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Beijing - Around Town : Greater Beijing

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Beijing is vast. Although you could spend all your time without ever straying too far from the area around central Tian’an Men Square, you would be missing out on a lot. Way out in the northwest of the city is a cluster of sights that includes the unmissable Summer Palace, with the almost equally intoxicating hillside Xiang Shan Park and the haunting ruins of the Yuanming Yuan, or Old Summer Palace, close by. It might be a squeeze to get all three into one day’s sightseeing but it’s worth a try. For fans of contemporary urban culture, the 798 Art District in the northeast of the city is an absolute must, and you can drop in on the markets and bars around Sanlitun on the way back into town.

China’s Peoples

There are about 55 different ethnic minorities in China, each with their own distinctive customs and, in may cases, languages. Though rich in culture, and varied, together they make up only seven percent of the population, with the main group, known as Han Chinese, accounting for the rest.



Top 10 Sights
  1. Summer Palace

    It’s only a short bus or taxi ride from Bagou subway station to the unmissable Summer Palace. The grounds are arranged as a microcosm of nature, with hills and water complemented by bridges, temples and walkways. It manages to be both fanciful and harmonious at the same time.

    Bronze ox, Summer Palace

    Long Corridor ceiling, Summer Palace

    Marble Boat, Summer Palace
  2. Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace)

    The name Yuanming Yuan derives from a Buddhist term and can be translated as “Garden of Perfect Brightness”. This was the largest and most elaborate of all the summer palaces of the Qing era. It once contained private imperial residences, pleasure pavilions, Buddhist temples, a vast imperial ancestral shrine, pools for goldfish, and canals and lakes for pleasure boating. The Qianlong emperor even added a group of European-style palaces designed by Jesuit missionary-artists serving in the Qing court. Today, all that’s left are graceful, fragmentary ruins after the complex was razed to the ground during the Second Opium War (1856–60). A small museum displays images and models of the place as it was.

    • 28 Qinghua Xi Lu

    • 6262 8501

    • Subway: Xizhi Men, then bus 375 or 438, or taxi from Wudaokou

    • Open 7am–7pm daily

    • ¥10

    Yuanming Yuan (Summer Palace)
  3. Xiang Shan Park

    The wooded parkland area, also known as Fragrant Hills Park, is 2 miles (3 km) west of the Summer Palace. It boasts fine views from Incense Burner Peak, which is accessible by a chair lift (¥30). Close to the park’s main gate is the Azure Clouds Temple (Biyun Si), guarded by the menacing deities Heng and Ha in the Mountain Gate Hall. A series of farther halls leads to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, where the revolutionary leader’s coffin was stored in 1925, before being taken to his final resting place in Nanjing.

    • Wofosi Lu

    • 6259 1155

    • Bus: 331 from Summer Palace or 634 from Xizhi Men

    • Open 6am–6:30pm

    • ¥10; Azure Clouds Temple ¥10

    Guardian deity, Heng
  4. Great Bell Temple (Dazhangoi)

    The 18th-century Da Zhong Si follows a typical Buddhist plan, with a Heavenly Kings Hall, Main Hall, and a Guanyin Bodhisattva Hall. What distinguishes it, though, is the 46.5 ton (47, 250 kg) bell – one of the world’s largest – that is housed in the rear tower. The bell was cast between 1403 and 1424 and Buddhist sutras in Chinese and Sanskrit cover its surface. Hundreds more bells can be seen in another hall on the west side of the complex.

    • 31A Beisanhuan Xi Lu

    • 6254 1971

    • Subway: Dazhangsi

    • Open 8:30am–9:30pm daily

    • ¥10

  5. Beijing Botanical Gardens

    About a mile (2 km) northeast of Xiang Shan Park lie these pretty gardens, containing some 3,000 plant species and some pleasant walks. The garden’s Sleeping Buddha Temple (Wofo Si) is renowned for its magnificent 15-ft (5-m) bronze statue of a reclining Buddha. China’s last emperor, Pu Yi , ended his days here as a gardener.

