You’ve just landed in Beijing after an almost 14-hour flight. Your legs feel like Jell-O. You have no idea what time it is—either in China’s capital or back in New York. But you have more than eight hours until your next flight. It’s time to escape the airport.
Until a few years ago, your escape wouldn’t have been possible. You would have been stuck in uncomfortable seats, eating fast food, and watching state-run television for hours. But in 2013, the Chinese government announced the beginning of 72-hour, visa-free layovers for tourists traveling through Beijing and Shanghai. Other cities soon followed. So with the former paperwork nightmare lifted, travelers started planning, instead of avoiding, connecting flights through China.
With eight hours, you don’t have enough time to travel to the Great Wall of China, but you have plenty of time to explore the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven. After storing your luggage with your airline and riding the Airport Express subway to Dongzhimen Station—taking a cab through the notorious gridlock would eat up too much of your free time—you start in the Forbidden City. The palace was the home of emperors from the Ming through Qing dynasties for hundreds of years. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a museum, actually the most visited museum in the world. So after seeing only a fraction of its massive grounds, you decide to leave. The clock is ticking.
Unfortunately, the Temple of Heaven will be just as crowded. Since you’re so exhausted, you could use a sightseeing break anyway. A cup of tea or maybe a cocktail sounds wonderful. It’s even better when you don’t have to choose.
You arrive at Long Jing, in the popular Sanlitun shopping area, to find a modern teahouse that serves more than 100 types of tea. While black tea brews in a glass kettle, you take in the minimal space. Colorful art hangs on the walls. Buckets overflow with green plants. While glass windows overlook a small courtyard. It’s the perfect place to relax or read during the afternoon.
At five o’clock on the nose, the vibe starts to change, though. A panel swings open to reveal a stocked bar. The lights are dimmed. The mellow music now has a house beat. Even the menu changes. Tea is still available, but it’s now part of craft cocktails. An Old Fashioned is made with traditional oolong tea. A Whiskey Sour incorporates bold lapsang souchong tea. While a Jasberry features jasmine-infused gin mixed with strawberries. You pick the sweet-smelling Jasberry, since you only have time for one cocktail, and fall back onto the red couch. You’ll have to wait to try the others during your next Beijing layover.