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Beijing's Top 10 : Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)

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A sprawling landscaped park on the edge of the city, this seasonal imperial retreat from the stifling confines of the Forbidden City was the favored haunt of Empress Cixi. She had it rebuilt twice: once after its destruction by French and English troops in 1860, and again in 1902, after it was plundered during the Boxer Rebellion.

  • 6 miles (10 km) NW of central Beijing

  • 6288 1144

  • Subway: Bagou, then bus 394

  • Open: Apr–Oct 6:30am–6pm (park), 8:30am–5pm (sights) daily. Nov–Mar 7am–5pm (park), 9am–4pm (sights) daily. Last admission 2 hrs before closing

  • Admission: ¥60 all inclusive, ¥30 park only

  • Audio guides are available for ¥40 (plus ¥200 deposit)


Empress Cixi

Cixi is remembered as one of China’s most powerful women. Having borne one emperor’s son as an imperial concubine, she became the power behind the throne to two more: her son and her nephew. When she blocked state reforms and lent support to the xenophobic Boxers in their rebellion, she unwittingly paved the way for the end of the imperial era.


There are several small snack kiosks in the park grounds.


Avoid visiting on days with poor visibility when you risk missing the superb views across the lake that are one of the highlights of a visit to the Summer Palace.




Top 10 Features
  1. Hall of Happiness and Longevity

    This impressive hall was the residence of the Empress Cixi. It has supposedly been left just as it was at the time of her death in 1908, complete with its Qing dynasty-era furniture.

  2. Garden of Virtue and Harmony

    This pretty complex of roofed corridors, small pavilions, rock gardens and pools also includes Cixi’s private three-story theater. The buildings now contain Qing-era artifacts, from vehicles to costumes and glassware.

  3. Long Corridor

    From the Garden of Virtue and Harmony the aptly named Long Corridor zigzags along the shore of the lake, interrupted along its length by four pavilions. The ceilings and beams of this corridor are decorated with over 14,000 scenic paintings.

    Painted ceiling in the Long Corridor

  4. Longevity Hill

    At around the half-way point of the Long Corridor a series of buildings ascends the slopes of artificially created Longevity Hill. The start of the sequence is marked at the lakeside by a very fine decorative gate, or pailou.

  5. Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha

    Toward the peak of Longevity Hill rises this prominent octagonal tower. The stiff climb is rewarded with views from the balcony over the yellow roofs of the halls and pavilions to the lake below.

  6. Temple of the Sea of Wisdom

    North of the Fragrance of the Buddha tower is a green- and yellow-tiled temple decorated with glazed Buddhist effigies, many of which have sadly been vandalized.

    Sea of Wisdom temple
  7. Marble Boat

    Cixi paid for this extravagant folly with funds meant for the modernization of the Imperial Navy. The super-structure of the boat is made of wood painted white to look like marble. Boat trips to South Lake Island depart from a neighboring jetty.

  8. Suzhou Street

    At the foot of Longevity Hill on its north side is Suzhou Street, a shopping street built for the amusement of the Qianlong emperor, his concubines and eunuchs, who would play at being shoppers, shopkeepers, and pickpockets.

  9. South Lake Island

    Crowning this small island on the south side of Kunming Lake is the Dragon King Temple (Longwang Miao), which is dedicated to the god of rivers, seas, and rain.

  10. Seventeen-arch Bridge

    South Lake Island is connected to the eastern shore by an elegant bridge with a marble lion crowning each of the 544 balusters along its length, all supposedly individual. A large bronze ox, dating back to 1755 but looking entirely modern, reposes on the eastern shore.

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