Ah Beijing, Beijing…a place that many of us expats know and have come to love. For all of us who call this wondrous and chaotic city our home, we also claim our favorite residential areas of the city as well. Each district of Beijing is distinct so choosing a place to live can be difficult. It’s hard to say which location is best for expats to live because everyone is so convinced that their area is the best. For those moving here, or thinking of changing the locations of their humble abodes, we have put together a list of the Top 5 preferred locations by Beijing expats.
When trying to find an apartment in Beijing, start by researching the area: consider location, price, and proximity to the subway. An hour long commute to work in the morning can put even the most cheery of morning people into a fluster as they sit in traffic in a taxi on the 2nd ring or are smashed into a subway car with the rest of Beijing. Remember that Beijing is bigger than it looks on a map. If you work in Guo Mao, weigh the benefits and disadvantages of that perfect apartment that you found in Wudaokou, which will inevitably result in an hour or more commute in the morning.
To help you decide where to live we have asked various expats who live in Beijing. According to them, here is a quick breakdown of the top 5 most popular areas with expats living in Beijing:
1) Guo Mao and the Central Business District
The CBD gloats in all its new architecture and the new CCTV tower looms impressively over Chaoyang’s Central Business District, home to Jian Wai SOHO and Guo Mao. Many new and a bit more pricy apartments are here within a short subway ride of many Western company high-rise buildings. The whole area has a very metropolitan city feel and it’s as if you can see for yourself how China has opened itself up to the world when looking around the area at the towering Western companies and enormous Chinese banks. Expats like the convenience of the Wal-Mart there and also the Jenny Lou’s foreign food store.
The area around Sanlitun, is lined with smaller buildings, both Chinese and Western restaurants, and with the newly constructed bustling Village area finished before the Olympics, it provides ample shopping choices and culinary delights. It’s a great place to walk around and many people who initially move here never leave. There are Western grocery stores like April Gourmet and Jenny Lou’s and tailors behind Ya Show Market. The Village has lots of restaurants and shops as well. Probably one of the most popular and lively districts in Beijing because of several hot areas for young professional expats, Sanlitun aims to provide a bit of everything. It’s lively, central and conveniently located in proximity to other areas like Guo Mao and Gu Lou.
3) Gu Lou/Llama Temple:
The areas around Gu Lou and Llama Temple carry visions of “Old China,” with intricate alleys of hutongs, fruit vendors, and elderly men playing cards. The hutongs of Beijing carry a distinctive Chinese feel far away from the modernity and commerce of newly constructed Beijing. This area is best known for Houhai, a scenic but touristy hot spot, and numerous home-style Chinese restaurants and hip bohemian tiny bars on Nanluoguxiang, where Beijing’s counter culture drinks coffee and drinks beer from hutong bar rooftops in warmer months. Hutongs vary greatly in size, quality, and price but for many, the romantic image of the hutong garden in the summer amongst labyrinth alleys leave many expats remembering why China had lured them there in the first place.
4) Haidian District:
Haidian District, specifically Wudaokou, is host to notorious student communities with thriving universities and an international feel. Restaurants and shopping are limited but Wudaokou is known for its musical venues which are notorious for hosting some of Beijing and China’s best bands. The apartments in this area are pricier than some other areas of Beijing simply due to the extreme numbers of foreigners inhabiting them. Notably, students have little trouble finding housing in this area and appreciate the social atmosphere. There are several popular restaurants like Pyro Pizza, Lush, and La Bamba, which have nightly specials and a truly international student crowd.
Photo: Andrea Hunt
A prized area during the Olympics for water sports, Shunyi area is popular among expat families who move to Beijing and hailed for its healthy air quality. Though far from the city center and more expensive, it is greener and resembles what many expats consider an urban suburbia.
Naturally, there are many other areas but this briefly highlights the most popular areas where expats look to reside. Ask around, read the forums. It’s best to only rent in Beijing once you are here. Plan to stay in a hotel for a bit if you plan to move here if your company doesn’t provide you with an apartment. The classifieds are the best place to start searching for your new home.
These are where most expats have told us they prefer to live. There are obviously some that aren’t mentioned simply because this list only highlights the top 5. The areas of Wangjing and also Chaoyang Park are also popular so ask around before you make any decisions. Weigh in all the factors before making your choice because remember that you will be signing a lease which will obligate you for a certain term of residence. Wherever you decide to live in Beijing, most expats agree that this is one of the most exciting places to be in China because it is constantly in transition. Areas like Guo Mao and Sanlitun are in constant change and buildings seem to sprout up overnight. These areas might be exciting for some or too chaotic for others.
Wherever you choose to live in Beijing, remember, as Joyce Maynard points out, “A good home must be made, not bought.”
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