
From Nangao bus stop, go back the direction you came and turn left at Nangao Street, then follow until you reach the Caochangdi bus stop. From Caochangdi bus stop, cross to the South side of Nangao Street and follow the little road around the bend and through the food street and eventually you'll find Galerie Urs Meile. After that, keep going down the same street until it ends at the back of the rest of Zone B. You can go right or left around the courtyard to its entrance and you'll find Pekin Fine Arts, Shanghart, Art Mia and White Space.
3) Zone D: Fodder Factory, Salt Horse Gang Cafe
Hungry? Head over to one of the delicious foreigner-friendly restaurants around here. If you're looking for some good Chinese food, try Fodder Factory for some traditional food done right, and wash it down with a coffee or an Erdinger. If it's Western food you're looking for, stop in to Salt Horse Gang Cafe.
This part's an easier find, located just off the corner of the Airport Expressway and Fifth Ring Road. From the Caochangdi bus stop, walk down the food street but instead of turning at Galerie Urs Meile, keep going straight.
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Keywords: Caochangdi area guide getting to Caochangdi Caochangdi art district Beijing art district art galleries Caochangdi
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