China’s capital and former royal city is loaded with attractions for the visitor. It has been considerably spruced up, as a result of the Olympics being held there last year, and is extremely welcoming to travelers. Here are my favorite activities while in this fascinating city.
1. Visit the Forbidden City — Once off limits to all but the most important guests and residents, this huge complex of buildings and gardens is now open for all to see. The architecture and symbolism, alone, would take days to appreciate.
2. Make a Day Trip to the Great Wall — This 1,000 mile fortification ranks as mankinds largest construction project. Visitors flock to various restored sections of the wall to walk along its ramparts. Some sections are extremely steep and not for the faint of heart, but it is a great thrill to walk even a small section.
3. Walk the Spirit Way to the Ming Tombs — This royal avenue is lined with stone sculptures of creatures and ancestors. Yongle’s tomb is one of the most visited and accessible of the tombs.
4. Get Away from it all at the Summer Palace — This getaway for Chinese emperors is located to the northwest of the city, and incorporates man-made Kunming Lake and some dramatic scenery to create a world away from stress. Rent a Dragon Boat to see the complex from the water.
5. Stroll Around Tiananmen Square — The largest public square in the world provides access to the Forbidden City (see #1 above) and Mao’s Mausoleum, another popular attraction, especially for visiting Chinese. The square has an infamous past, as well, for those who recall the defiant student laying in front of a tank in 1989.
6. Eat Peking Duck — This local favorite is forever associated with the city, and must be experienced by all visitors — the preparation and serving of the dish is as important as the taste.
7. Visit Temple of Heaven Park — In particular, be sure to spend some time admiring the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a magnificent example of Chinese architecture.
8. Take a Pedicab Ride Through a Hutong — Very little of Old Beijing still survives, since ongoing construction in the city has leveled many of the older neighborhoods, but some remain and are being preserved to give visitors a glimpse of how residents used to live. The area north of the Forbidden City is easily accessible via pedi-cab.
9. Soak Up Some History and the Views from the Drum Tower — This ancient part of the city’s fortifications can be visited and accessed via a long, long stairway. The views of the Forbidden City, to the south, and the surrounding hutongs are great.
10. Check Out the Lama Temple — Many of Beijings older temples were destroyed during Mao’s rule, but this is one of the few which remain. It is worth a visit.
11. Relax and Stroll Beihai Park — This large green area, just west of the Forbidden City, is pleasant to walk and also contains several sights worth visiting, such as the White Dagoba and Seven Dragon Screen.
12. Pay Tribute to Confucius at Kong Miao — Beijing’s Confucius Temple dates to 1302 and was used for worship until 1911. Visitors can learn about this ancient sect while strolling the grounds of the complex.
13. Shop Along Wangfujing Street — The major shopping area of the city can be found, spread along the north-south running street, just to the east of the Forbidden City.
14. See How the Upper Crust Lived at the Prince Gong Mansion — Northwest of the Forbidden City is an area which was populated by the wealthy. This particular home is an example of the elaborate lifestyle of the rich.