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Beijing - Around Town : North of the Forbidden City (part 1)

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By far the most rewarding area to explore on foot, north of the Forbidden City stretches an almost contiguous run of lakes, either set in parkland or surrounded by swathes of charming historic hutongs. It’s an area rich in temple architecture and dotted with grand old courtyard residences. Its appeal to visitors has resulted in restaurants, bars, and shops flooding in to take advantage of the picturesque settings, but thankfully much of the growth has so far been sympathetic.

Confucius

Born in Shandong Province, south of Beijing, during an age of uninterrupted war, Confucius (551–479 BC) was prompted by the suffering around him to develop a practical philosophy built on the principle of virtue. Finding no audience among his native rulers, he embarked on a journey in search of a ruler who would apply his rules of governance. He never found such a person and died unrecognized.


Qian Hai

Top 10 Sights
  1. Bei Hai Park

    A beautiful example of a classic imperial garden, Bei Hai was a summer playground for successive dynasties that ruled from the neighboring Forbidden City. Today, it is well and truly open to the public, and thronged daily by locals who come here to socialize. There are a couple of small temples, a fine, small ornamental garden, and a noted restaurant. This is arguably the most lovely of Beijing’s many fine city parks .

  2. Hou Hai

    The most visitor-friendly neighborhood of Beijing, Hou Hai consists of three joined lakes surrounded by an expansive and labyrinthine sprawl of age-old hutongs (alleys). Visit for a handful of well-preserved mansions, as well as the opportunity to see a more humble form of Beijing life as it has been lived for centuries .

    Hou Hai bars

    Mahjong players at Hou Hai

    An exercise park beside Hou Hai
  3. Drum Tower

    Drum towers (gu lou) were once found in all major Chinese towns. They housed large drums that were beaten to mark the hour, keeping the city’s civil servants on time for work. There has been such a tower on this site since 1272, although the current structure dates to 1420. Visitors can clamber up the torturously steep steps to inspect some 25 drums and be entertained by a troop of drummers that delivers skin-thumping performances on the hour.

    • Gulou Dong Dajie

    • 6401 2674

    • Subway: Gulou Dajie

    • Open 9am–4:30pm daily

    • ¥20

  4. Bell Tower

    This dates from 1745 and replaces an earlier tower that burnt down. The great 42-ton (42,674-kg) bell it contains used to be rung to mark the closing of the city gates in the evening. During Spring Festival visitors are allowed to ring the bell for a donation of ¥100. The views from both the Drum and Bell Towers over the neighboring hutongs are well worth the exhausting climb.

    • Gulou Dong Dajie

    • 6401 2674

    • Subway: Gulou Dajie

    • Open 9am–4:30pm daily

    • ¥15

    Bell Tower
  5. Nan Luogu Xiang

    Less than 10 minutes’ walk east of the Drum Tower, Nan Luogu Xiang is a arguably Beijing’s hippest hutong. Still traditional in feel, the alley is home to quite a few small hotels, as well as several interesting clothing and craft boutiques, and an ever-increasing number of cafés and bars, including the excellent Pass By Bar.

  6. Xu Beihong Memorial Museum

    Set back from the road with a sign on top in green characters, and opposite a branch of KFC, this museum is dedicated to the man regarded as the founder of modern Chinese painting. It exhibits a collection of the lively watercolors of horses that made Xu Beihong (1885–1953) internationally famous.

    • 53 Xinjiekou Bei Dajie

    • 6225 2187

    • Subway: Jishuitan

    • Open 9am–4pm Tue–Sun

    • ¥10 (audio guide ¥10, plus ¥100 deposit)

  7. Former Residence of Mei Lanfang

    This was the home of Beijing Opera’s greatest ever performer (1894–1961). The rear rooms have been left with their traditional furniture as it was when he died. Others contain a hagiographic account of his life, as well as diagrams of the stylized movements required by the form and a video of Mei, already 61, but still playing the young girl roles for which he was famous.

    • 9 Huguosi Jie

    • 6618 0351

    • Subway: Jishuitan

    • Open 9am–4pm Tue–Sun

    • ¥10

  8. Lama Temple (Yonghegong)

    About a 30-minute walk east of the Drum and Bell Towers, or just a few minutes south of the Yonghe Gong subway station, the Lama Temple is Beijing’s largest working temple complex. It is filled every day with about an equal number of worshipers and visitors .

    Lama Temple
  9. Confucius Temple (Kong Miao)

    Just west of the Lama Temple, the Confucius Temple was built in 1302 during the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and expanded in 1906. Around 200 ancient stelae stand in the courtyard in front of the main hall, inscribed with the names of those who success-fully passed the imperial civil service exams. On a marble terrace inside the hall are statues of Confucius and some of his disciples.

    • 13 Guozijian Jie

    • 8402 7224

    • Subway: Yonghe Gong

    • Open 8:30am–4:30pm daily

    • ¥20

  10. Di Tan Park

    The park was named after the Temple of Earth (Di Tan), which was a venue for imperial sacrifices. The altar’s square shape represents the earth. These days, the park is always full of pensioners strolling, chatting, and exercising. A lively temple fair is held here at Chinese New Year.

    Di Tan Park
    • North of Lama Temple

    • 6421 4657

    • Subway: Yonghe Gong

    • Open 6am–9:30pm daily

    • Park ¥2; Altar ¥5

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