Dating back over 3000 years, the city of Beijing holds a vast wealth of history. Those interested in architecture will find the colors and angles and designs of old Beijing structures intriguing. Hiking enthusiasts can spend an entire day exploring any number of palaces, temples, and parks. Although we visited many interesting areas and found hundreds of fascinating and impressive structures, these eight attractions of Beijing made their way to the top of our list of favorites.
1. The Great Wall at Simatai
This was absolutely the highlight of our trip! The hike to the top is tiring, but the view from the top makes it absolutely worthwhile. We opted to take the cable car partway up, and we were glad we did. It offered gorgeous views of the wall, the mountains, and the town below. You can enter the wall from the cable car stop, hike up to the 8th tower and further up to the 9th and 10th towers, then back down.
* For instructions on how to get there and what to expect, see our blog post exclusively about the Simatai Wall.
History: This section of the wall was built in 550-577 by the Northern Qi Dynasty. It was rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty, but has since been left in that current form. The full section features 35 beacon towers, but only 10 are currently accessible. It is located in Miyun County, roughly 65 km from the town of Miyun.
2. Summer Palace
This stunningly peaceful place has so much to see that I couldn't possibly describe it all here. Plan to spend a full day here, exploring each section. Check out the shops and eateries along Suzhou Street near the North Gate, take in the amazing views from the top of Longevity Hill, wander around the tranquil Kunming Lake and see the Qianyan Stone Boat, and stop to appreciate the stunning architecture of the various temples and pagodas and halls and bridges along the way.
* Summer (April-October) hours and prices: 7am-7pm entrance (30 yuan for entrance only); 8am-5pm sights (60 yuan for through ticket)
** Winter (November-March) hours and prices: 8:30-4:30 (30 yuan for entrance only or 60 yuan for through ticket)
*** Audio Guide (40 yuan - having gotten lost several times without the audio tour, I would recommend looking into this)
**** Be prepared for lots of walking, including lots of stairs. Take water with you and a bag that will allow you to keep your hands free.
History: Originally built by Emporer Qianlong in 1750 as a place to escape the summer heat.
3. Beihai Park
Located to the northwest of the Forbidden City, this lovely 171-acre park on Qianghua Island is a peaceful place to walk around and see more of the traditional Chinese architecture and decor in blues and reds and golds that Beijing is known for. They have a number of boats for hire to take you around the lake. We especially enjoyed views of the White Dagoba, the numerous lotus flowers in the water, and the lovely pavilions and corridors.
* 10 yuan entrance fee April-October; 5 yuan November-March
** 10 yuan entrance fee to Qionghua Isle and 1 yuan entrance fee to Circular City
*** 20 yuan through ticket April-October; 15 yuan November-March
History: Built in the 11th century as an Imperial garden, and open to the public since 1925.
4. Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven was another favorite place of ours. Although we loved seeing the bright colors and gorgeous architecture of the various religious buildings throughout, perhaps our favorite part of the complex was the Long Corridor. We watched the most adorable groups of older folks doing needlework, drawing, and playing cards, dominoes, and Chinese chess. Some posed for us to take pictures, some were eager to show us what they were doing, and others just quietly went about their business. Another favorite place was the Circular Mound, an open circular platform with the Heart of Heaven, a round slate stone, in the center. And make sure you pass through the Cypress Grove to enjoy the tranquility and the escape from the busy Beijing streets.
* Open 8:00am-4:30pm March-June; 8:00am-6:00pm July-October; 8:00am-5:00pm November-February
** 10 yuan entrance fee December-March; 15 yuan entrance fee April-November
*** 30 yuan through ticket December-March; 35 yuan through ticket April-November
History: The complex was built by Emperor Yongle from the Ming Dynasty from 1406-1420. Yongle was the same Emperor to construct the Forbidden City.
5. The Lama Temple
Walking into the Lama Temple complex, we were overcome with a sense of inspiration and self-reflection. In spite of the crowds of people milling around, the sacredness of the place filled us with a feeling of solitude and quiet. We are not Buddhist and did not participate in the practices of worship, but we watched in silence the incense-burning rites performed outside and the kneeling and bowing practiced inside. Of all the places we visited, we took the fewest pictures here, as we just appreciated the moment. The architecture itself is lovely. Many of Beijing's tourist spots do not allow you to enter the buildings and you have to just look in from the doors and windows, but here you can enter each building and look around. The sheer volume of statues and religious relics is impressive, but the highlight is the giant Buddha carved from a single sandalwood tree, earning it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
* Open 9am-4:30pm April-October; 9am-4:00 November-March.
** 25 yuan entrance fee
History: Lama Temple was constructed during the Qing Dynasty in 1694, giving it over 300 years of rich history.
6. The Forbidden City
Another amazing architectural wonder of Beijing is the Forbidden City. Built by Emperor Yongle, the Forbidden City features 980 buildings covering 178 acres of land in the center of Beijing. Make sure you also spend some time afterward walking along the moat outside.
* Entrance Fee: 60 yuan April-October; 40 yuan November-March
Treasure Gallery: 10 yuan
Clock and Watch Gallery: 10 yuan
** Open 8:30am-5:00pm April-October; 08:30am-4:30pm November-March
*** Arrive before 9am to avoid insane lines!
**** Enter from the south (on the north side of Tiananmen Square); exit to the north (on the south side of Jingshan Park).
History: Used by the Emperors as their imperial palace from 1420-1912. It has been open to the public since 1925 as a museum.
7. Tiananmen Square
This 109-acre mainly open square features a number of historical monuments and museums, including the Monument to the People's Heroes, The Great Hall of the People, The National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. We loved the flower garden on the north side of the Square, and appreciated the various monuments, gates, and statues throughout. The Square is a lovely place for a stroll.
* We did not visit the National Museum of China, but judging by the tremendous line that formed early in the morning, if you plan to go, I would suggest arriving there before they open.
History: Originally built in 1650, the Square has since been enlarged and has been the site of several historical events, most notably the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.
8. Jingshan Park
The 57-acre park itself is peaceful and quite pretty in its own right, as a flowering oasis in the middle of the bustling city. But the highlight of the park for us was the view from the top of Wanshou Hill, a manmade hill that houses the Wanchun Pavilion, from which you can see the roofs of the Forbidden City, as well as 360-degree views of the city of Beijing.
* Leave the north gate of the Forbidden City, cross the road, and enter the Park from the South. Continue north, climb the stairs, and you'll arrive at the top of the hill.
** Entrance fee is just 2 yuan.
History: Originally designed as a private imperial garden, the park has been open to the public since 1928.
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