A Guide to Beijing’s 798 Art DistrictJuly 24, 2017
798 Art DistrictWith over 12 years of Beijing living under her belt, founder of Bespoke Travel Company, Sarah Keenlyside, knows more than a thing or two about the Chinese capital. An avid supporter of the local creative scene, she cites factory-turned-art compound 798 Art District as her favourite place in the city. From offbeat galleries to secret urban retreats, here are Sarah’s 798 must-sees.
Hidden away at the ‘back’ of the sprawling complex (on the far eastern side), most visitors aren’t aware that Beijing’s Highline even exists, making it a fabulous escape from the hordes. This elevated stretch offers an epic outlook across the industrial landscape with its now-defunct factories and train line (see below) – it’s quite beautiful up there, in a rather raw way.
This gallery is perhaps the best example of the German Bauhaus design in the area. With its perfect saw tooth roof and imported East German factory equipment still rooted to the floor, it's a little museum in itself. Even better, the ceilings are still daubed with red propaganda slogans such 'Chairman Mao is the Sunshine In Our Hearts.'
Hands down the most impressive, lesser-known restaurant in the area. An ode to 798's industrial origins, you’ll find rows of old TV sets on the walls, kitsch 1950s flasks and an overarching grit-chic aesthetic. Succulent and spicy recipes hail from the Hunan province, and while they do have an English menu, most of the dishes are described in Chinese, so you’re better off enlisting a trusty tour guide or native speaker to navigate you through it all.
One of the best boutiques in the city thanks to its expert curation and focus on local artists and design talent. Pick up everything from sculptures by Sui Jianguo (one of 798's founding fathers) to quirky clothing, watches, notebooks, tomes and fun lifestyle kit.
With several international galleries consistently staging some of the best exhibits (PACE, Faurschou, to name a few) and more fabulous Bauhaus architecture, this is another slightly hard-to-find corner that’s well worth a visit. Keep your eyes peeled for the statue of the winged horse (or Cholima) that was erected to commemorate the visit of North Korea's Kim Il Sung in the factory's heyday.
The Old Train Station
After you’ve ticked off the coveted UCCA gallery, keep walking east and you'll suddenly stumble upon the remnants of a special 1950s extension to Beijing’s railway line, used to transport factory building materials from East Germany via Russia. The fascinating disused train tracks, station and carriages still remain in their original position today.
Want more? Bespoke organises tailor-made jaunts across the city.
798 Art District / 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu / Chaoyang / +86 10 5978 9798 / most galleries open 10am-6pm Tue-Sun / 798district.com