The general wisdom is to avoid the mainland like the plague during Golden Week, lest you be subjected to miles-long queues, endless delays and throngs of tour groups. But I was pleasantly surprised that the three days I spent in Beijing over the holiday weekend—due to a wedding nearby—were characterized less by crowds and more by clear skies (I know, right?). At a friend’s recommendation, we headed to Xinjiang Red Rose Dining Room (Xingfuyicun Qixiang, (+86) 10-6415-5741) , across the street from the north gate of the Workers Stadium in Chaoyang. Besides the quintessential skewers, we ordered hearty fare, including thinly shredded fried potatoes, stir-fried lamb with peppers and delicious deep-fried milk puffs that, sprinkled with a bit of sugar, melted in our mouths. Dying for a quick one-stop shopping spot without the stress of the Silk Street market? Check out Panjiayuan (18 Huawei Li, Panjiayuan Road, Chaoyang) , also known as the Dirt Market. I accompanied a friend to pick out some art to decorate her new flat. Plus, there were legit Chinese shoppers fondling and purchasing en masse what looked like glossy, oversized peach pits—apparently rotating three in one hand is supposed to help your health. Sure, the jade, jewelry and home furnishings were probably fake, and the paintings were likely mass-produced in a factory, but I felt I could browse and bargain without being assaulted, harassed or harangued. I left with a watercolor and a jade pendant, all for RMB 120. Next stop was Dashilar, a network of hutongs just west of touristy, reconstructed Qianmen Street that runs directly south of Tiananmen Square. At first glance, it looks like an alley full of tacky souvenir shops, but walk further west to find some cute boutiques, beautifully run-down buildings and a whole load of everyday residents doing their thing. I also discovered a new bar by local beer-makers Slow Boat Brewery (59 Tieshu Hutong, www.slowboatbrewery.com ) . Sustenance and several bottles of Tsingtao were found in the quaint, romantic courtyard of Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant (A23 Caoyuan Hutong, Dongzhimennei Beixiaojie, (+86) 10-6405-2082) , where we were served platter after platter of greens, mushrooms and other dishes that looked deceptively carnivorous (a.k.a. Peking duck made of tofu and wheat gluten). Petite, intimate whisky bar Amilal (48 Shoubi Hutong, Dongcheng, (+86) 10-8404-1416) was the destination of choice for post-prandial cocktails. This girded our livers for Chocolate (19 Ritan North Rd., Chaoyang, (+86) 10-8561-3988) , a garish, fabulous nightclub smack-dab in the Russian area of Ritan Park. Envision this mishmash: blingy chandeliers; hookahs; half-naked, muscled male dancers; “Gangnam Style”; framed European-style oil paintings on the ceiling; a lip-synched Chinese opera performance. The next day, we meandered through the massive Tibetan-style Yonghegong Lama Temple (12 Yonghegong Dajie, Beixinqiao, Dongcheng, (+86) 10-6404-4499) . Right across from the entrance is the Wudaoying hutong, lined with bars, cafés, boutiques, vintage shops and nice foot massage places. We opted to save our pampering until after a stroll up shopping drag Wangfujing, when we headed to Liangzi (4 Jinyu Hutong, Dongcheng, (+86) 10-6758-9999) for some much-needed pummeling of our sore soles and also a range of complimentary drinks and snacks. On my last day, I was lent a bike and finally felt like a real resident, reveling in the relatively empty streets as I paid a visit to the indie mecca that is Bookworm (Building 4, Nan Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang, (+86) 10-6586-9507) bookstore and café. Then I got ambitious (reckless?) and attempted to pedal clear across town to Houhai Lake. I made it, but not without getting lost, trying to balance a map on the handlebars and getting stuck in the crosshairs of two lines of enormous tour buses. I may have boarded my flight back to Hong Kong covered in a layer of dust and exhaust, but hey, what could be more Beijing than that? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter: @HanaRAlberts.