Xicheng, which in Chinese means “West City”, is the central district west of the Forbidden City and the lakes. Beijingers think of this area mostly as a seat of money and learning – both the Financial District and the Haidian University are located here. Western Beijing is best experienced as a series of half-day expeditions: a visit to the Military Museum with a look at the Millennium Monument afterwards and a walk through Yuyuan Tan Park, or a trip to the zoo and aquarium followed by the Temple of the Five Pagodas. Expect to make liberal use of taxis and the subway.

Buddhism in China

Buddhism, which started in India, probably came to China along the Silk Route. The earliest sign of the religion is associated with the founding of the White Horse Temple near the old capital of Luoyang in AD 68. Buddhism surged in popularity during periods of instability, when Confucianism’s veneration for authority did not sit well with the populace. It was eventually adopted by China’s rulers.

Top 10 Sights
  1. Temple of Heavenly Tranquility

    Home to Beijing’s most striking pagoda, the temple (Tianning Si) was built during the 5th century AD, making it one of the city’s oldest. The 196-ft (60-m) octagonal pagoda was added in the early 12th century. The bottom of the pagoda is in the form of a huge pedestal decorated with carved arch patterns, symbolizing Sumeru, the mountain of the gods. Above are thirteen levels of eaves, very close together, with no doors or windows – the pagoda is with-out stairs inside or outside and is, in fact, solid.

    Temple of Heavenly Tranquility
    • Guanng’an Men Nanbinhe Lu

    • Subway: Nanlishi Lu, then taxi

  2. White Cloud Temple

    The first temple on this site was founded in AD 739 and burnt down in 1166. Since that time, it has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. It even survived being used as a factory during the Cultural Revolution. The shrines, pavilions, and courtyards that make up the compound today date mainly from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Monks here are followers of Daoism and sport distinctive top-knots. Each Chinese New Year this is the venue for one of the city’s most popular temple fairs, with performers, artisans, and traders.

    Gateway at the White Cloud Temple
    • 6 Baiyun Guan Jie, off Lianhuachi Dong Lu

    • 6340 4812

    • Subway: Nanlishi Lu

    • Open 8:30am–4:30pm daily (Oct 8–Apr: to 4pm)

    • ¥10

  3. Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution

    Vast halls of Cold War-era hardware, including lots of silvery fighter planes and tanks, fill the ground floor. Upstairs has exhibitions on historic conflicts, including the Opium Wars and Boxer Rebellion. Unfortunately, there is little labeling in English. What is not mentioned is that the museum is close to the Muxidi intersection, scene of a massacre of civilians by the Chinese army during the 1989 democracy protests.

    • 9 Fuxing Lu

    • 6686 6244

    • Subway: Junshi Bowuguan

    • Open 8am–5pm daily

    • ¥20 (ID required)

    Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution
  4. Capital Museum

    The Capital Museum celebrates China’s civilization in general and Beijing’s history in particular. The five-story building is easily recognizable thanks to its huge bronze cylinder. Exhibits include examples of porcelain art and calligraphy, Buddha statues, furniture, and crafts. Entrance is free, so the museum is a popular destination.

    • 9 Yuyuan Tan Nan Lu

    • 6337 0491

    • Subway: Muxidi

    • Open 9am–5pm Tue–Sun

  5. Miaoying Temple White Dagoba (Bantaisi)

    Celebrated for its Tibetan-styled, 167-ft (51-m) white dagoba (stupa), said to have been designed by a Nepalese architect, the temple dates to 1271, when Beijing was under Mongol rule. The temple is also noted for its fascinating collection of thousands of Tibetan Buddhist statues.

    • 171 Fucheng Men Nei Dajie

    • 6616 0211

    • Subway: Fucheng Men

    • Open 9am–4:30pm daily

    • ¥20

  6. Lu Xun Museum

    Lu Xun is regarded as the father of modern Chinese literature, responsible for ground-breaking works such as “Diary of a Madman” and “The True Story of Ah Q”. This is the house in which he lived from 1924 to 1926. The rooms display artifacts relating to his life and there’s also an adjacent exhibition hall with more than 10,000 letters, journals, photographs, and other personal objects.

    • 19 Gong Men Kou Er Tiao, off Fucheng Men Nei Dajie

    • 6616 4168

    • Subway: Fucheng Men

    • Open 9am–3:30 pm Tues–Sun

    • ¥5

  7. National Library of China

    One of the five biggest libraries in the world, the National Library of China was recently expanded to accommodate its collection of approximately 12 million books. The building’s floating roof houses the Digital Library. Most books are reference only, but visitors can request a reader’s pass.

    • 33 Zhongguancun Nandajie

    • 8854 5426

    • Open 9am–9pm Mon–Fri, 9am–5pm Sat, Sun (except pub hols)

  8. Beijing Zoo

    Visit for the pandas, the rare bears that are native to China and nowhere else. The zoo has several, housed in a new “panda house.” However, most of the other 2,000 animals here are not so lucky; their cages are tiny.

    • 137 Xizhi Men Wai Dajie

    • 6831 4411

    • Subway: Xizhi Men

    • Open 7:30am–6pm daily

    • ¥20

  9. Beijing Aquarium

    Located in the northeastern corner of the zoo is this conch shell-shaped building. It’s reputedly the largest inland aquarium in the world, with massive tanks containing thousands of weird and wonderful fish, plus a shark tank, coral reefs and an “Amazon rainforest.” There are also several dolphin and seal shows held daily at 11am and 3pm.

    • 108 Gao Liang Qiao Xijie

    • 6217 6655

    • Open 9am–5pm daily

    • ¥100 adults, ¥50 children


    Beijing Aquarium

    Beijing Aquarium
  10. Temple of the Five Pagodas

    Just north of the zoo, this temple displays obvious Indian influences. It was built in the early 15th century in honor of an Indian monk who came to China and presented the emperor with five golden Buddhas. The pagodas sport elaborate carvings of curvaceous females, as well as the customary Buddhas. Also here is the Beijing Art Museum of Stone Carvings, with 2,000 decorative stelae.

    • 24 Wuta Si Cun

    • 6217 3836

    • Subway: Xizhi Men

    • Open 8:30am–4:30pm daily

    • ¥15

    Temple of the Five Pagodas

    Temple of the Five Pagodas

War and peace


Even if you’re no big fan of mechanized heavy armor, the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution is a fascinating place. Exhibits begin with the technology that made China one of the world’s first military superpowers, including the “Flying Dragon,” an early form of missile launcher. There’s one room devoted to the wonderfully tacky gifts that have been bestowed on China’s army chiefs and leaders, such as a pistol presented to Chairman Mao by Fidel Castro. Mao’s limousine is displayed on the ground floor and there’s one hall devoted to statues and assorted representations of the Communist Party’s great and good. It all makes for a fascinating insight into the mentality of late 20th-century China.


Leaving the museum, walk west along Fuxing Lu and take the first right.You will see the Millennium Monument and, behind it, Yuyuan Tan Park, with a large lake at its center. The vast park is a relaxing place for a stroll. Afterwards, for some refreshments, walk east to the pleasant Hong Hao Ge Teahouse before continuing on Fuxing Men Wai Dajie toward Muxidi and the Capital Museum. Audio self-guided tours in Chinese and English are available at the entrance. Don’t miss the Peking Opera exhibition on the top floor, or the short film on Beijing’s urban development, screened in the auditorium on the ground floor.

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