While the surroundings of the gilded tower of the Waldorf Astoria Beijing aren't exactly inspiring, the sea of people pouring into Wangfujing gives the neighborhood a lively feel. Opened in 2014, the Waldorf Astoria is undoubtedly angling for nouveau-riche Chinese—but the interior elegance is undeniable. The lobby is classic art deco, with traces of the orientalism that so fascinated the West during the early 20th century. Behind the glitzy copper finishings of the main complex is a Chinese-style courtyard that evokes the Beijing of bygone ages. It's not exactly historic, but it does offer a sense of hutong living without the grime.
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The Waldorf Astoria Beijing is just a five-minute walk from the throngs of tourists and brave shoppers of Wangfujing, a pedestrianized strip with food stalls and shiny malls selling all manner of Western luxury goods. There's no need to buy anything here if you're coming from the West (the prices are shockingly high due to import duties). Instead, head to Shuaifuyuan Road for the Tianjin-style stuffed bun shop Gou Bu Li. Also, check out the street snacks—delicious ones like lamb kebab, and frightening ones like scorpion on a stick.
Need to Know
Rooms: 176 rooms, 43 suites. From $399. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: At Brasserie 1893, grab a Waldorf salad with a Beijing twist—duck confit with a crispy layer of skin and candied walnuts. Other Western-style dinner options are punctuated by subtle Chinese flavors as well. By far the most popular in the hotel is the Cantonese restaurant Zijin Mansion. For an evening cocktail, head to the stately Peacock Alley, which brings Old World charm to the Far East. Spa and gym details: The Waldorf Astoria Beijing spa is reasonably priced for a five-star hotel in Beijing. A 90-minute body massage is $125. The fitness center has the latest equipment. Don't miss the indoor pool, in a darkened room surrounded by candlelight.
Who's it for: Big spenders who want to experience a bit of China without some of the accompanying headaches. The hotel attracts business and leisure travelers alike, and there is a concerted effort to attract rich Chinese families. Our favorite rooms: The Hutong Villa is spread out over several rooms, complete with a gorgeous Chinese-style study with shelves of antiques and curios. In warm weather, the second-floor balcony would be perfect for staring up (hopefully) at the blue skies, wondering how the downtown of this overwhelmingly massive city could be so quiet. Massage time: Get a Chinese-style massage here. The space is more relaxing than your streetside, white-tiled massage shop, and the treatments are half the price of the more popular Peninsula Hotel just across the street. The skill of the masseurs is top-notch. Reservations, for the time being, aren't necessary.