    • 6259 1283

    • Bus: 331 from Summer Palace or 634 from Xizhi Men

    • Open 7am–7pm daily

    • ¥5

  6. China Ethnic Culture Park

    A theme park devoted to all of China’s ethnic minorities (see China’s Peoples), the complex is crammed with a weird and wonderful array of buildings such as the distinctive circular dwellings of the southern Hakka people, some of which are full-size replicas, while others are scale models. There is also a Chinese Song and Dance Theatre featuring daily performances by ethnic representatives in full costume. If you aren’t going to be traveling around the country, this is a fine way to get an idea of the diversity of China.

    • 1 Minzu Yuan Lu

    • 6206 3640

    • Subway: Olympic Sports Center

    • Open 9am–7pm daily

    • ¥60

    • www.emuseum.org.cn

    China Ethnic Culture Park
  7. Science and Technology Museum

    Exhibits begin with ancient science, highlighting China’s “technological pre-eminence in history.” The technology comes up to date with Chinese space capsules, robots, and an Astro-vision Theater incorporating state-of-the-art cinematography. The museum provides good educational fun for both young and old.

    • 1 Beisanhuan Zhong Lu

    • 6237 1177

    • Subway: Beitucheng

    • Open 9am–4:30pm Tue–Sat

    • ¥30

    • www.cstm.org.cn

  8. China National Film Museum

    Reportedly the world’s largest, this film museum is housed in a modern glass-and-steel structure and features 20 exhibition halls, an IMAX theater, a digital projection theater, and several 35mm theaters. One hundred years of Chinese cinema are represented by 1,500 films and 4,300 stills from the works of 450 film-makers.

    • 9 Nanying Road, Chaoyang

    • 6434 6100

    • Bus: 418 from Dong Zhi Men

    • Open 9am–4:30pm Tue–Sun (last adm 3:30pm)

    • ¥20

    • www.cnfm.org.cn

  9. 798 Art District

    Although it’s called the 798 Art District, Factory number 798 is only one of several former industrial units that have been taken over by artists and galleries. Although increasingly gentrified, the 798 still features some of Beijing’s best galleries, including UCCA .

    798 Art District
  10. China Railway Museum

    The last passenger steam services in China came to an end in 2006, but a short taxi ride northeast of the 798 Art District is this new museum with a sizeable collection of old locomotives. Some of the cabs can be boarded. An exhibition on the history of China’s railways is promised, and some of the machines will occasionally be in steam. In the meantime, the engines are a must for boys of all ages.

    • 1 Jiuxian Qiao Bei Lu

    • 6438 1317

    • Open 9am–4pm Tue–Sun

    • ¥20

    China Railway Museum

Green Beijing

Morning

Be at the East Gate (Dong Men) of the Summer Palace for 8:30am to beat both the heat (if you are visiting in summer) and the crowds. Make your way along the north shore of Kunming Lake via the Long Corridor and ascend Longevity Hill. Descend again to the Marble Boat and take a pleasure cruiser across the lake to South Lake Island. Cross back to the mainland via the supremely elegant Seventeen-arch Bridge; from here it’s a short walk north to exit where you came in at the East Gate. In the car park pick up a taxi and instruct the driver to take you to Xiang Shan Gongyuan, otherwise known as Fragrant Hills Park. Before you enter, Sculpting In Time is a café near the East Gate that does good salads, pastas, and pizza.

Afternoon

From the park’s East Gate turn right for the Temple of Brilliance, built in 1780 and ransacked by Western troops in 1860 and 1900. Close by is the Liuli Pagoda, with bells hanging from its eaves that chime in the breeze. Continue north to pass between two small round lakes linked by a small hump-backed bridge – the whole known as the Spectacles Lakes. Beyond is a chair lift that takes you up to the top of the “Fragrant Hill”. Zigzag back down past many more pavilions to arrive at the Fragrant Hills Hotel, designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, otherwise best known for his glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.

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