Beijing, China, is certainly one of the great cities of the world. It is the political and cultural center of the vast and heavily populated country. It has also suffered because of its importance. When China became communist, many of the old Chinese traditions were discarded, along with much of the old city. More recently, as China has begun to modernize and take its place in the world’s political and economic scene, some of the city is being razed and replaced with more modern structures. However, essential China can still be found, and some of the monuments in the city are truly timeless.
Any visit to Beijing revolves around Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest square, which is noteworthy for its immensity, for its location and proximity to the Forbidden City, Beijing’s most visited tourist attraction, and for its notoriety associated with the student rebellion of 1989, which was brutally suppressed by the Chinese Army. Near the center of the square is Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum (no photos inside).
The most important site for any visitor is certainly the Forbidden City (Gugon Bowuguan), a vast complex of palaces, halls, courtyards and gardens to the north of Tiananmen Square, through the famous Gate of Heavenly Peace, a Chinese icon. Must sees within the complex are the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), Ningshou Gong Huayuan, Leshoutang, Nei Ting, the inner palace, and the Imperial Gardens.
But there are other significant sights within Beijing which must be visited. For example, the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan), a complex of structures and their surrounding park, south of Tiananmen Square, contains the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, one of the most exquisite buildings in the world. Its blue-tiled roof and intricate ceiling are its hallmarks.
Another must-see Beijing attraction is the Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), about 12 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of central Beijing. This complex includes Kunming Lake, whose northern shore has the majority of worthwhile sights, especially the Long Corridor (Changlang), a covered walkway along the lake which has thousands of paintings of scenes from Chinese history, mythology, etc.
The last of the must-sees in Beijing is the Lama Temple (Yonghegong), northeast of the Forbidden City, another complex of buildings, this time with distinctive yellow-tiled roofs. The crowning attraction within the temple is the Statue of Maitreya, a huge sculpture of Buddha, carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.
1. On weekends, visit the immense flea market of Panjiayuan, to the southeast, on the outskirts of the city and bargain for treasures.
2. Most visitors make an excursion to the Great Wall. However, try to combine this day trip with a visit to the Ming Tombs, which are about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the city, along the Sacred Way, a pathway of sculpted animals and historical figures.