Coming to China for study purposes certainly doesn't mean you can't enjoy other things. I took time, particularly during September/October, to visit many exciting places, mostly trying out great food as well. There's many great places for food and for travel (Googling is best for the latter), but below are my picks that I got to sample and really like during my time here.
More food and places (with further explanations) coming very soon!
I visited this place earlier on my stay, and was quite surprised to find a rustic Italian restaurant sitting in an old hutong area at first. I was even more surprised of the quality despite being within said area. The place is cozy with just about 10-15 tables, and the menu selection is impressive. There are advantages to going there at both lunch or dinner time. While lunch menus are significantly simpler with less variety, they're still very good, and the restaurant is generally very relaxed and not crowded at all during the afternoon hours. The dinner menus are more expansive and include the fusion tastes of Sino-Italian, though be prepared for the crowded atmosphere, as Mercante can be quite a hot spot at night.
I later learned there's quite a lot of these in Beijing, but it's still a worthwhile place to unwind or even just to have a simple (or on-the-go) breakfast. Their ¥10 mini maple syrup croissants are definitely worth a try, along with their 奶茶 (milk tea). There's two shops alone close to where I stayed, and both at least serve the excellent croissants. Their garlic bread smells good too.
Din Tai Fung (鼎泰丰)
Once again, there's a lot of these around the world in major cities, but there is still a reason to visit the Beijing branches. I had dinner in the 渔阳 (Yuyang) branch and aside from the signature xiaolongbao soupy dumplings there are also plenty of delicacies to try such as the hairy crab dumpling and the roast duck. Dishes best eaten family style, typically.
My go-to hangout, night or day. Quite comparable to a pub, it's a good place to enjoy dinner with friends. When I was here, they would host events each night, most notably the Pub Quiz on Wednesdays, of which me and several friends would form a team and compete each week. There's an expansive catalog of booze, from local beer to imported stout to cocktails.
With that said, it's also a good place in the mornings, whether you're hungover and looking for some warm, tasty nosh, or just wanting to be productive like in a Starbucks. They offer breakfast foods (including American-style bacon, of which after sampling Chinese-style boiled meats is definitely a welcome sight), as well as great comfort foods and burgers worth trying.