By Zoe Li, Raemin Zhang, Tom O'Malley, Sean Silbert , for CNN
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Elbows out and cameras up, folks, we're in Tiananmen Square.
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(CNN)Important things happen in Beijing. You can feel this everywhere in the city of nearly 20 million people.
There are the majestic imperial buildings, perfectly preserved in their gold and blood red, sharing the same sidewalk with Soviet masterpieces designed to intimidate.
In the years before and after the Beijing 2008 Olympics, modern wonders of glass and chrome have appeared.
It all makes Beijing's cityscape a study in superlatives; the grand scale of the city planning a campaign for headlines.
And yet, there's a Beijing that's growing organically on a human scale, particularly within the narrow hutongs, tiny alleys that separate traditional courtyard homes.
Unique restaurants, music venues and boutiques are opening in these fast-gentrifying neighborhoods.
You're never short of options when planning what to do in Beijing.
This adds up to a city of drama and juxtaposition.
Visitors return home with pictures of epic monuments and cute alleyway cats resting with elderly people in faded Mao suits.
Here's where to start and what to do in Beijing.
Did we mention the comp mini-bar?
Did we mention the comp mini-bar?
Few hotels capture the bustling energy of cosmopolitan Beijing like the Kerry Hotel.
Style and service runs through the veins of the downtown hotel.
Bright, airy rooms are equipped with space age bathroom equipment.
The list of amenities feels like what you'd get at a luxury resort.
Guests get complimentary fitness classes at the gym, complete with running track and sports courts.
Kids can romp on the slides and ball pit at the Adventure Zone playroom.
There's a deli, as well as a deluxe Peking duck restaurant.
Every night, award-winning bar Centro is packed with Beijing's glitterati kicking back over fashionable cocktails and live jazz.
The resort is a period Qing Dynasty structure of crisscrossing courtyards, halls and suites, unfolding symmetrically like a miniature Forbidden City.
Attached to the Summer Palace, where the Empress Dowager intended to retire, Aman is Beijing's most expensive hotel.
There's all the comforts "Aman junkies" take for granted: huge bathrooms, period furnishings, a packed program of tours and cultural events and fine dining at Naoki Restaurant, which serves Japanese kaiseki cuisine.
Some distance from the city center, this one is designed for escape, not exploration.
Artisanal cocktails are the thing at Apothecary, a sleek bar that gets so ridiculously crowded on weekends it has to turn people away.
Everything is homemade, from the bitters to syrups.
You can test bartenders' skills at making an old fashioned and other classics, or challenge yourself with the bar's original Bazillionaire, a wicked twist on the Millionaire cocktail that adds absinthe and rye to the mix.
For the munchies, it's hard to beat the fried chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries, or the charcuterie platter.
Apothecary, ChaoYang District SanLiTun Bar Street 81 , NaLi HuaYuan 3 Floor 4, Beijing China;
Slow Boat Brewing Taproom
The brewery is named for the song "(I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China."
Here's one thing: Slow Boat has the most beers on tap of any bar in Beijing. Here's another: they brew them all themselves.
Riding the craft beer boom, the tiny taproom hidden deep among traditional alleyways was started by two Americans who missed the taste of beer back home.
This is where local beer nerds meet up over a pint, sitting at long tables in the rustic hutong atmosphere.
Brews are chalked up with their alcohol content and bitterness units, with offerings anywhere from light pale ales to dark, malty stouts.
The bar regularly experiments with new styles, like a potent imperial vanilla stout or an IPA with laced with hints of mango.
Many show up just to eat. Burgers slathered with homemade hot-sauce aioli, a plate of house pickles and bratwursts cooked with IPA mustard are big sellers.
If you do only one thing on a short trip to Beijing, visit Tiananmen Square.
This is definitely what to do in Beijing.
A few minutes at the square is enough for anyone to feel the combined weight of Chinese imperial and communist history.
It's literally located at the heart of Beijing -- the rest of the city fans out in concentric circles from the Forbidden City and adjacent Tiananmen Square.
Standing in the square, visitors can observe the majesty of the Forbidden City gates to the north, and the blockhouse, Soviet-inspired National Museum of China and Great Hall of the People on the east and west.
Toward the south side is Mao Zedong's mausoleum, where visitors file through to get a look at the Great Helmsman's embalmed body.
This is the place to get that postcard perfect snapshot with the triple-whammy background of Chinese flags, giant portrait of Mao Zedong and Chinese tourists milling about making V-signs for their own cameras.
The most striking of Beijing's temples, the Temple of Heaven is a park outing, a cultural experience and physics lesson all in one.
Built for Chinese emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasty to worship the god of heaven and pray for harvest in spring, the temples within the grounds are iconic for their round, tiered structures resembling the crowns worn by emperors.
A perfectly smooth circular wall surrounds the Imperial Vault of Heaven.
This is the echo wall, where words whispered at one end are transmitted to a friend standing at the opposite end.
Kids can be occupied here for ages.
Four times the size of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven grounds are notable for 60,000 ancient trees.
They create perfect shade for locals who come to the park to practice martial arts, fly kites and just hang out.
A former complex of 1950s factory buildings has been taken over by artists, galleries and cafés to form the 798 Art Zone.
Much of the industrial space has been left untouched, including Mao-era propaganda slogans painted on the walls, rusting machines and exposed pipes.
The cavernous industrial spaces are a great backdrop for contemporary Chinese paintings, sculptures and installations, as well as flocks of hipsters, eccentrics and blog-baiters (people who hope to be featured on blogs) that flood though.
Even if contemporary art bores you, 798 has plenty of attractions.
The increasingly trendy neighborhood has atmospheric eateries throughout, such as Sichuan restaurant Tian Xia Yan.
The Grace Beijing is a quirky-elegant hotel.
Leng Yan tattoo studio is arguably Beijing's finest, if you're interested in taking away a permanent Chinese ink painting.